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May 8, 2024 - 8:40:09 AM
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16149 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb

I talk foods and restaurants, with many folks around me, a lot. People of all lifestyles and wealths or lack of. I continue to be surprised at the low expectations of a dining out meal. I also visit and know many "restaurateurs" (in my town) that are often successful. I am disappointed in how often their expectations are low, of their customers palates and food knowledge.


Their expectations are low because they know their clientele. Most importantly, they know what their clientele is likely to order. Go into any mid-priced restaurant these days and you'll see Caeser salad, usually offered with the possibility of upgrade with chicken, steak or shrimp at an extra charge. American diners are comfortable with that. I don't blame the restaurateurs.

But most of the customers are NOT familiar with a Salade Nicoise, which IMO is a vastly better salad. It shares the idea of greens and fish (chunks of tuna in the Nicoise, as opposed to anchovy in the Caesar dressing) but goes beyond that with tomatoes, black olives, green beans and potatoes. With good ingredients, it's a stunner - but nobody here would order it, except in certain upscale enclaves.

For my part, if I see a menu offering salad dressings including "bleu cheese," I know I'm in a house where the clientele is largely ignorant. I think it's also something of pretension on the part of the house - if "bleu" is the only French word on the menu, don't you think your clientele can understand the English spelling? But what the hell. In such a house, I typically don't expect much, and am thus rarely disappointed as a result.

May 8, 2024 - 9:41:51 AM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

While I have had a Salade Nicoise, I have never seen it on any menu here.
Much of our "fine" dining (as well as many many restaurants) are controlled by the entrepreneurs of Lebanon. And while they have a strong French food culture, much of their food is "french-ish" but suited for a larger audience around here. And they are very astute at finding that diner that accepts a Caeser - and with choice of dressing on the side, then the Salade Nicoise. A nearby joint does carry out, and we do often call in a Ceaser with pickle and topped with a piece salmon. Brad

May 8, 2024 - 10:28:54 AM
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15131 posts since 1/15/2005

quote:
Originally posted by eagleisland
quote:
Originally posted by Mad Hornet

Having read all this it causes me to wonder how or why anyone would want to be a restaurateur? It would be a shame if too many people wised up and got out of the business and we wouldn't have anyplace to go eat while on our travels.
 


Short answer: because in its own perverse way, it's a lot of fun. If one enjoys cooking, there's absolutely nothing like having a walk-in full of wonderful ingredients, the trimmings and equipment to make beautiful day-long stocks, the relationships with vendors who come in with something new and wonderful saying "you need to try this!"

And restaurant people, especially cooks, are a fascinating and wonderful bunch of misfits. Being skilled in a kitchen is almost a license for vagrancy; you can decide you've seen enough of one place, pack up the car and go to some other place pretty sure you'll find something livable to do.

With service personnel, it's a bit different. Most highly skilled servers don't have any special fondness for the job itself; it's just a way to make a pretty decent amount of money working maybe 30 hours a week. That can work well for people with young kids, ski bums, artists and others whose passions lie elsewhere.

And if you happen to find yourself in a good house, with skilled management, a competent host/hostess, good servers and a line that knows what it's doing, it can be an absolute blast. First tickets come in at 6:10; last plates go out at 10:30 and there's a tight and ferocious rhythm to the whole thing that's almost like playing in a funk band - and every bit as much fun - and that night's gig is over almost before it started.

Aside from the other pressures that come with running/working in restaurants, however, there's a real downside to the whole thing. Restaurant folks may be a different breed, but they have a number of things in common with everyone else. Among these is the desire to relax and have fun with friends after work. Unfortunately, for restaurant people, pretty much the only thing to do after work is go out drinking with other restaurant people. It's a decidedly unhealthy lifestyle.


My wife's nephew is the Executive Chef at the best hotel in my hometown and for a short period of time was at the MIddlebury Inn in Vermont in the same capacity.  He loves his work, and is well compensated, but we never see him at family gatherings on holidays, as that is when he is the busiest.  It is a tough job, but at least working for someone else, there is not the same pressure, I would think, as owning your own place.  I think he would like to, but the security of where he is and his salary probably will not allow him to do so.

May 8, 2024 - 1:58:04 PM
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16149 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb

While I have had a Salade Nicoise, I have never seen it on any menu here.
Much of our "fine" dining (as well as many many restaurants) are controlled by the entrepreneurs of Lebanon. And while they have a strong French food culture, much of their food is "french-ish" but suited for a larger audience around here. And they are very astute at finding that diner that accepts a Caeser - and with choice of dressing on the side, then the Salade Nicoise. A nearby joint does carry out, and we do often call in a Ceaser with pickle and topped with a piece salmon. Brad


Yes, that's really the point... restaurant operators know what sells (to say nothing of the fact that the margins on a Caesar tend to be really good...)

No style of food of which I'm aware demonstrates this more clearly than America's so-called "Chinese" restaurants, particularly those in small towns with a heavy reliance on take-out. Not only are most of the dishes heavily adapted from their Chinese originals - some popular dishes, such as General Tso's Chicken, were actually created in the U.S., not China.

Part of that is due to the fact that many of these restaurants are actually family-owned chains and standardization helps out with a lot of things. But the other reason is simple and straightforward: the things on the menu are the things that the owners know will actually sell. It makes no sense, for example, to have a squid dish on the menu (and there are some FABULOUS Chinese dishes involving squid) when you might sell a few orders a week. Squid is highly perishable... why keep it around when everybody loves shrimp?

And have you noticed that their menus

May 8, 2024 - 2:11:34 PM

79839 posts since 5/9/2007

I've heard restaurant owners say the booze is where the best profits are.

May 8, 2024 - 3:28:12 PM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

I've heard restaurant owners say the booze is where the best profits are.


Especially now, I bet.  Craft beer and wine sales falling, and cocktails or cocktails are on the rise.  Good money to be made, eh.

May 8, 2024 - 3:41:54 PM

79839 posts since 5/9/2007

In the 80s/90s I was told a bottle of liquor made about $100.

May 8, 2024 - 3:59:33 PM

3833 posts since 4/5/2006

I miss the diversity of fine ethnic restaurants we grew to love while living in Southern California. None of which were franchise chains. Medford, Oregon seems to have a penchant for food trucks.

My taste buds are crying out for some good Cajun food.

May 9, 2024 - 5:39:21 AM
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16149 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

I've heard restaurant owners say the booze is where the best profits are.


This is true.

In descending order, the next best margins are on

1) desserts

2) appetizers

May 9, 2024 - 6:19:16 AM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb
quote:
Originally posted by steve davis

I've heard restaurant owners say the booze is where the best profits are.


Especially now, I bet.  Craft beer and wine sales falling, and cocktails or mocktails are on the rise.  Good money to be made, eh.


May 9, 2024 - 6:27:23 AM

Owen

Canada

15298 posts since 6/5/2011

.... Keep goin' Skip, I'm more interested in the lucky-to-break-even, and/or the we're-losing-our-shirts  parts of the menu.  cheeky

Fwiw, we were at a restaurant last nite ... mucho disappointed that there was nothing in a foreign language on the menu .... but, but, but pop was $4.09 a pop.

May 9, 2024 - 6:41:22 AM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

We went to a wine tasting affair last night, at a French/Italian-ish joint a few blocks away. Ok food, a bit hit-n-miss quality, a few good dishes. However, I wish their (and many others in my town) appreciated that many of us appreciate a good charquterie board. I am willing to pay more for a better board of treats. Apparently, our market does not demand it. Brad

May 9, 2024 - 7:00:08 AM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

Curiosity Poll:
What would the menu price of this dinner cost you, in your town, at a decent (tablecloth) restaurant?
"12 oz prime/choice ribeye steak, potato, and a green vegetable, with a house salad"
(not including any: appetizer, dessert, drink, bread, tip, tax, etc)

Around here, about 40.00-50.00 at a decent restaurant, higher at a top-shelf, more foo-foo/classy highest end establishment-only a few of these in town.

May 9, 2024 - 7:02:16 AM

Buddur

USA

3957 posts since 10/23/2004

My second job ever was at a Howard Johnsons. I started as busboy, to prep cook, to cook, to waiter, to host and everything in between. Based on that experience....I swore I'd never work in a restaurant again.

Don't get me wrong, I had blast with the great people, I worked hard, was given alot of responsibility, learned alot and believe that experience was well worth the headaches that come with the work . Still...just never ever wanted to do it again.

May 9, 2024 - 7:35:13 AM

heavy5

USA

3115 posts since 11/3/2016

An interesting post Brad --- my offer for a name would have been " In Your Face " but I'm guessing it's a common one ?

May 9, 2024 - 7:38:47 AM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

quote:
Originally posted by heavy5

An interesting post Brad --- my offer for a name would have been " In Your Face " but I'm guessing it's a common one ?


IMO, a great BBQ joint name.  Brad

May 9, 2024 - 9:30:13 AM

79839 posts since 5/9/2007

People are pretty fussy about what they want to eat and drink.
A good restaurant knows what the right menu is for the people that live within driving distance.
Big cities can be more forgiving of a niche menu as their niches are bigger.

Things get cooked different ways,but the liquor is always the same.

May 9, 2024 - 10:12:50 AM

Owen

Canada

15298 posts since 6/5/2011

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb

Curiosity Poll:


Winnipeg, MB ... for 10 oz. which seems to be a more common size here... $40 - 45 Cdn.*

* = That converts to about $30-33 of those funny looking things used south of the border. wink

May 9, 2024 - 10:54:33 AM

813 posts since 11/9/2021

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb

We went to a wine tasting affair last night, at a French/Italian-ish joint a few blocks away. Ok food, a bit hit-n-miss quality, a few good dishes. However, I wish their (and many others in my town) appreciated that many of us appreciate a good charquterie board. I am willing to pay more for a better board of treats. Apparently, our market does not demand it. Brad


Ahh, these Americans!  Just offer ketchup with every dish, they will be 'appy.  Viva le sauce' American!  

May 9, 2024 - 11:58:48 AM

16149 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by rinemb

Curiosity Poll:
What would the menu price of this dinner cost you, in your town, at a decent (tablecloth) restaurant?
"12 oz prime/choice ribeye steak, potato, and a green vegetable, with a house salad"
(not including any: appetizer, dessert, drink, bread, tip, tax, etc)

Around here, about 40.00-50.00 at a decent restaurant, higher at a top-shelf, more foo-foo/classy highest end establishment-only a few of these in town.


The appropriate price really depends on several factors. There are a variety of different grades and approaches to that ribeye. We're used to thinking of meat in three grades - prime, choice and select - but there are subgrades within those. Not sure what it's called today, but back when I was cooking in a good house domestically we would but whole ribeye primals in grade Choice Yield Grade Three. It was the priciest of the Choice varieties, and usually almost indistinguishable from Prime. But a lot cheaper than prime - and a lot pricier than Yield Grade One.

Of course, if it goes through special treatment like dry-aging, the cost per serving goes way up.

May 9, 2024 - 12:30:09 PM
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16149 posts since 12/2/2005

quote:
Originally posted by Owen

.... Keep goin' Skip, I'm more interested in the lucky-to-break-even, and/or the we're-losing-our-shirts  parts of the menu.  cheeky


Well, good houses rarely offer those.

In high-end restaurants, management usually tries to track food costs at 33 to 35% of food total. Very high-end restaurants may go a bit higher, but only if they're selling plenty of really good wine at really good markups - and have clienteles that will pay for same.

At the other end of the scale you have venue pricing for cafeteria/quick service. In the ski industry, for example, the basic base lodge cafeteria aims at a cost-of-goods in the 17 to 20% range. People love their french fries... and you can make a boatload of money on those.

A good chef or kitchen manager is well aware of all of this. Say that he or she wants to run a Maine Lobster special on Saturday evening: steamed 1/14 pound lobster, cole slaw, french fries. Here in New England, lobsters typically run (wholesale) around $8/pound this time of year (the get cheaper when the season really kicks in and there's more lobstermen going out). So the bug, uncooked, is worth around $10.00. Cabbage is cheap, and so are carrots; the slaw probably costs about $0.25 per serving all in (assuming decent mayo and vinegar). The fries can vary in price depending on whether they come in frozen/pre-prepped or are done in house, but those are likely to cost maybe 0.75/serving. Add another half a buck for the drawn butter. In this hypothetical, our total ingredient cost for the plate is $11.25. If you're aiming at a 33% cost of goods across the board, you'd price it at $33.75. You might back that off a bit to 29.95 - a higher cost percentage - on the grounds that the higher margins on apps and desserts will make up for it.

The approach can be somewhat different elsewhere. In France, for example, truffle season can be exasperating for chefs, many of whom love to work with truffles (and whose customers expect them) and who, because truffles are basically a black market item where purchases are made in cash, cannot write of (or even claim) their costs when tax time comes around.

Skilled management of trim and leftovers is essential. Good chefs do their best to waste NOTHING - if the house is doing its own butchering, for example, bones and vegetable trimmings are used for stocks and sauces. "The Soup of the Day" is generally made with leftovers. Ever wonder why so many restaurants offer Broccoli and Cheddar soup? Aside from the fact that people like it a lot, it's how restaurants use up broccoli stems. Broccoli is sold by weight, and a lot of that weight is in the stems, which are perfectly edible but nobody wants to see them on their plate. Make a soup with them - soups tend to be high-margin offerings - and you've solved your broccoli trim problem, made your customers happy, and done well on the cost of goods equation.

One house I used to work in had a very successful Sunday brunch. It was by far the most profitable meal served all week. People would drink gallons of booze and it was quite a show - a mix of buffet and items from the kitchen. I would generally make some fancy display pieces, such as whole poached salmon in aspic, to centerpiece the buffet - around which were all manner of cold offerings of pasta salads, meat-and-veggie salads, charcuterie, etc. As Anthony Bourdain once observed, cooks hate doing brunch but grudgingly accept it because it's a way to get people to spend $20 for breakfast ($20 breakfasts are actually a thing now, but back when he wrote it you'd feel ripped off if you paid more than $5).

But here's the rub: other than the display pieces, pretty much everything offered on the buffet was LEFTOVERS, nicely displayed. Egg dishes and kitchen items were fresh-cooked of course, but as for the rest of it... Say you've got five orders of prime rib left over from Wednesday night. Cut it into julienne slices, mix it with julienne red, green and yellow bell peppers and some scallion greens, top it with a dressing made of soy, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic and sesame oil... put it in an attractive bowl with a set of tongs and a placard calling it "Asian Beef Salad" and it'll be snarfed up in no time.

We cooks didn't track the gross revenues from brunch. If, at its completion, there was barely enough food left in the walk-in to make it through that night's dinner service, we considered it a job well done.

Let that be a lesson to all. If you regularly attend buffet brunches, recognize what you're getting and what the house is doing. You're eating leftovers, and the house is doing its damndest to make sure that it sells every scrap of food it buys.

Edited by - eagleisland on 05/09/2024 12:34:09

May 9, 2024 - 2:39:32 PM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

Skip, interesting info regarding the truffle biz in France. In Kansas, the “1/3,1/3,1/3 rule” is still a good rule of thumb. One third of costs for foods and misc, one third for labor, and one third of costs toward the property/lease. My intimate details are a few years old, however. (Restaurant leases are usually triple-net) brad

May 9, 2024 - 2:40:19 PM
Players Union Member

rinemb

USA

16349 posts since 5/24/2005

Btw, I am moving my poll to its own topic. Brad

May 9, 2024 - 5:01:01 PM
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62239 posts since 12/14/2005

Back when I was working for The City, part of my job was to do License Renewal inspections on taverns.
There were a couple of places where it seemed painfully obvious that some guys sitting around drinking beer came up with a BRILLIANT PLAN.
"Hey, lets buy some out-of business bar, open it again, and we get all our beer at WHOLESALE prices!"

And when I came back next yer for the license renewal inspection, the place was once again shuttered.

May 10, 2024 - 6:12 AM

16149 posts since 12/2/2005

One thing worth adding: back when I was still cooking as a pro, everything was done on paper. Today, there are extremely sophisticated software packages that make it a helluva lot easier to track inventory, costs, waste, etc. Kitchen managers still need to keep a wary eye - pilferage is always an issue in the bidness - but these tools can make managing costs a lot easier.

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