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Executive refuses to make menu changes in compromise with restaurant owner; integrity or inflexibility? Your thoughts? How would you handle the situation?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello. I'm pastry chef in a small restaurant and work closely with the executive; the rest of our BOH staff is simply two line cooks and two stewards. The restaurant has been in operation for about five and a half years. The nature of the menu has always stayed essentially the same: simple, contemporary american; scratch kitchen; local-centric; quality product. Demand in our area has changed a lot over the past couple of years (as it has everywhere, I suppose), and the owner of the restaurant is looking to make a conceptual overhaul. As it stands, we have to price out our current menu at 23-34/plate to turn a sustainable profit. Unfortunately, that demographic just doesn't even exist in our area. Meat prices continue to go up, revenue is dropping, waitstaff is losing confidence.. it's legitimately troublesome.

 

The owner wants to simplify the menu-- not necessarily dumb it down, eliminate its necessary labor, or replace our quality product with pre-fabricated goods-- but cut the metaphorical fat, take another look at cross-utilization, bring in lower-cost proteins. For example, kill the ribeye and bring in hangar; No one wants to pay $33 for a ribeye, but we're up shit's creek if we charge any less. Our entire menu is suffering in this way. The owner is comfortable with having one or two higher-price items on the menu, but generally wants to lower our price point across the board.

 

The executive chef refuses to comply. She has acknowledged that increasing the cost of our plates is not an option because of our limited audience, and also that our prices are too low to claim a sustainable food cost average. However, she refuses to change the menu. I understand her qualm with feeling her integrity is being compromised, but I feel that there is a way to simplify the product without going to extremes (don't replace the salmon with tilapia, but at least consider your options). She's an excellent chef in regard to her execution of dishes and commitment to quality; managerially, I find her performance questionable.

 

Where do you, as chefs, draw the line in walking away from a kitchen? Is she protecting her integrity, or is she being unreasonably stubborn? I've run a kitchen before, and I've always found that if you don't like management's solution, it is your responsibility to provide another viable solution instead of simply rejecting theirs and ending the conversation. 

 

How would you appeal to someone in her position if you truly believed that if she were to come around, it would be in the best interest in the restaurant? I've been mediating between chef and owner and I've reached my maximum threshold of effectiveness. If she refuses to consider changing the menu, focusing the concept (the menu is a little bulky and discombobulated at present), and working on her food cost, she will lose her job.

 

Do you find that sometimes it's best to walk away in a situation such as this because you are only interested in serving top product, or is she simply being ineffective in her role as chef? Am I being insensitive to one's chefly sensibilities in thinking it's not an insult but simply the nature of the beast to be asked to adjust your menu's price point and keeping a closer eye on food cost?

 

What are your thoughts on a non-partner executive chef refusing to compromise in this situation? Integrity or inflexibility?

post #2 of 16

I think that you would be concerned for your own job, a small restaurant with failing numbers and a pastry chef on salary? Do dessert sales warrant your salary or do you work the line in addition?

post #3 of 16

It's the owner's money.  You should ask chef this:  How would you feel if you had $50 deducted out of your paycheck each week to pay the bills?  That's how the owner feels.

post #4 of 16

Does the chef price every menu item with the same gross profit margin? Therein lies the problem. If so, it's a rather ham-fisted strategy at menu design. You need a more effective menu plan and pricing strategy.

 

Identify menu items that sell most often and the ones that have the most gross profit. List theses smack dab in the middle and upper right of the menu so that the customer's eye with gravitate there and be more likely to order them. 

 

Adjust the portion size and price them 5-10% below your targeted gross profit. It comes down to a volume game. If you sell a higher number of these items (or if the one you sell the most also has the highest margin), your overall gross profit will rise. Keep a few high priced items for the discerning customer, but keep an eye on shrink.

 

Also remember to put a couple simple and inexpensive items on the menu for the cheapskates (you'll always get them.) The range of prices will appeal to a larger number of people instead of giving everyone the impression that your restaurant is overly spendy. 

 

Another strategy is to offer lots of really interesting small plates that can be combined to make a nice meal. Generally, these specialized small plates have a greater gross profit per plate, allow the chef her creativity, and the customers usually order several increasing volume and profit margin to boot.

 

It sounds a bit like your chef's mindset is more about the "art" :rolleyes: of her food rather than the business of running a restaurant. Not usually a successful mix. 

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www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

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post #5 of 16

I don't think the owner is being unrealistic, sounds like he knows his customers pretty well, and is in no way chatting up the Sysco rep.

 

Frankly, I think the Chef is being stupid.  Numbers don't lie, the place isn't making money, and it is part of the Chef's job to ensure that the kitchen is pulling it's own weight.  So we know what the Chef won't do, but will she do to keep the kitchen afloat?  Has she made any suggestions or done some wacky daily specials to see what she can do?

...."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 #6 of 16

I'm going to look at this from the owner view.

 

You said "The restaurant has been in operation for about five and a half years."

 

He has kept 6 people working in the BOH and all the wait staff, so I assume he is making money on his investment being open this long.

 

You said "The executive chef refuses to comply."

 

I would tell her not to let the door hit her on her way out.

 

You said "I've been mediating between chef and owner"

 

This is the part I don't really understand, why would you be mediating for your boss or is the dishwasher mediating for the exec chef too?

 

You said "Meat prices continue to go up, revenue is dropping, waitstaff is losing confidence.. it's legitimately troublesome."

 

This is the reason the owner thinks changes need to be made.  Right or wrong that is his business and he adjusts anything he thinks needs adjusting.

As for the waitstaff, not sure what you mean by that.  Sometimes gossip or taking sides gets everyone stirred up and if that is the reason the manager should get that halted fast.

 

When people do not have a monetary investment in a business, they can not override the owner

orders or directions.  

post #7 of 16

I've been fairly stubborn about a good many things in my career and quality was always out front. However, I'm also realistic enough to know that mine isn't, hasn't and won't be the end-all opinion of what quality is. Only as the owner is this and any case. 

 

As Chef's, we tend to get all wrapped up in what we are doing and sometimes lose focus on what needs to be done.  It's the owners business......plain and simple!  The scenario that Kuan mentioned is exactly what the Exec should be seeing and needs to step into those shoes.

 

You also need to know where you can step when dealing with any owner. Standing your ground is great but the Exec needs to look at the whole picture and not only the one that surrounds their own responsibilities or perceived reputation. This is when the Exec's ego becomes bigger than and is put in front of the businesses survival. It's a hard line to toe but in the end, it's the owners money and the idea is to be employed when the business has survived it's worst times.

 

There are two side to every coin and from what I can understand, the owner is doing their part and seems to have a handle on or desire to fix the issues. My experience has told me he/she has probably looked at reducing salary to cut costs as much as anything else and this will only become the more prevailing solution as things get tougher. So, the harder the Exec pushes, the more likely it'll be their butt canned that much quicker. Sometimes it's better to just do what you are asked (before you are told) and do it to the best of your ability.

 

The Exec should be willing to be flexible. Work with the owner and rethink the whole process. They should sit at a table and hash some strong menu change considerations. Balance out the whole menu. Come-up with new ideas and cost them out before diving in. Sometimes we forget that it's not just the high dollar things that can be done well, it's the simpler, more everyday items we sometimes throw our noses up at that, when done with equal zest and commitment, can save a floundering restaurant.

 

Finally, I should say that this is advice I should have used on more than one occasion so it's said with great honesty and with the experience of the outcome in mind.

post #8 of 16


Do your job the best you can. Don't get involved in the politics of management, you will lose and be the labor that the  owner is trying to save. You can buy some real good pastries and cakes today already done and you don't pay unemployment ,  workmens  comp, social security , insurance or do the cakes and pastries get a paid vacation.

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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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...

Reply
post #9 of 16
Being unwilling to change will make her a dinosaur..........or unemployed.Chefs need to look at the economic reality.
post #10 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alisha Nicole View Post
 

Hello. I'm pastry chef in a small restaurant and work closely with the executive; the rest of our BOH staff is simply two line cooks and two stewards. The restaurant has been in operation for about five and a half years. The nature of the menu has always stayed essentially the same: simple, contemporary american; scratch kitchen; local-centric; quality product. Demand in our area has changed a lot over the past couple of years (as it has everywhere, I suppose), and the owner of the restaurant is looking to make a conceptual overhaul. As it stands, we have to price out our current menu at 23-34/plate to turn a sustainable profit. Unfortunately, that demographic just doesn't even exist in our area. Meat prices continue to go up, revenue is dropping, waitstaff is losing confidence.. it's legitimately troublesome.

 

The owner wants to simplify the menu-- not necessarily dumb it down, eliminate its necessary labor, or replace our quality product with pre-fabricated goods-- but cut the metaphorical fat, take another look at cross-utilization, bring in lower-cost proteins. For example, kill the ribeye and bring in hangar; No one wants to pay $33 for a ribeye, but we're up shit's creek if we charge any less. Our entire menu is suffering in this way. The owner is comfortable with having one or two higher-price items on the menu, but generally wants to lower our price point across the board.

 

The executive chef refuses to comply. She has acknowledged that increasing the cost of our plates is not an option because of our limited audience, and also that our prices are too low to claim a sustainable food cost average. However, she refuses to change the menu. I understand her qualm with feeling her integrity is being compromised, but I feel that there is a way to simplify the product without going to extremes (don't replace the salmon with tilapia, but at least consider your options). She's an excellent chef in regard to her execution of dishes and commitment to quality; managerially, I find her performance questionable.

 

Where do you, as chefs, draw the line in walking away from a kitchen? Is she protecting her integrity, or is she being unreasonably stubborn? I've run a kitchen before, and I've always found that if you don't like management's solution, it is your responsibility to provide another viable solution instead of simply rejecting theirs and ending the conversation. 

 

How would you appeal to someone in her position if you truly believed that if she were to come around, it would be in the best interest in the restaurant? I've been mediating between chef and owner and I've reached my maximum threshold of effectiveness. If she refuses to consider changing the menu, focusing the concept (the menu is a little bulky and discombobulated at present), and working on her food cost, she will lose her job.

 

Do you find that sometimes it's best to walk away in a situation such as this because you are only interested in serving top product, or is she simply being ineffective in her role as chef? Am I being insensitive to one's chefly sensibilities in thinking it's not an insult but simply the nature of the beast to be asked to adjust your menu's price point and keeping a closer eye on food cost?

 

What are your thoughts on a non-partner executive chef refusing to compromise in this situation? Integrity or inflexibility?

 

As someone who has worked extremely closely with owners in a chef role I can tell you that what the owner wants the owner gets, as it should be. The owner is the one with the financial risk linked to the business, not the chef who collects a salary irregardless of how business is doing. An owner is the captain of the ship and their business model and market they are trying to appeal to needs to be reflected in the menu, and that's the chef's job to serve those needs. Of course a chef can have some influence both business wise and on the creative side of the menu but at the end of the day the chef is there to serve the person writing their check, otherwise get out. As a chef you have the choice of where you want to work and if things are, in your mind, too out of your comfort zone just give your notice. Good luck finding a restaurant or an owner who will give you complete control over a menu, they don't exist.

 

As far as the menu being adjusted to meet financial needs the chef just needs to roll with the punches. A chef's job does not exist in a vacuum and creating a profitable kitchen is their number goal in any kitchen. Get your culinary juices flowing and embrace the things you may not necessarily be a fan of and put your own twist on them. Hate the idea of replacing a ribeye with a hanger steak? Pan sear a quality hangar steak, serve with a classic bearnaise done correctly and some house cut frites, maybe some watercress or other greens, how could a chef not appreciate that? Lamb chops or loin too expensive? Try braising lamb shoulder for a nice ragu over pasta or a great quality polenta.

post #11 of 16

A chef's number one priority has to be the success of the business. Focus on that and integrity is pretty much assured. Refusal to compromise is not integrity, it is ego.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #12 of 16

You can be the greatest culinary artist on the face of the planet, but culinary artistry is just a one facet of being a chef. When successfully running my own restaurant, as chef I had to occasionally reign in my culinary artist side. I never compromised my integrity, just kept an eye on my ego; because it didn't always have my chef's best interests at heart.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #13 of 16

It begins and ends with the owner.  Period.  If I was the owner I'd tell the Chef to hit the bricks.  You wanna make the calls?  Buy your own restaurant!  Until then the owner is the boss.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #14 of 16

If Chef can't see how to make hangar work in place of ribeye, me thinks she lacks creativity.


Edited by kingofnull - 6/20/14 at 9:36am
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by chefbuba View Post
 

I think that you would be concerned for your own job, a small restaurant with failing numbers and a pastry chef on salary? Do dessert sales warrant your salary or do you work the line in addition?

 

I am concerned for my own job, which I feel will be compromised if the kitchen does not reach stable ground. We're not financially drowning; we simply to need to adapt to reach a more sustainably identity in this area and economy. I'm not on salary, I'm hourly, and am paid less than I qualify to be paid; I also work prep, hot line, cold side, and do desserts for the owner's second restaurant (which is revenue not factored into our monthly food cost, but free profit for restaurant #2).

post #16 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thank you to everyone who replied to this thread. It was an echo of what my impression of the situation had been throughout its carrying on; the reinforcement was helpful. As an update, the situation is moving in the direction of resolution, swiftly. The chef finally broke down and agreed to adapt the entirety of the menu to the challenges the restaurant currently faces. The owner could be doing more to carry through the remedy (as in, not having me make desserts at cost of our product and send them over to his second restaurant with zero profit for us and free revenue for them at no cost), but hopefully everything will shake out in time.

 

 

Also, along with what Chefedb said-- lesson learned; i think I'll be taking a back seat to a situation like this in the future. As predicted, my labor came into the line of fire once my usefulness as a problem-solver was exhausted. Head down, nose to the grindstone.

 

Thank you again all; your insight was very helpful and reassuring.

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