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Chris Ward

Why small restaurants may not be open all the time.

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A while ago, someone complained about restaurants around where I live - rural France - not being open on Monday evenings. So I had a rant, as follows:

OK, I have an interest in this topic, a very personal one.

There are two points to be made here with regard to restaurants.

1. It is not economically feasible to open a restaurant around here 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. There aren't enough customers. Jamie Oliver could open a restaurant on the top of Ben Nevis and people would still queue out of the door for middling Italian food.

2. The 'Midi' outlook on life is this: The winner isn't the person who dies with the most money - the winner is the one who's had the most fun on the way.

So, 1: It costs, roughly, €2 000 a month to employ a minimum-wage cook or waiter in a restaurant, working 39 hours. A service lasts, at a minimum, 5 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening, i.e. 9 hours a day minus two half-hour breaks, for an 8 hour day which starts at 9 am and finishes at 10 pm with an afternoon 4 hour break. If you want to have that person work longer hours, it costs 1.25 - 1.5 times as much per hour for overtime, and they can't work more than 48 hours normally anyway in a week. Restaurant owners juggle their staff to try to employ them, without overtime, for the most profitable services during the week. As very few French people want to eat out on Sunday evenings and at all on Mondays, they often close then since these services will attract the least customers. Some open Monday lunchtimes if in town centres but not all, so staff sometimes manage to get 1.5 continuous days off with another half day to be taken at some other point in the week. If a restaurant were to open on a Monday evening with a single cook and a single waiter, they would need to take, roughly, €275 just to break even. Say, 10 covers eating the €20 menu with half a bottle of wine per person. Perhaps not difficult in the centre of Nimes or Montpellier but not easy where many English people live, i.e. the middle of bloody nowhere. But this assumes that the restaurant can manage to exist with just one cook and one waiter, who can each do 10 services a week. How about the other, more profitable services in the week? Someone has to work those services too. And it also assumes that no one ever needs to have a holiday, since the restaurant is open 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. So in fact you need at least two waiters and two cooks to stay open all the time, i.e. €8 000 a month in staff wages which, using the third/third/third overheads/ingredients/staff standard restaurant calculation means you need to earn €24 000 a month just to break even. The last restaurant I worked in was in a 75-bedroom hotel where the owner was happy if the restaurant simply broke even, since it attracted people to come and stay in the much more profitable rooms. There were only three of us in the kitchen there doing up to 130 covers per service - and, if it was a service when someone was on a day off or sick, well, too bad you did it à deux including the washing up. How do restaurants manage to sell you a three-course meal for €12 or €14 as that restaurant where I worked did? By having three cooks in the kitchen who love their profession so much they're happy to work for less than minimum wage, effectively, by doing several hours unpaid overtime just so people don't have to reach into their pockets for an extra few euros. There is a knock-on effect to all this; if you work all year on minimum wage, you get a bonus at tax time from the Government equal to about a month's wages. You also get about €240 a month housing benefit. Roughly another 4 months' wages per year from the taxpayers who don't want to pay more for their meals, thanks very much. That money has been very useful for those odd occasions when I've needed to feed my children.

2. What's the point in earning all the money you can possibly get if you never enjoy it? I used to be like that, spent my life flying around the world and never seeing my family, never swimming in the pool in my lovely home in the South of France which I could only pay for by flying around the world working. I know several restaurateurs who work out how much money they need to earn to live on throughout the year and, when they've earned it, simply close for the winter. The add-on cost of staying open through the winter, especially on Monday evenings, is ridiculous. Even more expensive than the summer, in fact, since you need to heat your restaurant in winter. And local people don't have the habit of eating out in winter/on Mondays because the restaurants aren't open because people don't eat out....it's a vicious circle all right.

I do feel strongly about this, as may be obvious. It's not reasonable to expect small countryside restaurants to be open all day, every day. Do the math yourselves the next time you're eating a slap-up feed for €14 and then leave a good tip when you've finished - and send your thanks back to the kitchen too.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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I understand where you are coming from, having worked as a server years ago, but never back of house. 

 

Our chain restaurants here in the US are typically open 7 days a week, but it is a different story with mom and pops. Much of the best food can be found in these independently owned establishments and they run them just as they please. They have no stockholders to please, and it shows in their passion and commitment to quality food and service. It also shows in their limited hours.

 

We are in what is called the "Bible Belt" of the South, so it's not uncommon at all to find independents restaurants closed on Sundays, although that is a profitable day here. Some proprietors choose to only serve breakfast and lunch and kick you out promptly and unceremoniously at 2:00 PM if that is their chosen closing time. Some, including a favorite Southern Indian vegetarian restaurant, close on Mondays. Mondays are usually less profitable for the hospitality industry here as well, and some establishments choose to go in the opposite direction by offering discount specials on Monday to attract what business they can get. My biggest pet peeve about my particular area, is that they tend to roll up the sidewalks for dining around 9 or 10 PM for most dining establishments. We are a city of 150,000 souls, who mostly apparently tend to be nested at home by then. We are also contiguous to Raleigh, which has a population of over 431,000, so we are hardly in the wilderness.

 

We have Waffle House and some bar and grills that serve food until 2 AM and in the case of Waffle House, 24 hours, but mostly, if you want to dine  out late, you are out of luck. Some of the smaller places are eccentric with their hours. If business is slow, and they feel like going home, they ignore their own posted hours and close up early. It's frustrating to the patron, but I know I can find the best offerings in the smaller restaurants run by people instead of stockholders and bean counters, so that is what I continue to seek out.

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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End of service in most French restaurants is 1330 or 1400 for lunch, 2130 or 2200 for dinner. After that, and between lunch and dinner service, your only choices are fast food joints like KFC and McDo or supermarket sandwiches. In cities there are some brasseries that do continuous service 1200-2400, but not many. 


Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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I know absolutely nothing about restaurant service, help, etc.

What you've written, Chris Ward, makes me even more aware of the great little local restaurant near me.  In a town with a population of around 2000, this place serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, beer and wine, seven days a week.  Their food is SO good I love going there.  It's locally owned, of course, and I imagine some of the employees are family members.  The cook(s) are great and as many times as I have eaten there, have never had a meal that wasn't worth bragging about.

I don't know how they manage to do it but I'm sure grateful they're there.

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in my town , there was a Pizza Parlor.  it had been here for at least 50 ++ years.

 

granted its not a Restaurant , but very close.  they had lasagna , SpagBol , meatballs

 

all made in-house  not the pasta of course    but pizza and grinders as they are called in my area.  salads  

 

I wish I has asked to take a pic of their menu-board above the ovens.

 

they opened at 9 AM and might have had eggs etc.

 

they closed at 11  and worked every day.  they were Greeks originally , as most PP's in my area are Greek in origin  

 

their pizza was middle crust and fantastic.   they remembered everybody and most of the time were quite busy.

 

many family members , and also a few who worked there for ever,

 

in the summer time it was broiling hot in there

 

they sold the PP  and it fort revamped and trendier     more expensive.  old ovens out , some sort of conveyor belt cooker

 

terrible pizza.

 

Ive never seen a group work so hard and remain so cheerful.

 

but that's a different generation

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I couldn't tell you how many people told me "you should open for 'X', it would be a real money-maker for you."

 

No. No it wouldn't. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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1 hour ago, chromedome said:

I couldn't tell you how many people told me "you should open for 'X', it would be a real money-maker for you."

 

No. No it wouldn't. 

I opened two restaurants. One I lasted two days, the next three weeks. Both small 'family run' restaurants where the family was essentially the keen amateur cook owner with a laundry list of their favourite dishes which absolutely HAVE to be on the menu because all my friends love it when I cook it for them. The second one really pushed me over when, even though we only had a plancha/flat top grill for cooking on (because the double pizza oven was permanently full of slabs of granite for customers to have on their tables to do their own cooking on) insisted on us offering double-thick cotes de boeuf, which I think are T-bones in the US - the meat-on beef ribs which normally take 15-30 minutes to cook in an oven. And which were impossible to cook on the grill. Good grief.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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The joy of working for amateurs, right? 

 

The last time I worked for someone else, the owner was a very bright woman with an excellent concept and a great grasp of the food-production side of things. Her shortcoming was a belief that every single person on her payroll should approach every single shift with an owner's passion and intensity...for, you understand, just over minimum wage. When she didn't get that level of commitment, she would hang around the kitchen and berate the cooks, often as soon as their second shift. 

 

Needless to say, that didn't work out very well. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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1 hour ago, chromedome said:

The joy of working for amateurs, right? 

 

The last time I worked for someone else, the owner was a very bright woman with an excellent concept and a great grasp of the food-production side of things. Her shortcoming was a belief that every single person on her payroll should approach every single shift with an owner's passion and intensity...for, you understand, just over minimum wage. When she didn't get that level of commitment, she would hang around the kitchen and berate the cooks, often as soon as their second shift. 

 

Needless to say, that didn't work out very well. 

Right, because nothing encourages devotion more than a bit more than minimum wage, right?

 

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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50 minutes ago, Chris Ward said:

Right, because nothing encourages devotion more than a bit more than minimum wage, right?

 

...with added criticism as a bonus. You betcha. 

 

It gets to be a problem pretty quickly, in a small city with a limited pool of line cooks. The worst of it is that it's so counter-productive. After three months as her chef de cuisine, I had even the surliest of the kitchen crew problem-solving and contributing (I challenged each of them to come up with one new dish using existing mise, which would go up as a daily special with their name on it...a couple of them were popular enough to become part of the regular menu). 

 

Then she sacked me because things weren't changing quickly enough. :P

 

Aye, well. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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BTW  that $ 30 for a 3 course meal dates those trips :   maybe 1990's ?

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a short coda  on the Pizza Place :

 

they were not , of course open on Thanksgiving , Christmas and Easter.

 

the Boston Marathon comes right through the main street W -> E .  which is of course not Main Street.

 

the owners  always has a card table out in front of the PP , which had a few other small shops and a very small parking lot.

 

they stood there and served runners  tasty town well water. with those paper hats they wore 

 

I asked him is his business suffered during that event , a holiday here. Bazillions come from far and near to see

 

so many people suffer , badly.

 

he smiled and said he couldn't make the Pies fast enough    you see you can't cross the street for about 4 hours.

 

so if you were really smart you chose his side of the street.  I live on the other side, so no pizza for me !

 

now days its more commercial with Gaator Aid stations etc  and a much swifter clean up all along the course.

 

years ago it too ages to clean up all the trash.


Edited by rotuts (log)
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I can so..... understand where you are coming from @Chris Ward.  I have worked BOH for a seasonal hotel restaurant.  During the high season we served breakfast and dinner for the guests and walk-ins.  Before high season and after  - only dinner.  I also worked in both Continental and Italian restaurants.  The day we were closed was Monday in the Italian restaurant and Tuesday in the Continental.  The reasoning for the second was that we served many of the folks who were off on Monday and then we went out on our day off.  It was a small island and surrounding area and we were all quite congenial.

 

I will also add that in a small restaurant you can NOT work staff 7 days a week with out fatigue, breakdowns in morale or otherwise a hot mess.   You must have some time to rest your body and mind otherwise you will crack and it ain't pretty. 

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Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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1 hour ago, suzilightning said:

I will also add that in a small restaurant you can NOT work staff 7 days a week with out fatigue, breakdowns in morale or otherwise a hot mess.   You must have some time to rest your body and mind otherwise you will crack and it ain't pretty. 

I addressed that at my place by working a schedule of 7 months on, 5 months off. :P

 

My servers, OTOH, were all part-timers. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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I see an increasing tendency in the UK, especially in larger cities, for restaurants (bistro/brasserie types, not gastronomic ones) to open all day from breakfast (6-7am) through to midnight, with continuous service. They do breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, after-theatre and everything in between. They have two brigades which work, say, 6am-3pm and 3pm-midnight. Each shift gets a good part of the day off, no one works more than 8 hours a day, the restaurant makes more business and staff are, in general, happier. Seems like a good solution to me for those restaurants which have the capacity and footfall to support such an idea.


Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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