These days, everyone knows who the chefs are. But does anyone know anything about the restaurateurs behind them? Chances are you don’t. Who would want to, anyway? They rarely boast full-body food-related tattoos, never profess that their establishment fosters “community” and believe that ‘locally sourced’ means stuff from the Restaurant Depot down the street. Akin to Danny DeVito’s character Louie in the classic sitcom “Taxi,” owners are the pitiable stunted hobgoblins that do their selfish best to wield authority while bitching constantly about food cost. I should know. I am now one of them. And from behind the curtain in the wizard’s throne room, or Louie’s steel cage hoisted far above the garage floor, I now present a short list of what people like us hate. You are welcome.
It’s not that we hate the less fortunate. It’s not that we turn a blind eye to the plight of adult illiteracy. We are not – for the most part, anyway – evil people. No, the reason we hate charitable solicitations is simple: we get about 50 bazillion requests for them each day.
I know how these things start. Some bubbly intern at Charity X suddenly has a lightbulb go off and exclaims, “Hey! I just had a GREAT idea! How about we ask Restaurant X to provide dessert free of charge for our upcoming ‘Save the Bees’ fundraising extravaganza? It’s only 500 portions and they will get FREE PUBLICITY! How could they possibly not want to do this thing? It’s win-win!”
Really? Let me tell you about those 500 portions…
There is the food cost for the portions. There is the labor cost for production of said portions. There is the paper cost for 500 Conex parfait cups so the portions look pretty. There are the scheduling issues for staffing a station on a weekend night, which invariably involves overtime for employees (labor again) unless the owners want to give up their weekends, which takes away from valuable drinking alone time. There are the logistical headaches of setting up and breaking down the station. And, finally, there are the patrons of the event, who gobble down all the free stuff before walking away and never becoming an actual customer.
Believe us. If we wanted to drop $700 in labor and cost of goods sold on ‘free publicity’ that yields zero return, we could just advertise in a fine publication like Food & Dining. (How about that raise we talked about John Carlos?) Also, “tax deductible” doesn’t mean we don’t have to actually pay for the stuff that we use.
Seeking to disrupt yet another industry, Uber has come up with the brilliant idea of carving off 30% of a restaurant’s retail ticket (also known as the “profit”), so that a random driver can show up and deliver a chocolate chip cookie to someone who lives three blocks away. The Uber sales force cleverly anticipates the restaurateur’s startled response of “How on earth can I make money with this service?” by countering it with “Write it off as a marketing fee!” Well, Hulk not know much, but Hulk know that zero profit mean zero profit. Grrr! As a bonus – your front of house staff make no tips for packaging these orders, which usually fall right on top of the lunch rush which confuses the workflow – a real incentive. Thanks, Uber!
I’m not quite sure what to make of the Health Department. On the one hand, I support their mission to keep the public safe from unsanitary purveyors of cuisine. On the other hand, I’m not really sure that they know themselves what they are actually doing. One day they will come by and stick a probe thermometer into a tub of chicken salad, and the next they will sit down and discuss possible menu options and the merits of sugar gliders as animal companions. I regularly get written up for having a sneeze guard which is not “up to code,” but not a single one of the inspectors can actually tell me what the code for a sneeze guard states. One day it must extend 16 inches above the counter, and the next it should be 33 and have a horizontal shelf on the top. I’d be happy to address this, but I can’t until they actually tell me what it is I need to do. They tell me that my hot water is not hot enough in one sink but fine in the other, despite the fact that both sinks tap the same line from the water heater within two feet of one another. I have one place they have never once visited, but another where they seem to show up every three weeks. My violations are minor, and I never correct them, because each time they come back they never notice the things I got written up for previously. I guess this is more of a minor aggravation than a hate, because so long as I nod my head and agree that a pizza chalupa sounds like a fabulous idea they usually treat me pretty good.
Employee No-Call / No-Shows
You don’t call? You don’t write? No-call / no-shows make me feel like a resentful parent. Few things are as disruptive to operations as the employee who drank one too many Kahlua Mudslides last night and “forgot” to set her alarm and accidentally woke up at 2 p.m. And while some employees might not be able to tell a croissant from ham sandwich, rest assured they will certainly notice when one person can get away with something whilst another cannot. Therefore, we have to take a hard line for this and fire them, even though the labor pool we are then forced to dip into gives us the heebie-jeebies.
The lovable Olaf from “Frozen” might love summer, but we don’t. Summer is when sales plummet like the Dow Jones in a subprime mortgage crisis. Summer is when the labor market dissipates only to be replaced by disaffected high schoolers who work for six weeks before they themselves quit prior to Labor Day, leading to the peculiarly awesome summer phenomenon of having labor costs balloon while sales go down. Those of us with children must find expensive day camp solutions lest we take our tykes to work and risk them wandering into a rotating rack oven or double-proofer box. For those restaurants on the financial edge, the smart owners throw in the towel in May whilst the others bet the farm on making it through until fall, usually to tumble into a horrific tiger pit funded by shady short-term bridge loans and “favors” from Rocco the Bookie. Did you know you can borrow up to 10% of the value of your inventoried walnuts? Rocco does, but you better pay him back on time lest he breaks yours. Summer is the cruelest season.
Sure, there are a lot of positive things to owning a restaurant. The bickering between the employees, the Machiavellian intrigue behind shift scheduling. The making it rain in the money bin with the fistfuls of Benjamins. Ha! I made that last one up -gotcha! The reality is that once I factor in all the costs, I find that I am basically working for Chase Ultimate Rewards Credit Card Miles. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Tahiti on a one-way business class ticket. I hear Rocco is coming for me. F&D