Vivian Howard closes her restaurant

I watched Farmer & the Chef, or Farm to Table, or whatever that series was on PBS with Vivian Howard; Mrs. Goofy and I even made plans to visit her restaurant in North Carolina but something intervened and we never made it.

I was gobsmacked to find out she had closed her restaurant(s),and here’s a column she wrote about it explaining why it’s am impossible business, why the help doesn’t get paid, and why she’s stupid enough to think about trying again.

If you’re paywalled out, here is a blog with some significant excerpts:

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She was right on the money with one thing she said - running a restaurant profitably is a balancing act. It’s both simple and hard at the same time.

The simple part is the plan. Here you go:

  1. Finances: 1/4 of sales goes to each of the following - food, labor, overhead (fixed) costs, profit.
  2. Costing every recipe is a necessity. It drives everything. What do the ingredients cost? Multiply that by 4 to get your selling price. And your labor budget. And your fixed cost budget.
  3. When costing out the food, don’t forget things like spices, sauces, and spoilage. Yes, there will be spoilage. A little too much food prepared for the day. Some spillage on the floor. Dropped plates of completed dishes. Errors by the cooks. Making a burger? You need more than the meat and a bun. Ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, pickles, onions, salt, pepper, spices, whatever. These things are not free. Include them in the cost. Side dishes (french fries) are not free either.

And that’s most of it. There’s a bit of planning and capitalization for startup - gotta pay for more than just the equipment. There’s training and a bit of excess food waste as people learn.

The really hard part is actually doing this. It’s easy to get caught up in running a restaurant from day to day and ignore the bigger picture of management. It’s also easy to get caught up in making good food and let the management of employees slip. Great chefs aren’t always great managers of restaurants. There’s way more to a restaurant than just cooking. If you’re a chef starting a restaurant, you can’t really cook on the line every day. You must let others do that while you focus on running the whole business. If you like eating food and start a restaurant, you can’t look only at the quality of the food and service. You must step back and manage the whole business, including the back of the house.

Yes, alcohol and beverages are important and somewhat more profitable than the food. But if they are the only reason you are surviving as a restaurant, you aren’t running it right. Food needs to be profitable, too.

it’s too bad Vivian had to close her restaurant. But it is not because restaurants are impossible. They’re just hard.

–Peter

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