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Restaurant Ripoffs: Wine and Water

Some thoughts to chew on. The restaurant I work at marks up wine 300% over wholesale which is a fairly standard markup in our area. So far this year we are operating at a 2% profit margin which isn't too bad all things considered. As I write this the owner is washing dishes, she washes dishes after the rush 5 nights a week generally to about 3 in the morning.

This is what we have to do to keep the doors open. For something to be a rip-off it is implied that the person doing the ripping-off is receiving some sort of unearned gain. The fact of the matter is that our "outrageous markup" on wine is our entire profit margin and then some. Many people seem to want restaurants to opperate at bankruptcy pricing. Few get rich in this industry.

Apr 09, 2009
Somnifor in Wine

MSP - The Strip Club

It sounds to me like a place that got caught by surprise by a busy night in a generally down economy. If you cut your staffing and your ordering to keep the doors open and suddenly your business returns all at once you run out of stuff and the staff gets overwhelmed.

A lot of otherwise dependable restaurants are having off nights because of this. Your experience might not be representative of how it generally is (on the other hand it might be, I haven't eaten there so I have no opinion as far as that goes).

Manny's Restaurant of the Year? [MSP]

Parasole - the company that owns Mannys, Chino Latino, Salut, Oceanaire, Figlio and Muffeletta is loved by the local media in ways that are all out of proportion to the quality of the food they serve. It is a love that the owners of Parasole have been actively cultivating for decades now and in their defence they are very good at the theatrical element of restauranting but do they really need to be the ones who get all the free press in town? People complain about the bull's penis at Manny's and it is in CJ's column, delegates to the RNC complain about a Chino Latino billboard and it's in the paper. Back when they opened Buca, St Paul they managed to get to get it covered as news by 2 of the 4 local channels. I guess nobody in town hypes their restaurants better.

best value under $20

Lately I have been getting the best value from Argentinian Malbecs. I don't know what the prices are in BC but here I am finding $8 - $12 Malbecs that drink like $20 - $30 wines from California.

Dec 30, 2008
Somnifor in Wine

Indio closed (MSP)

I was walking down Lake St tonight and saw the lights were out and there were no trespassing signs on the doors. A look at their website confirms that they are closed.

http://restaurantindio.com/

MSP Buffalo Wings

I was never impressed by Runyon's wings but I haven't eaten there in a decade so maybe they have changed. Back in the day their sauce wasn't true buffalo wing sauce, they were fancying it up too much which is the mistake a lot of places in Minnesota make, also I thought they were too saucy.

The thing that the CC Club does which a lot of places in Upstate NY also do is make their wings full of sauce but dry at the same time, it is the first place I have seen in Minnesota that pulls that off.

Disappointed with Meritage - MSP

As a chef I think that getting cooks to use salt properly is the one of the hardest parts of my job. When you are beginning you are taught to season everything. After a while it becomes a routine motion and you throw salt on everything without thinking about it or tasting it or calibrating it properly. I've caught one of my cooks salting a salad, he didn't think anything was wrong with that even though salting a salad seems crazy to me. Things like this happen all the time, you really have to be vigilant.

The other factor is that lots of cooks drink heavily, when you are hung over your body craves salt which throws off your palate.

Sharing wine with the FOH & sending it to the BOH at a restaurant?

As a chef I love it when people send wine back to the kitchen. Some of the best wines I have ever tasted were sampled this way, some that were way out of my price range. I have never seen any of it go to waste.

If you do this at the same restaurant repeatedly you will quickly become the staff's favorite regular.

Dec 26, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

MSP Buffalo Wings

I vaugely remembered that thread but couldn't find it so I posted this one.

I got 2 orders to go from the CC Club earlier today, it was $8 for 2 dozen which must be happy hour prices. This is the second time I've had them now and they were still right on, just like the ones at the mob pizzarias in Utica.

MSP Buffalo Wings

I grew up in upstate New York, one of my favorite foods as a kid was buffalo wings. Now as an adult I prefer more sophisticated fare most of the time, but sometimes good wings scratch an itch that nothing else can hit. It's taken me 20 years but I have finally found wings like the ones of my youth, at the CC Club. Who else has good wings?

How bad off is the restaurant industry?

I am the chef of a mid-level upscale restaurant in Minneapolis. Our sales in October were 30% below the previous October, it has rebounded a bit since then but not by much. Almost everyone else seems to be in the same boat. Most restaurants here are in survival mode which means slashing labor among other things, I don't like this because when we are unexpectedly busy we don't have the staffing to take care of the customer the way I would like but we have no other choice if we want to make it. I don't think the market can take higher prices because demand is so weak.

We have been slammed so far this week so hopefully we will turn enough of a profit in December to get us to patio season in the spring which is when we make most of our money. We weren't showing our best but hopefully any customers we might have lost will be balanced by the fact that some of our competition will probably be gone by spring. It is a dangerous game to play though.

We have been getting more unsolicited resumes than I have ever seen before. Last month I was offered a $500 bribe from a line cook who wanted a job, I have never heard of such a thing before. Maybe that happens in New York but not here. So yeah, times are tough.

Dec 19, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

Restaurant mark-up on wine

Keep in mind too that wine stores with good prices are often charging just a little bit above the wholesale prices quoted to restaurants. They can do this because they buy in large volume while independent restaurants tend to buy by the case (or less).

Specifically in Minneapolis, Hennepin Lake Liquors has some wines for $6 retail that the restaurant I am at buys wholesale for $5.50. All of their under $10 wines are just above wholesale. That store is only a few blocks from us and popular in the neighborhood so if we charge standard markup a lot of people think they are getting gouged.

Dec 15, 2008
Somnifor in Wine

Tip jars - love 'em? Hate 'em?

Most people who work counter service here in Minneapolis make between $7 and $9 an hour which is not a livable wage in this city. Most servers and bartenders walk with $20 to $40 an hour.

I have no problem leaving a few coins for the barista.

Dec 07, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

Why can't Americans have good cheap wine?

Wine growing is massively subsidized in the EU through the common agricultural policy. This has led to overproduction and a glut of every day caliber wine. Gluts of unsold product tend to lead to low prices. Much is turned into industrial alcohol.

Does anyone know if the US has price supports for wine grape crops? My guess would be no due to anti-liquor sentiment but I don't know. I know California sells nearly all of the wine it produces.

I think a lot of the price differences have to do with supply and demand issues.

Dec 07, 2008
Somnifor in Wine

songs referencing food: your playlist

I've always respected the Beastie Boys for there Chateaunuef-du-Pape reference in "Body Movin".

I am trying to get my boss to play something from Cibo Mato's "Viva la Woman" in our dining room, so far with no sucess.

Nov 30, 2008
Somnifor in Food Media & News

Another Great Visit at 112Eatery (MSP) for Jfood

I was going to add that too but I used to work there. I ate a lot of burgers in my days at Frost.

Another Great Visit at 112Eatery (MSP) for Jfood

Some other places that have good burgers are the Bryant Lake Bowl, Duplex and the Dakota.

Thanksgiving Reds

I usually do Oregon Pinot Noir, it seems to work well with almost all of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes. The last few years it has been a Ken Wright Cellars holiday, with no complaints.

Nov 19, 2008
Somnifor in Wine

Have you cut back on restaurant meals with this economy?

I work in the restaurant business and it has been really slow but I think my job is secure. Lately I've made a point of going to the restaurants I like on a regular basis, I am worried that some of them wont be there in the future. I've especially been hitting the places near my house that have good price/quality ratios.

Nov 18, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

Restaurants closing early when business is slow

I've worked in kitchens for 17 years. I've noticed a strong correlation between closing early and not having any late night business. I have become a bit of a nazi about it, I will only close early if there is a blizzard. The place I am at now is starting to do a lot of later business, last summer we were usually steady up until midnight when we closed.

People will not come in late if they aren't sure if you are going to be open.

Nov 13, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

"Wine collectors eye cellars for liquidity"

Earlier this year I suggested to a wine sales person that I thougth the 2005 Bordeaux would be the same price or cheaper in 20 years. He looked at me like I was crazy. I still might be crazy but I stand by it.

It has looked to me like a classic bubble for a while now. As a youth I collected comic books and knew some people who "invested" in them. It all came to tears in the early '90s and taught me everything I needed to know about "investing" in wine.

The problem with collectables is they have no intrinsic value beyond the end user who wants to enjoy them. If people start buying them speculatively eventually it bids up the price where even avid fans with money walk away and there is no end user. At that point there are mostly speculators in the market and a crash is only a matter of time.

Like comic books and baseball cards wine does not pay dividends and does not represent ownership of any kind of economic production. If it is never drunk then it isn't really worth anything.

Oct 15, 2008
Somnifor in Wine

Pasta-like Italy, not red sauce-MSP

The chef at I Nonni is a fiftysomething butcher from Rome who's name escapes me right now. The people he is immitating don't work in the Twin Cities. Which is not to say that the 112 is copying him. Most likely it is a case of good cooking minds thinking alike.

Aribel's closed (MSP)

The deeper problem here is that people are going out to eat less in general, mostly in reaction to the increase in the prices of gas and food. Twin Cities restaurant operators have the same problem as the steel companies did in 1981: too much capacity, not enough customer demand.

It will stay like this until the price of gas goes down (which may never happen) or a bunch more restaurants go out of business, or there is prolonged strong economic growth and rising incomes.

Aribel's closed (MSP)

Giorgio's on Hennepin also closed recently which isn't too surprising but sad nonetheless.

Server Pet Peeves?

The other factor is that the last couple of pieces of a special are the most profitable ones. If you get 28 orders you usually cost it out at maybe 25 pieces because you can't really run 2 or 3 orders of a special if you are left with them at the end of a day. So if you cost it out at 25 pieces but can actually sell all 28 the last 3 are mostly profit. You keep your job as a chef by selling the last 3 pieces of everything that comes into your kitchen. They pay for the waste, they pay for the cool little extras that you really can't afford but still buy - the things that give your restaurant it's je ne sais quois. They are 75 extra dollars. 75 extra free dollars on a bi-weekly basis goes a long way in a small restaurant, it will help pay for a produce order or is the difference between organic and conventional. If you give it away to the staff you don't make your numbers and either go out of business or get fired.

A good server knows what halibut tastes like, they know what the pickled ramps on top of it taste like, they know what the starch and vegetable under it tastes like. If they can't triangulate and sell the dish without actually tasting it then they shouldn't be waiting tables in your restaurant.

May 06, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

What do Chowhounds do for a living (besides eat of course)? [old]

I am a chef. I originally came here to find out what people were saying about the restaurant I help run. People post things here that they never tell their server. Chowhoud is a good place to find out what people think about what other restaurants in my city are doing, it is part of my intelligence network. Also I love talking about food, obviously a lot of people in the restaurant business are foodies.

May 03, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

Server Pet Peeves?

The last time they raised the minimum wage in Minnesota I was instructed by my employer to cut hours from the kitchen schedule to make up for the fact that front of the house labor was going up (front of the house cut some hours too).

This made things more chaotic in the kitchen which in turn made it harder to find time to make sample plates.

May 01, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

Server Pet Peeves?

Many small independent restaurants simply can't afford to though, especially in the winter when it is slow.

Let's say for example that the chef orders 15 pounds of halibut for $120(usually this is a minimum order if you don't have a local fresh fish market). It is delivered on friday and butchered, yeilding 28 orders, that is $4.29 per piece. In Minneapolis a typical restaurant will multiply that by 5 and sell it for $22 an order or so. It might not sell out until Tuesday and often you have different servers each day. If you make one for the servers to try 5 days in a row suddenly it is $5.22 per piece and you have to sell it for $26 to make your margin. That is only a $4 difference but it is huge in the psychology of selling; maybe not to foodies but to the other 99% of your customers. If it is the difference between $19 and $23 per order it looms even larger. People are very price sensitive these days and many small independent restaurants are really in dire circumstances.

Right now my wholesale reps tell me that most of their accounts are past due. A lot of restaurants are about to go away. A lot of people who own small restaurants are about to lose their houses, cars, etc. That is where these decisions come from.

The other factor is that often restaurants are in a desperate mad scramble to get ready for dinner service. This is especially true in states like Minnesota where servers make the full minimum wage (restaurants have to compensate by cutting kitchen labor). If it is 6 pm on a Saturday night and you still have prep to do and are cooking orders working at a dead run it is not always easy to make a sample plate for the staff.

My personal preference would be to make sure everyone on the staff tries everything but it is not always possible, and the decision usually isn't driven by greed.

Apr 30, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food

MSP restaurants that source local ingredients

The French Meadow is another restaurant that sources locally

"No Substitutions"

When I worked at the original Buca di Beppo years ago they had a no substitutions policy that meant no modifications unless there was a food allery issue. Their rational was that the restaurant was so busy that with 50 or 60 tickets hanging in the kitchen it became impossible to keep track of substitutions and mistakes would occur because of them. I understood their thinking but I think people should be able to get what they want when they go out to eat.

Apr 24, 2008
Somnifor in Not About Food