The Real Reason Restaurants Fail

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 the servers 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,  and it is about having steady employees.



Philosphy Statement

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.

Just a Step to Side

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.


Pigeon #Hole

I am glad that we are talking about sexual oppression, but it is beginning to be a media obsession that is pigeonholing the larger issues of gender inequality.

Focusing singularly on this one aspect of female oppression is making the overall issue of gender inequality virtually unaddressed.   It is about respect, and I don’t want to see the same argument being spun in the mud, losing traction against even the greater mission of making all people equal.  Yes, I would like to start with women’s equality- that would afford me with a higher quality of life.  I would have more money in my pocket a long time ago, my career would not have been so stagnant, my apartment and clothes would be nicer, I would have a car, my life would have been easier.

But so many people feel this way.  We can say without a doubt that racism is extremely prevalent in this country.  The #metoo movement is about people telling their story, but inequality between men and women runs way deeper than this one terrible spin-off.  The inequality issue is about not having the same opportunities in jobs, in politics, in finance, in education, in visibility as the male counterpart.  Sexual oppression is one terrible side effect of a historical patriarchal system.

The movement needs to evolve into an uplifting and empowerment movement of people who are systematically abused, one the encompasses both gender and race.  The movement needs to open its pledge beyond this one aspect if it is going to help end discrimination.

Confession of a Feminist

As a single woman in her mid-thirties, with a career-long rap sheet in the culinary industry, you would assume that I would support the #metoo movement.  I have stories, I have harassment, I have glass ceiling lower than a garden apartment.

I am angered by the way I have been treated, I am angered that I put up with it to some degree. I am mad that I thought this “locker room talk” would make me stronger, I am mad that I thought my career was more important than my dignity.

I have never been physically harassed beyond butt grabbing and boob groping, but I can comfortably say that I have been verbally harassed just about every day on the job.

“You gotta have thick skin if you are going to make it in this industry.”

Christ on a stick, I have heard that so many times I want to puke.

It’s not always words, it’s glancing, it’s licking of the lips (I know, ew), it’s the brushing against the butt repeatedly, it’s the unwanted advances, it’s subtly lewd comments, it’s the never being taken seriously because of the way that I look.  I have not been granted second interviews for management positions because of my innocent smile, soft eyes, amiable nature.  Every time I tell anyone that I work in the foodservice industry, people always assume that I must be a server.  I am a damn fine cook and a successful chef,  I don’t rely on talent or beauty, I rely on skill, determination, drive, and a great sense of style.

I do not back the #metoo movement because social media is click bait, and that is it.  #metoo a damn trend and right now at some point soon it will trend downward.  There is no fight in a hashtag.  There is no march, there is no riot, there is nothing beyond words of disapproval.

Last year’s person of the year was a monster who insists still that the title of the Time magazine award should be REVERTED to “man” of the year.

This year’s Time Magazine’s Person of the Year is a fucking hashtag.