“I find the healthiest way to eat vegetables is to actually eat them” – Marigold
My coworkers, rather my ex-coworkers, when I lost my job, their immediate heartfelt reaction was to not let this minor inconvenience get in my way of pastry domination- a catchphrase that came out of my lips multiple times on a daily basis during my reign as a Pastry Chef at two top Chicago restaurants. Pastry domination, taking over the Chicago dining scene, being one of the best pastry chefs in the nation, making pastry relevant again, was my dream. I worked so damn hard at pastry domination, at being successful, at making badass dishes that people loved and remembered and talked about and Instagrammed. I was in multiple magazines, I was on television, I sold a rather large percentage of dishes, I was for a brief moment successful.
So when that unexpected ax came for my head, when my success wasn’t actually successful, I gave up the fight.
I did. I gave up. I don’t give up on anything. I am a fighter, I am determined, I don’t let anything get in the way when I have made up my mind on something. But I did, I gave up. I throw in the dirty towel.
I have been cooking since legally allowed to start earning money. I didn’t have much background before that- I didn’t learn from grandma, I didn’t grow up in the kitchen under mom’s apron. But once I picked up that knife, I didn’t put it back down. I have 19 years in food service. I have been a part of every angle, in every corner of the industry, learning and experiencing the entire gamut of food service- fast food, catering, cafeteria, fine dining, modern casual dining, large restaurants, small restaurants, serving, busing, prep cook, line cook, pastry assistant, pastry chef, menu development, costing, management, dishwasher. You name it, I have done it.
I thought that this would be important, I thought that this would prove to be an asset. Everyone needs to eat, right?
Well yes, but as it turns out, people don’t really care about what they eat so much. They care about fashion, they care about cocktails, they care about gossip, and movies, and politics, and social media. People care about taking pictures of their food, but they don’t actually care about food. Cooking and cleaning is a nuisance, and eating out is expensive. So the people want something fast and cheap and easy. This leaves me irrelevant.
Not only do I have the years of food service, I put all my eggs in one basket. I gave up everything to pursue my dream. I gave up making any kind of money. I gave up having a life of my own. I lost my friends. I gave up holidays with my family. I gave up on the physical self- I gained weight, lost muscle, stopped going to the gym, got veracious veins, developed asthma, had a bout of psoriasis for about 3 years, got acne, developed alcoholic tendencies, ran myself into a car on my bike which resulted in sever bruising but couldn’t take any time off work, got very sick many times but still worked my 12+ hour shifts, got burned, got cut, worked mornings, worked nights, worked the night and then the next morning, I got mugged on the way home from working a late shift, I got pink eye, I never had vacation, I could hardly even request a day off. I had two full-time jobs at once multiple times so that I could pay rent.
I gave up my dignity- I got yelled at, verbally harassed, degraded, threatened, treated like a child. I never got complimented, nobody ever said “good job”. I didn’t get breaks of any sort, I ate my one meal a day standing up while still trying to get my prep work done. I never had health insurance, (don’t even ask about dental, that’s hilarious) never had time or money for the doctor. All for nothing. All to be a servant. I never made any money. The most money I ever made a college grad would turn their nose up at, and say no way in hell would I work for so little, even at an easy job.
I thought it was worth it, but when that ax came down I felt like a damn fool.
My coworkers told me not to give up, they told me that I was very skilled, that I had something. They looked me in the eye and said to keep going.
They still ask “where did you end up?” I reply I am on welfare.
So I am not following their advice. I am not following the path anymore. I am going to carve out my clearing by giving up.
Everyone is talking about it. Some people are truly concerned about the future industry. Everyone has their own opinions about why. The real scoop, though, has not really been discussed. It’s something that people in the industry know, but don’t want to talk about.
Because they are too scared. They are too scared to be the first ones to really try it. They are too afraid to break free from the dynasty model of relying on free labor and tipping. It’s an archaic system, and its time to be reformatted.
Chicago is in the midst of a restaurant closing circus. Every week there is a full on list of places that are donezo. It has infected every type of spot- from that anniversary dinner at a 3 Michelin starred famous restaurant, down to your favorite local watering hole, your spot, your gem of a place where you feel cozy, protected, fed, watered, and loved.
There are many opinions which have been given:
*Too many options! That’s a bit ironic now isn’t it?
*Bad location! It’s upstairs or something?
*Social Media! People just like to look at pictures, they don’t actually eat.
*Rising Rent! On Randolph row? Well yeah, it’s like the MOST popular spot in town.
*Cost of Opening! Yes, it takes a very long time to get the damn thing open.
*People not eating out enough! I know plenty of people who have no idea how to cook at all. How do you think they are surviving?
*Too Expensive! This is true, sorta. It’s not really, people are deceived about how much something is going to cost, so they become hesitant. People like the familiar, they like to know what to expect.
It is true that it all boils down to money, but it’s not the monetary reason that people are blaming. It’s as simple as you can’t have a great restaurant without great cooks. You need a responsible chef and a small army of skilled cooks. It’s a simple formula, but it is one that does not exist anymore.
To state point blank, nobody wants to cook for a living. It’s hard, it’s demeaning, and it does not pay anything. Note, it’s not that you don’t make a lot of money cooking, or even enough, you don’t make any.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The cook should not feel cheated, the customer should not feel swindled, the restaurant should not feel poor.
Money Unaccounted for in the Operational Costing
The problem is with the business model of restaurants. You have set prices on the menu, but when the bill comes the customer must add an additional 20% to pay for service. First of all, this does not make sense. Why pay for service at a sit-down restaurant? It’s not like its an option to walk up to the window, it’s not like its an option not to tip. So why are we playing this game? When the customer tips the server, this money simply walks out the doors. It is not cycled through the business, it’s just written off as a form of payment for staff. 20% minimum is a lot of money to just sigh away.
Unfair because of the Percentage Skew based on hours worked and responsibility
20% of the bill is a large amount to pay for only one cog in the wheel mainly because this is far greater than anyone else in the entire machine.
A server working for 5 hours makes up for 4 times more than a cook working for 10 hours (in some cases 12+ hours). It is an unfair distribution of wealth. Even management does not make the amount that serves make.
Servers, however, feel slighted when business is slow because they are not fairly compensated for their downtime.
The restaurant needs to staff and budget accordingly, and have the real prices built into the menu
The Customer Want to Know the Cost Beforehand.
People want to know what to expect to pay so that after its all said and done, they don’t feel slighted. If you are prepared to spend $100 dollars, that’s all well and good. But if a person spends slightly more, say $125 then they have remorse from overspending. This makes them not want to return. It’s not about the actual dollar amount, it’s about expectation. Set prices would change this.
Everyone feels like a sucker
Customers feel cheated, the cooks are angry, the managers are too tired to care. This is the current model and it is clearly not working. You don’t need to take my word for it, just look around.
It is about having repeat customers, it is about having steady employees.
I think that one of the problems with the restaurant industry starts at home. People have lost the admiration of the chef-driven food and the glamour of dining out because they lost to the knowledge of cooking themselves.
People have become numb to the talents of chef’s and the potential of food itself because of our extreme lack of connection with food. It starts with a reliance on packaged food, it ends with not knowing how to cut an onion properly.
If we can get people excited about cooking again, we can get the people excited about what the true talents of the curious chef.
Why am I not afraid of self-employment when really I should be? Many people have tried, and most of those people fail. I might too. There is a good chance that I will fail in the quest for being my own boss and generating an income.
I am not afraid because if I fail, I don’t have too far to fall. This is one of the perks of investing in a career that makes very little money. The risks are lowered because I don’t have a large financial expectation from the get-go. That means that if it takes 5 years to fully develop the business, I won’t be in dark in the lean beginning.
Just because I haven’t made money cooking, does not mean that there is no money in it.
Every single day, I get a valentine from GrubHub. Every day, without me ever replying or even opening a metaphorical window with a simple click, GrubHub send me a love letter via electronic mail. So many unread and unanswered letters sit in my mailbox, gathering dust.
I don’t read them, I never have.
This unwavering dedication of getting my attention is something I have never experienced until advertising got a hold of me through electronic means. My mailbox at home has never gotten this much attention. Just a glance is all GrubHub wants. Just a reminder like hey, I’m here and waiting for you.
But this is not the way to my heart. It is true, that food is the way to the heart. But even with the promise of someone cooking for me, delivering it right into my hands, having no cleanup, the ability to get virtually anything under the sun, I repeatedly shut it down.
I am hoping the GrubHub will take the subtle hint, but there is worried part of me that thinks this will go on for a long time. Can you get a restraining order against a website? How do you break up with a machine? How do you follow a harassment suit against automated messages?
Although I am a terrible client, GrubHub does not care. I know that tomorrow, and the next day, and forever on, GrubHub will never forget me.
I will never give my heart to you, Grub Hub. I have given my heart to a refrigerator full of fresh produce, marinating meat, stocked high with leftovers, and crammed full of bubblers.
“Grubhub advises us to ’embrace eating on the couch’ but I would advise everyone to embrace eating in bed.” – Marigold