It's true, they're not. Yes, they keep our doors open, our team employed, the lights on, etc. It doesn't mean they know anything about what it takes to keep those doors open, the hours we must toil, the sacrifices we make, and the toll it takes on almost every aspect of our lives. Most of them have never even worked in the hospitality industry, much less cried alone in a walk-in cooler. Too bad too, some of those people could use the humility. Sure, we need them, the customers, that is one thing we can all agree on. So how do we change, while staying profitable and taking care of ourselves and our team while getting those customers to come along and accept the new reality?
First off, we need to question everything we know in our hearts to be true and right, all of the old ways of thinking. Do we need to be open seven days a week? Do we open on all the holidays? Do we need to have this item on the menu because our regulars love it? Do we need to, do we need to, do we need to? When the answer to every question is yes, we will find ourselves trying to please everyone, and in doing so, not actually pleasing anyone. One of the oldest tenets of this industry, the one that we learned the first time we showed up for work, that the customer is always right, is bullshit.
Why open seven days a week? Given the fact that I can only afford one crew, why should I work myself and my team to death? Instead, I am going to open 4-5 days with one consistent crew. The team I have assembled will work full time, and will receive benefits. My guests will receive the benefit of the same people cooking their meal. My crew will have consistent days off so they can plan and have a life outside of their jobs. I know that would make them happy, and happy employees equals happy food.
Consistency is key to the success of any restaurant. The same cooks working the same stations when the restaurant is open helps to ensure that this consistency happens. This strategy of not staying open, when I can and changing my hours goes against everything we were trained to believe. In times of doubt, I worry that I am taking too much of a risk, that this decision is going to turn away more people than I bring in. But fuck, owning a restaurant is risky in the best of times, pandemic aside. I need to ensure my industry's future and the status quo ain't working anymore. I can't afford a team to open 7 days a week. It might sound mad, but I will close the motherfucker down.
On the days I am closed, I will rent space out as a ghost kitchen or satellite kitchen for a food truck. Maybe develop a recipe that I can mass produce and market. The most successful restaurants these days have more than one revenue stream. I will take one of those days that the restaurant is closed to meet with my managers and develop that new revenue stream, while I'm at it, we will deep clean one area of the restaurant that does not get the attention it deserves. This will be the key to our survival going forward.
One thing I have never understood is why anyone would go out to eat on the holidays. A fucking turkey dinner with all the trimmings is the easiest meal to cook if you plan it right. We open so the privileged and the too-lazy-to-clean can recreate a family holiday in some generic hotel ballroom or non-descript dining room made up with the cheapest holiday chochkies in all the land. And guess what? It will never measure up, but with all that money they have, they just keep trying. The food is middle of the road, as is this particular holiday, oozing with tradition- and if the stuffing isn't exactly right, you will hear about it. I used to serve boxed Stove Top Stuffing at the Intercontinental and people couldn't get enough of it. Shows you what they know.
Instead of participating in this charade that will never measure up to the ridiculous expectations my consumers have been taught to maintain, wouldn't my team appreciate a (paid) day off with their family? I bet they would, and while I'm at it, why not throw in a day's pay as a small bonus for the season? In all my years in this business, I never once received a holiday bonus working in restaurants. Happy fucking holidays.
If I ever really felt the need to open on any of these special days, why not open my restaurant up to the less fortunate and serve holiday meals for free? Give them a home cooked meal, and one to go too. In this way, I am giving back to society and showing my team what the holidays actually mean, peace on Earth and good will toward men and all that shit. And if I do it right it will only cost me the cost of turning your electricity on. I can probably get most things donated. Think of the good publicity doing something like this would generate.
And then there are substitutions. I know, this one is a biggie, and you may think, "here is his arrogant Chef side coming out and rearing its full-of -himself- so-big-it-cant-fit -through-the-door-head", but hear me out. CHEFS HATE SUBSTITUTIONS.
Why not try and negate some of my most common and costly mistakes; special orders gone wrong. By completely cutting out special orders, I will alleviate the customer getting the food improperly prepared because either the kitchen read the ticket wrong, or the waiter rang it in wrong, or didn't hear the customer correctly. Then I get to make the food the way I intended when I put it on my menu. That when the food is best. Just include a little note on the bottom of the menu stating as such, and have my waitstaff tell them its the Chefs fault, I won't mind. This ain't Burger King motherfucker, special orders upset me greatly.
I had a customer recently that wanted to order a Cuban Sandwich without mustard or pickle. I wanted to ask them, "why not just go home and make yourself a ham sandwich?" Did I really? No, I did not. Why go out to eat, pay a premium price for a meal from a person who is skilled in food preparation, when all you want is a ham sandwich? The customer is wrong and is wasting their money. I gladly take it, but will never understand this mind set. Special orders are upsetting because I have trained to prepare and serve food in a specific way. Asking me to dumb down my food because pickles make you squeamish puts me in a position where I am embarrassed. For you.
If you want your filet of Alaskan halibut with tomato Provençale instead of smoked garlic buerre blanc, then make it yourself, my Provençale is intended for the Monkfish. Special orders not only open the door up for waitstaff and kitchen mistakes, it also fucks with my inventory, ordering pars and ultimately my costs. In the market, as it is now, every penny counts. I costed that plate with a certain preparation. If I allow my guest to run roughshod over my menu and do whatever they want they completely fuck with my costs.
"Well what about allergies? They should be able to special order their food? Right?" Well, sometimes.
I understand allergies, and guess what? So do people who have allergies. They will let you know upfront about their diet, and nine times out of ten, not only can we accommodate them, we are happy to do so as they understand that going out to eat is a privilege. They understand that there is gluten in bread (celiac) and that there are generally pine nuts in pesto (tree nut allergy) or there is soy in just about everything, and most of the time it's hidden. They tend to be more menu savvy than others. It's not a matter of a tummy ache to these people, to these people it is a matter of life and death.
They don't get bent out of shape when they can't get their order special, like some people. The "some people" I am referring to is the belly aching crowd. The people that get an actual little belly ache if they eat some bread or have some soy. If you don't want to get a belly ache when you eat bread, buy a bread that uses organic flour. I bet your belly aches will go away, and if they don't so what? Fresh bread is fucking delicious and is worth a belly ache every now and then, especially when your bread is being made by professionals, like in a bakery, restaurant, or in a café.
Fuck, I am slightly lactose intolerant but I am not going to bitch about a little belly ache and some gas when eating my favorite ice cream. You know what I am going to do? I am going to power through that Tillamook Maple Whiskey Frozen Custard because I love ice cream. And I am not even mentioning cheese at this point. This short, sweet life would be made intolerably long without good cheese.
I know that without customers, I could not open my doors. It is also one of the reasons I love doing what I do. I love seeing the same people every week, it is like having a family I have no financial obligation to. Some good banter, maybe a bad dad joke or two, and they leave with a smile on their face and a full belly. I want to do this till they tell me I can't. Where else am I going to tell my dad jokes? But there needs to be a paradigm shift in the customers expectations of restaurants. We all need to work together to move this industry forward. Like my dad used to say, a row boat don't move forward unless everyone works together. Let's all row together for a better restaurant future.
Let's start with being transparent and communicating with our customers about the amazing plans we have ahead for our establishments. Thanks to the age of social media we can connect with our customers at the push of a few buttons. We will make our announcement on a few different platforms besides my website. Honesty and transparency go a long way with establishing trust; we will tell them what our plans are and ask them to come along to celebrate a new day in the restaurant business. We love our customers and what we do, so we will make sure that shines through. Passion is easy to convey when we are genuine.
Until next week,