The Oregonian has an interesting article (broken link now) on the problems restaurants are having in our slower economy, which parallels a report I heard last week on NPR’s Marketplace-
Losses aren’t necessarily expected across the table. Most industry experts say the hardest-hit will be restaurants where a family of four can cover dinner, drinks and a tip for between $50 and $74. Fast-food places, which could pick up some of those customers, may fare slightly better, along with higher-end white-tablecloth establishments with customers less rattled by higher prices.
Just as airlines are adding on fees, so are restaurant suppliers. Nicky USA, Pacific Coast Produce, Creative Growers, and Pacific Seafood among others are now charging a fuel surcharge on top of their regular food prices, which have also skyrocketed. Minimum wage will be going up soon, which will further hit restaurant bottom lines.
The whole situation got me wondering; if I owned a restaurant, what would I do to cut costs? Out of curiosity, I decided to run a poll asking you that question. It’s in the sidebar. Hope you take time to add your .02.
Sir Loins says
Seems to me that restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg here. I think that we will just continue to see more examples of how deeply connected all economic systems are to the price of oil.
I’m no economist, but I’m beginning to fear that we’re in for another 1970s-style period of inflation, where the cost of *everything* goes up. Except this time around, prices will surge drastically (as we’re beginning to see now) and then, instead of leveling off, keep climbing, although not as drastically.
I do worry about Portland’s economic situation, which seems so based heavily in service industries.
I have always conducted my business on a shoestring. Even when customers lined out the door. We conducted our business in a frugal manner. We made sure that our pricing was not too, that we offered a great value and that we listened to our customers. This over years has made us hold onto our customer base. We regularly go out of our way to satisfy our customers and the staff is told to take care of unhappy customers.
In light of current price increases due to the petrol price hike I now purchase most of my products at cash and carry versus having the sysco truck pull up. We have always washed our own kitchen towels, this saves us a lot of money. The laundry companies charge $.25 per rag, I buy and own the towel for $.50 so after I have used it twice it’s paid for. Our first basket of bread is free, we now charge for a second basket. I also purchase some items on line and get items shipped directly to my business. Staffing is one of the biggest cost controllers, I have trimmed hours all around. I also find myself working more hours. I have also initiated several specials during the week that has allowed our customer base to grow. Lastly, I have started offering cooking classes that not only increase my monthly revenue it also increases my customer base.
Jennifer Heigl says
I think there’s a number of things you could do as a restaurant to cut costs. Cut down on the non-necessities – expensive meats/seafoods, extra staff members, garnishes/extras, sauces/spices that are too high-priced (has anyone noticed the cost of vanilla these days?). Buying and utilizing local ingredients can make a major difference to a restaurant’s bottom line, particularly these days – you’re not having to cover the outrageous cost to transport strawberries or other items from far away countries.
quo vadis says
The poll wouldn’t take my response so I thought I’d give a few of my ideas (which will be incredibly unpopular with many) here:
Cut services that are costly that not all customers use a big one is the endless splitting of checks people insist on. It not only takes up a lot of a server’s time-both doing the splitting and running through card after card PLUS end of the night logging and adjustment- restos also get charged per swipe (anywhere from 21-27 cents per+ 2-4% of the total check) Either end the check splitting or charge $1 per split instead of spreading the cost across all the guests.
Water on request. This isn’t just about money, either. Water is a natural resource. And the water glasses take a lot of electricity and more water to wash. When I noticed 60% of water glasses going untouched at my bar I switched to water on request only. Every little bit helps, water bills in Portland are very high.
Lets face it. Gas will go up to $5 a gallon. The economy (as are most things in PDX ) a little slower to react versus NYC, LA, San Francisco. I dont think we have “peaked” with the poor economy here.
As for cutting back. That is a good question. Obviously you dont want to hurt you customers. But I have to agree with everything quo vadis said. Cuisine Bonne Femme makes some good points, but I could’nt charge for a second basket of bread ( thats just me )
Most talented chefs know how to make $$$$ off of lesser cuts of meat. ( shanks, cheeks, livers etc.) Also I believe that sometimes as an owner you have to charge for quality ingridients. Look at Gregg Higgins, last time I got salmon there it was $32 a portion. It was delicious and was sold out twenty minutes later. ( i know this because the table next to us was jealous that we got some fish.)
Lets face it. If the food and service is good, most people dont mind paying for food and service. Also we Oregonians are lucky. Portland has a great amount of good restaurants where you dont have to pay big “Lucier” type prices for a good meal. Yeah Higgins dining room can be spendy, but the bar menu rocks!
A good way for chefs to get the most out of their ingredients is to be as creative as possible and buy in bulk. If you order an entire pig, use every part of it, and do what you can to cook once to reduce energy costs then freeze what you can (stocks, sauces, etc.). We are lucky that we can buy so many local products to avoid high shipping costs, too, and should take advantage of this.
I agree with ChefGino on many points–and believe that business owners who learn to trim the fat (so to speak) in the downturn will be more successful in the future. The economy always has ups and downs, so while we’re in a downturn, why not get your business in good financial order to be able to capitalize on the success of an upturn?
I like the idea of water on request. The server could offer it upon greeting. (As opposed to printing cards for each table that state that water is on request… That always strikes me as an odd waste of resources when we’re trying to save them by not bringing water.)
Since many restaurants give ridiculously oversized portions, why not scale it back a bit to a level where your customers won’t be clutching their gut at the end of dinner?
The thing I fear most is that the staff always gets hit the hardest, whether it’s by losing medical benefits (for the lucky few that had them to begin with), or losing hours, losing tips, or losing their jobs. But I know cutting staff is usually the easiest thing to do.
I really feel for anyone who has recently opened a restaurant. It’s hard enough during times of strong economy.
As a frequent diner at local, higher-end restaurants, speaking for myself and our typical companions, one of the quickest ways to alienate us is not to serve water promptly following seating. (Bring on the bread too, if that’s offered.) We should at least be promptly asked by the wait staff concurrent with seating if water is desired. Unfortunately, too often we are seated and our expectation that water will be provided is unmet. Nor are we offered water. Wait staff disappears and we must sit there anxiously trying to catch their attention. If this is our first visit to the restaurant, it may be our last.
Olive garden is higher end? Seperate cheques please!
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Quo Vadis brings up some good points regarding costs and overall wastefulness of water in general. Thirsty, if you are thirsty when you sit down here is an idea; just ask for water when you sit down. Many cultures only serve water when asked. We might be heading that direction. Its no longer a slight on you if the restaurant doesn’t serve it automatically.
I was quite surprised tonight at Toro Bravo when the waitress brought a pitcher of ice water to the table. My previous visits had always been at the bar and the counter, so I wasn’t aware that this was de riguer (and obviously I am not very observant). It was a nice surprise, and the it was refilled a couple times as a few of our dishes were unexpectedly spicy, but I would never expect (nor demand) that level of water service, and it does seem a bit wasteful to me.
But then again, coming from south Arizona, if you didn’t get a glass of water within a few minutes of sitting down (especially in the summer, even more so in the morning when hungover) that would be grounds for a fistfight.
Since when is drinking water a scarce commodity in Cascadia, I thought this is the one thing we have in abundance here (makes up for the lack of sun…) CBF, icewater (with energy wasteful ice cubes) is one of the great pleasures of America, especially when coming from these other cultures where they look at you like a criminal when you ask for a glass of water (and they bring it an hour later…) Water, please and bread! Without asking!
quo vadis says
“CBF, icewater (with energy wasteful ice cubes) is one of the great pleasures of America,”
You’re right on that point, waste in general HAS become “one of the great pleasures of America”
But, for me and my place… I let people ask for water and charge less for my menu items, those who have lives so hollow that asking for water is a horror they cannot withstand… I just don’t know what to say about that.
Water may be in abundance in some places but you are conveniently overlooking the amount of energy necessary to TREAT the water to make it drinkable, carry it through our pipelines, etc…. and the pollution and waste of detergents.
And I don’t give bread either…
Lighten up, QV, I think the amount of energy used to treat water is miniscule (the bulk of pollution and energy waste is due to gas guzzling SUVs and intense electricity use for air conditioning with which americans so famously cannot do without, although many parts of this country would be uninhabitable in summer without it…) and if I am not mistaken gravity does most of the work in terms of water supply (I know that for sure is the case in NYC)
I don’t see why you should be proud not giving bread, maybe your sauces are not savory enough to dip?
…not to mention the energy & resources required to wash the glasses, often for a water glass that was never even touched by the customer. When I tell the waitron “no water, thank you” the response is often that of disbelief followed by their bringing it to me anyway. I agree with places that deliver it on request. They should say on the menu “Water cheerfully served by request.” What’s so traumatic about that?
There is nothing traumatic about it, there is however a difference between “dining” and just “eating”. Restaurants offer an experience, a lot of it being a theatrical experience. Either we have a food scene in this town where we aspire to create a dining experience with the attendant service, or we just eat (aka as stuff our faces). You are beggining to sound like the airlines (woe is us, everything costs us too much, we have to nickel and dime you)
We have reached a point now whether it be to have a food scene or to fly to Australia, addressing costs and increasing sales prices matters more than they have for a very long time, and some people are simply going to whine about paying the going rate for it. I don’t foresee a windfall profits tax being imposed on any airline or restaurant in the near future.
It’s called “waste”, and I don’t wish to play a part in it.
” I let people ask for water and charge less for my menu items”
Oh please. That sounds like canned sales-speak. But if it’s true, I’d love to know how much less and for which items.
If you serve anything warm, hot, spicy, savory, salty, crunchy….if you serve food (and alcohol) and are a sit-down joint, you should bring a glass of water. For the sake of conservation, get smaller glasses.
Toilet flushes are the more serious “drain.” Institute the “if it’s yellow let it mellow” rule. If your place is air conditioned, allow the door to open only every 15 minutes. Need to leave or come in? Queue up! Door opens in seven minutes! Bring silverware only on request. How often have you not needed a knife or spoon or even a fork (or spork)? Every re-washing is money wasted!
I jest (sort of) but it just seems silly to risk upsetting people over such minimal potential savings.
In honesty, I’d charge a buck for bread as they do at The Farm. Lightly toast, season and butter it, serve it warm, make it appear the bargain it is. Most people consider it worthwhile and it’ll cover itself and possibly more (the water).
quo vadis says
“I don’t see why you should be proud not giving bread, maybe your sauces are not savory enough to dip?”
I was wondering how long it would take for the first stupid assumption.
Nope. Japanese don’t tend to put bread on the table.
Well, how would I know you have a Japanese restaurant QV…you are too cranky.
Maybe if you have had paid attention and simply stopped trying to be a contrarian just to suit yourself, you’d know QV owns/runs Tanuki.
Really? I have heard great things about Tanuki! I will have to wear a wig and dark glasses, maybe a fake moustache, so as not to be recognized next time I go!
quo vadis says
I was simply answering your assumption- “I don’t see why you should be proud not giving bread, maybe your sauces are not savory enough to dip?”
with an assumption of my own.
I am sure your sauces are sublime quo vadis, I was just being ironic.
I think you mean insulting
Who knew you are so perceptive Kelly, you must be a good christian girl who finds irony insulting.
I’m not a prude. I just understand what irony is; and now you need to insult me….interesting.
Nikos out to insult everyone.
Don’t take it personally, fellow posters.
Anyone who dares disagree with Nikos doesn’t just have a differing opinion.
In Nikos’ eye we are wrong, and therefore bad because we don’t share Nikos’ taste. Poor clueless we.
Either eat the Nikos way of “fine dining” or we’re a bunch of unconscious fools “stuffing our faces”.
Between a rock and a hard place!
I for one love Quo Vadis’ sauces…
Nancy Rommelmann says
Stop, please, everyone!
Water: do it the way many places and most places in Europe do: fill a glass bottle or carafe (used milk bottles work nicely) with cold water, set it on the table, let the diner decide to drink or not. End of story.
Food Dude says
Thank you Nancy.
Everybody be nice, or you’ll stay in class during recess!
So is anyone else watching this slow-motion economic implosion with glee?
Many in PDX live the bourgeosie rentier lifestyle like it is some sort of neo-liberal badge of honor. Spending $50-100 to eat out several times a wekk is excessive, greedy, and the opposite of sustainability. I personally view frequent gorging on luxurious cuts of meat or fatty internal organs to be the culinary equivalent of driving a hummer. I fervently hope that this lifestyle option also becomes EXTINCT.
This nation desperately needs to relearn thrift and conservation…restaurateurs, wait-staff, and foodies should not be excluded from the “fun”.
quo vadis says
Actually it is socialism that is driving the country under, veg.
Supporting human corpses that produce nothing and suck the blood off others to sustain them because of their “needs”.. that is the essence of socialism.
Pssst. . .VegSoc. . .yeah, you: the blog you’re looking for–the peevish veg/ascetic/rant one–is down the hall, first door on the left. Have fun and give your peeps my best. Tell them foie gras tastes great, no matter what other nonsense they hear.
BTW. . .this no eating out/thrift/conservation thing. . .does it explain all the hipster/slacker 3-day scraggly beards I see everywhere now? And is bathing still OK?
Mr. I write portland restaurant reviews while part-owning a portland restaurant does not like people with beards. Although this is interesting I’m a little puzzled about what it has to do with my post.
quo vadis says
Anyway, to get back on topic… I really do have trouble understanding people getting upset over not being brought things they haven’t requested that are not in direct relation to a thing they have purchased (you know, like, if you order soup and have to ASK for a spoon there is a problem).
I don’t force water upon people who may not want it because it is wasteful but if someone asks for water they will never have an empty glass.
The $40+ I save a month by not pouring water and dirtying glasses to the 60% of my guests who didn’t want water anyway allows me to put off having to bump up my prices to defray the $5-$15 fuel surcharges I have to pay on each and every delivery that comes in.
Not advocating that every bar/resto follow suit, but I am a very very small place (15 seats) with no employees to cut and every bit helps. I’m just saying that to never go to a resto again because you had to request something that you wanted is pretty silly.
Suds Sister says
Just keep the sake flowing! Who cares about the water?!
It is more than slightly amusing that the headline reads “Toughest Year for Restaurants in Three Decades?” and the subsequent comments relating to water. I am reminded of the saying something to the effect of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Anyway, in my opinion, Restaurant dining = proactive service (and possible profit center of the now uncool bottled water)
Waiter – “Can I bring you some water tonight?”
Client – (you can fill in the blank.)
I’ve been out of town, suffering through restaurants in San Francisco :) so I am just catching up. I think one thing restaurants do wrong is portions. In many places they are simply too large. So much food wasted. I say that as a pretty big guy, I’m no skinny little thing btw. My date and I often order an appetizer and an entree, and share — not only is it cheaper, but we eat everything. Even if I can eat everything in a multi-course dinner, she is decidedly smaller and cannot. It seems to me many servings in America are far too large compared to other countries. Do others find that to be true?
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Johnee, Hell yes portions are generally too large in U.S. restaurants, especially compared with just about every other country I’ve been to (except Canada and Australia).
Last year I went to Chevy’s in Beaverton. Not a normal destination but we wanted some chips and salsa. The quesadilla appetizer was as big as a manhole cover, I swear.
I have to agree with being appalled at the humongous portions one is served in many restaurants. They’re ridiculous! I could make three meals out the average restaurant meal in this country, and I’m no beanpole. I like to eat, but I’d like smaller portion options, where you can select just what you want, and not be burdened with an entree that could feed a family of four.
More small plates/half portions/a la carte please!
I agree with the above, re: portion size, 90% of the time. (Has anyone ever been to Claim Jumper in SoCal? I only went once, to meet a relative; the wedge of cake was the size of a shovel and a foot high.) That said, I have a 6’5″ husband who goes ballistic when we leave a spendy restaurant and he has to eat a bowl of cereal once we’re home because he’s still hungry. I shall decline to name names, but you know the sorts of places: you order the ravioli, you get one, surrounded by six dots of basil oil. I have nothing against composition and/or deconstruction when dining; by all means, surprise me, challenge me, fill me with wonder. It’s also fine to not fill me with food — so long as you satisfy me. I’ve had pristine, precise, ritualized sushi where I don’t think I ate more than six pieces, but it worked, because what was not there in calories was more than made up for in execution.
Never been to a Claim Jumper, but there’s one right up here in Tualatin, just down a couple of blocks and across the street from Bridgeport Village. I think there may be one over in the Clackamas Town Center orbit, too.
With the caveat that I haven’t set foot in one of their restaurants in — sheesh, over a decade, I think — I note that the TGI Friday’s chain is actually building a marketing campaign around smaller-portioned (and therefore less expensive) entrees. So at least someone’s listening, even if it is out in the world of the Evil Chains….