The Making of a Restaurant

Saturday, March 10, 2001

The impression our restroom makes will be almost as important as the impressions our kitchen and dining room make. We should ensure that the W.C. gets a little T.L.C.

It starts but does not end with cleanliness. For instance, although we don't want people to lose themselves in there, it would be nice to have light reading material. Maybe copies of our newsletter in the stalls, a la CRC, and that day's sports agate over the men's urinals (what could we put over the women's urinals?). I also like the Italian conversations that Buca di Beppo pipes into its stanze da bagno. We could pipe in loops of Cubs games (live or taped; or would this be the kind of unauthorized rebroadcast they're always forbidding?), Keillor monologues, "Whad'ya Know?", or any spoken word that entertains while projecting the character of the place and its owners.
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Thursday, March 08, 2001

There are many, many, many reasons why I'd like to prohibit smoking. In theory, we'd be to appealing to a health-conscious clientele, and a CDC study says citywide bans don't affect sales, but some restaurateurs have found that not to be the case:

Mar. 6--The Duluth (Minn.) Grill is closing on March 19 largely because it canít be profitable under the cityís new restaurant smoking ban, its owner said Tuesday.

Kay Biga, whose family bought the restaurant in 1985, cited the cityís smoking ban and other reasons for closing the Lincoln Park (West End) business.

But the smoking ban is ``the largest reason,íí Biga said. ``Itís put us in a position where we canít operate profitably.íí Biga said sales at the restaurant were down about 15 percent in February, compared with the same month last year.

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YACMI: Depending on our location, we should publish a weekly e-mail newsletter, full of neighborhood news and announcements: upcoming shows, meetings, bake sales and so forth, even if it means announcing events at rival restaurants (like the Macy's Kris Kringle recommending competitors). Not only would it would be a good service, but it would promote loyalty and accelerate our sense of belonging. Plus, free advertising, especially when people forward it to friends. Everybody wins.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2001

If we can secure the right real estate, we should definitely have an outdoor terrace. There are few things I enjoy better with my meal than the ability to eat it outside. Besides being a treat for the diner, it's also an easy, free way to market your food to casual passers-by. And if we're able to become masters of good-smelling cuisine, then we'll have already satisfied two of a potentential customer's five senses before she even steps foot into the restaurant. (Four, if she ends up swiping a bite off the plate of an unsuspecting diner.)

Of course, if we really want to do it right, we'll need to get a place with a rooftop terrace.
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Tuesday, March 06, 2001

The more of "SASR" I read, the more I realize our start-up capital may have to depend upon the Big Game after all. Insurance, payroll, utilities, health-code compliance, fees, rent, equipment, marketing, food costs, furniture, taxes, remodeling ... and on and on, all before the first dinner roll is served.

That we can walk into a typical restaurant and get a complete, delicious meal for less than $50, let alone $10, is a miracle to rival parted seas and the '69 Mets. If you start to see me bowing my head before meals, this is what I'm thanking God for.
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Monday, March 05, 2001

When I sent for information from Kendall College, there was a field that asked me to describe myself. I was a wise guy and said: "I am a Libra who likes Scrabble, jazz and long walks on the beach."

The packet came today, and inside was a hand-written Post-It: "Luke, We just wanted to let you know the beach is only 2 blks away. Student Services is happy to play Scrabble with you and there are always music events taking place around campus, including jazz."

That cracks me up.
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I took the liberty of making our first capital outlay: $7.07 for a used copy of "Starting a Small Restaurant: A Guide to Excellence in the Purveying of Public Victuals." Between this and our Amazon donation, we are now $6.37 in the red.

The introduction calls running a small restaurant "one of the last vestiges of true enterprise and inventiveness left in our corporate concentration camp ... Like the lowly mushroom, the small restaurant, if prepared properly, can overcome even an inauspicious beginning and add a unique and distinctive flavor to life."

It then devotes the first chapter, "So You Think You Should Open a Restaurant?", to debunking this urge, "to discourage you from acting out your fantasy -- or someone else's."

I think he's talking about us.
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Sunday, March 04, 2001

Also, I'd like everything to be priced in whole or half dollars. $10, not $9.95. $1.50, not $1.49. I find it refreshingly honest when restaurants do this.
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I'm often a "second-cheapest" kind of guy. I want to be cheap without looking cheap, to be a duck without quacking. Consequently, I own the second-cheapest suit, the second-cheapest stereo and the second-cheapest bicycle. This happens when I dine, too. If a restaurant's entrées are priced at $9, $10, $11, $13 and $15, I tend to choose one that costs $10.

My hunch is that this is common among diners. If it is, we should take advantage. If we have two similar dishes that each cost $3 to prepare, we should price one at $9 and one at $11.

Using cost to manipulate desire could work best with wine, where few are savvy but all are thirsty. If our two cheapest merlots each cost us $7 a bottle, we should price one at $10 and one at $14. People will a) assume the second bottle is a better wine; b) realize the wines are similar and pick the first to save money; or c) realize the wines are similar but pick the second to save face.

I do not think this would violate our commitment to honesty. When we update menus, we can experiment by alternating which gets the "second-cheapest" premium.
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