The price we pay……..

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….


17 thoughts on “The price we pay……..

  1. You and the Beast become more eloquent with each post! This blog thing may be a nearly perfect outlet for the Beast! Love it!

  2. I’ve always considered the prices at your restaurant to be tremendously reasonable for the quality offered. But no one seems to want to pay for skill these days. The debate goes on in all sectors. People wonder why they have to pay at all for Kindle books — it’s just an electronic file. They seem to forget that a human had to do the research and write the book. I do understand folks needing to be concerned about money, but there is such a think as getting what you pay for. A lot of things are declining into mediocrity, because so many people are unwilling to pay for skill, talent, and experience (not to mention water, gas, electricity, floorspace, and staff). I, for one, am happy to pay (when I have the money) for the incredible gifting you bring to the food. Anyone can eat cheaply, but artwork costs something.
    Cynthia Clampitt

  3. Michael, in responding to your guests you overlooked several very important factors in dinning at Restaurant Michael. Carol and I dine at Michael often for we can easily carry on a conversation without the excess ambiance found elsewhere. The service is impeccable, the food outstanding, and the phone does not ring with the latest credit card offer despite being on the Do Not Call List. Often you are there to say hello and that is always a pleasure. Will we see you tomorrow night?

  4. Wow, we eat at your restaurant frequently and think for the delicious cuisine and the excellent service you provide that you are very reasonably priced. We love your restaurant and are happy that we live close by.

    Denise Kirshenbaum

  5. Wally and Agador’s??? Sorry we missed that one! We’ve certainly loved your cooking at all the other spots.

    Cheers – Jamee & Ken

  6. I guess I have to count myself among those who would prefer taming the language. But the content is the thing, and here I am 100% on Michael’s page. At the risk of sounding like yet another self-congratulating egomaniac, we do indeed eat at high end restaurants all over the world. All I mean by that is that we have considerable experience with quality, ambience, service, cuisine and, of course, prices, which is where all of this started. I look at the price for a three-course prix fixe menu at Restaurant Michael and wonder how on earth he can do it. We paid several times that price at Le Francais years ago. We pay far more than that when we travel in Europe. We pay more all up and down the North Shore whenever we have some compelling reason to eat somewhere other than Restaurant Michael. Is Michael guilty of egomania when he says he has the finest wait staff in the world? Who hired these people? But truth be told, he’s right. I miss some of the persons who used to work for him in past years, but they have been replaced by a great crew of attentive and caring persons who remember their customers and treat them with the warmth of good friends yet with the propriety of persons who understand their function as servers. But what is a truly great restaurant all about at the end of the day? It’s the cuisine, the cuisine and the cuisine. Yes, I love the low noise level at Restaurant Michael even on a Saturday night when the place is packed. But I would not return time after time, often with important associates whom I am indeed trying to impress, were it not for the absolute genius of Michael and the incredible consistency of every experience with his food. I am not easy to please. I have never left Restaurant Michael dissatisfied: not once. And I actually have a somewhat delicate digestive system, which never once has been set off by anything I have eaten there. Will I lose all credibility if I don’t find one thing to say negatively? Okay, here goes: I think the wine list is overpriced and ought to include some great French and Italian reds at much lower prices. The selection is terrific; the prices are not. I might dine at Restaurant Michael at least twice as often were there free corkage or lower-priced fine wines. I know the very concept of free corkage stirs up the “beast” in Michael. But I am a high-end foodie on a very conservative budget and at least occasionally reality crashes in (that’s where my wife usually steps in).
    Michael, do you actually read these things?

  7. Sure sounds like the “So Called” diners need to have a lesson in vocabulary; there is a huge difference in dining and eating. They must have found it ok to pay for a view, your food is very reasonable for the quality of food (including presentation), service and atmosphere. It is a shame that so few “Real Diners” exist to support the fine group of restaurants we have here in Chicago. Keep the Beast and your talents in place; you have a great dining spot.

    All the best.


  8. Alan, thank you very much for your support and compliments. I guess this response answers your question about me reading these comments. While I don’t have time to respond to all of them (I received 123 of them on my email as well.) I just want you to know I will take your comments about the wine list under advisement. Have a wonderful week!

    Warm regards,

  9. Dear Michael,

    I too am in a business that provides a different kind of service to an upscale clientele. It costs money (lots) to provide top level service, be it a restaurant or something else. 98% of my customers appreciate what I bring to the table (pun intended) in terms of 1st Class product quality and service.

    Lower your prices, lower your quality, lower your level of service. Gee, I wonder where all my customers have gone.


  10. Actually, I can’t imagine someone who has dined all over the world thinking you are overpriced. We are always happy with the value we receive at your establishment.

  11. I love the beast! The beast speaks the truth. You are a gifted chef with an amazing staff. You have a wonderful restaurant, and your food is delicious beyond words. I feel sorry for anyone who can’t recognize that.
    And the beast is a great blogger 🙂 Keep it up!!

  12. Truth be told Michael…..Let’s blame the government. It seems to me the reason all your costs are going up is their fault!

    Thanks for allowing me to read this.


  13. That’s the beast?! Dang he has calmed down a lot and I speak from experience… My poor ears!! You tell them mike… Those idiots have no freaking idea about restaurants n what it does to the owner as well as his staff, n if I may say so at one point in time u had an amazingly gorgeous sous chef!!!

  14. I can’t really understand how anyone would expect the cost of fine dining to the cost of cooking at home. Simply put, are they factoring in the cost of their house?? Your restaurant is not “cheap” but, it certainly seems to be completely in-line with the dining experience. The “market” will tell you if/when that’s no longer true – just check to see if there are many empty tables.

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