April 20, 2024

You’re the Boss: Taking the Bait: On Prix Fixe, Sustainable Seafood and Restaurant Economics

Start-Up Chronicle

Here are some comments from all over the country and all over the culinary map. I am grateful for the responses to the posts about prix fixe policy, the talkative owner and the restaurant itself. It may be impossible to please all the people all the time, but all the people who take the time to write please me all the time. Thank you.

“Sustainable seafood” (an oxymoron) with a side of foie gras (torture). This place has a bizarre notion of ethical eating. The Berkeley restaurant Gather does a much better job of living up to ethical ideals. Top quality vegetable preparations (not seafood from our decimated oceans or force-fed duck) should be the cornerstone of any sustainable menu. Shannon, Oregon

For the record, Gather serves smelt, yellowtail tuna, albacore, anchovies, lamb sausage, young chickens, and Prather Ranch beef burgers. All of which are sustainable or organic. (Yellowtail is not actually tuna, but in the jack family, which is sustainable.)

Restaurateurs like this ought to think about sustaining a decent degree of gastronomy. They’re living off of naïve, inexperienced and uninformed customers who let them tolerate being, in essence, force fed and kept in a culinary straitjacket. Robert Brown, New York, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Brown,
The sophisticated, well-traveled and well-heeled guests who frequent Southfork Kitchen would be very surprised to hear that they are, in fact, unbeknown to them, uninformed, force fed and straightjacketed.

We had the Prix Fixe a few weeks ago and LOVED it. We thought the food was exquisite, on par or better than any restaurant in a 50 mile radius. But it was not a cheap date our bill with tax, tip, and one of the least expensive bottles of wine was over $200 for two people … the restaurant fills a real fine dining niche that is not being served out here, and I think they will do very well in the summer months. — Joe T, Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Joe T.
So glad you enjoyed yourself. Thanks for sharing.

Add me to the tally of people who will not set foot in the door in the first place if my only options are a large (and not inexpensive) meal in the dining room, or a few food choices in the bar. — MHM, N.Y.

The food served at the bar is from the same chef and served in the same ambience with the same service. The bar menu includes appetizers, entrees and desserts. Or the prix fixe.

Thank you very much for not adding the supplemental items. I find that extremely tacky. If I’m paying $n, I don’t want to have to spend an extra $10-$x dollars on the supposed best item on the menu. The amuses/petit fours make the meal that much more special, more enjoyable. — D. Whitman, New York, N.Y.

Dear D.W.,
You are very welcome.

I was skeptical of your 100 rules at first, but maybe there’s something to be said for #7 (No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.), #8 (Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason.) and 69 (If someone wants to know your life story, keep it short.) Michael, Washington, D.C.

The rules were for servers, not owners. Part of my job is allow the servers to do their jobs by fielding questions and explaining our philosophy to inquisitive guests.

It’s interesting that you are directly quoting a conversation that took place when you weren’t actually present. – ruth, providence

Many a fine history book has dialogue written by people who were not actually in the room or on the battlefield to hear those conversations. My source, however, is pretty reliable — my wife, Dr. B, is a psychologist with a knack for listening and remembering conversations verbatim. Especially when they took place only two hours before telling me about them.

Most Americans are unhappy if they don’t get a gut-rupturing amount of food. A fixed-price menu gives them an excuse to order an appetizer AND dessert. Joanne Aberdeen, Md.

If you are saying that prix fixe is a public service, thank you.

Keep in mind that an average is just that: an average, nothing more. You can raise an average check by reducing the below-average instances, or by raising the above-average instances; pursuing the latter would seem better for business in most cases. Training staff to sell more bottles of wine, perhaps? MrB, Chicago

Mr. B,
Training a staff to sell more bottles of wine is exactly what we do not want to do at Southfork Kitchen. Up-selling is a downer.

Bravo, Bruce, I’m proud of you– a real post with real information and I didn’t feel like I had to read through a French novel to find it — mhf, Houston, Tex.

Merci. Je pense.

I am afraid you are risking losing good repeat business that comes in every week for a soup and a drink to be replaced by more fickle higher ticket diners… I am especially concerned in the Hamptons. Many customers might want something lighter. Maybe go prefix on weekends only. BD, New York

Dearest BD,
It is nice to have someone worry about us. We have discussed doing the prix fixe on weekends only in the off-season, but we are going to run with this for the summer and see where it takes us.

1. It’s not rocket science. 2. Is this a new industry inventing the concept of dining? 3. Prix Fixe only? 4. For “ages” the concept was a Prix Fixe offering as ONE element of a creative menu… 5.He who focuses only on the average ends up delivering just that…an “average” product or experience. BQ, Philadelphia

You really equate focusing on the average check to creating an average meal? This may not be rocket science, but your thinking is decidedly astral.

Bruce, I think what you’re doing is smart. You’ve recognized you have a dollar amount you need to make per seat to cover costs (and try to make a profit)… The fact that you created a bar menu for patrons who want a lighter bite gives everyone an option. – Kris, PDX

Kris PDX,
Thank you, Kris. (Do you live in the Portland Airport?)

In France, cheese is usually an option for dessert, and i am a fiend for cheese. I don’t eat pastries for dessert … and so it is an imposition to expect me to pay for a creme brulee, or whatever. anne, Washington, D.C.

Bonjour anne,
We have a cheese plate — five cheeses from Mecox Bay Dairy — served with local honey and fruit preserves. You are welcome to have that first or last or in-between.

This is an interesting piece on restaurant economics, something that many diners — including myself — know nothing about. In short, it would be nice to know whether the sustainable seafood/local food ideas are worth the extra cost and whether diners really appreciate the effort. PorscheGuy, East Coast

It is an interesting question and one that deserves a full post. In short, yes, local organic produce costs more and tastes better and supports our neighbors and is healthier and well worth the effort and the cost.

When my wife and I consider dining, we expect to spend some money, and we might be limited in this respect so we choose restaurants carefully. You wouldn’t see us often, Bruce, but if the experience were to be as good as it promises you would have received extremely grateful customers, your staff would be complimented and handsomely tipped, and we would heartily recommend your place to everyone we know. — Fideles, new york, ny

You sound like great guests. We look forward to serving you. Semper Fi.

Bruce, this may be the best move you have made so far. I applaud it for one basic reason; it shows that you are concerned with the economics of the restaurant. You don’t have to be all things to all people. If some find it too expensive, so be it. People will always want a bargain…If $55 covers your costs and you keep having a full house go ahead and raise it to $65, $75 or $100. Find what the market will bear. Maybe you would rather be 80% booked so you have room for walk-ins? — Shylock, Virginia

What a great idea! Thanks. Right after Memorial Day, we’ll raise the prix fixe to $68.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2a5e7a154b591f8d25c57daf96093121

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