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Keeping a Failing Restaurant Afloat

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
One of the paid staff who helps supervise our student operated restaurant, moonlights as a waitress for a local Mexican restaurant. I will refer to this woman as Rachel, which is not her real name.

Rachel recently asked me for help with the restaurant she works at.

The restaurant in question is part of a family owned chain of three or four restaurants, all of which have the same name but are located in different parts of the state. Sarah, (not her real name), the woman who owns this particular restaurant does not have any back of the house experience. For the last several years, she relied on her husband who worked as the establishment's general manager.

The problem with her husband was that he ran the restaurant into the ground.

He didn't keep regular hours and provided no leadership for the staff. He hit on the female staff members and actually had sexual relations with at least two staff members. (Both were later fired.) When he needed pocket money, he took money from the register. Instead of running the restaurant, he drank himself silly at the bar. He even "hired" a drinking buddy to work as a maintenance person. In exchange for free rent in a house owned by Sarah's family, he was supposed to provide free maintenance service. In reality, he joined the general manager at the restaurant's bar and got roaring drunk.

Without any effective leadership, cooks ate on the line, portioned food with their bare hands, didn't date or label food, and argued with the waitstaff. One cook was caught taking a case of steaks out of the restaurant. The hostess stole tips off tables. When the general manager allowed a teenager to create a work schedule for the waitstaff, she gave all of her buddies the best days and times while excluding people she didn't like.

Under the former GM's "rule," pretty and flirtatious young servers were also allowed to show up late, to sit and visit with their friends during shift, and to use cell phones and send or receive text messages while they were supposed to be working. The GMr even allowed these young women to skip doing their outs ... but forced older and more responsible employees to take up the slack. When these mature (and less attractive) waitstaff finally kicked up a fuss at having to do additional work for which they were not paid, the GM became loud, verbally abusive, and physically intimidating. In the end, several of the restaurant's most reliable employees wound up quitting.

When Sarah finally decided to divorce her husband, he raided the register, withdrew all money from their joint bank account, and physically assaulted his wife. To protect herself, Sarah took out a restraining order against her husband. She has changed the locks on her house and the restaurant. She has told staff that her husband has been fired as general manager. He no longer has access to the register and may not have complimentary meals or alcoholic beverages.

Rachel asked for my help in turning the restaurant around. My biggest initial concern was the fact that the restaurant had no leadership. I was also concerned over the general lack of sanitation practices and the lack of standardized recipes that include portion sizes and plating procedures.

Based upon advice received from Rachel and yours truly, Sarah has taken charge of the restaurant. She has fired the deadwood. The hostess is gone. Young servers who won't pull their weight are gone. The cook who stole steaks is gone. Cooks may no longer eat on the line. All sanitation and proper food handling and storage procedures are now being followed. Basic hygiene standards have also been introduced. Standardized recipes that include portion control and plating have been dug out of the file cabinet and are being used. Cooks who were unable to accept these changes have been fired.

The restaurant is now operating with a minimal staff.

I have recommended standardized training for all severs. Servers previously learned their jobs by shadowing other servers ... but the restaurant has no standardized training for recording ticket orders. One server will "comb 1" for the combination one plate, while another will write "C-1."

I have recommended training servers to seat guests who might otherwise stand at the podium waiting for the hostess to return.

I have also introduced the concept of suggestive selling.

Most of the recommendations that Rachel and I have made have been adopted. The problem is that it's still losing money, though at a much slower rate than it was under the soon to be ex-husband.

While other parts of the country are entering a recession, this area is entering a depression. The largest private employer is a copper mining company. With industrial production down, the demand for copper has dropped. The mining company terminated all contractors last month. Last week they also released 400 employees.

The loss of so many jobs has had a ripple effect through the local economy. Fewer people eat out. Fewer people are buying non-essentials. We're headed into some tough economic times and given the declining economy in Japan and the EU, I think the tough times ahead could last for years.

Labor costs have been reduced to the bare minimum and Sarah has even learned to send staff home during shifts that are especially slow.

I have suggested reducing food costs by eliminating some items from the menu. For example, the restaurant has an expensive fajita platter as well as various steaks. In this economy, nobody is buying the fajita platter or the steaks. I don't really see why these expensive items have to stay on the menu.

For that matter, the menu hasn't changed in a couple of decades. The restaurant also has no daily changing special. Regulars who frequently eat in this restaurant have the same menu year in and year out. From time to time Sarah has had a sale on specific menu items ... but she's never had a daily special and since all of the family restaurants have the same menu, she's reluctant to make any changes.

While a competing Mexican restaurant across the street does a thriving business with a line that goes OUT THE DOOR Sarah's establishment is struggling to stay afloat.

I'm looking for ideas on how to help keep this restaurant afloat.
All constructive ideas are welcome.
post #2 of 25
D.C. - It sounds like you've covered a lot of the internal bases. Have you shopped the competition? Why do they have a line out the door? It could be menu, pricing, decor, great bar, friendly "Hooters" style servers, better food, daily specials... you get the idea.

Try and find out what there doing right. I'm not saying you should copy them but it could be useful in making the adjustments needed to get people through the door.

Good luck,

post #3 of 25
Unfortunately, if the place was run so poorly for so long you have a reputation that must be re-established. This takes time, time that "Sarah" doesn't have, by the sounds of it. First and foremost, you have got to do some serious marketing to announce to the public that the place is under new management. Do all you can to distance yourselves from the past. This is going to take time though. People will be hesitant to give the place a try if they had bad experiences there before. Until then, cut out all the high priced entrees, and lower the prices somewhat, hoping that what you lose in food cost you can make up in volume. Do whatever it takes to get people to try the place again, and then WOW them once they walk in the door.
post #4 of 25
I agree with Pete!
Go and watch the place across the street. scrutinize their menu check their prices, see what they are doing that you are not. , You have a bad rep to live down, but it can be done. Appoint someone manager put up sign under new management. Drop prices double volume, Maybe change format a bit since they are also mexican, go away from that, go tex-mex. Add delivery, people want to save money on gas, give coupons, have specials on appointed days,, JUST DO IT :bounce:
post #5 of 25
How are the other family restaruants doing? Do they all follow the same model? If they are doing well, maybe copy their model.

When I bought my pizzaria, the owner (I'll call him Flubber) lied and told me business was good (and he had the books to support it). What I bought was a sinking ship. Flubber drove the place to the ground, alienating himself from all the customers (during my "training week" one guy asked where the toothpicks were and was told by Flubber that "we don't have toothpicks, we aren't a steakhouse". I was flabbergasted! A month later, that same guy came in and asked me for toothpicks. I didnt recognize him, but when I produced the toothpicks, reminded me of that day and told me that If we didn't have toothpicks, he would have never come back.)

We were geared towards being a "sports bar" pizzaria. Once I befriended the head cook, he told me that one day a year ago, Flubber, at ten o'clock sharp, threw out a group that was in the back enjoying themselves, drinking and eating pizza. He told them that the restaurant was closed and he needed to go. They all got up and left MAD! promising to never come back. Who were they? a group of coaches and team moms planning the next seasons little league.

I went to all the little leagues with a boxes of pizza cut into little squares. Passing out pizzas, I found the "head" team mom, introduced myself as the NEW owner of the pizza place and begged her to come back and try us again. She came.

I gave .50 pitchers of beer and free sodas for the kiddies as a thank you for trying us again. From then on, I had 200+ kids every Saturday/Sunday for lunch!

It took about a year, but the word was getting out that Flubber the jerk wasn't there anymore.
Chile today, Hot Tamale!
Chile today, Hot Tamale!
post #6 of 25
Thread Starter 
One of the biggest differences between these two restaurants appears to be that the one having problems has a barin the basement while the other doesn't. Although the sale of alcohol can be profitable, the problem in this case is that this restaurant has developed a seedy bar reputation which is overshadowing the food service.

Mine workers get drunk and sometimes pick fights or throw up. Granted that the bar is segregated from the dining area ... but really ... is this the sort of place a family would want to dine in? Most families appear to be going to the place across the street.

I've been in the place across the street. They always have a hostess on duty. Customers are greeted with a smile and are promptly seated. The place is clean and well lit. It has a family style atmosphere and the decor is both comfortable and contemporary. In other words, it's the sort of place where people might like to hang out.

The restaurant that's struggling has old furnishings and looks to be in need of a make over. The menu hasn't changed in years.

I don't think the restaurant is bad enough to appear on Chef Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Under the former GM, it would have been a good candidate but the owner has taken control of the restaurant and the place has been cleaned up enough so that it's been upgraded from nightmare to the place where people eat if they can't get into the restaurant across the street. That's not ideal by any stretch of the imagination ... but compared to the way this place used to be, it's made a lot of improvement.
post #7 of 25
First order of business is to get the kinks out of the operation. Create flow chart for each employee this will help cancel out any over lapping responsiblities and fill in any holes, make sure each person know his hat his job and responsiblityies and what is expected of him, fire any of the riffraff hire if needed. Target the of service you want to provide.hire a very good cook. Find out why people like the restaurant across the street, do a survey of its customer. Find a restaurant that is doing well and copy them this will be your ideal scene and take your existing scene to an ideal scene by getting rid of actions that don't fit the idea scene. But the most important thing is to find a good manager who know how to manage.
post #8 of 25
I inherited a customer service nightmare from my previous GM. We had done recent remodelling, so at least appearance isn't aproblem for me. Our place has been operating for over 150 years. It was known to have good quality food at a fair price and could best be described as "quaint". The previous GM had dumbed it down in an effort to increase volume. The problem was he wasn't cook. He didn't care about plate presentation, he just wanted to push food out like a fast food place. I have one business mantra: quality, quality, quality. Trim your menu as needed and then focus on the quality of what you are producing. You might want to send someone outside with a tray of samples. The people in line might come over for a taste and be sold. Especially if the person with the tray tells them they can be seated immediately. As for the drunks in the bar, it's called cut them off. If they leave mad, well, they do. They're probably costing you more than they're worth anyway. Around here, margarita specials go over well. Work with your liquor sales rep and develop a good moderately priced wine list. Wine is a big trend now especially for younger people. Maybe you could paint the inside to brighten it up or replace window coverings, wall decorations, add plants, etc. It's tough to get money right now for improvements because of the economy. You're in a tough spot with what's going on in your area, but if the place across the street is that busy, then the economy is not your biggest challenge (at least for now). Places need to deviate from set menus sometimes to accomodate the area they're in. My aunt lived in an area of Illinois where McDonalds of all places had to have chicken fried steak and catfish on their menu to accomodate local tastes. If your owner is afraid to do that, tell her it's that or lose the place. It's also bad to change your front of the house staff if you can avoid it. Customers can be very loyal. I've had customers boycott our place because they objected to us letting someone go when we had to. If you need staff, see if some of your foh staff that quit would be intersted in coming back. Good luck to all of you.
post #9 of 25
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for your advice.

I'll consolidate and pass on your suggestions.

One problem I see is that this woman is tied to her menu. The menu hasn't changed in years and it's the exact same menu that's used by all of the other restaurants in this small family chain. None of the other restaurants offer daily changing specials and none of the other restaurants think there's a problem with a "one size fits all" menu that tries to cater to everyone but just winds up frustrating the cook staff.

On the otherhand, none of the other restaurants had this woman's soon to be ex-husband running the place as GM. None of them have spent years developing a reputation for abrasive or indifferent service, questionable food production, variable quality, and varying portion sizes.
post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 
I just had dinner at this place. This was my first dinner experience at this restaurant. I have previously had lunch there.

I did not enjoy the experience.

Where to begin?

1) The tortilla chips were cold and stale. The chips tasted as though they had come out of a bag. They were not fresh made. On the brighter side, the server brought me two types of salsa. She didn't tell me what they were but one was a mild salsa and the other one was hot and spicy.The hot and spicy salsa was clearly fresh made and was tasty.

2) It turns out that Thursday is BBQ ribs night. What kind of Mexican restaurant serves BBQ ribs with a baked potato? I passed on the all you can eat ribs and had a grilled Porterhouse steak ...

3) The steak was under seasoned and over cooked. I ordered it grilled medium well. It came well done. Parts of it were burnt. The steak was accompanied by overcooked (mushy) Spanish rice and refried pinto beans topped with cheese. The beans were adequate. Shredded lettuce as used as a garnish but I couldn't really see it because the steak was sitting on top of it. The dinner plate was cold.

4) Even though I was on the other side of the restaurant from the bar, the sound of shrill feminine giggling and shrieks coming from the bar area was horribly annoying.

5) My server told me that she left my check at the register. She didn't offer me dessert or coffee which was a missed opportunity for suggestive selling. Needless to say, adding on to my tab would have increased the total amount owed and the amount of tip paid.

6) When I went to the register, even though I was the only person in line to pay, it took the hostess/cashier five minutes just to find my ticket. It took another five minutes for her to figure out how much I owed and to ring it up on the register. It took me ten minutes to pay for my meal and leave. This was horribly cumbersome. How does this restaurant handle a crowded meal service?
post #11 of 25

You've said the restaurant is part of a family owned chain, and also that Sarah is the owner. How does that work? Is it a franchise? How much control does Sarah actually exercise? What latitude does she have to make changes?

You've expressed some hostility towards the bar. At the current time what's the bar's percentage of revenue? Does the bar make money while the restaurant loses it? Vice versa? Or are both losers? Can Sarah separate the bar from the restaurant? Does she want to?

It sounds as though the restaurant has some serious FOH problems, including poorly trained waitstaff, and a bartender who can't control his customers. If times are tough, good help is easy to find. Especially at the bar. I'd "one last chance" the waitstaff and the bartender with particular instructions to the bartender to cut off inebriated customers and eighty-six belligerents before fights start.

However, all of this is window dressing compared to the real problem. I just wrote about it to get you into the mood.

The food sucks. No amount of staff discipline, creative daily specials, or nifty organization means anything in the face of bad food. First order of business, find someone who can cook, give her a whip and a chair, and install her as chef.

When you've got a kitchen that can put a plate of good food on the pass, then and only then is it time to worry about FOH. Get a cook and we'll talk streamlining the menu. Fresh, local and simply prepared.

(ex-pro and a lawyer who's handled a lot of restaurant craziness)
post #12 of 25
D.C., this is off the subject, but I'm wondering how you want your steak to look inside when you order it med. well. We were taught that a med.well steak could have a slight streak of pink in it, or not. Either was acceptable. A well done seak was technically cooked to a cinder, with a crusty outside and absolutely no pink. Basically burnt. Unless a customer tells me to "kill it dead", I assume that people ordering well done just don't want to see any pink, which in my book is med. well. I put grill marks on it, put it on a sizzler and then in the oven above the broiler to finish. The steak will have jucie standing on it and will be cooked through, but not dry. When asked, people always say their steak was great, but I'm wondering what your reaction would be if your steak came out like this. I come from a "well done" family and couldn't cook steaks right at first because my mother would make them between med. and med. well and call it med. rare. Now I like my steaks on the med.rare side of med. Just wonder what you think. Thanks.
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
I agree. Medium well should have a slight streak of pink to it, especially in the center near the bone. My steak was brown throughout and burnt black all around the edges. It was well done and not medium well.

It was also choice grade and not prime. As such I think it would have benefited from a marinade. As it is, I don't think that this steak was even cooked fresh. I think it was frozen when it was put on the grill.

Regarding boar_d_laze's observation about my hostility towards the bar, I really have no problem with restaurant bars. Bars can be incredibly profitable. From the viewpoint of a diner, I do not think that bars should interfere with dining service. I went to this restaurant for a quiet meal and didn't want to hear juvenille-like shrieks and giggling from a group of inebriated young women that was so loud that it could be heard all the way across the restaurant.

Since I have volunteered to offer constructive criticism to help improve service and operations, I will be meeting with the owner some time later this week to discuss my observations.

I don't know whether this woman will listen to me or not. For several years she was an absentee owner and made the mistake of relying on her husband to run operations. Until she filed for divorce, she was apparently unaware of the number of problems facing this restaurant.

I have previously eaten at this restaurant for lunch and the Mexican food was mediocre at best. Improvement to customer service operations really won't make a difference unless the quality of the food is also improved.
post #14 of 25
How about the owner's attitude? Does she see the problems as they are? Is she willing to do what it takes to get things back in order? Does she even want to? If the "captain" doesn't see the or care about the "iceburg" up ahead, really, what can anybody do?
Chile today, Hot Tamale!
Chile today, Hot Tamale!
post #15 of 25
The vast majority of restaurants serve choice as prime is really expensive and most people are not willing to pay that kind of money, outside of high-end fine dining. I have worked in a number of fine dining restaurants in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Chicago and only a few of those actually used prime, most of them used the "higher end" choice. Choice should not need to be marinated usually unless they are using a tougher cut. It could have been select. Its poor quality and toughness could also have been from the fact that it was cooked partially frozen as you assume.

Talking about prime, it kills me that restaurants still serve "Prime Rib". There is nothing prime about it. Most places use choice, but I would almost guarantee that those places selling "Prime Rib" at $12-15 for a 16-18oz cut are using select.
post #16 of 25
This whole thread is very depressing, so it's nice to go off on a tangent. Pete, I agree with your entire post, but ... (knew that was coming, didn't you?)

The "prime" in "prime rib" doesn't refer to the USDA grade, but to the portion of the whole rib which is used for the roast -- that is, the middle six bones.

Joy of Niggling,
post #17 of 25
Thread Starter 
Okay guys ... this just in and it's pretty darn unbelievable.

The soon to be ex-husband has complained to the liquor board. It seems that even though she owns the restaurant, the liquor license that should have been in her name was actually placed in his name ... and he wants to pull the license.

The owner claims that her husband showed her a photocopy of paperwork with both their names on it. It turned out that this must have been a mock up. It seems as though the husband was contingency planning ... and the restaurant has operated for twenty-four years without the actual owner being aware of the situation.

In terms of attitude, at this time the owner is in the unenviable position of learning how to run a restaurant while the restaurant continues operations. Not only is she having to learn how to run her business but she's trying to turn the business around during a recession which is headed towards a depression in this area. As if that wasn't bad enough, the maintenance man she thought she fired last week has refused to vacate the rent free house he was living in. She found she had a problem when the new maintenance person showed up to begin initial repairs prior to moving in ... and found the locks had been changed and that the building was still occupied. On top of everything else, the owner is going through a messy divorce with her husband.

I really feel very sorry for this woman. I think she's doing the best she can under some very difficult circumstances. Her misplaced trust in her husband combined with 24 years of not being active in running the restaurant is really hurting her.

I have volunteered to help but am limited in what I can do, partially because I already have a job, and also because I am not skilled in the production of Mexican cuisine. I can continue to help with issues regarding sanitation, food storage, and basic operations but I don't have the time or expertise in Mexican cuisine, to run the kitchen.

As others have indicated, operations don't mean much if the food is subpar.

If anyone can think of something she can do regarding the liquor license which should have been in her name, I'd appreciate hearing from you.
post #18 of 25

I wrote almost all of this post before you posted above. Take it for what it's worth.

I respect you and your opinion, and understand that you're being brought in because of Rachel and Sarah's respect. I have a few observations which might initially sound judgmental, but they aren't.

I've been involved with a few restaurant reorganizations which came about as a result of partnership dissolution and/or fraud; and in that capacity learned something about how to evaluate the state of the business. The suggestions I'm giving are NOT LEGAL ADVICE. For one thing, I'm not licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

As an advisor, it's important to know what to look at, what to consider, and what to disregard.

Sarah has to find the balance between what kind of operation she wants and what kind will make money. Her choices are limited by the authority which comes with her type of ownership -- whatever that is. I asked, you didn't say. I presume that's because you don't know. This is your first order of business. There's no sense wasting time generating a plan her superior owners won't allow.

The story you've told, which presumably comes from Sarah and Rachel without too much editing on your part, includes a lot of stuff about why the restaurant was in trouble which was the EX'S FAULT; and that he was A BEAST WHO SHOULD BE SHOT. My advice is not to be unsympathetic, but to get beyond this as soon as possible. It doesn't matter why the place is in the hole. What matters is who's in charge now, and whether she's doing what it takes to get out of the hole.

The operation, as you describe it, is symptomatic of an owner who is not motivated, not detail oriented, cannot control her employees, or some unholy combination. In fact, she's so out of touch she doesn't know the food is bad.

If she wants to dig her way out, she must take complete responsibility and attack the problem with energy. If that's too much for her, she's got to find some way to turn over her interest and responsibilities to someone else. Since it's essentially a "family business," it's unlikely she can shift management expertise by taking on a partner, and it's doubtful the operation can afford a GM. That mean's she's it. It also means that she's got to admit she's been in charge for the past few months and hasn't done a very good job. The ex is gone, we can't blame him for the problems anymore. This is going to be the hardest and most important part of your meeting with her. She simply has to take responsibility.

So far your descriptions haven't included any actual accounting analysis of the state of the business -- other than the restaurant was losing more money than it currently is now. I asked specific questions, but you didn't answer them; presumably because you don't know. In truth, I asked as much to see whether you were getting actual information from Sarah and Rachel more than for the actual information itself. It's important to know how much money the bar makes as opposed to the food side -- that and a lot of other things before you give advice. It's likely you're not getting the kind of information that will allows you to evaluate the current situation dispassionately because Sarah refuses to let go of the emotional issues.

It's a business, not a funeral and not a baby shower either. More like a job. If Sarah can figure out how to simultaneously remain the victim and run a successful business, she ought to write a book. If not, she'd better concentrate on the restaurant.

What are Saran's hours at the restaurant? What job responsibilities has she assigned herself? And again, what are the limitations of her actual ownership?


PS. Given your description of employee competence and morale, can you imagine how filthy the kitchen must be? I don't even want to think about behind and under the appliances. I'd suggest starting your conversation with her by going into the kitchen and taking a serious look. If things are clean, that's a good sign. Something to build on. If not, it's a wake up call.

PPS. The liquor license will have to be resolved at the licensing board. Her first order of business is to find out if there's a serious problem beyond simply applying for a new license and waiting the necessary period. If so, there are attorneys who have minor specialties with these sorts of administrative issues. Since it's possible the restaurant never had a valid license (since it wasn't issued in the name(s) of the actual owner(s)) the bar may already be out of compliance. She needs to take care of this ASAP. Yesterday would be good.

PPPS. It's likely her best results with the maintenance person will come from following normal eviction procedures (unlawful detainer aka UD). It's usually not very difficult to initiate the procedure yourself -- there's a lot of free DIY information available at the library, and very inexpensive information (including forms) at book and stationery stores. However this situation may be complicated by the fact that the tenant exchanged tenancy for work. She'd probably be best served by hiring a UD attorney -- they're cheap. She should ABSOLUTELY NOT engage in any threats or coercion (turning off the water, etc.), so called "self help." Best case, the whole thing is going to cost her several hundred bucks -- minimum. Bummer.
post #19 of 25
Best thing get someone to torch the place, collect insurance get out.:cool::cool:
post #20 of 25
Thread Starter 
Hi Boar_d_laze,

Thank you for your reply.

You're right, I haven't answered most of your questions. You've also surmised the reason. I really don't know most of the answers. I haven't been given access to financial records and don't even know what the weekly expenses and gross sales figures are.

We were supposed to talk about this last night ... but the owner managed to lock herself out of her office. A locksmith had to be summoned and did not make it up from Tucson until long after I had already left the premises.

You're also right about the owner having been too hands off for too long.

On the brighter side, I can tell you that she's now working 7 days a week. She works from 10 AM to 6 PM. The restaurant opens at 11 AM and closes at 9 PM. She leaves at 6 PM because she's got three kids at home. One of the kids is only 4. I think the others are 12 and 15.

When she leaves, the senior server runs shift. Amazingly enough senior servers have added responsibility but receive no extra pay. My assistant manager is one of the shift leaders and she told me that when she started running shift, she got fewer tables and began making less money.

During the heyday of the mining company, she would make $300 a night in tips ... but once she began running shift, she lost anywhere between 1/4th and 1/3rd of her earnings.

None of the senior servers have actually been trained to run shift. Last night while having dinner at the restaurant, the shift leader began making cuts at 6 PM. She suffered for this when business picked up at 6:30. By 7 PM, there was a line going outside the door ... a situation that hasn't been seen at this restaurant in months.

In terms of her responsibilities, she has assumed some of the responsibilities of a general manager but has not fully taken charge of the kitchen. Sanitation standards were imposed. Staff are expected to properly date, label, and store food. Those people who had problems with this were summarily terminated.

The problem is that her lack of back of the house experience has put her over a barrel with regards to the remaining kitchen staff. The prep cooks and cooks have been running the kitchen without supervision for years and are extremely territorial. Although they understand the importance of safe food handling, proper storage, and sanitation ... they're also at the point where they're resistant to any more change or direction.

The owner has basically been told that the kitchen is now in order and to butt out or they'll all quit.

I'm really not sure of where to start because this woman really has absolutely no experience in running a restaurant. Her 24 years of hands-off experience is really biting her right now for everything from submitting weekly food orders to running shift.

I am starting to wonder if the reason I haven't had access to financial records is because there are no financial records to access.

One problem that I just learned of today is that some of the teenage staff were being paid under the table. There are no payroll records for these staff members and therefore no deductions for worker's comp or social security. :eek:

ED BUCHANAN may be right. The best advice might be for this person to close the restaurant. She's making an effort to turn the place around but I'm wondering if it's too little, too late.
post #21 of 25
I use choice steaks and my steak business has been really increasing. In the past I had cooks who didn't know how to cook them. They're young and haven't developed the touch method yet. I have digital thermometers and they all know how to use them. The correct temp for each stage of doneness is posted near the broiler. The owner asked me recently about using select instead of choice and I flat out said no. There's only about a .70 per lb. difference in price and I'm sure if I asked a customer if they want a select steak or pay a buck more for choice, I'm pretty sure I know what their answer would be. We have a company in the area called Reinhart foods. They carry a line called Culinary Secrets which I'm not sure is exclusive to them or not. Culinary Secrets makes a Northwoods steak dust that my customers love. It's Montreal steak seasoning ground fine so you don't get the big chunks that don't seem to blend together like they should. We dust the deaks lightly with this and then broil. I don't feel the quality of beef is anything near what it used to be. I think the meat is leaner overall and doesn't have the flavor and tenderness it used to.
post #22 of 25

There's so much darn drama in the story, and it's all second hand so it's hard to separate fact from fiction. If Sarah's story about the kitchen staff is true, she's got only two choices.

She can either fire them all, and close for a week while she hires new cooks, cleans and repaints the restaurant from top to bottom, and fixes the menu; or she can "call" what is almost certainly a bluff, tell them the rules have changed, and give them the opportunity to quit. Like you said, your local economy is in a depression, so unfortunately they won't take the opportunity.

Personally, I don't favor displays of authority; and have always felt that the less weight a person has, the harder he throws it. But the current situation, if reported accurately, is beyond emergency. Even if it's been exaggerated, she's still got to get control of the kitchen, or might as well close the doors now before losing more money. The chef has as exactly as much power as the owner delegates (which should be near total as long as things are going well), and no more. The other cooks have NONE. And by the way, a crew that can't even turn and burn a steak doesn't deserve respect. Dios mio, a pinche steak.

My experience with Mexican cuisine is not professional. I know enough to know that done well, the cuisine is a revelation; and the two obvious pitfalls: Too large a menu, and over-reliance on the freezer and microwave.

Again though, we're stuck with not knowing how much authority to make menu changes Sarah actually has. If she does have some:

You mentioned something in an earlier post which hit an off-note for you, but I thought had some potential -- the ribs. If what she wants is a restaurant that does "home cooking with a Mexican accent," that might have some legs. (One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos con chorizo with plenty of chopped, fresh serrano thrown in, served with biscuits and hash-browns. Go figure.)

A more traditional Mexican approach would be to streamline the ordinary menu a bit, and concentrate on mariscos. Especially cocteles, caldo de siete mares, Baja style (fried fish with cabbage slaw and a mayo based sauce) tacos, mojarra frita, etc. For some reason, seafood eaters tend to bring steak eaters with them. They're also good beverage consumers.

Push the antojitos hard in the bar. If they're eating while they're drinking, the bar customers will be more peaceful. Another benefit is that appetizers tend to pull people over to the food side. That said, the bartender's got to up his or her game.

A huge draw, and something she's nuts not to do, is tortillas hecho a mano. Big deal with Mexicans and gabachos too. She can even maximize it by setting up a comal between the bar and the dining area (give it some separation) and have an in-house mamasota during the dinner rush making the tortillas while the customers watch. Show-biz. In fact, you could serve them as a stand-alone appetizer with a salsa fresca de tomatillos y chiles verdes (green salsa), with some avacado and cheese chunks in it.

Speaking of better basics, restaurant beans should never be "average." Average means they were held too long and too dry -- which means nobody gives a ____ back there. Like getting "average" chicken soup in a deli, it's code for "don't eat here."

Can't cook a steak, and can't cook good beans. I sure wish I could go with you, just to watch the expressions when I said, "Are you vatos going to be taking your own trucks down to the unemployment tomorrow? Or will you be driving together? Because I heard you're all quitting tonight. Is that true?"

post #23 of 25


So we’re in the research/casting phase of a Food Network special that will spotlight owner/chefs who are struggling in some way.  We are looking for people, anywhere in America, who have a restaurant (or other food business) that is facing a specific problem, which is hurting their success.


Maybe it’s a personality flaw of the owner/chef which they acknowledge they need to overcome but are having difficulty in doing (for example their temper, or their insistence upon micromanaging, or their hesitation to fire underperforming staff).  Maybe it’s a experience gap such as someone who is an excellent chef, but their lack of business sense has led to rookie mistakes which are hurting their profits.  Maybe they aren’t even sure where the problem lies, they think that their food & management are all wonderful... but they know something must be amiss somewhere in the chain.  We would prefer individuals who know that they have a certain shortcoming and are trying to fix it, but have not been able to.


The idea of the show is to eventually give some of these struggling chefs a leg up – whether it’s coaching, cash, new equipment, new staff, etc.


this is NOT "kitchen nightmares" or "restaurant impossible"


Interested chefs should contact Chris at cas@embassyrow.com – and our research team will reach out to phone interview them.


thank you!

post #24 of 25

A couple of thoughts on this.


My background is catering, so when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


From where I look at it, it will cost money to crawl out of the hole, and even if finding loans is possible, paying it back might be more complicated.

So why not re-invent yourself?.


Set up some catering menus and start selling catering




-Not much money is needed to 'convert"

-Any staff will have to be trained, not re-trained, but trained.  This is a bonus, as there is no " we used to" or "we were told last time".  New jobs, new duties.

-Can cater outside, or use facilities as in-house.  You can make money during the day with coffee service and powerpoint presentations, just not as much as booze, but then no one pukes all over  the carpet neither .

-have no idea about the liquor laws of your state, but if catering out of the premises, you just need a temporary license, and in the name of the new catering business, not the restaurant.


-Need to re-organize the whole structure, but most importantly the sales side of things.  This will cost big time in time, not neccesarily money, but time.

-Don't have the goodwill of the restaurant--no matter how lousy it was.

-Will need some dedicated catering euipment, dedicated delivery vehicles etc..  No one said top of the line stuff, but it still is money.


Meh, it's worth a good think or two...........


...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #25 of 25

This is a noble idea. However I believe The Food Network will only give the owner / chef only their opinion, and according to TFN it is the only way, their way. TFN is not a reliable source for this type of venture. In fact if anything they have gotten away from  true cooking and skills required in the past few years. Some of the supposed self styled people they have teaching cooking should take a few lessons themselves, In fact some of them have never worked in a real kitchen, and everything they produce is done for them prior by staff. Give us back  Emeril, Franey, Peppin. Batalli ,Puck and the guys who really created the food network.m Not the one that is produced and directed by salespeople and PR specialist. EDB

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...


Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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