The horse is dead and the shark ate him!

It’s been a looooong time since my last entry. I will readily admit to the fact that the reason I began to post on this blog was personal and cathartic. I had a ton of anger and rage that I just had a need to channel and this was the safest way to do so and not get my big ass locked up. Up until this morning, the rage and anger had subsided. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful people in my life as well as a woman with whom I’ve become very close. In fact, for the first time in my life, I can actually say that I am in love. The reason being, I am, for the first time in my life, in a committed relationship clean and sober. That is to say, I am able to see things and people for what and who they are rather then what I, in my high and drunken stupors, imagined them to be. OK, enough of the warm fuzziness of recovery. It’s time to for me to forge ahead into the meat of the matter and the reason I felt a need to write this entry.

Let’s begin with the title. I like to give a bit of an explanation about the title especially if it presents itself as cryptic or misleading. This one qualifies. The shark reference is a nod to jumping the shark as in the Happy Days episode when the Fonz, while water skiing, jumped over the shark in the cage below the surface. It’s my understanding that this is the episode, for which this phrase was coined, and became part of the pulp culture, so to speak. The horse reference is a nod to an earlier entry in which I stated that I would ride the “deal site” horse until it died and then eat it. Well I’m happy to proclaim the fuckin’ horse is dead and the shark ate him. I can’t eat him, I’m watching my figure and cannot afford the calories.

Let us allow this entry to serve as a public statement and promise to my entire staff that…..

I WILL NEVER RUN A DEAL ON ANY SITE EVER AGAIN!

I’ve been running deals of various amounts and in different forms for nearly 3 years. In the beginning, I saw it not only as a means to raise working capital in a very challenging economic environment but as a wonderful form of mass marketing. A form of marketing that not only required $0.00 outlay of cash on my part but also paid me in advance for future dining by new guests in my establishment. It worked! My email list of guests jumped from 1500 or so to over 3000 in the past couple of years. Each new guest willfully requesting to become a part of the list. I use this list to directly market to my customers by way of Constant Contact and it is absolutely invaluable in every way imaginable.

In recent months however, I’ve had a great many conversations with my front of the house team led by my very professional, accomplished and highly respected General Manager and Wine Director Marcello. In each and every one of these conversations it has been brought to my attention that the attitude and overall personality of the guest I am attracting with these deals is in a free fall sort of decline. A decline that is having a very negative effect on the entire staff in terms of moral and happiness while at work. This, of course, cannot be allowed to continue, I told myself. I need all of these folks to be in high spirits. I also need them to feel an overall sense of appreciation not only from me but from our guests. If this is not happening it is ultimately my responsibility as the owner of this restaurant to step in and correct the problem to the best of my ability and with as much tact and sensitivity as possible. I’ve tried, I really have, but to no avail. I am left with only this to say.

******DISCLAIMER******

Please be advised, this DOES NOT apply to all deal site users. 99% of these deals have been redeemed with great satisfaction and in many instances with a return visit. No disrespect is intended to those of you who have purchased these deals and used them happily, following the rules set forth. We appreciate you and look forward to serving you always!

   In fact, this only applies to a small minority of deal site users. For the most part, these sites have served to expand my customer base and reward a good number of my current guests as well. In addition to providing me with much needed capital. Capital used to make improvements in the restaurant and build an addition that serves as dining space as well as a private dining room for a variety of events.

OK, now that I’ve been able to explain how much I value those that use these deal sites for their intended purpose, (that purpose being a win/win for all three, the guest, the establishment running the deal and the deal site itself.) I will now say what needs to be said to the small minority of folks that have ruined it for the whole bunch. Ready?

YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME! Did ya get that? I mean it, STAY AWAY! Please call or email the deal site and tell them you want a refund. I cannot believe the entitlement and general attitude of “me, me, me” that you people exhibit in public. Forget about my restaurant and my staff for a moment. This is not about us. This is about you fools. I am told over and over again by my staff, how abusive some diners can be when they simply do not have the means or even worse, have the means but not the willingness to act in a civil fashion in a public place. Are you people not embarrassed by your behavior?!!? It puzzles me as to who would, if anyone, want to sit at a table with you idiots. You are, as a group, abusive, mean, nasty, despicable human beings that should not be allowed to walk amongst other more evolved people, much less omit the vile stench of your attitude toward those that serve you in a public place, such as my staff of professionals of whom I am very proud.

I am recently most proud that none have them have taken it upon themselves to punch you in the fucking face for treating them as you have. I have actually had some of you tell my manager, point blank, that he is here to work for you and he should do as he is told, BY YOU! Are you fucking kidding me?! This gentleman and his team do not work for you – you entitled neophyte jag-off! They don’t even work for me. They work as independent contractors for the same restaurant for which I work. The fact that I own the restaurant does not make me any less of an employee of the establishment. It simply makes me responsible for everything that goes on within.

We, as a team, have experienced lies of epic proportion, in order for you, the entitled, dishonest, sneaky folks that you are to get your way regardless of the needs of other diners not to mention the overall health of the restaurant. I place very clear and specific restrictions on each of the deals that I run. These restrictions are as follows; 1.) the diner must call the restaurant directly and speak to a staff member to make a reservation. Online reservations are not permitted for tasting menu deals. 2.) one deal or certificate may be redeemed per table per evening. 3.) the deals are not redeemable with any other offers. 4.) a limited amount of these deals (tasting menus only) will be honored on Friday and Saturday evenings. (6pm or earlier or 8 pm or later)   That’s it! There is no hidden agenda. There are no cloak and dagger games being played. I mean no disrespect when presenting these restrictions. They are simply necessary to have in order to insure a fair and just means of redeeming these deals and still allowing the operation to survive and dare I say it????? PROFIT!

Yes, that’s correct, I need to profit as well as offer these deals. The problem is this. Those of you of whom I am speaking, have exhibited breathtaking disrespect for my team and also happen to be the same assholes that could care less if my restaurant lives to see another day after you have redeemed your deal. The details are not of concern to you. You want what you want, when you want it and you have no interest in hearing an explanation of why your demands may be somewhat unreasonable. The disclosed restrictions, the needs of other deal site users that actually use the deal as intended (respectfully) and the basic human rights of my staff BE DAMNED!

Last night was the final straw. I awoke at 6 am as I do each day to find a text, an email and a missed call all from the same person. This woman took it upon herself to get the message to me at all costs that her dining rights have been irreconcilably denied and therefore her experience ruined. Not to mention the experience of her esteemed, food savvy guest. This couple had a deal site tasting menu certificate. Not a big shock we took 14 of them last night. This is wonderful in my eyes as we are reaching guests that for the most part, are learning of us for the first time after over seven years at this location. (We have been able to see repeat visits from over 20% of our deal site first time guests. This is a number not often seen. quite a blessing not to mention a testament to my staff and their professionalism.)  

Back to our “happy couple.” The woman informed me, by way of all three communications, that my manager is, and this is a quote, “a complete asshole that does not belong in his position nor does he deserve to work with the public in any way shape or form”  This statement, as it turns out, was the least offensive of all the ridiculous things stated as fact in her opinion about my restaurant. Now Marcello, while not always warm and fuzzy, especially when abused by a diner in the way in which he was abused last night, is ALWAYS professional and accommodating in every way.

He represents my restaurant and our product with such pride and integrity that one might mistake him for the owner. Please allow me to state for the record that I do not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy. This is an antiquated, flawed business philosophy that allows a guest to dictate what an establishment should provide rather then enjoying what the establishment is best suited to provide. Not to mention what that operation is known for providing. Pure nonsense! A practice seen only in those establishments that lack either the strength of their convictions or a lack of confidence in their own product…..or, even worse, BOTH! Needless to say, we are not one of those establishments.

We try very hard to provide a wonderful experience for all of our guests. We do so with a strict attention to the important point that when we veer from what we are known to provide best, we inevitably welcome trouble. The most common instance of this is when we let the guest drive the experience. This woman was trying to do just that. They arrived 45 minutes late for an online reservation with a tasting menu deal certificate for which the kitchen was not prepared. We routinely prepare for at least 2 or 3 tables that pop up as a result of an honest mistake either on our part or as the result of a miscommunication with the guest. We take full responsibility and do our best to accommodate. Sometimes we are simply full and do not have the capacity to make last minute changes to facilitate the needs of a single guest. In such a case we offer alternatives, extensions of expiration, application of face value to be used that evening but in a different capacity, etc…. at times, such as last night, this is simply not good enough for the guest and things unravel.

I did not bother Marcello with this situation today as it is his well deserved day off and I want him to relax. I took it upon myself to speak with all of the staff that worked last night and each of their descriptions of what happened was identical with the exception of, you guessed it, our deal site folks.

It seems the lady was much more upset in the beginning then the gentleman and was very vocal. After addressing the table and explaining that since they did not do what was asked on the deal and call to alert us to their tasting menu, we could not produce an additional menu of this type. I do not give a shit if anyone understands why I made this restriction a part of the deal.

It just is. I will not and cannot disclose my business model to everyone that buys a deal. Now the man, and I use that term in jest, becomes aggravated despite Marcello’s best attempts to make reasonable amends for the situation. This fool begins to shout in the middle of MY DINING ROOM at the gentleman that runs the entire operation, demanding that what he and his dining companion want, must be provided. In doing so, they disturbed other guests, belittled my manager, his staff and my restaurant. Still, in the end, they were given everything we could give them to try and make them happy. As these pricks dined on my cuisine, served by a professional team in a comfortable environment, (all at a 50% discount mind you), they were texting and talking on their phones all night long. Very loudly might I add, making a point to be loud enough to let my staff know that they were going on opentable and Facebook to slander the restaurant in grand fashion as they dined.

To this couple I offer you this. FUCK YOU!!! As well as everyone else that thinks as you think and acts as you act. This is an grown up restaurant for those that know how to act in public. It is for those that want to and are able to act civil towards one another and towards those that work very hard to serve them. We greatly appreciate all of our guests that enjoy dining in our restaurant, especially nowadays, when there are so many great options. I made a mistake riding this horse as far as I did. I have my reasons. I also have a couple of regrets – not the least of which is the stress I put on my staff in order to accommodate the small minority of deal site folks that simply don’t deserve to be accommodated.

Gentlemen of the staff of Restaurant Michael, I am very sorry that you had to endure this silliness. I would like to thank you for doing so and for being the professional, dedicated people that you are. I am very fortunate to have the privilege to work beside you. Please do not be discouraged. 99% of our guests appreciate and love the service you provide. It is that 99% that inspires me to continue providing the product we provide. Be proud of yourselves and rest assured, I certainly am proud of you! I will not allow anyone to abuse us as professionals not to mention as human beings.

Wanna hear the kicker? The guests from last night were industry people. A cook that works for a very close chef friend of mine and his bitch girlfriend. – twenty-somethings with no balls, no respect and no class. I weep for the future of our nation…… Make no mistake, had I been here last night you would all have cause to weep for them.

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What? no memo!

Suffice it to say nobody called to let me know that the whole restaurant world was turning upside down when it began a few years ago. It’s a cycle, every 20 years or so an evolution must take place. It’s what makes the world go round. It also evidently is what lifted us as a species out of the slime and mud we once inhabited. So I get it okay, nobody needs to chime in with some bullshit about me getting old and set in my ways. I already know that I am getting old and set in my ways. Save your typing fingers for now.

 That being said, lets move forward and get to the meat of the matter. This current evolution has taken a wrong turn and figuratively jumped the shark, as it were, and it’s gone far enough for my taste. I’m not going to go into great detail about specific cuisines and styles, at lease not in this entry. What I am going to do is ring the “Wake your ass up bell” for all of those young hot-shot Chef wannabes out there that are hell bent on teaching ME and my fellow aging compadres how to cook and how to run a restaurant. The time has come my friends to get your collective culinary heads out of your asses and pay attention. It was said to me 22 years ago by Chefs I respected and tried to one-up and they had it said to them 20 years before that by the older guard and so the process goes….

The difference today is the instant access to information at all times on all subjects be it true or simply made up bullshit. This feeling of “the power of knowledge” in the absence of actual skill and ability to run a business, is, in a word, tragic. Please allow me to explain. I was having a conversation with a Chef friend who happens to be held in very high esteem in the Chicago culinary scene a few days ago. By the end of the conversation we were both ready to round-up all of our collective interns and entry-level cooks and beat them with bunches of leeks! (The leeks would be bound beautifully with lovely, long strands of blanched carrot of course, I mean we are not savages!) After giving the conversation a bit more thought and deciding we did not want to be sued by the local arm of Citizens Against Cruelty to Idiot Cooks, We redirected our energy. My energy landed here. My Chef friend, while not suffering from the same addictive demons as I, (at least that he will admit to) landed at the local watering hole. From which another, much more colorful and demented conversation was born. (This will also be fodder for a future entry).

What I need to shed light on is the fact that along with the information superhighway and advent of social media we also have reality TV Super-Chefdom to combat. While there are a handful of really talented Chefs on TV (Gordon Ramsey, Mario Batali……..well I guess that’s it. Sorry) few of them are willing to admit to the fact that it took as much luck as anything to land them where they are on the tube. Even hard work was less of a factor than actual luck. I work hard, you work hard, anyone that supports their family with a shit paying job and no benefits works hard. We don’t all have fucking TV programs to use as a proverbial soap box do we? No. So, that being said, the dream of getting famous simply by virtue of hard work is a lovely pasture rife with horse shit.  Agreed? Okay, moving on.

The students being pumped out of the greedy culinary school machine are the main source of my angst. It’s really not the student’s fault. It’s the schools and their inept ability to both raise and lower industry standards in tandem in order to increase their profits and graduation rate. First off, we need to hit the subject of current food trends.

When I say hit, it is not a euphemism, I want to beat the“lightly truffled  foam” out of them! I’m quite certain of the fact that each generation of Chefs has had a proponent wave this familiar flag of resistance. What’s different this time around is the combination of the constant stream of information, the greed driven culinary school assholes and our narcissistic Chef-like lust for fame. A more volatile recipe for a disaster in an industry is not often seen. What we are fast approaching is just that, a disaster. I am not being overly dramatic here I promise you. It won’t be the end of the world, just the end of all this bullshit that allows soon to be Chefs to believe that being famous and being talented is six of one, half a dozen of the other. Allow me to sound like my old Pappy for a minute here as I say, when I was coming up 25 years ago, I actually had to learn how to cook before I opened a fucking’ restaurant! I know this seems like a stretch for many of you young culinarians out there but it’s true. I spent 12 years actually learning under talented, driven, egomaniacal, fucked up, addicted, short-tempered, long in the tooth Chefs. (All of whom I am very much like myself in many ways, I’m proud to admit) I would not trade that time in my life for any amount of money or fame. I actually learned to ply my trade before embarking upon trying to become a    Chef-whore for the media. These folks coming out of culinary schools now are being so pumped up with “you’re a Chef, you’re a Chef  rah, rah, rah! Go get ’em tiger. Show em what your made of.” bullshit, that they are destined to fail. And, if they don’t fail, by some miracle fluke of nature, they remain in my way and the way of my fellow TRAINED Chefs. By in the way I mean just that. They’re road blocks. They lure unsuspecting guests into the restaurants. Restaurants that they proceed to pollute with their untrained, method and technique-void silliness with flashy marketing and deep pocketed family investors. Upon doing so, these neophyte “Chefs” shit on the poor taste buds of the unsuspecting public and in the process, leave me with the responsibility of apologizing to these very same guests that they pissed off before coming to dine with us!

This behavior is offensive in every way not only to the dining public but to me. Some of these practicing, future bankruptcy cases actually have the audacity to charge up to 30% more than I charge for a meal that is not even in the same ballpark. Hell, it’s not even the same sport. When you spend $49 on a three course menu with me, you walk out knowing damn well where that money was spent. On top of it, I send out Grand Marnier Chocolate truffles before you leave and warm Gougeres when you arrive Gratis. When you go to see one of the new up and coming superstars you should feel honored that they had the inclination to even pick up the phone to take your reservation. If, that is, they feel you are important enough to be allowed to dine on their delicate genius derived menu items. Welllllll….. NO WAY! NOT ME! I’m not falling for this shit anymore! These young Chefs need to be told that practicing on MY CUSTOMERS is unacceptable. These very same people of whom I speak, even have the balls to give themselves the same title that I hold within a year or two of graduating from the greedy asshole culinary schools. Sorry folks, not gonna happen. I will not allow the proud title of Chef to be degraded any longer by this disrespectful behavior. Consider this a verbal spanking and stern warning, if you cross my path, I will invite you to cook in my kitchen with me for an afternoon and send you off with a look on your face that will tell all that see you that you have just been schooled!

  Nope, I don’t intend to fade away and be put out to pasture that easily and without a fight. There was and IS great value and importance in respecting the places from which we came and showing respect to those that forged the trail. I realize that this point is lost on the youth and energy of the new guard, much like it was lost on me when I was just starting out. I remember being ten feet tall and bullet proof for the first ten years of my culinary adventure as well. I am now  a mere 6’1 and riddled with simulated bullet holes fired upon my kitchen weary body by a constant barrage of opinions both informed and uninformed targeting my every dish and business decision.

Without the push and energy of the upcoming class of future Chefs there would be no progress, no evolution in the industry. All I’m asking for is that it be done with a bit more tact and respect for those of us that continue the fight with swollen joints, weak knees and checkered, restaurant tattered financial boo-boo’s reflecting on our credit. (See ladies, don’t I sound like a fine catch?) It’s actually critical to the fiscal health of the small restaurant operator such as myself.  I actually read an article written about a local “Hot New” restaurant a couple of years ago that quoted the Chef/owner as saying “it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t have to be concerned with money and the finances of the restaurant”. WHAT?! Allow me a moment to do a Chester Cheeto head shake so I can process that bullshit statement once again. That, my friends, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a restaurateur talking. That is a kid, whose Dad found a space and decided to pay the rent for his fuck up son so he wouldn’t OD on his drug of choice. That’s a fact. It is nothing more than culinary masturbation. The problem with this scenario is that this Chef, who I cannot name, sadly, is throwing the balance off for the rest of us by way of what he is charging VS. what he delivers and the way in which he delivers it.

A single, perfectly cooked lamb rack chop, sprinkled with red Hawaiian sea salt and paired with spiced root beer is not a culinary adventure. It is actually critic bait and it’s bullshit. I promise you, I can tell anybody anything I want about the food I am serving and I can make a believable case for what I’m saying. Think about it. The Chef walks out of the kitchen in his or her pressed white Chef coat with wisps of steam and smoke behind them as they strut into the dining area, backlit and glowing as if all-knowing and all-seeing. They approach your table and utter a few well-chosen, cryptic words and glide on to the next table.  You’re left with a heady feeling like the cheerleader that just got a big smooch from the quarterback after he throws the game winning touchdown. It’s the Jedi mind trick! “I didn’t care for this dish Chef”  “yes you did!” “Oh, okay, maybe I did…….” I’m trying to warn you folks, don’t buy it. There are some really talented young cooks out there today, just now getting their chops. Poised to take the reins, which, after the proper training, they will be deserving of.

 These are the young cooks that are doing it right. They are training under Chefs that will not only impart hard lessons but will inspire them to carry on tradition while still advancing the art and the craft of the industry in a more modern form. We are fortunate enough to derive our livelihood from the act of making others happy. I have one of these guys in my kitchen right now. I won’t mention his name, he knows who I’m talking about and he’s likely reading this now. So I will say to him the following…..Don’t get cocky smart ass! There’s a lot to learn on this path you’ve chosen. If you walk to quickly, you will miss the nuance of what it has to offer. Those nuances are the reason we get into this bullshit, beating of a business to begin with. We get the pleasure of instant feedback from those that we are fortunate enough to have dine on our creations. We get to wear fucking pajamas while we do it and we get to yell and swear at each other all day and night and still be considered artists of some kind. Yikes! I mean after all, how much luck can can a person have?