The Making of a Restaurant

Friday, July 12, 2002

As I've said before, in this world there be dreamers and there be doers. Here's another doer: A guy at work is leaving this week to go be a chef. I'm not sure where, but, hey, that's neat! I understand through the grapevine that he's been taking classes, apprenticing with a caterer (catering seems to be a common route to chefdom) and moonlighting at Fox & Obel.
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Thursday, July 11, 2002

According to the Tribune (login: fuck_registration; password: gocubs), toques are out and hats are in. Even more popular than the hat, the story says, is the doctor's scrub cap. (When I take the El home late at night after work, it's often just me and a few chefs, recognizable in their chef's pants and baseball caps bearing logos for whatever River North chain they work for.)

The traditionalist in me would like to see a return to the toque, but I say we let our chefs wear whatever they're most comfortable in.
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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Kristen wonders what we think about a tipless restaurant. (That's t-i-p-l-e-s-s.)

I'm not sure who would benefit in a tipless restaurant. Would the wait staff appreciate the added security of getting paid, say, $15 an hour instead of $2 plus tips? In order to do so, we'd have to add a dollar or two to each entree and somehow do it without scaring away diners. We'd have to make clear to diners that tipping was discouraged, but would they appreciate being saved the hassle of doing gratuity math?

What about the waiters' incentive for quick, polite work? Perhaps there's a middle ground: Pay them a higher wage -- $6? $8? -- but then give them a cut of all dessert purchases. If a waiter has done a poor job, the customer will be less inclined to stay for our killer creme brulee, right?

Tipping, for all its vagaries, seems too ingrained in our culture to monkey with. Gratuities are included in the check in Germany, for instance, but when I was there I still felt compelled to leave a few euro on the table. I couldn't help myself. (Now that I think on it, service was pretty spotty, especially this guy.)

I don't know. I'm all for paying our wait staff as much as possible, but going tipless -- t-i-p-l-e-s-s -- just seems unamerican. Start paying them a decent wage on a Monday and by Tuesday they'll be demanding health care, 8 weeks of vacation and daily backrubs like those malingerers in France. Oui!

Do they tip in Cuba? In Beijing? In Toronto?

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

J. Thomas wrote in to point us to an article on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal on the struggle of independent restaurants in the face of the expanding girth of chain restaurants. (Paid registration is required; read a reproduction here for free.)

This problem of homogenization is exactly why some of us live in the city in the first place, instead of the 'burbs, and now that it's taking over our restaurants, too, I'm seriously discouraged. The reasons to frequent your local, independent restaurant/bookstore/whatever are plentiful, but I happen to feel most strongly about the one that's also mentioned in the article:

Mr. Macaluso says there are at least five chain restaurants within a 10-minute drive of Macaluso's, his white-tablecloth Italian place, where the average check is about $40 a person with drinks. "All our money is made locally and stays locally," says Mr. Macaluso. "We don't have a mother ship."

But how does a small business onwer convince customers that it's in their best interest to shop locally? Not sure it's possible, especially without an advertising budget on par with the chains'. The best tactic may be to draw them in under the "if you can't beat them, join them, sort of" philosophy. From the article:

While chains often get a bad rap for their food quality, Mr. Schy clearly borrowed some of their innovations. He theorized that chains had done enough focus-group research to identify popular food trends. When California Pizza Kitchen, just two doors away, offered a Thai Chicken Pizza, Mr. Schy devised a Thai Chicken Wrap. And when Buffalo chicken wings took off, Mr. Schy began offering Buffalo chicken salads (minus the bones).

"All we can do is beat the chains with food," says Mr. Schy. "You take an idea and make it better."

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