Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

HST

Rethinking the restaurant

Recommended Posts

Hi everyone,

My name's Harrison and I'm a college student. I'm currently doing academic research on the development of a new style of restaurant where the customer can request any food they like with 24 hours notice. If you have any sort of random craving (within reason) you would be able to send it to the restaurant. They then calculate the cost, run that by you, and at least 24 hours later you would be able to sit down and enjoy your customized meal.

Does this sound at all appealing to you or anyone you know? In addition, the most popular custom food items would be featured on a weekly fixed price menu. This menu would be totally metric based which is pretty cool. Basically, were trying to rethink the restaurant based more on immediate consumer demand as well as consumer access to their own recipes. If you give the restaurant a recipe that becomes popular you get free meals as a reward.

All the logistics of this sort of business would be very complicated to pull off. This project is totally hypothetical and purely academically motivated; however, I would very much like to hear if you feel you would pay around $20-30 to get a personal meal in a restaurant setting. If no, would you if money was no object? 

This is a project for a culinary entrepreurship class at my university in Nashville, TN and I could really use y'all's help. The teacher recommended we reach out to forums like this one in our research for extra credit. 

Have an awesome day and thank you so much for reading!

-Harrison Thompson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess its not too far off from visiting the dorm cafeteria food court of a larger university. I would think quality would suffer from being something for everyone, but I know many, many people don't really care about that. But, they would care at the price point you're suggesting.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with gfron1 that $20 - 30 per meal would mean I'd try it once (only) if I didn't like the result.  I'm not sure I can put myself in the "if money were no object" group (due to a lack of imagination and experience :) ), but if money were no object I might be more inclined to hire a personal chef of known high-quality experience. Whether I'd like going out to the restaurant for this specified meal would depend on the restaurant's ambience.  Is it quiet or noisy?  Kitschy, campy, sedate, stylish? Assuming you can cater to everyone's whims (I'm trying to imagine a staff that could handle every possible cuisine) then do you also cater to the different atmospheres required?  Perhaps there's a pizza-parlor room and a main family-diner room and a quiet big-city night-out room, with several others that can be styled to meet different needs on different nights?

 

I had to spend some time deciphering what you meant by saying the menu would be "totally metric based".  I think it means that the more popular items would be on the fixed-menu and that they would change weekly based on the most popular items.  Is that right?  If so, how would new items be introduced?  I like the idea of getting free meals as a reward for bringing in a recipe that catches on.  

 

It's an interesting question, and in the context of being entirely academic I hope you're able to get useful discussion here.

  • Like 1

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

reminds me of multiple "contest" type cooking shows.

 

Hi Chef - here's your mystery basket!  oops - you're fired.

 

where is it written that any given kitchen can take any requested ingredients and produce any request "dish" with any degree of "tastes good" ?

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can imagine this appealing to an individual or group with challenging dietary restrictions or the extremely picky eaters who ask to have dishes customized up the wahzoo.  

 

I think it could be exceedingly difficult to make it work - say I request pot roast, chili and rice pudding and what I really have in mind is my mom's pot roast, Uncle Andy's chili and my grandmother's rice pudding.  Even if I provide the recipes, it would take a lot of tweaking to have the food match the memory and if it's nothing like what I had in mind, I'm going to be a disappointed customer.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I could definitely see trying it for recipes that I want to eat but not necessarily source ingredients or spend the time making. I'm thinking more on the higher end though like if I could send in recipes from the Alinea cookbook or something. For common dishes that I could easily get at other places I probably wouldn't bother with.

 

I would assume restaurants save money by buying ingredients in bulk. Not sure how it could succeed having to buy all sorts of ingredients to make one plate of food.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to agree with blue_dolphin. I have spent years trying to reverse engineer a couple of recipes, and still have not quite succeeded. If a customer requested those original items I don't know how they could be reproduced accurately. I have helped people here with similar quests, like the search for a cake that a grocery store chain no longer makes. I mean it's one thing to say, 'gee, I've never eaten matsutake mushrooms, make me this popular and famous dish featuring them' and another to say, 'I wish I could have grandma's crumb cake again -the one she never told anyone the recipe for.'

 

Even some seemingly simple dishes have variations that create strong feelings among aficionados. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No.  If I have a craving, I most likely want it now, not tomorrow.  It would be a nightmare in terms of execution because the plan lacks any economy of scale in either purchasing or prep time.  I don't think it could be done at that price point due to insane food and labor costs. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you all for the immediate response. I've posted to four other forums about this and didn't receive a single response, so thank you very very much. 

 

Lisa, very interesting points. The restaurant would technically need to do the impossible; however, the chefs would have the option of turning down a certain recipe or offer something similar if its outside their comfort zone. I can also imagine a chef getting super frustrated and quitting around once a week. Thanks for your response

 

Smithy, that is what "metric based" meant, sorry if that was confusing. Thank you for your thoughtful response, it was very helpful. Some more research needs to be done on what exactly the atmosphere would be, thank you for pointing that out.

 

Rob1234, that's true we would have to be highly specialized with unique dishes that arent available within the city. The more unique, the harder it is to pull off. Thank you for pointing this out to us.

 

Blue_dolphin, very true. I think we would have to make expectations clear that a mother's love can realistically affect how something tasted. Dietary restrictions is something we considered, that could definitely be a niche, thank you for pointing that out.

 

Gfron1, that's a good point and interesting that you think the height of the quality is not distinctly important.

 

Pastrygirl, well shoot. Do you think it could work with larger quantities, say for corporate events, birthday parties, etc?

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Additionally, if you are someone that eats out on holidays, would you (if you could) use your family's recipes or and have it prepared for you at a restaurant?

 

The responses so far have been fantastic. Overall, I'm looking more for whether this idea is desirable for potential customers, as opposed to the technical challenges it poses. This is based off of the business principle that if something is desirable, it will eventually be made.

 

Thanks again to all who have responded thus far

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is one of those ideas that comes up all the time from people who have never worked in restaurants and approximately never from anyone who has.

  • Like 14

PS: I am a guy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
53 minutes ago, HST said:

 

Pastrygirl, well shoot. Do you think it could work with larger quantities, say for corporate events, birthday parties, etc?

 

 

 

Sure.  In some circles that's called 'catering'.

  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think there's much of a chance this would work.  Bottom line is that food has to taste good for the restaurant that produced it to be a success.

 

And I don't think it's all that easy.

 

For example, let's take one particular genre - say "Mexican."  Even in a Mexican kitchen, full of experienced Mexican cooks/chefs with familiar recipes and ingredients, the quality of the dishes can vary widely enough that one restaurant will be successful while another will fail.

 

What you are suggesting seems to me to be an "all things to all people" option.

 

If I can't even count on every single Mexican restaurant, full of experienced, knowledgeable Mexican cooks in the kitchen, to always produce chiles rellenos that are good enough for me to love, think about, and order again, I certainly don't see how I could expect cooks less-trained and experienced in Mexican cuisine to do it.

 

 

  • Like 8

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Agree with Jaymes.

 

Can the same kitchen be expected to do every ethnic cuisine? No.

 

And I'd say that even if they could do it, most restaurant diners wouldn't know a day ahead what they want because many meals are spontaneous decisions.

 

And menu descriptions spark ordering and whet appetite.

 

And what about no-shows? Restaurant would be eating a lot of food cost.

 

Four individuals dining out would have to do a lot of advance coordination.

 

Really bad idea, I think.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please don't take this the wrong way.  I'm not trying to be snarky or rain on your parade.  What you are describing is not really a "restaurant" but a private chef working for a private client.  You want something, the chef in your house makes it, you're satisfied until the next craving comes on and then that's dinner for tomorrow night.

 

If, however, you're looking for a different angle, then you need some creativity.  Have a supper club that people could buy a membership to; have the kitchen cook it's way through some excellent cookbooks (pick the masters - Pepin, Franey, Keller, etc).  Publish the menu in advance, let people come the night(s) they are most interested in.

 

ETA: this pretty much how restaurants work now, you're just using a different angle to sell it.  The whole "blogger cooking their way through a favorite cookbook" has been done and over done, but this is not amateurs cooking their way through, it's a pro.  You get to eat something you might not have chosen to make, but want to try.

 


Edited by JeanneCake (log)
  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another issue is sourcing ingredients and storing them. Which is going to drive your costs way up.

 

1) You'll pay rent based on sq footage, and, pay to cool the walk-in and freezer. You'll wind up storing a lot of extra food because there's a limit to how small an amount of some things, like rice, you can buy. You can't buy ½cup of forbidden black rice, so you buy a 3lb bag and store the leftovers. This will add up quickly into a huge vault of dry foods, and a walk-in that would be overflowing. Within a month or two, you'd need an enormous amount of storage space which equals $$$$$ annually.

 

2) Food wholesalers can't always get things to you in 24 hours, and, when they do, you will pay a premium for it. Generally, for a bigger restaurant, they deliver once a week. maybe twice a week if you place big bulk orders. So, you'll pay extra for the deliveries you do get, and wind up going out grocery shopping for a couple of hours almost every day. (you can do back door pickup 5-6 days a week at some wholesalers) You'll need to buy a van or small truck for your shopping excursions.

 

3) Local growers aren't going to like doing business every once in a blue moon, you'll pay top dollar for their delivery of, say, 3 yuzu fruit vs a regular place ordering a case every 2 weeks.

 

Waste will be huge. If I order a slice of Lady Baltimore cake, you have to make a whole cake to serve me that slice. Fancy French places used to have certain set dessert items, and even then ate a lot of waste. They'd offer a cake and present the whole cake at lunch, sell as many slices as they could. Whatever was uneaten became part of family meal, and a fresh cake was made for dinner. Leftovers could be recycled a bit, but, your system wouldn't allow for a regular program to manage and use waste. Part of menu planning is sneaking in waste reduction. -Vegetable trimmings get used to make stock, which is then used to cook rice, for example. This only works consistently with consistent supplies of trim and a consistent need for the end product.

 

You'll also face seasonality issues. People who want to eat fresh genuine Maine wild blueberries in January -when they are only in season for two weeks in early summer.

 

And, of course, you're going to spend a fortune on staffing the telephone with caring, detail oriented people who can get the orders reasonably correct plus the executive chef who will have to write/research 50-500 recipes every day. Not to mention the staff who can cook a perfect consomme, slice a fugu beautifully, make a delicious terrine from elk liver, can prep a kidney properly, assemble a wafer-thin soup dumpling, make rice noodles from scratch, etc. Then, there's the pastry chefs needed.

 

You might want to read a bit about they heyday of the original Delmonico's and the size of the place and the amount of staff needed to service their menu.

  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh yeah, most people's recipes stink. There's a reason why restaurants use professional standardized recipes as opposed to home recipes, or those horrible recipe aggregate sites like allrecipes. Members here at eG generally have websites they trust for recipes, but that number overall is very small (like fewer than 10) compared to the millions of recipe sites out there. Aside from volume issues, professional recipes have been tested and retested, use standard units of measurements (no dashes or splashes, pinches or handfuls), and specifically particular types of ingredients. Sure, chefs pass around recipes, but, the smart ones wait until they have tested it (many times) before handing it out.

 

Check out the kitchen scale manifesto. If you accept US home-user recipes you'll wind up getting cake recipes using 'cups' of flour, etc. where the actual amounts can vary wildly by who does the measuring. One cup of AP flour can weigh from 2¾oz - 6½oz. -Meaning that a recipe will turn out differently every time it's made, whether by one chef or a platoon of chefs.

 

You also have substitution mania with home cooks. Sometimes, this can result in dangerous situations like chemicals burning holes in aluminum foil, then leaching into the food. Or just ruining your pan. And, there's what I call 'recipe drift' where people pass along their bad habits (like melting butter instead of creaming) and cheapo substitutions, which eventually morph into substandard recipes for the original delicious food.

 

Offering a bounty to people who submit recipes will incentivize people to give you lots of recipes, while the cost burden will be on you to make them work. Professional cookbooks have already gone through extensive testing, in labs and in the real world. There's a huge savings in using the results of other people's research rather than starting out from scratch. For extra credit, interview a culinary school's program chair and ask why they teach recipes from textbooks instead of random recipes from allrecipes, etc.

 

The one way I see this place working is like 50 years in the future, when someone has a really good 3D printer for foods, and/or replicator technology, but, at the same time it's too expensive for most home users to own. For about 20 years, until Star Trek-style replicators are affordable for most households, a novelty restaurant might be successful. You'd be starting with simple molecules and energy as building blocks and storage and recycling wouldn't be much of an issue. -Don't like the pie? Just recycle it back into basic molecules and re-use.

  • Like 9

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I don't have to get funding for this for this project or anything, so I guess I'm primarily curious if it were possible, under what conditions would it appeal to you? Like even if you think this a "really bad idea," say someone did pull it off, its new in town, does the idea interest you enough to try it?

 

Thanks again to those who have responded. Don't be afraid to be snarky or anything. The idea itself was meant to be completely far fetched and incite thought. Pretty much every sit down restaurant is the same exact format: you order the food they suggest you'll like. We wanted to try to rethink that based on individual consumer demand, which, yes, were happy to say is a pretty crazy idea. As someone who loves restaurants this goes against the purpose of any restaurant (which for me is to try new things and leave it to the experts), but with this restaurant you would technically be trying something new (the concept itself) and something familiar (the food you request).

 

I'm sorry if this is ringing a very familiar bell to any of you, I'm actually a film major and while I love food and know a lot about its significance, thinking through the business side of it is very new to me.

 

Thank you for pointing that out Pastrygirl. The debate among my group is whether to make this a catering service, a restaurant or a take out only service. 

 

JeanneCake, thank you very much. I really need an A. I really like the supper club idea. There's not really any in Nashville and I've only been to one and it was a really cool experience.

 


Edited by HST (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been thinking about this for the best part of the day now.

 

Here is my possibly cynical take on it. Hopefully not snarky.

 

When I have cravings for something, it usually something not easily findable (otherwise why would I have to crave for it). The notion of calling up a restaurant then wait at least 24 hours while they source ingredients and learn how to cook it doesn't appeal. I can do that myself.

 

Right now, I would love some 大盘鸡 dà pán jī,a chicken dish from Xinjiang in the far west of China. If I order this from your hypothetical restaurant, they probably won't know what it is. The ingredients* aren't difficult to find, so cost shouldn't be a major issue, but they still need a recipe. Where are they going to get it? Probably via Google. Hey! Google is on my computer, too.

 

I'd rather eat it, or anything else, cooked by someone who knows what they are doing.

 

One of the biggest failings unsuccessful restaurants make is having over-long menus mixing too many varieties of cuisine in an attempt to please everyone, then pleasing no one. The concept you describe isn't just over-long; it is (within reason) infinite.

 

I can't see it working. I guess, at best, after six months it would give up and settle on one common denominator menu and sell average food. Canteen food. If it lasted that long.

But an interesting study project. Good luck.

* basically chicken, potato, tomato, but hand-pulled noodles which they ain't going to learn to make in 24 hours.

 

 


Edited by liuzhou (log)
  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Under what conditions would this idea appeal?

I cannot think of the situation where it would seem a good idea.

 

You have the Applebee's/TGIF demographic...not interested in this.

 

You have the ethinic food demographic...no appeal for this.

 

Fine dining demographic...nope.

 

Family dining....no.

 

Even if you ignore all the practical problems in pulling this off, I don't think that there's a market for it.

 

Just an impractical dumb idea.

 

When writing the paper you might fluff it up with a discussion of why people eat out.

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, HST said:

Pretty much every sit down restaurant is the same exact format: you order the food they suggest you'll like.

 

 

I have to say I disagree with that premise.  I go to restaurants whose food I think I'll like.  I'm not wandering in hoping they'll know what I want

 

I'm taking a business class for entrepreneurs, so I have to ask, what problem are you trying to solve?  What benefit is there to the diner?

 

I think the idea of trying to have someone else re-create your grandma's meatballs or satisfy an obscure craving has been proven impractical.  But if you are merely trying to offer more options for a group of people who can't decide between pizza and pho, there are a few existing models you may wish to consider.  Hawker stalls in Singapore feature dozens of individual food stands, each with their own specialty.  Some stands make only one dish, some make a few, but it is a way to offer both variety and expertise.  You order your dishes from the various stands and enjoy the variety.  Similarly, Portland OR has various food truck pods around the city.  They each have a dozen or so different food trucks/kiosks, so you can go with a group and each person can try a different cuisine.  Of course in these examples there is no wait staff, so the challenge is turning the food court experinec into a dining experience.  The technology side would be pretty simple, you could have all the menus on an ipad and then figure out a payment system so the diner only has to make 1 transaction instead of several.  And you'd also want a way to coordinate the timing but again, I'm sure we have the technology.

 

Singapore hawker stalls, each space is maybe 10' x 10'

IMG_0321.thumb.JPG.f458f3ab5a840d14053adIMG_0320.thumb.JPG.7ea6032d10dcb00d91513

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, HST said:

There's not really any in Nashville and I've only been to one and it was a really cool experience.

I would be surprised if this were true. A quick google showed me some things, but many aren't established enough to even hit google. Watch your weekly alt paper and adds will appear from time to time. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, gfron1 said:

I would be surprised if this were true. A quick google showed me some things, but many aren't established enough to even hit google. Watch your weekly alt paper and adds will appear from time to time. 

 

Yes. And supper clubs tend to be sub rosa.  Too many  health and license issues.


Edited by gfweb (log)
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...