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Restaurant Owner versus Critic


Monica Bhide
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Links fixed above.

Here are some brief quotations:

Ex-Restaurateur: I Just Couldn't Take It Anymore

The public and I had issues. We communicated poorly. When diners said they needed their space, they meant the tables were placed too closely together. When I said I needed my space, it meant I wanted their table back. The public was not committed to our relationship; diners routinely made dates with me and then either showed up late or not at all, often without so much as a phone call. They grew suspicious of me and talked about me online.

The article goes on to list several supposed "restaurant scams" and explain them from the restaurateur's point of view (The Bottled Water Scam, The "Call Brand" Scam, The "Make Them Wait at the Bar" Scam, The "Most Expensive Item on the Menu" Scam). Turnabout being fair play, he then lists some of the most common ways customers abuse the customer/restaurateur relationship (Stealing, Special-Occasion Freebies, Compensation for Mishaps, Compensation for Patronage).

Ex-Critic: Hey! 'Rude' Diners Are Your Meal Ticket

Let's get specific. David, you complain that diners relax the standards they maintain in other professional settings and don't carry their weight in the relationship. But while your restaurant might be a professional setting for you, it is not for the diner -- who has come specifically to relax. And what is the diner's obligation? To pay the bill. That's the weight the diner must carry.

The writer goes on to rebut some of the restaurateur's points, noting that many of the denied "scams" do in fact happen.

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David Hagedorn, the author of the first essay, according to the Post is/was a "Chef-Owner." His essay is a living case study proving that not all chefs are cut out to be restaurant owners.

Hagedorn loves cooking, not the restaurant business - or at least not the front of the house portion of the restaurant business - ie Customers. He is a back of the house kind of guy. Don't really have deal with customers back there. One or two intermediaries between chef and customer. The chef can focus on the food, which is what drove him into the business in the first place.

Not all chefs are cut out to be restaurant owners especially when that means interacting with customers. Could be the artist/craftsman creative personality.

I'm guessing many a chef, including David Hagedorn, watched Hell's Kitchen and idolized Gordon Ramsay for his get-outta-my-face and if you don't like it get-outta-my-restaurant attitude towards guests.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I think this guy is overly convinced by his own rhetoric, e.g.:

· The Bottled Water Scam: When a server asks, "Would you like sparkling, still or ice water?" the server is not trying to pad the bill with a sneaky sale but is merely offering the guest a choice.

That sort of "not... but merely" construction raises a lot of red flags if you every did high school debate. Richman's critique of that paragraph is pretty good.

The dating conceit is cute, but after a while it seems like he actually believes it.

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Any business' first purpose is to return a profit to its investors. They're in the business to make money. (As for the bottled-water "scamming," welll, in this day and age, imagine not offering bottled water, or not offering still AND bubbly? Imagine the outcry ... hell, imagine it when restaurants don't put salt on the tables. Anyway, servers are not mind-readers and while I almost always order Aqua Bloomberg at dinner, I know way too many people who want bubbly with their salads, etc. etc. So, I'm not buying the scamming of customers.)

Food is one of the few things we all think we know. We can feed ourselves quickly; we can go to the grocery store and figure out what the raw materials cost. And when eating in a restaurant, all too often, people then say, "ripoff! I can roast a chicken and cook some carrots for 1/4 that price!" And because it only costs just a wee little bit, and the place is charging so so much for this food, why not toss in a few freebies? Wave that magic wand and out it comes ...

But no one claims to be able to make a cashmere sweater at home, or one that satisfies just as much. And I know more people who think they can run a restaurant and make it profitable, than think they can open a sweater business.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Any business' first purpose is to return a profit to its investors.  They're in the business to make money.  (As for the bottled-water "scamming," welll, in this day and age, imagine not offering bottled water, or not offering still AND bubbly?[...]

Better yet, imagine not offering tap water, too. Shocking! :angry:

If it doesn't bother you, it does bother many other people, especially in localities with decent tap water like New York.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Any business' first purpose is to return a profit to its investors.  They're in the business to make money.  (As for the bottled-water "scamming," welll, in this day and age, imagine not offering bottled water, or not offering still AND bubbly?[...]

Better yet, imagine not offering tap water, too. Shocking! :angry:

If it doesn't bother you, it does bother many other people, especially in localities with decent tap water like New York.

Do you mean by "not offering tap water" that if you ask for it, they won't bring it to you? Or just that they don't verbally offer it when they're doing the "still or sparkling" thing? The first would seriously tick me off, but the second is pretty easy to take care of. "I'd like tap water, please." I've never yet had a server refuse to bring it.

"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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On the water issue.

I had a waiter who would really push the water.

" Sparkling, still or good old Vancouver tap ?"

I did not like that approach. I felt uncomfortable when I heard it and realized that if I did not like it, I should put a stop to it.

I think water should be poured for each guest as they are sat right away. After that , you can ask if they would like bottled water. I like sparkling with dinner and order it all the time. I do not like to be forced into it or made in any way uncomfortable. I am running a business but I think my business is about making people feel welcome and comfortable and not trying to trick them into ordering something they do not want or need.

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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Yeah, the water thing is annoying. But this from Our Faithful Ex-Critic seems a stretch:

I'll never forget the two men who blindly chose cognac from the list the waiter recited, and only after they'd had a second round discovered it was $100 a shot.

I wouldn't forget them, either. They sound like two of the most terrifically stupid men in history. Selecting cognac off a recited list blindly, and then being shocked, shocked, at the price?

How the hell is that the restaurant's fault? Did the server trick them into choosing that cognac, Subliminal-Man-like? "Well, we have Remy Martin, Delamain youlooksohandsome Très Vénérable, Henessey, AE Dor didn'tIseeyouonthecoverofGQ? Reserve N°2 - 1889 Excellence...."

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The restaurant is not trying to "make its money on the booze." More than 60 percent of restaurant sales is food, not alcohol; restaurateurs make their money from volume.

Huh? That doesn't make sense at all. When the margin on food is 5% and the margin on booze is 50%, then it's highly disingenuous to be talking about sales volumes. What matters is the percentage profit being brought in from each and most high end restaurants DO make significant amounts of their profit from the booze.

PS: I am a guy.

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Any business' first purpose is to return a profit to its investors.  They're in the business to make money.  (As for the bottled-water "scamming," welll, in this day and age, imagine not offering bottled water, or not offering still AND bubbly?[...]

Better yet, imagine not offering tap water, too. Shocking! :angry:

If it doesn't bother you, it does bother many other people, especially in localities with decent tap water like New York.

Do you mean by "not offering tap water" that if you ask for it, they won't bring it to you? Or just that they don't verbally offer it when they're doing the "still or sparkling" thing? The first would seriously tick me off, but the second is pretty easy to take care of. "I'd like tap water, please." I've never yet had a server refuse to bring it.

Me neither, but I know what they're doing, and I don't like it.

Wouldn't most of us agree that there's a difference between good salesmanship and a hard sell? It may be a fine line, but that "still or sparkling" thing usually crosses it, in the minds of many.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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A lot of restaurants in Hong Kong don't offer the option tap water - it's only "sparkling or still" - and they look annoyed if you ask for it (although they usually will give it). At one place, I asked for tap and was told they don't have tap water :wacko: I asked them if they wash their dishes in sparkling or still but didn't get a response.

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I wonder whether there could be any carryover from the time when Hong Kong government officials said it was "not recommendable" to drink tap water.

But the "we don't have tap water" is only a bit more stupid than the "we don't have iced tea" that some places in the US give me. I ask them "Do you have ice?" (Yes.) "Do you have hot tea?" (Yes.) "Well then, give me hot tea and a glass of nothing but ice." (Unsaid by me: aDOY!) :laugh:

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The restaurant is not trying to "make its money on the booze." More than 60 percent of restaurant sales is food, not alcohol; restaurateurs make their money from volume.

Huh? That doesn't make sense at all. When the margin on food is 5% and the margin on booze is 50%, then it's highly disingenuous to be talking about sales volumes. What matters is the percentage profit being brought in from each and most high end restaurants DO make significant amounts of their profit from the booze.

I wonder if this is really true when you figure in the costs of maintaining a wine program, staffing, glassware, etc. I also have a hard time believing that the profit margin on food is only 5%. Maybe the markup at a steakhouse like Peter Luger is only 5%, but I can't believe the food markup at someplace like Gramercy Tavern is anywhere near that low.

A lot of restaurants in Hong Kong don't offer the option tap water - it's only "sparkling or still" - and they look annoyed if you ask for it (although they usually will give it).

These things differ from country to country. In Italy, for example, it is commonplace to pay for water and to drink mineral water. I don't think I've ever had tap water in an Italian sandwich shop, never mind restaurant. Of course, Italians usually think it's crazy to drink expensive wine, and so there is always plentiful reasonably priced (and reasonably low in alcohol) wine to be had instead of water.

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These things differ from country to country.  In Italy, for example, it is commonplace to pay for water and to drink mineral water.  I don't think I've ever had tap water in an Italian sandwich shop, never mind restaurant.  Of course, Italians usually think it's crazy to drink expensive wine, and so there is always plentiful reasonably priced (and reasonably low in alcohol) wine to be had instead of water.

i don't think anyone objects to being offered bottled water, per se. i think it's the exorbitant rate they charge for the water and that's the big difference between here and italy. in italy, a bottle of water will run you the equivalent of $2.50 to $3 (at least the last time i was there). Here, at least in los angeles, they usually seem to start at $7 and then go skywards. also, there is a major question of infrastructure support. in italy, hardly anyone drinks water out of the tap. i'm assuming there is a reason for that other than bella figura. here, most places the water is pretty presentable. even in los angeles, where the tap really isn't very good in most places, most good restaurants have expensive water filtration systems that make it good. and then they charge you 7X retail for the bottled water.

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I read these in the Post yesterday and tended to come down on Phyllis Richman's side on most of them.

Obviously restaurants push drinks, wine, and bottled water, they're major cash cows with markups routinely in the 200% - 300% range. The water scam comes when people have just sat down and are jabbering and the waiter asks if they want water. If someone says yes, they bring bottled water. I think some folks don't realize what they're being asked.

Other annoyances to me: Huge wine glasses and big pours so that the wine you bought is poured in 4 or 5 glasses before the appetizer comes so you feel like you need another bottle. We usually have a cocktail and tell them to bring the wine before the entrees.

And, like Phyllis, I've been asked to wait in the bar many times and I've never been offerred a free drink.

but I still like going out, just nit-picking.

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Thought the piece was "fair and balanced". DG's has been having some problems of late and D seems bitter.

David has been gone from DG for quite a while.

Mark

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These things differ from country to country.  In Italy, for example, it is commonplace to pay for water and to drink mineral water.  I don't think I've ever had tap water in an Italian sandwich shop, never mind restaurant.  Of course, Italians usually think it's crazy to drink expensive wine, and so there is always plentiful reasonably priced (and reasonably low in alcohol) wine to be had instead of water.

i don't think anyone objects to being offered bottled water, per se. i think it's the exorbitant rate they charge for the water and that's the big difference between here and italy. in italy, a bottle of water will run you the equivalent of $2.50 to $3 (at least the last time i was there). Here, at least in los angeles, they usually seem to start at $7 and then go skywards.

But one could also say the same thing about wine. In Italy a bottle of the local vino da tavola (which is what 99% of he customers are drinking) will run you the equivalent of ten bucks, and here in NYC they seem to start at $35. Yet no one complains.

I think it has to do with the fact that Americans are used to getting water for free. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just that it's a cultural expectation. We're also used to getting bread for free, yet in Italy one usually has to pay for a basket of (often extremely mediocre) bread, and in Germany/Austria restaurants usually charge for bread by the piece. Imagine the uproar in America if restaurants started charging for bread!

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[i think it has to do with the fact that Americans are used to getting water for free.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just that it's a cultural expectation.  We're also used to getting bread for free, yet in Italy one usually has to pay for a basket of (often extremely mediocre) bread, and in Germany/Austria restaurants usually charge for bread by the piece.  Imagine the uproar in America if restaurants started charging for bread!

I kind of wish they would charge for bread, or at least make you ask for it. I hate to see the amount of bread, butter and other food that comes with the table and that's thrown away in some restaurants.

Oh yes, there is the approach of someone coming by periodically with a basket of bread offering pieces; I wish more places would do that, and free would be fine.

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I'm delighted that this chef/restaurateur spoke out; more of his peers should sound off too, for there was much more than just spleen on offer.

The fact is that the Social Contract of Dining Out, especially in North America, is tilted in favour of the customer. And right from the get go, because it's the customer who opens the contract either by making a reservation or simply walking in.

No-shows, those who choose to unilaterally cancel the contract before the operator has a chance to fulfill it, remain an egregious waste of capital and morale. Few other industries (and businesses) would suffer this artificial imbalance; fewer still could survive it.

Cutting much deeper though is the false sense of entitlement that many restaurant patrons exhibit nightly, often via aggressive, boorish, rude or merely belittling behaviour (I control the contract because I'm paying). If meals are the hinges of our day, then surely good manners should lubricate them.

Quite often though, restaurant patrons are simply ignorant of or boozily oblivious to the rules of the road. To suggest, as Phyllis Richman does, that . . .

David, you complain that diners relax the standards they maintain in other professional settings and don't carry their weight in the relationship. But while your restaurant might be a professional setting for you, it is not for the diner -- who has come specifically to relax.

. . . only perpetuates this sometimes disrespectful schism, I'm afraid.

Although I agree with the bolded statements below, I again disagree with how Ms. Richman builds her hypothesis; few are the chefs and proprietors I know who dream of becoming famous, rich and sage etc. My experience tells me that when they have the time to dream, which is not as often as you or me, they dream of being able to make the rent next week and payroll the week after.

Like many relationships, the diner-restaurateur encounter is one where both sides expect too much. The diner anticipates romance, adventure, comfort and savor, all without putting on an ounce of weight. The restaurateur dreams of becoming famous, rich and sage, surrounded by admiring disciples, not to mention a grateful public. No wonder both wind up suspicious and defensive.

And what is the diner's obligation? To pay the bill. That's the weight the diner must carry.

Of course the diner has a higher obligation than to merely pay the bill. Cheerful resolution is a useful beginning. Few restaurant guests understand the tremendous physical and emotional labour and stress and long hours of multi-tasking involved in making their dinner. But they will often be immediately critical and unforgiving over a misplaced detail or timing dysfunction. To them, I would respectfully request they begin their absolution by separating the fly shit from the pepper.

In short, I wish that more restaurateurs could and would candidly and publically (I note that both writers are retired) address the inequity of the Dining Out contract, and to reference more specific instances as to its root causes and its consequences.

After all, for anyone intimidated by the prospect of declining bottled water, well . . . they might be more comfortable in establishments where it's not offered at all.

Jamie

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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These things differ from country to country.  In Italy, for example, it is commonplace to pay for water and to drink mineral water.  I don't think I've ever had tap water in an Italian sandwich shop, never mind restaurant.  Of course, Italians usually think it's crazy to drink expensive wine, and so there is always plentiful reasonably priced (and reasonably low in alcohol) wine to be had instead of water.

i don't think anyone objects to being offered bottled water, per se. i think it's the exorbitant rate they charge for the water and that's the big difference between here and italy. in italy, a bottle of water will run you the equivalent of $2.50 to $3 (at least the last time i was there). Here, at least in los angeles, they usually seem to start at $7 and then go skywards.

But one could also say the same thing about wine. In Italy a bottle of the local vino da tavola (which is what 99% of he customers are drinking) will run you the equivalent of ten bucks, and here in NYC they seem to start at $35. Yet no one complains.

Because there's no such thing as free tap wine.

I think it has to do with the fact that Americans are used to getting water for free.  I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just that it's a cultural expectation.  We're also used to getting bread for free, yet in Italy one usually has to pay for a basket of (often extremely mediocre) bread, and in Germany/Austria restaurants usually charge for bread by the piece.  Imagine the uproar in America if restaurants started charging for bread!

I have two responses to this:

(1) Pane e coperto is almost never a significant expense, in my experience.

(2) Chinese restaurants in New York often charge what's probably a comparable nominal amount ($.50-.75) per bowl of rice.

In terms of cultural expectations, though, I need only mention the ubiquity of free refills of both hot and iced tea in California and various other parts of the US, and the almost total absence of such free refills in New York.

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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[...]After all, for anyone intimidated by the prospect of declining bottled water, well . . . they might be more comfortable in establishments where it's not offered at all.[...]

Just as someone intimidated by a used car salesman's sharp trading practices shouldn't be the one negotiating with the used car salesman (no offense to honest used car salesmen intended). But please understand my point clearly: I am not intimidated by a hard sell; instead, it offends me. A truly classy establishment will not try to pull a fast one on its customers.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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