Restaurants in a Time of Upheaval

Young Adults at Cafe tipping ServerThe New York Times recently published a fantastic article in which a roundtable of chefs and restaurant people opened up about COVID-19, inflation, and what they really feel about customers. There are far too many good points to quote, but some salient points are worth repeating, and we picked Chef Becky’s brain for her take on things. 


Tipping Point  

Eric Huang, a NYC chef: Once upon a time, I was an essential worker, right? And everyone was tipping so graciously and saying the restaurant is the backbone of our economy. And now, just three and a half, four years later, we’re back to everyone complaining about a dollar tip on a touch-screen.” 

Chef Huang goes on to note how “cooking is the last thing I get to do every day. It’s handing out W-2s and paying bills and figuring out how to store the garbage over the holiday weekend.”


Perception vs Reality 

Huang brings up a great point, something echoed in other industries. Mickey Melchiondo, a musician from Lambertville, NJ, found success with his rock band Ween (who have many a song about food!) but once told a music journalist “playing onstage and actually creating music is only like 10% of what I do. 90% is ‘bureaucratic’ stuff: interviews, social media, bookkeeping, publishing rights, planning, phone calls, etc.” It’s a great reminder to not always believe what you think/perceive. We only see celebrity chefs, rock star philosophers, and public high-profile people in their public personas, and sometimes forget there’s always a behind-the-scenes. 


Back of House, Front of House

“The back of house is the engine of the restaurant,” Chef Becky says. “And front of house is just as necessary, but both have to work together. I’ve done everything you can do in the restaurant industry, from bussing to bartending to running a restaurant. Restaurateurs are not made of money. Restaurants didn’t create inflation. We make mistakes, we’re human. But if you have a problem, it’s passive-aggressive to say nothing to a human in person yet hop online and thrash a restaurant on social media. Just talk to us and let’s see if we can find a win-win. 9 times outta 10, we can.” 


The Customer Isn’t Always Right (But We Do Try) woman server carrying tray of food and drinks

Eli Sussman of NYC: “There’s a split personality regarding the food menu and the drink. You see expensive food on the menu and you feel personally offended that someone would choose to mark an item at this point. You see a beverage menu, and you’re like, ‘Oh, well, they have a $190 bottle of wine on the menu. I just won’t order it, that’s not for me.’” 


The Boil-Down 

Yun Fuentes of Philly perhaps said it best: “I think it would be silly for me to complain about having to do the job I signed up for.” As journalist Hunter S Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Chef Becky agrees with personal responsibility: “This is why some restaurants post their menus on the door. If it’s not your cup of tea, you have other choices. As I’ve said before, on the restaurant worker side, what you see on the TV Food Network is an incredibly rehearsed, polished portrayal of cooking. In reality, it’s hard work that is both physical and mental and an endurance test. Just remember that invisible human beings are behind every bite of restaurant or take-out/delivery food you have.” 


The Reality of Restaurants

Geoff Davis in the NYT article said it best in eight words: “A lot of screaming, a lot of butter.”

Chef Becky laughs in agreement. “He nailed it,” she concurs. “It’s such an interesting time right now culturally and politically, and I’ve noticed we’ve become a culture that complains very easily, over very little sometimes. I appreciate the NY Times letting restaurant folks speak up about the challenges of the job. At the end of the day, and I’ve done this for going on two decades now, we appreciate customers sticking with us as we navigate inflation, culture shifts, and turbulence.”