Sunday, June 29, 2008

An Interesting Time In "The Biz"

This is surely an interesting time to be in the restaurant business. On a daily basis, I talk to probably 10 to 20 operators, be it managers or owners. While I cash them out, I always make it a point to ask how things are going. Can't help it, I'm naturally curious, and it may make for some good fodder for blogging.

Prospects are not good right now, as many of you know all too well. I used to try to be light-hearted, and reassure people that customers will always be there. That everyone has gotten used to eating out. That we all have become accustomed to eating out. We've all become to lazy to cook for ourselves. Now I'm not so sure. I've been hearing horror tales lately.

Here where I live, in the Florida panhandle, has been hit extraordinarily hard by this 'recession'. Now, I know it's not official, but I think we really are in a recession. Our government may throw around a lot of numbers, but those numbers can be manipulated in a way to show that things are peachy. They're not, and God help those who think everything is fine. They are blind and choose to view things the way they think.

People are not going out to eat they way they have. And those who do, are choosing less expensive options. And those who choose those options are not tipping well, either. We have a lot of servers who buy their aprons, wine-keys, etc. here, and they tell me the truth. They have no reason to lie to me. Things are tough, and probably will be for awhile.

The establishments doing well are on the lower rung of the spending spectrum. They're your fast-food places, diners, and family-dining places. Those faring poorest are the middle-rung places: i.e., your TGI Fridays, Macaroni Gill, and Ruby Tuesdays-type places. The high-class establishment will always do well, although the servers are hurting from low tips.

I don't profess to know the answer to these problems. I only know that we may have to move to a more 'European' type of payment. Higher wages to cover the lack of tips. Which will drive up the cost of eating out. Which means less people eating out. Which I don't know what the f**k that means. I don't know if there is an answer. If I knew, I'd be a rich man, which I'm not. I only know that the current system is in for a change, which is not good.

"Service" is bad enough as it is. Who knows how long it will take to get that extra ramekin of dressing in the future.