What Is A Restaurant?

In the U.S., anyone can open a business to feed strangers and call it a restaurant.  Not so in other countries.

In Italy, for example, a person with little experience wouldn’t dare to start a restaurant, but instead would begin perhaps by having a bar that sells food; then an osteria; then a trattoria; finally, if these places work out, a restaurant.  Expectations are linked to the level of establishment.

Same in France: Bar, brasserie, bistro, restaurant.

Or Japan: Ramen, izakaya, yakitori, yakiniku, tempura, sushi, restaurant.

The cool thing about the States is that anyone with financial resources can call himself or herself a chef.  The result is vast mediocrity, a dining landscape characterized by marketing skills and celebrity rather than food that is informed by tradition, skill, and focus.  On the positive side?  Anyone can open a restaurant.

As a result of the huge variability in dining choices, franchises got started.  These established reliable service that eschewed random acts of racism and sexism; products that tasted the same no matter where you were; standards of hiring and firing and work conditions; and, price points that had good enough value to create regular customers.

Early on this was McDonald’s.

These days?  Shake Shack, Starbucks, etc.

It’s a lot like privately managed health care (H.M.O.’s), and the general monetization of everyday life.  Small businesses can exist in this fiscal environment, but it’s a huge challenge given the deep pockets and marketing skills of competing forces.

One possible way out is for cooks to identify what they do best and open places that are unique to those talents.  This would mean far fewer restaurants, which would be a good thing since most of those in the kitchen aren’t skilled enough, and more simple places: Good diners, good sandwich shops, and so on.

Places like Flour in Boston and City Bakery in NYC are good examples.  So are Galleria Umberto and Black Seed Bagel.  (Note that all four places sell dough products–Chefs, the #1 profit items on any menu are pizza or bread-based.)

So word to chefs: Close down the restaurant, open a simple place that sells a half dozen great things.

Less stress, more money.




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