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

Pastrygirl, you asked what purpose this serves to fill. This is an aspect I have not fully laid out yet because this is a culinary forum and all. The idea itself is very much routed in today's social media trends, specifically the app Pinterest. Our original idea was to use accredited recipes from Pinterest as the chief recipe source. Customers would forward pinterest recipes to the restaurant and so on. Among, you guessed it, millennials this app has become very popular as a cooking aid. People post recipes with a very desirable photo and others pin it and share it and all that. Basically, a partnership with the social media app is part of the business plan. They would help hire the big chefs and get the whole thing off the ground. Overall though, it would really be focused on popular, simple, and doable recipes.

 

Having said that we could also discuss the nature of cravings. How long do they last? Sometimes like I crave a donut, but that's very broad. I think its a different (feel free to disagree) when a menu item is highly specific—especially fried food. I've fried chicken and pork in my chicken and its a lot of work and a huge cleanup. I sometimes have a highly specific craving for fried pork chops, a very rare menu item, but one that is very easy to prepare in a restaurant style kitchen.

 

Thanks again to all who have replied

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pinterest recipes aren't often restaurant quality. They are home cooking.

  • Like 3

Share this post


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

Basically, a partnership with the social media app is part of the business plan. They would help hire the big chefs and get the whole thing off the ground. Overall though, it would really be focused on popular, simple, and doable recipes.

I may be wrong, but I don't think "the big chefs" are going to be so quick to cook a recipe somebody saw on Pinterest (or anywhere else, for that matter). I am impressed by your earnest attempt to start something new and different. But I don't see how this can work out. I think it might be successful initially, because it appears to be something new and different and exciting, and everyone will want to say he did it. I just don't see any lasting power in it. A beautiful photo of lasagna, for example, might make me crave lasagna. Most people can then go to any Italian restaurant and have lasagna for dinner (or order out). I don't see any reason to assume that the craving will be for that specific lasagna recipe only. I think that's an issue entirely separate from the "how long does a craving last" thing. (For the most part, I think cravings are extremely fickle, fleeting things, easily supplanted by other suggestions. I could go to a restaurant because of that lasagna craving, open the menu, and decide that the spaghetti and meatballs is what I really want now.) But then I'm not necessarily the right audience for this. I'm way past being a millennial, and if I see a photo of something that looks great, I usually want the recipe so I can make it myself. And going somewhat off-topic here, one of the things that always amuses me in The Big Bang Theory (besides the fact that it's a great show) is their dinner routine. It's dinner time and the big question is, where will they order from tonight? It's what they do, they don't wonder what they might cook. You've got the right audience, but they want that dinner now, not tomorrow.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I want to ask the bigger question. Is this change for an improvement or change for change's sake. Maybe go about this from the other side to test the merit of the project. What is broken that isn't working for you in the current food service system? This keeps feeling like its dancing between personal chef and dinner club.

 

The problem is (as I interpret your comments) that you can't always get the meal that you want (type and quality) at the price you want (a personal chef is expensive).

 

Throwing this idea to see if it sticks: When I opened my first business I was told to pick two of these three, but I couldn't achieve all three: Price, Product and Service. We opted for Product and Service figuring that was more appreciated than price to our target market. I think you're asking for all three - My choice of food, at my choice of quality and my choice of price (affordable). That goes against this basic business premise. Again, just throwing it to see if it sticks...because damnit, eGullet deserves an A :)


Edited by gfron1 (log)
  • Like 12

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I concur with JeanneCake's comment:

Quote

What you are describing is not really a "restaurant" but a private chef working for a private client. 

 

However, Restaurant Jezebel, late of Austin, TX, now in Lockhart, has a variation on this concept. From their "About Jezebel" page, which is replete with purple prose:

Quote

An intimate jewel box of a restaurant with just three tables...Restaurant Jezebel offers the best in bespoke dining...At Restaurant Jezebel you discuss your preferences and dietary needs with the staff and the renowned chef prepares the plates that are unique to the table’s palette [sic].

It's not just an entree, though; it's a five-course prix fixe for $125. Ms. Alex ate there several years ago, when they were in Austin, and enjoyed it immensely.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There used to be a place in Ottawa (downtown in the 'mall' on the bottom floor across the street from the Hudson's Bay - not sure if it is still there) that might have filled the bill that others are describing above - a sort of open food court where diners could choose from a variety of meals and/or assemble their own from bits and pieces of meals cooked at different stations and pay at one cashier area only. Many years ago I went there often and the food was always excellent and the assortment of choices very large - though I don't recall there being much really 'ethnic' representation in the offerings. But, that also brings to mind the many HUGE buffet type 'restaurants' in Vegas - which had (back when I went there a number of years ago now too) many different cuisines one could choose from all done in a single large area, to a pretty high standard. But, again, with either of those places or others like them, one pretty well eats from what the restaurant has on hand and is prepared to cook. There are also 'mongolian' restaurants where one chooses from a large variety of meats, vegetables, sauces, etc. and the 'chef' puts them all in a wok or on a grill and cooks them all to order - perhaps that is closer to a 'choice' for the customer, but, you won't find mac and cheese or grandma's apple pie there either.

 

But, I don't really think any of the above addresses what I think the restaurant concept that Harrison is trying to research. I heartily agree with all the great 'this is why that concept is a problem' advice everyone here offered. I also think that what is being discussed is, as others have said, what 'personal chefs' do and that is probably not viable in a decent sized centralized restaurant establishment. (eta: I just read Alex's comment about Restaurant Jezebel and that very small place might be able to accommodate diners better but at that price point I doubt that is in the realm of millennials, especially those who are hungry tonight, not tomorrow or next month when they can get a reservation).

 

Under what circumstances would I like it though, if it were possible? Hate to say it but most probably it would never appeal to me. But, there are people out there who like the 'Blue Apron' idea where ingredients are delivered to one's house and then they have to follow the directions and cook their own 'to order' dinner - but again, the offerings are chosen from a set menu even it varies often, not just at the whim of the customer. Maybe, hypothetically, they would find this idea which takes that whole idea a bit further, intriguing. Could you count on making money from them long term though ... I doubt it. And you would have to operate in a very large city to make it work at all I think - where you would have major competition from the whole roster of ethnic and other specialty restaurants which are also there and well established.

 

Perhaps what work for me (once or twice, just for fun) would be if I source the ingredients (at least for any that are exotic) and give them and a recipe to someone else (in a restaurant setting where I know the health and safety standards are up to scratch) and they cook it all for me. I pay then only for the cooking and the place to eat it (or maybe I just do take out). But, even that is complicated and fraught with the great possibility of disappointment because not all chefs know all cuisines and believe me, for me not to cook for myself what I have spent time sourcing ingredients for, I would want to be sure that the chef I was delegating that responsibility to was an expert in that particular cuisine. But, then like most here, I LOVE to cook so perhaps I am not the right kind of person to ask about this.

 

Good luck with your paper.

 

 


Edited by Deryn (log)
  • Like 2

Share this post


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

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


I'm not sure that's exactly what he was saying. It's not so much that it shouldn't be important as it's that a sadly large percentage of people don't particularly care (up to a point, anyway). If they can get what they want, when they want it, at a price they're willing to pay, they will come. And come back. Even if the quality isn't where it should be. But they'll have higher expectations for a place like you're suggesting than they would even for other places that are at the same price point... because you've added 24 hrs. of anticipation to the mix.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Technical challenges aside and not counting private chefs, if such an establishment opened in Vancouver, I personally would not likely pay to try it.  

 

When I get a craving for something, I want it right now, not 24 hours later when I might be craving something entirely different.  Half the time, I don't even know what I want until I see a menu - the power of suggestion and all that.

 

I'm not particularly interested in digging up a recipe and giving it to the chef to make, and paying for them to make it, when I can't even be sure they'll do a decent job of it, given that the chef is trying to be all things to all people. Let's say I've got a craving for soup dumplings. Wouldn't it make more sense for me to go somewhere already established that I know can make decent soup dumplings?  I can get my soup dumplings right away, I know they're going to be good, they're not going to be ridiculously expensive, and I don't have to compete with other diners for the chef's attention who has to make Aunt Carol's lasagna, chiles rellenos, take out pad thai, and Sunday roast just like Mom used to make.

 

There probably will be other Vancouverites who would go for it, just because it's new and different, and want to jump on the bandwagon.  I highly doubt it would last here, though - it'll be far to costly to run in this city.

 

Interesting project, though, definitely made me think about it. Let us know how it goes!


Edited by Beebs Oops, trigger-happy! (log)
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, HFT. Harrison..you've certainly come to the right place to have this sort of discussion!

I think we've established this isn't a practical concept, or even a particularly desired concept. But, the volume of replies means you've sparked something

 

Just for fun. Let's pretend it was actually possible to do what you suggest. My Fantasy Restaurant: Whatever Your Stomach Desires.

However, in my version of the fantasy, I don't have to wait 24 hours...it comes immediately after I've finished my cocktail.

BTW, I'm picturing something like what Judy Jetson had in her kitchen (Harrison, you're too young..Google up The Jetsons cartoons)...the food pops out of a machine, delivered by a robot.

 

How would that play out? Would diners oogle each others plates and ask to order what 'they're having'? Would there be one-upmanship? A spit-roasted Bull-Sheep-Goat-Tur-Ducken BBQ?

It would be a fabulous social experiment...and the metrics could be debated forever!

 

Have fun with your paper!

 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And how customizable are we talking about?  If I wanted some weirdly obscure Tibetan dish, can I still get it?  What if the ingredients for said weirdly obscure Tibetan dish are difficult to source?  If this restaurant is a no-holds barred, whatever I can possibly want in the world to eat, I'd probably want to try ethnic dishes that I've never had and can't get here.  Of course I would have to be able to pay for it....which is another problem entirely.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another angle...a typical conversation heard in almost every household every day:

 

Partner #1: Honey, what do you want for dinner tonight?

Partner #2: Hmm...I don't know. What do you want?

Partner #3: I guess we'll have meatloaf again.

 

I know in my household we hate answering that question.

 

You go to a restaurant because, for whatever reason, it sounds interesting to you. If its in your realm of possibilities you're either going to make it yourself or go where you know that you can get it. I'm craving injera tonight..."Nah, they won't have that." I won't bother.


Edited by gfron1 (log)
  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After all this consideration and debate, I'm still not sure what problem is being solved with this concept. 

 

This may be a bigger problem than all the very real technical/business issues that have been brought up.

 

Why would the people who stand in line at Red Lobster/ Applebees/Texas Roadhouse (barf) switch to bespoke dining? They wouldn't (unless you fried everything and drenched it a sweet sauce).

 

What about the well-heeled sophisticated diner? Well, I want to eat what the chef conceives, not what I can design myself.

 

And there's that 24 hour delay.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

okay, one last thing and I'm walking away so you can actually write the paper. When I went through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) process, they bragged that their role was to help entrepreneurs know when to NOT do a project- that was more important than knowing when TO do a project. After 12 years with my business and seeing all those who didn't make it - they are right.

 

Its a fun idea to play with. Now you have to do the hard work.


Edited by gfron1 (log)
  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you're thinking too small.  Cravings need to be met in a now-ish fashion.  There's one place where I believe this is regularly done - Vegas.

 

High rollers are catered to in unprecedented degrees, no?  And with all of those buffets for the masses around, ingredients are never far away.  I suspect Donald Trump can already get anything he desires in Vegas within 30 minutes, or so.

  • Like 4

Share this post


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

After all this consideration and debate, I'm still not sure what problem is being solved with this concept. 

 

 

What, you've never finished a meal and thought, "that really needed more pinterest"?  xD

  • Like 10

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

 

What, you've never finished a meal and thought, "that really needed more pinterest"?  xD

 

LOL.

 

I've never seen such unanimity on eGullet. Must be a really bad idea.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Who accredits recipes on Pinterest? There are a lot of really, really bad recipes on that app.

 

I can't tell you the number of times someone has shown me something on Pinterest and asked me to make it, only for me to explain to them that the item is not really food, like the so-called 'marzipan babies', or the photograph is so heavily styled with non-foods as to be inedible. Then, of course, are the people who want something like an elaborate 5 tier wedding cake with hundreds of gumpaste flowers completely covering it, that they saw on Pinterest, but, they absolutely will not pay more than $150 for it.

 

A goodly % of the content on Cake Wrecks is from people who gave a commercial bakery a photo (and a goodly sum of money) when they placed their order, and expected a similar cake to be delivered. Duplicating other people's stuff is challenging at best. And, most online recipes serve 2+ people, most commonly 4-6, not individuals.

 

Honestly, you're not going to be able to trust recipes until you have tried them at least once before allowing orders to be placed. Ultimately, you're going to have to have some employee with a test kitchen decide which recipes are "doable" for your place, thus creating a menu you work from. (will you pan-fry chicken, which takes 30-40 minutes, or buy a pressure fryer to make lots of chicken in just a few minutes? You wind up choosing between long wait times unable to turn tables with angry customers and, a big machine you might use once every 2 weeks.)  -Just like menu development for any other restaurant. I have done recipe creation and menu development as a paid consultant. I don't see how anyone would convince Pinterest to hire certified chefs to vet their content, they're already making a killing passing around content that's 95% crap. If they had cared, they would have started out by vetting content, but, instead, they place responsibility of pin creators and third party website owners. Your restaurant would have to bear the costs, at which point, it's pretty much like any other place with a pretty Pinterest menu, which isn't a new concept. IIRC, I saw my first one in 2010.

 

Maybe partnering with an organization that produces recipes, like Martha Stewart Omnimedia and just cooking up her fare would be an option.

 

That said, I'd re-examine your premise from the viewpoint of consumer need. If you specifically want to lure millennials, look at their needs. They eat out more than any other generation, and, they eat McDonalds more than any generation -except that they don't want to recommend it to others. Fast and fast casual are their preferred types of restaurant. So, they don't want to cook much, are happy with very simplistic cheap food, and want to get their food as quickly as possible. Right now, the hip trend is ordering takeout via apps to speed things up. I'd look at ways to make a faster restaurant. That's what made the McDonald brothers rich, their place didn't really take off until they streamlined their menu down to 5 items and did a complete remodel to support volume production of those items.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, gfweb said:

I've never seen such unanimity on eGullet. Must be a really bad idea.


I wouldn't necessarily call it a bad idea, at least they're trying to think differently. It's just an idea that invites a lot of major hurdles into a situation that's already a crap-shoot to begin with. Opening a restaurant and successfully maintaining it's existence is difficult enough using proven methods. Opening a restaurant that allows each and every customer to control the menu and purchasing borders on the insane. At a $30/person price point, they're going to have to sell a lot of meals just to cover the overhead. So lets say, just for fun, that you can seat 50 people and you're able to successfully fill them each and every evening. That's 50 different meals. Not 50 plates off of a set menu (that's easy) but 50 separately dictated meals requiring 50 separate sets of ingredients and the requisite space to cook those 50 different meals. You also need the staff to prep and cook those 50 meals. And tomorrow it's going to be a different 50 meals with all of the above mentioned requirements. Even if you get 10 of those people ordering meatloaf, they may have 10 different ideas as to what constitutes a good meatloaf. So now you have to make 10 different meatloafs to feed 10 people. And that would be for one sitting, which isn't going to be enough. So you turn all of those tables and now you double everything I just said... daily. I think you're going to need to have Tylenol and Rolaids dispensers strategically placed throughout the kitchen and office areas and a large stack of applications on file.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

GFAweb, the problem that's being solved is not a dire one. Nonetheless, people who crave a highly specific dish, catered to their exact tastes really cannot get that experience on demand unless they cook it themselves, or have a chef. And in the scenario where they cook it, it might lack the touch of a professional chef. 

True "problems" aren't always necessary. Take, for instance, a very popular establishment in Nashville called Sips N Strokes, where customers can drink wine while they learn how to paint. People not being able to drink wine and paint is certainly not really a problem either, but it still has become a major hit with over 50,000 likes on facebook. 

I think the experience of getting a meal made to a customers exact demands has appeal. It represents an amount of control not possible in any other restaurant setting. It's definitely something that's very easy to sneer at though, I understand that.

 

LisaShock, all of that is incredibly insightful (thank you!); however, I think with increased speed comes less control. Millenials who don't have money definitely love the cheaper option. But what I really think about millennials is that they love control. Saving money on dining is actually a form of control because more money in the pocket means more freedom. Once millennials grow up a bit and get jobs, I think they'll develop a sense of patience for the amount of control this concept offers. With that said, the concept needs a lot of ironing out. It would definitely be considered a high end product possibly with private dining rooms, and perhaps with a more causal parlor room for the fixed menu as you suggested.

 

But here's another angle that I think could work. If you make the relationship between the customer and the chef more personal, then you kind of have something. Say on the website there were chef pages, featuring their specialities, where they were trained, etc, so people know who's cooking their food and thus know what to request/expect. That is something not very common in today's restaurant culture, excluding of course very high end restaurants where the chef is the draw.

 

Bottom line, upon reading the responses thus far, this service would probably not suite the demands of the culinary elite. Rather, it would maybe be more for your average unmarried guy who has some money in his pocket, and who I will now use as a hypothetical example. His mom might have always made him a flank steak seasoned with old bay because he's from Louisiana and thats how he likes it, with mashed potatoes and peas. Not wanting to track down a restaurant that serves that specific cut of steak prepared with old bay (not gonna happen), with those specific sides, or go to the grocery store because he's very busy, this service would help this very regular guy from Louisiana get his favorite childhood meal prepared with restaurant quality aesthetics. I think there's something very comforting about that. 

 

Thanks again to all who have responded. Y'all have been super insightful. 


Edited by HST (log)
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No, I think this is a really bad idea, It is not realistic to think that the old bay flank steak guy is going to be multiplied many times a night every day. 

 

And there are the practical problems well- outlined above.

 

And if you sell it as replicating a favorite dish you will disappoint.  Even if really exact recipes are available (which mostly they aren't)  it probably won't come out the same because of all the little things a cook does with a dish they make all the time that aren't in a recipe.  Exactly how brown should the onions be?

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Harrison, perhaps that average unmarried guy ought to think about finding a girlfriend who can cook (and put up with the idea that she will never be able to stand up to the memory of his mother) ... or .. if he is a millennial who wants 'control', he could learn to cook himself! :)

 

But, seriously, you keep coming back to the idea that someone has nostalgia for something that they ate in the past, something that reminds them of 'home', which was most likely cooked by a relative or friend, now gone or too far away to be able to share their cooking with the person who is reminiscing about it. On the other hand, the eGullet crowd most likely would be more inclined to want to order some exotic dish from a far away land we have never managed to visit or have never seen otherwise available locally to try. I think you need to define your target market much more clearly (which is basic entrepreneurship 101 stuff). You just cannot be all things to all people.

 

(p.s. for a perfect illustration of the issues many of us have tried to talk about - that of the variability of recipes which all go by the same name - take a look at the thread IndyRob has going about Cacio e pepe.)


Edited by Deryn (log)
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't figure out how to see the stats on readership of this topic to know how many eyes have read it, but don't make the assumption its only the culinary elite. A small handful of experienced people are commenting here, but many, many more have read it. To all of those anonymous eyes I would ask - would you use this service as defined and more importantly, would you use it a second time once the novelty has worn off. 59% of all restaurants fail in their first year. Good thing this is theoretical and not real money.

  • Like 5

Share this post


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

Another angle...a typical conversation heard in almost every household every day:

 

Partner #1: Honey, what do you want for dinner tonight?

Partner #2: Hmm...I don't know. What do you want?

Partner #3: I guess we'll have meatloaf again.

 

I know in my household we hate answering that question.

 

You go to a restaurant because, for whatever reason, it sounds interesting to you. If its in your realm of possibilities you're either going to make it yourself or go where you know that you can get it. I'm craving injera tonight..."Nah, they won't have that." I won't bother.

 

Partner #3? Sounds like an interesting household.

  • Like 4

Share this post


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

 

Partner #3? Sounds like an interesting household.

Bwah! Ooops. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


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

<snip> A small handful of experienced people are commenting here, but many, many more have read it. To all of those anonymous eyes I would ask - would you use this service as defined and more importantly, would you use it a second time once the novelty has worn off. <snip>

 

I second this question and want to reinforce it.  As of this moment there have been 660 views of this topic* and 48 responses, many of them from (as gfron1 notes) only a handful of people.  It would be good to hear from the lurkers.  I expressed my skepticism early on: whether I would go back would depend on how well I liked the result the first time.  However, I'm probably not the target market: I am much more likely, if I like something, to try to learn to make it myself unless it's incredibly complicated and time-consuming.  If it's that complicated and time-consuming it will probably not be practical for this business model, for all the reasons expressed above by folks in the business.  (I am not in the business.) If I had a sudden urge for a particular food I'd probably want to go THAT DAY and get it, or get its closest facsimile.  I wouldn't dream of asking a restaurant, no matter how good they were, to try to reproduce my grandmother's green beans or my mother's fried chicken.

 

I do like the idea of having a 'meet the chefs' section so prospective customers can see whether there's a possible fit for their prospective menu. I think this strengthens the idea, although from where I sit it still looks like a fantasy proposal.

 

@HST, I've seen a bit of conflicting information in your fantasy proposal.  One of the conflicts was that initially you said the prospective customer would give the proposed menu to the restaurant and get it priced, and later you suggested a price point of $20-$30.  Did you mean 'get it priced' in the sense of getting an exact price instead of the $20-$30 range?  I interpreted 'getting it priced' as finding out whether this was, say, a $10 proposal or a $50 proposal.

 

I suggest that, if you are refining your idea, you restate it here and see whether that draws responses from some of the lurkers.

 

*No idea how many are new viewers instead of repeat viewers.

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×