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Cold, Hard Numbers

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hello Chefs,

After yet more months of steadily toiling away at a few different culinary positions, I'm left wondering why I'm still broke...and why I'll probably be that way for a while. Does the current and seemingly un-vacillating state of culinary economics baffle anybody else?

A week ago, I actually got laid off. At 22, this is something that I didn't think could touch me. I live in Vancouver, BC, a city starved for culinary workers as we near the 2010 Olympics. I was running the kitchen. I was laid off on the spot, without notice, 10 days from the end of my probationary term. The owner was nearly in tears; they simply couldn't afford me anymore.

With some restaurants hemmhoraging money at an alarming rate and the economy (allegedly) falling apart at the seams, I wonder what cruel joke the universe played by encouraging me to get into this profession.

But here's the actual QUESTION: Can someone please educate me on where all the money is going?

Obviously I understand that the money comes from the guests. However, how else can an establishment turn a profit, and more importantly, how can we lower our costs aside from buying sub-standard products or in massive, wholesale quantities? Are there certain suppliers (local, farms, major brands, etc.) that tend to cut down cost wile maintaining quality? And is it possible for my dream of a mostly local, socially responsible space to ever exist, let alone flourish?

I WANT to have amazing food in a space that can be utilized from dawn to the wee hours of the morning. I want people to bring their lovers and parents and little brothers and have them all feel as if this place is for them. I want to have ENERGY and passion in the space, and to have it translate into positive changes. I want to be able to pay fair wages to not only my suppliers but to my partners; to have professionals make what any other professional would demand. I want to bring us back to why we created fire. And I want to take all these steps without leaving a footprint.

I'd rather have my dreams dashed by reality at 22 than invest a misguided effort for the next decade only to remain fruitless (literally and figuratively ;)

Thanks,

YoungGun
post #2 of 12
I would say you should have researched your career choice a little better before you began your journey if you have doubts at this early a stage in your career. Chefs dont make a lot of money, and neither do the ppl that work below them, its a cruel unusual world and the kitchen is the belly of it. We work hard, long, hot hours and dont get much in return with the exception of self gratification and the ocassional pat on the back. If you were expecting life like a TV show chef than I'm sorry, thats not reality. What you just experienced is the reality of it.

A week ago, I actually got laid off. At 22, this is something that I didn't think could touch me. Mistake #1 is you thought you were above and beyond the system.


With some restaurants hemmhoraging money at an alarming rate and the economy (allegedly) falling apart at the seams, I wonder what cruel joke the universe played by encouraging me to get into this profession. Mistake #2 is if you didnt do it for the love and passion of it and for NO OTHER REASON than you are in the wrong end of the food business.


However, how else can an establishment turn a profit, and more importantly, how can we lower our costs aside from buying sub-standard products or in massive, wholesale quantities? Are there certain suppliers (local, farms, major brands, etc.) that tend to cut down cost wile maintaining quality? When you buy local you cut out frieght, fuel surcharges, 3rd party broker fees and sales fees and pay the source. Its simple economics, the problem is that depending upon your climate you have to make do with whats avaliable during that time of year. As a chef it should have been priority #1 for you to source those ppl and help support them while improving your quality, lowering your costs and reducing your foor print. Ohh and you would have saved $$$$ and put it to the bottom line while possibly improving your guest count via word of mouth. When ppl know you buy local they tend to support you more than a chain.


I WANT to have amazing food in a space that can be utilized from dawn to the wee hours of the morning. I want people to bring their lovers and parents and little brothers and have them all feel as if this place is for them. I want to have ENERGY and passion in the space, and to have it translate into positive changes. I want to be able to pay fair wages to not only my suppliers but to my partners; to have professionals make what any other professional would demand. I want to bring us back to why we created fire. And I want to take all these steps without leaving a footprint. This is what we all want but to me, at this time, with our economy it seems like more of a pipe dream than a reality. But who knows, I dont live in Vancouver so things may be very different there.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
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Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
Reply
post #3 of 12
When I first started out I always wondered why we got paid so poorly. Me and my peers used to try and second guess what the restaurant made, always moaning about why we made so little money while the restaurant turned $1.5 million a year in sales. As I grew in the industry I learned that it wasn't so easy. Cash flow problems can seriously derail you. Miss a payment and all of a sudden your order gets put on hold. You can't change your menu prices overnight. Sometimes your landlord will put you out of business by raising the price on a lease. Workman's comp insurance, $40 for the fire inspection, $60 to replace broken glasses or lost silverware, TP and soap for the bathroom, carpet cleaning, office supplies, THEFT, 3% to AMEX, ;) etc. There's just a whole bunch of stuff that you wouldn't even think about.
post #4 of 12
I only partially agree with this statement. Of course most of us are in this business out of a love of food and a passion to make people happy, but when the day ends we still need to make money. I can't do this for free. I have a family to support. Sure you are in the wrong business if you want to get rich, and money shouldn't be the number 1 reason to get into this business (you will be disappointed), but we should expect to be paid a fair wage.
post #5 of 12
You are completely 100% correct Pete, but as you and I both know, a "fair" wage is very relative and in this business its not always a very good one. The love and passion need to supercede the $$ and that in turn makes the lack of a higher salary, longer than normal hours and sometimes not so wonderful conditions more bearable.
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
Reply
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
Reply
post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies, everyone.

ChefHow, I think you read what I was saying very differently than how I intended. I definitely didn't get in this business for a love of money; infact I left my advertising degree to pursue it. I'm not naive, I'm well aware of the challenges facing the industry, and I don't think I'm above it. I wrote this to ask for some possible solutions, and to find out scources of finacial depletion that i don't know about.

Thank you for your insight on keeping things local. I agree very much with the idea. In Vancouver especially, people are very receptive to this movement. Sometimes, however, people want what they want, and as fertile as BC is, we can't grow everything. So more of what I'm asking for is a theory on future economic structure, and how we as Chefs can push people to see the value in said theory.

And as far as fair wage, it seems like we're just getting downright ignored. And it seems the only reason for that is because we accept it.
post #7 of 12
As much as I would like to agree with you on the financial end I cant. A profitable restaurant makes maybe .10 cents on the dollar. When you add everything up its not a profitable business to be in and we arent being ignored, the cost of education has far exceeded the salary requirements we have. There is no easy answer, you cant raise prices and you cant buy lesser quality, what you can do is reduce portion sizes. This would fall into place with the concept you described but I wouldnt go opening a restaurant at this point. Now however would be a good time to open a co-op type grocery store or a small neighborhood type natural foods store.
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
Reply
Taste: The sensation derived from food, as interpreted thru the tongue to brain sensory system.
Flavor: The overall impression combining taste, odor, mouthfeel and trigeminal perception.
Reply
post #8 of 12
The owners of a food service facility have a boss. They are many of the things you state above.
The place must be opened and closed daily ,staffed, insured, maintained, stocked ,cleaned. Therefore the boss or your boss is THE FRONT DOOR.
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #9 of 12
Vancouver...Hongcouver, La-la-land, the land where the customer is ultra-cheap and doesn't want to pay for anything but sure has a lot of demands.

The places that do survive here are the ones that "have an angle". If they're located say, on W. 4th and have been around for 20 years, odds are likely that either they own the building, or that the building is in the family. If they survive and flourish on Burrard and Dunsmuir then they had to have "good connections" to secure a lease that actually allows them to make a profit.

The ones that survive and flourish usually have two or three partners: one to cook, one F.O.H. and one to support. The smart ones (a.k.a the "survivors") know the "Angles": Always shop around, always have at least two suppliers for the same item, always change the menu/fresh sheet as much as possible to ride the food cost roller-coaster, have connections with VCC and the culinary schools so as to get two or three students per year for free help, network with media and the powers that be to bring in fresh faces, and about every 4-5 years "re-invent" the place: That is, a dramatic decor change or some kind of dramatic change with the core menu and core themes still intact.

These are all tricks to survive, but they're not a guarantee of survival. Feenie's working for Cactus Club, For X's sake CACTUS CLUB! Canada's only Iron Chef winner. Google Adam Busby. Another big-name Chef, really made Bishop's what it is/was, Busby invested heavily in his new restaurant on Pacific Ave. Tanked within a year. Now he's teaching for Arts Institute, I think.

The Customer IS the source of money, and around here they are well educated in food and spoiled for choices. But they don't want to pay for labour. Give the waiter a fat tip and "send my compliments to the Chef", but like little children, cooks should be seen, but salaries never discussed. The occasional compliment or media splash should suffice.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #10 of 12
To add to all of that, some places make money only during their busy season. That may be summer for some, winter for others, or even the holidays for others. There are those that make money only on the weekends, or those that depend on a stadium crowd.

Restaurant business is fickle. Sometimes the competition isn't other restaurants. Right now it's the price of gas. When families look to cut their budget the first thing that goes is eating out.
post #11 of 12
Oh to be young and ....... enthusiatic again, here are a few points to help you down the road
  1. If a restaurant can not survive when they have employed a 22 year old to run their kitchen they should not be in business, they have as much of a responsibility to their staff as the staff has to the business
  2. You should realize that at 22 you do not have the maturity to run a kitchen, unfortunately that realization only comes with experience so it's a bit of a catch 22 really, (no pun intended) this I know from experience as I would never hire a 22 year old me to run one of my kitchens and at 22 I had 8 years experience and an apprenticeship under my belt
  3. You are responsible not just for producing good food, it has to be food that people want to eat and make good fiscal sense, there is no point creating or following a menu that does not make a profit and as chef you should know what all the costs are and how they can be controlled, this involves food, labour, equipment and small wares, labour in my humble opinion being the one that is the least value for the money in Vancouver.
Are you getting the point? you don't know enough to know what you don't know that can only come with experience and even then not at all, Foodpump mentioned Rob Feeney going over to the dark side, look at the reasons why, he's an incredible cook but sometimes in this business that is not enough.

Remember no man is an Island, If you take up the mantle of Chef you have a responsibility to all those who work with you to ensure that you can all make your mortgage and rent at the end of the month............ that's a lot of pressure for a 22 year old, so less food network and more Madmen this isn't the profession that you think it is.
post #12 of 12
If you want high quality while reducing food costs, follow chefhow's advice and buy local. Frequent the local farmers' market. Develop relationships with local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen. Buy your produce, vegetables, dairy products, poultry, meat, and fish locally.

Avoid the classic mistake of cutting food and labor costs by purchasing frozen or processed foods.

Did you watch the last episode of Nightmare Kitchens?

The executive chef was found to be using instant mashed potatoes of all things! When confronted by Chef Ramsey, his reply was, "But no one has ever complained."
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