The title raises the question, “The price we pay for what?” To begin, I want to speak to the cost of product in its raw state when it arrives at the restaurant vs what price is applied for the menu cost. They are worlds apart! If you suspect that the prices in restaurants are jacked up through the roof, I’m here to tell you, that you are 100% correct. Am I apologizing for this you ask? No. I would like to give you a bit of insight about the restaurant BUSINESS. Notice I emphasize the word business, please allow me to explain. Many people patronize a restaurant and become upset when they see a price on the menu and start to do a little quickie math in their heads.
Let me paint a picture for you about a recent tableside discussion I was drawn into with a first time guest. “Chef, may we speak with you for a moment please?” Of course, I’m all ears, how can I help you? “Well to be honest, my wife and I have gone over your menu and looks lovely but wildly over-priced.” In what regard, can you be a bit more specific? I replied knowing full well where this conversation was going and that the beast was about to be awakened. Fuck, I hate the beast. Why do people keep asking to speak with him? He is such a dick! I can barely control him when I’m calm and now I get the chance to introduce him to “the junior restaurant owners of America” who have pricing questions. Silly, silly, silly. Someone should have warned them, but alas, it’s too late, The cage is open and in these two unsuspecting folks wander. Time to batten down the hatches as the fun ensues. “We have dined all over the world as well as in countless fine restaurants in this country and we consider ourselves well-informed guests.” (Hmm, self-praise much?) I respond by asking, That’s wonderful, what is the connection between that statement and my menu prices? At this point the beast is still calm but very much on alert. “Your pricing structure… (Pricing structure?! the beast asks in a low grumbling voice) seems out of sync with the type of cuisine you offer. In fact, the prices seem unfair. We cook at home two or three times a week, and we prepare similar items to those on your menu.
Well now we are off and running, here comes the beast! I switch places with my inner friend and sit back to watch the festivities as the conversation shifts into a new gear. May I ask, do you ever get BUSY at home? What time is the rush? When does your ticket line and pick-up window fill up to capacity as more tables roll in? Does your dishwasher show up on time or do you pay $20 per hour in overtime to your cooks to clean the kitchen? (all of them semi-sober for that matter) What do you do, may I ask, at home while duplicating my cuisine, if the valet rams a guest’s BMW into the back fence in the alley? Do your busboys break china that costs a hundred bucks a throw and then hide the broken pieces? Have the fuel surcharges for each and every one of your suppliers doubled in the past year at home? How big, by the way is your staff at home? How have the costs of workman’s comp insurance effected your cooking prowess? Has the cost of dish detergent/pot and pan soap and cleaning supplies doubled over the past year? Have all of your incoming food and beverage invoices increased at least 20% this year alone? Has your dining room and basement flooded to the point of losing the carpet upstairs and water heater downstairs twice in a week? Did you still manage to open on time without missing a step by paying 120 hours of overtime to Your staff?
We did! I have the finest staff in the world. I thank God for their dedication and loyalty ever day! At this point we (the beast and I) need to take a breath. I also want to allow time for my eyes to roll back over in my head so I can see the look of sheer awe on the faces of the couple we were speaking with. I promise you, when I say beast I do not mean to imply that I raised my voice or was in any way disrespectful to this couple. I simply had to share with them to apease their morbid curiosity about my business and the choices I need to make to be able to stick around and remain profitable. Yes, I know full well that the word profitable is not held in high regard. Especially if the profit, God forbid, is derived from money spent by the general public. However, we all need to realize that this is a business and it must, on every level be treated as such or it will cease to exist. Case in point, how many restaurants have you watched open and close in Chicago in the past 5 years? Look closely, it numbers close to 100. Do you know why? Passion and total disregard for fiscal responsibility. Passion trumps responsible every day of the week for a Chef. Please understand, I count MYSELF on the top of this list of ding-a-lings. In fact, I could, after four of these major financial fuck-ups, call myself a ding-a-ling COACH! (Remember Les Deux Gros, Cochon Sauvage, Le Francais part 4, and most recently Wally and Agador’s) All of which were great concepts and on paper worked well, each with product I was and still am very proud to have served. The missing ingredient to complete these formulas however was…………fiscal responsability! I drove my poor brother fucking batty at the first two, our partner, jerk off that he was, batty with the third and myself into rehab with the last one. Well shit, I must have something to show for these little stumbles. Actually I do, bruises to my ego, my relationships, my credit and my liver! So going forward, expect to pay what it’s worth guys not what you see it going for on sale at Costco. Unless that is, you would like to rent my space and hire my staff to prepare it for you. In that case we are all yours. Their current boss is a real dick! I’m sure they would love to have a break from him….