Most dining establishments start off with the best of intentions. They desire to be a trend-setting bistro or cutting edge café with self-appointed mandates to reshape the entire dining industry—doing things the right way, each moment of every day.
But after constant hot grease burns, chronic foot pain, employee walk outs, and especially threats from menacing creditors… gravity eventually pulls many a restaurateur to the Dark Side.
Sometimes a publican realizes the only way to remain solvent or even have the time to visit his elderly mother once a month in the nursing home is to phone it in. Here’s how even the critic’s darlings and beloved institutions cut corners to stay in business.
- 1 8. Stretching the truth about where you source products
- 2 7. Loosely throwing around the term “home made”
- 3 6. Using customers to save a little on the heating bill
- 4 5. Banking on the honesty of the employees
- 5 4. Watering down the sauce
- 6 3. Dumpster diving
- 7 2. Rotating the workforce like produce
- 8 1. By Being a “do-it-your-selfer”
8. Stretching the truth about where you source products
Taking time to visit the wharf is a hassle. Traffic can be a bear and the smell of fish often ruins the view. So why leave a climate-controlled building when a truck can just deliver uniform halibut servings (conveniently portioned) in a box just a chef’s reach away from the fryer?
No reason to feel guilty about advertising the trout as “line caught”. The frozen fish was once alive, wasn’t it?
7. Loosely throwing around the term “home made”
Slicing every French fry by hand might start off as a noble thought. But the menial labor sure does get annoying after awhile…plus you don’t want to cripple your cooks with carpal tunnel from all the repetitive motion, do you? That’s why god created the freezer—to store perfectly acceptable pre-cut potatoes to pawn off as a house specialty.
And yes, the dressing you feature can decidedly be called ”home made”. Didn’t Paul Newman create each and every one of them at one point in his own kitchen?
6. Using customers to save a little on the heating bill
No matter how hard one fans the ice bin, you can’t cool your establishment in the summer without an expensive AC unit. But Winter is when a pennypincher can count on the blow-hard customers to save a Loonie or Dead President. A decent corner-cutter doesn’t turn on the heat even when the wind chill factor turns the hostess into the Abominable Snowwoman. Why should he?
Body heat just isn’t a great old flick starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt. It’s the one of the rare commodities a crowd full of pissed of customers can actually produce on their own.
5. Banking on the honesty of the employees
One of the sleaziest but easiest ways a restaurant owner can make money happens to be by banking on his employees’ trust. Employees are responsible for having a perfect cash drawer (containing up to $500 in tens, fives and ones). Innocent souls rarely count their working bank before starting the day. Devious owners short change employees a large bill or two before the action starts.
When the night is over, the poor waitron must pony up on the shortage. Multiply this trick by several employees working several different stations and you can see why so many tavern owners often carry a thick wad of drinking money on their person.
4. Watering down the sauce
In this down economy, stretching a dollar has never been more important. What accomplishes this easier than doubling the alcohol at no extra cost? Aren’t the health experts always saying hydrate, hydrate, hydrate? So a devious cost-cutter adds H2O to the Russian Water. Brown spirits gaining a foothold in the market? No worries.
Coke adds life and looks just like a shot of bourbon or scotch when blended with the proper amount of tap water. The clientele probably takes too many designer drugs to notice anyway.
3. Dumpster diving
A Greek Diner philosopher once summed up the restaurant game to me: “Butter Pats” he said. Control the small items and amass a fortune. A savvy owner perches himself near the garbage cans in the kitchen. He spies every fork, knife or creamer before they are tossed out. But a good bad owner goes a lot further.
He reuses every tab of oleo, package of jam, packet of ketchup or pack of fake sugar. If he has to dive into the garbage can to retrieve them, so be it. No one ever said it wasn’t a dirty business.
2. Rotating the workforce like produce
On the face of it, an experienced workforce seems like a Godsend. They possess corporate knowledge, know the ropes and bring vitality and passion to the job.
But there is a negative side affect to competency. Good people like to get paid their due. If there is one thing most restaurants hate to do, it is paying a living wage. Many hash houses open with a big name chef but unload him after a few months. After jettisoning the veterans, the establishment retains the old guy’s recipes and plugs in three newbies or grease hacks to take his place.
As long as all the chefs still abide by the “five second” rule, the machine just keeps chugging along. Those in the industry refer to this as a “three-some”.
1. By Being a “do-it-your-selfer”
What self-made person doesn’t fancy himself as a Renaissance Man? Surely you can’t begrudge a guy for self-medicating or brewing his own mead in the basement. But things get scary when the restaurateur starts doing the plumbing and his own electrical wiring. His new hobby is even scarier.
Yes, the rat population and even the cockroach problem recently subsided because of the chemical concoction he found on the interweb. But just yesterday the salad maker keeled over. Now the baker looks awfully pallid. Maybe, just maybe, the boss shouldn’t be doing his own pest extermination.