Thief’s former employer spotted his tableware at the grand opening
A new restaurateur in Shanghai was arrested for stealing his tableware from the restaurant across the street.
Shanghai police have arrested a new restaurateur just days after his grand opening, because he allegedly stole his new restaurant’s tableware from a former employer.
According to Shanghaiist, the new restaurateur — a man surnamed Wu — was employed by a local restaurant in Hongkou district. One day recently, his boss — a man named Wang — brought in a fancy supply of new, high-end tableware to get ready for the Spring Festival holiday, which this year ran from January 31 to February 6.
Wu decided the fancy new tableware was just what he needed to realize his dream of running his own restaurant, so he made off with the cutlery and opened his own place directly across the street from his former employer. Of course Wang realized what was wrong the day of the new restaurant’s grand opening, when he spotted his missing tableware at a new restaurant being run by his old employee. Police arrested Wu a few days later.
Many Internet users in China were tickled by the tale of Wu’s attempted chicanery.
“He’s seen too many spy movies, where the most obvious place to hide is often the safest,” one joked. “But in real life, it’s not so safe.”
When the Competition Is Trying to Poach Your Top Employee
If you’ve got smart, talented people on your team, chances are they’ll get calls from recruiters. How should you respond when a competitor is wooing one of your employees? How do you know if your team member is really considering the offer or bluffing? Should you make a counteroffer? And what can you do to prevent your people from jumping ship?
What the Experts Say
No leader wants to see a top employee snapped up by a rival. “One, you have to replace the talent, and in a time of tight labor markets, that’s a very hard—and very expensive—endeavor,” explains John Sullivan, an HR expert, professor of management at San Francisco State University, and author of 1000 Ways to Recruit Top Talent . “And two, the talent is taking ideas with them to a competitor.” Unfortunately, says Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best , managers are likely to be dealing with situations like these more and more, due to the globalization of business, demographic trends, and poor leadership development practices within firms. “ The war for talent is going to intensify and it will get tougher” for managers to keep good people, he says. When you fear that one of your employees is about to be poached—or already has an offer in hand—there are steps you can take to avoid or minimize the loss.
Consider, but don’t rely on, non-competes
Organizations have long used non-compete agreements and non-solicitation contracts as standard tools to keep both employees from leaving and poachers at bay. “But while legal contracts “are essential in many cases, they are never enough,” says Fernández-Aráoz. Besides, he notes, times are changing. Not only is legislation going against non-competes but a growing body of research shows they stifle performance. “Employees are not owned, so acting like you own them and then purposely restricting their ability to make a living in the future will crush your brand as an employer,” says Sullivan. So, even if your organization allows you to use these contracts, you shouldn’t rely on them. Instead, focus on being an employer that people don’t want to leave.
Watch for signals
Research suggests that employees are more receptive to recruiters—and therefore more likely to quit—around their work anniversary dates. (Annual reviews, which can often coincide with these dates, are typically a time of reflection.) Be mindful of those cycles, but be on the lookout for other kinds of signals, too. “There’s usually a trigger event,” such as getting turned down for a promotion or having a project postponed, that makes other options suddenly more attractive. Another sign is when “an employee suddenly starts requesting to go to conferences so he can be more visible,” says Sullivan. Pay attention to office gossip as well. “Chances are they’ve already told someone at work that they’re entertaining other offers.”
If you learn that one of your most valuable employees is considering leaving, you need to be “proactive in trying to prevent it from happening,” Sullivan says. “Have a frank conversation. Say, ‘I’m not going to get mad, I want to fix it.’” Find out if there are simple ways you can improve the employee’s work life. “Ask: ‘What are the factors that are most frustrating you? Are there any that I can take away that would cause you to reconsider?’” If the employee is seeking new challenges, look into options that you could provide internally, says Fernández-Aráoz. Place the employee on a strategic task force, offer her a new territory to cover, or help her find opportunities to join an external board. “If you can find an alternative, it’s a win-win,” he says.
Don’t jump to a counteroffer
On the surface, presenting your employee with a counteroffer seems like an obvious, easy way to make them stay. But, warns Sullivan, counteroffers are often counterproductive. “If someone has made the decision to quit, they’re unhappy. By giving a counteroffer, you’re paying to keep an unhappy worker.” And boosting one employee’s salary might create problems for you with the rest of your team, says Fernández-Aráoz, “Compensation is confidential for about 11 seconds,” he says. “Everyone finds out as soon as the person walks out of the boss’s office wearing a big smile.” And if you suspect your employee may be bluffing about his offer just to pad his paycheck, “let the person go,” he says. “I would hate to think I have someone on my team who would lie to me. In today’s workplace, it’s all about trust.”
Batten down your hatches
When a team member leaves for a competitor, an immediate concern is whether he’ll “bring other colleagues along with him,” says Fernández-Aráoz. “You wonder: how many others are going to go too?” You’re not being paranoid, says Sullivan. “When someone’s been poached by a competitor he will probably try to take people with him,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to identify who they are.” (Hint: it’s often employee’s team members and friends.) In the aftermath of the departure, “you need to work on those people,” Sullivan says. Find out what they need to stay—be it Fridays off or a meaty new assignment—then do your best to deliver. Make sure they know how much you value their contributions. “Tell them: you make a difference here.”
Be attentive to your best people
“You need to continually treat desirable employees like they’re going to leave,” says Sullivan. He suggests identifying the people whom you cannot afford to lose and then conducting a “stay interview”—a play on the HR black hole of information otherwise known as the exit interview. “Ask them: ‘why do you stay here? If you’re ever frustrated, what are the reasons? What would keep you from leaving?’” Then use that feedback to “reinforce the reasons” that they’re happy where they are, and create “personalized retention plans” to address the reasons why they’re not, he says. Perhaps allowing the employee to work a flexible schedule, work on different projects, or work more from home is enough to retain them. “You should do this for your top performers who are in critical jobs and are hard to replace,” he says. Ideally, your “employees stay with you not because they have to but because they would not possibly consider going anywhere else.”
Keep it in perspective
Managers tend to judge themselves on their ability to inspire loyalty in their team members and so the resignation of a star employee can feel like the ultimate insult. But “you mustn’t let one departure get to you,” says Fernández-Aráoz. “Don’t overreact. And don’t badmouth the person who is leaving — it will reduce your credibility.” Remember: “a certain degree of turnover is inevitable.” Sullivan agrees. In some cases, “there’s nothing you can do,” he says. The employee just needs to go someplace new or try his hand at a start-up. “You can’t keep everyone.” But you can retain your relationship with the person who’s been poached. “Sometimes the best strategy is to let them go and hope that they miss you and want to come back in the future.”
Principles to Remember
- Pay attention to signals that one of your team members may be entertaining offers and ask if there’s anything you can do to fix things
- Check in with your team periodically to make sure employees feel challenged and engaged
- Identify the employees you cannot afford to lose and devise personalized retention plans for each
- Jump to a counteroffer it doesn’t make sense to pay up to keep an unhappy worker
- Discount perks like flex-time as a key retention tool eliminating frustrations can go a long way toward keeping your best people happy
- Overreact some degree of turnover is a natural and necessary part of business
Case Study #1: Stay in touch with employees who leave
Garrett Harker, a Boston-based restaurateur, is philosophical when it comes to poaching. “I have come to understand that there’s give-and-take in the restaurant industry,” he says. “This business has a lot of fluidity.”
Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier to lose bright young talent. Several years ago, Jillian, a rising star at one of Garrett’s top properties, Eastern Standard, came to him with a request: she wanted to be a general manager. “She was talented and had come up through the ranks and put herself through a rigorous wine training,” Garrett recalls. “The problem was I didn’t have anything for her at the time.”
And so, Jillian left for a competitor. “She had an opportunity to open a new restaurant,” says Garrett. Some colleagues at Eastern Standard were frustrated, recalls Garrett. “They felt hurt—people had invested a lot in her,” he explains. “But I didn’t feel that way. I put myself in her shoes and I understood why she left. She wanted a new experience, and she wanted to expose herself to new things. I gave her a hug and told her she’d be great.”
But he made sure to keep in touch with Jillian through email, phone calls, and visits to her new restaurant. “When she had a challenge in her new job, she’d call and we’d talk about it,” he explains. And when Garrett opened a new oyster restaurant in Boston’s Seaport in 2013, Jillian agreed to be its general manager. “She came back to us,” he says. “And to our benefit, she had learned a lot and is a more fully formed individual.”
Garrett says he took two lessons away from the experience: First, “never dissuade someone who’s been presented with an opportunity to ascend and to learn a new skill set.” Second, “It’s so important not to lose contact with your people even when they leave.”
Case Study #2: Cultivate a positive work environment
Jeff Francis, the COO of Copper Mobile, a Dallas-based mobile app development firm, says that poaching is “pretty common” in his business. “Our product is our people, and we have really good ones [so] there is usually a good chance the client will try to recruit them.”
As a result, he sees non-compete and non-solicitation agreements as a necessary tool. “We don’t want to appear hostile to our employees or clients, but we also have to do what’s best for our company,” he explains.
Several years ago, one of his local clients needed a topnotch iOS developer and so Jeff put one of his best guys—we’ll call him Sam—on the job. “Once the customer realized how good Sam was at his job, he came to us and said he wanted to hire him” even though language in the contract between the two companies prohibited it, Jeff recalls.
They tried to negotiate a deal whereby the client would pay Copper Mobile a “placement fee,” but couldn’t come to terms, and the client hired Sam anyway. Disappointed, Jeff reluctantly pursued legal action and won. “I said I would never want to prevent an employee from making the right move for his career or for his family but I was upfront about what was going to happen,” he explains.
Jeff still believes that non-competes are important “preventative measures” against poaching but, following this incident, he is also much more proactive about making Copper Mobile “the type of organization that employees don’t want to leave.”
“Really good developers want to enjoy their work environment, be challenged, feel appreciated, understand how their performance is measured, and be rewarded for great performance,” he says, noting that Copper Mobile hasn’t had any problems with employees being poached in a long time.
First, gather the facts
The first sign that something was wrong was when hundreds of dollars of Amazon orders didn't seem to be coming to the office. It was obvious that something was off and it was clear who was likely to blame, but exactly what, how much, and for how long was not clear.
The first thing I did was to have someone who I could trust—but who was uninvolved in the situation—do a deeper dive to pull together data. We did this quickly because the risk was still active.
It turned out that we were wrong. It wasn't hundreds of dollars, it was thousands of dollars and it had been going on for months. Once we knew the extent, we knew more about the scope we were dealing with. This is critical information to have before proceeding because different scales require different responses.
Natchitoches restaurant employee allegedly steals thousands of dollars from customer’s bank account
NATCHITOCHES, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — An employee at a Natchitoches restaurant is behind bars after they were accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a customer’s bank account.
Robert Walker, 36, of Natchitoches, was arrested earlier this week and booked into the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center for Felony Theft.
According to the Natchitoches Police Department, on Jan. 28 officers were notified by a Cane Rio Café customer that there were several unauthorized transactions on their bank account. The unauthorized transactions, which totaled over $12,000, all occurred during December.
Anyone who has any additional information in regards to this investigation is urged to contact the Natchitoches Police Department at (318) 352-8101 or Det. William Connell at (318) 238-3911.
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Hospital recipes worth stealing
These recipes, ranging from salads to desserts, will help any hospital operator or chef looking to spice up the menu. Click through this Snapshots for recipes including Tuscany-style Mac and Cheese and a Coffee-roasted Veal Loin with Smoked Oyster Mushrooms.
Duo of Quinoa and Herbs Salad - Saint Clare’s Health System
Quinoa and herbs such as parsley, rosemary and chervil combine with favorites like tomatoes, orange and red onion to create this fresh and bright salad.
Dulche de Leche Rice Pudding - Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital shares an easy way to make a fancy dessert. From making the simple preparation the night before, this dessert comes together quickly and tastefully.
Tortellini Primavera Salad - NYU Lagone Medical Center
This pasta salad from NYU Lagone Medical Center is perfect for lunch, a late snack or dinner.
Cream of Mushroom Soup - Florida Hospital System Administration
Warm up with this easy and quick cream of mushroom soup recipe. Including mushrooms and onions, this soup is the perfect way to beat the cold.
Tuscany-style Mac & Cheese - Rex Healthcare
Ryan Conklin, executive chef, says this take on mac and cheese is served in the retail café at a cook-to-order station. Conklin developed the recipe to take advantage of the fresh basil grown in the hospital’s garden. Conklin says that being in the South, mac and cheese is “very dear to our customers. But we sometimes like to trick it out a bit and offer a mac and cheese bar that enables us to introduce some new flavors but keep with the comfort food concept that makes it so popular.”
Reid Mediterranean Quinoa Salad - Reid Hospital and Health Care Services
This healthy salad features diced tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado and spinach.
Coffee-Roasted Veal Loin with Smoked Oyster Mushrooms - Watertown Regional Medical Center, Watertown, Wisc.
This veal loin has a coffee-based rub, which pairs great with morel mushrooms, cauliflower, blueberries and Brussels sprouts.
Apply sweat equity to accomplish the minimum tasks needed to get the doors opened.
With your lease signed, the clock is officially ticking. Every minute you’re paying rent on your new space, but not slinging food, is money streaming out of your pocket. So back-burner everything else in your life, make a list of the things you need to accomplish before you can get the doors open, and figure out how much of that work you can do yourself.
An example of what you can expect on our rotating menu.
In my case, I didn’t need any plumbing or electrical work (though I could probably call in a favor from a friend, if I needed something quick done). I needed to repaint every surface, buy equipment, get that equipment loaded in, buy initial starting inventory, and get cooking.
The amount of money needed to get that done will vary for everyone, but remember: We’re not building our dream restaurant, we’re just getting to opening day. If you’re lucky, and if you’ve chosen your space carefully, a few coats of paint and a few pieces of equipment should be all you need.
How to Identify Opportunities for Theft
Hopefully, being the best employer you can be is enough to prevent theft in the first place. But it never hurts to be aware of your weak spots. Here are five ways your staff could potentially take from your business, paired with specific methods to prevent it from happening.
1) Short Ringing
Here&rsquos the scenario: On a busy night at the bar, a customer orders a $12 Grey Goose martini and pays for it in cash. The bartender takes the money for the top-shelf cocktail and puts it in the cash register, but rings it into the POS as a $7 well vodka drink. The customer is charged the appropriate amount, so they don&rsquot know the difference.
At the end of the night, the bartender pockets the difference between the cash drawer total and what the POS expects it to be. This is most likely to happen in bars and nightclubs, but it's also possible in a quick-serve environment where cash transactions are being rung into the system near a cash drawer.
How to prevent it
The best preventative measure for short ringing is to implement a blind closeout process. Blind closeout requires employees to reconcile cash at the end of their shift without notifying them of the exact amount they are expected to return. They have to count the cash and report the total without knowing what it&rsquos &ldquosupposed&rdquo to be. If a bartender&rsquos been short ringing all night, it would be nearly impossible for them to keep a running total in their head of what the computer thinks the sales should be at the end of the night.
2) Too Many Comps
This is rarely done with malicious intent. Still, if a staff member is giving away too much product in the form of free drinks, appetizers, or desserts, or they&rsquore a little too lenient with the friends and family discount, it can negatively affect your bottom line in a very real way.
How to prevent it
To keep better tabs on comped items, define and enforce a comp policy. You can have your staff write down every comp with an explanation, you can give bartenders a dollar value limit on freebies, or you can preemptively assign a &ldquosurprise and delight&rdquo budget to each server for every shift, like they do at Mei Mei in Boston, MA.
3) Voids After Closeout
Hopefully, you&rsquove got total trust in your management team. You&rsquove given them the keys to the building and the liquor cabinet after all, and made them responsible for operations on the floor. They&rsquore also often the ones approving comps and voids in the system.
However, if a manager was looking to steal, they could easily void out cash transactions that occurred during the day, make it so the books balance out in the POS system, and take some cash for themselves.
How to prevent it
Keep a close eye on all voids, especially those made after close, and make sure you can check which manager is approving them.
4) Reusable Receipts
Here&rsquos another scenario: A customer comes to the bar and orders a Bud Light, which is a common order at your bar. The bartender prints the receipt and the customer pays in cash. Instead of closing out the tab, the bartender leaves it open. Fifteen minutes later, a different customer orders a Bud Light. Instead of entering it in the POS system as a separate check, the bartender reprints the first customer&rsquos receipt from the still-open tab. When the second customer pays for their beer, the original check is closed, leaving the cash from that first order unaccounted for and in the hands of the bartender.
How to prevent it
Leverage the data in your POS to keep an eye on reprints. If there&rsquos a trend in increased reprints from one server or bartender, approach them &mdash with empathy, and without accusations &mdash and see if there&rsquos a good reason for the increase in reprints.
5) Register Skimming
Register skimming is when an employee simply takes a small amount of money from your cash register. Restaurant owners who don't track their sales reports are much more susceptible to this, and it&rsquos more common in smaller, independent restaurants that don&rsquot have reporting systems in place.
How to prevent it
Modern restaurant tech will make any thefts obvious: It&rsquoll alert you to any mismatches between what&rsquos supposed to be in the cash register and what&rsquos actually there. Also, if your employees know how great you (and your system) are about tracking all your sales, you&rsquoll likely avoid this type of theft altogether.
One-on-One Meeting Template
Make weekly, biweekly, or monthly check-ins with employees productive with this customizable Word doc for your one-on-one meeting agendas.
21 Chain Restaurant Workers Share the Food Items You Should Never Order
We&aposre always pretty cautious about the food we order at restaurants, but apparently not cautious enough, according to a terrifying new AskReddit thread.
The thread asks the question, "Restaurant chain workers, what dish should we not order and why," and current and former servers, cooks and hostesses shared the menu items they would strongly advise you to avoid. While most of the responses are anonymous so we cannot verify veracity, we are deeply unsettled, nonetheless.
1. "Seafood specials or buck-a-shuck oysters. It means, &aposMy seafood delivery is tomorrow, and I&aposm trying to get rid of my old stock.&apos"
2. "Check the menu, and if there is an item used only in one dish, chances are it’s not as fresh as the rest of the menu."
3. "If you order something that&aposs not popular (grilled chicken sandwich, salad, etc) it&aposs going to be old as shit. I&aposve seen grilled chicken sit in a warming pan for 8+ hours before being handed out. Salads are usually pre-made once a week, and all we did was add some chicken strips on top before serving."
4. "Ice, almost everywhere. Unless you&aposve seen people take apart the ice machine and scrub the whole thing out, there is definitely mold in those."
5. "Order what a place is known for. I used to work at an Italian beef place, and the beef sandwiches we served contained Italian beef cooked at another location and dropped off daily, giardiniera and peppers we prepped and cooked ourselves, bread delivered daily . quality food. Fresh. Then, we had a BBQ rib sandwich. A box of them came frozen, we warmed &aposem up and sent &aposem out. Same thing with a fried steak sandwich we had. It was a beef place just order the beef!"
6. "As a prep and grill person for a burrito chain that advertises its lack of GMOs, I would say chicken. A lot of cooks tend to under cook it, so you get some raw pieces. I also suspect it&aposs where a lot of the outbreaks from years past originated."
7. "Don&apost order chili at a certain &apos50s diner-style fast-casual restaurant. Just please don&apost. I&aposm begging you."
8. "NEVER order a steak well-done. I guarantee you that the chef will pick the oldest, shittiest meat from the back of the shelf. You&aposd be better off ordering a burger."
9. "We sold an Antipasto salad that was just made up of the ends of all the lunchmeats and cheeses we didn&apost sell. They were usually expired, but we cut them up in cubes and covered them in Italian dressing. I never tried it, but it sounds disgusting. People loved it, though."
10. "Any restaurant with an 8-page menu is serving you frozen food that gets microwaved or boiled in the bag."
11. "Don&apost order the fish on a monday, as chefs get their last fish order of the week on Friday, and they don&apost get a new one &apostil Tuesday."
12. "The &aposfamous&apos tea is just regular-ass tea bags from a national retailer mixed with 4 pounds (literally) of sugar in a giant vat."
13. "I don&apost know what it is about raspberries, but out of all the fruit we received, they regularly had dead bees in the box and would get moldy. I didn&apost have that problem with blueberries or blackberries, though."
14. "Most special dishes are either &apostrying a new dish to see if it should go on the menu or not&apos or &apostrying to get you to buy this product before I have to throw it out.&apos"
15. "Salads. Easily the most marked-up item."
16. "Those freestyle soda machines almost always have mold up in the ice chute unless the chute is fully taken out and the inner bit actively scrubbed every night, which I would not trust is actually done regularly anywhere."
17. "Lemons. They do not get washed."
18. "Pork chops, for my restaurant. They’re frozen, don’t thaw well and none of us cook them properly. They’re ALWAYS sent back, so we don’t quite understand why we still have them."
19. "Never get &aposthe special&apos if it&aposs chicken, fish or beef because that means the meat is expiring the next day, and they are trying to sell it before they have no choice but to pitch it."
20. "We kept the spinach alfredo in a giant open tub underneath the sink."
21. "Anything with bacon bits or shredded cheese (like a loaded potato) they just sit in the open, and people snack from them."
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The new dining reality: Shorter menus, quicker meals — and ugly-delicious dishes
Let’s walk down memory lane and inhale the joys of Pasjoli, the Santa Monica restaurant introduced by chef Dave Beran in 2019. The stars of the show included a whole pressed duck, delivered atop a teak trolley, and a chocolate souffle graced with fresh vanilla bean ice cream.
Suffice it to say, the coronavirus pandemic rained on the restaurant’s party. Now the only way diners can order the dramatic duck or souffle is as a meal kit — some assembly required at home. “Tableside anything,” even pouring water, is discouraged under the county’s pandemic guidelines, says the chef.
Every departure from his original dream was made to keep his staff employed, he says. “No one is going to order a $68 steak to go,” he thought when the pandemic emptied his dining room last year. Beran replaced eight ounces of dry-aged rib-eye with the same amount of hanger steak for $30. “Fancy food doesn’t travel well,” the chef says. So his dishes became more rustic (cassoulet was a recent possibility), and portions grew, giving customers the option of leftovers.
“We’ve gone from pressed duck served tableside to a glorified cheese sandwich,” he says — and from a menu with 32 dishes to a dozen.
Almost a year into what insiders liken to an extinction event for the industry, with 110,000 restaurants closed during the pandemic, diners are adjusting to the reality of fewer menu choices, briefer dining times, online ordering and dishes whose looks take a back seat to taste. “I want something that gives me a hug, not a challenge,” says Beran.
Some changes are apt to become permanent. “Gone are the days when I baked hundreds of pastries and hope people arrive,” says Kristen Hall, the pastry chef and co-owner behind Bandit Patisserie and the Essential, both in Birmingham, Ala. “Now they preorder.” That reduces the risk of waste, she says, and “creates something [for patrons] to look forward to.”
At NiHao, an exciting Chinese addition to Baltimore, pastry chef Pichet Ong agrees about advance ordering, which helps with budget control and also promotes speedy pickup. “People don’t want to wait,” says Ong, known for his many-layered matcha cake. To avoid lingering, “we assign pickup times.”
Diners are getting dishes that chefs never thought they’d serve. “We blew up the menu during the great pause,” says chef Victor King, Hall’s business partner at the Essential. While the restaurant has stuck with its theme of comfort food, the selections now include things previously served during staff meal, or dishes that employees were cooking or ordering for themselves at home: “a lot of Chinese and Indian takeout,” says King. Enter fried rice with collard stem kimchi or lamb bacon, and heirloom carrot curry, “comforting things that travel well.” Dishes that originally helped fill seats don’t necessarily pass muster. Beef tartare on a giant tater tot? “You wouldn’t want to eat that 45 minutes later” at home, says the chef.
A fixed-price menu has helped save the French-inspired Bell’s restaurant in Los Alamos, Calif., owned by chef Daisy Ryan and her husband, Greg. Like Beran, the veterans of the high-end Per Se in New York asked themselves how they could retain staff in the crisis. The answer was a reservation-only menu for $65 a person. “We can’t rely on a 2½-hour dinner where a couple has a couple glasses of wine” and maybe splits a course, says Daisy Ryan. “That time is over.” Bell’s has also eliminated tipping, but added a 20 percent service fee. “Nothing is the same as before,” says Ryan. The pandemic has “forced best business practices,” she says. “We are so much more profitable than we’ve ever been with a la carte,” a strategy to which she “can’t see ever going back.”
About time, says Alex Susskind, professor of food and beverage management at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Finally, he says, “restaurants have figured out how to raise prices and pass the cost of doing business on to the consumer,” as airlines and hotels have in the past. The pandemic, he says, is “an opportunity for restaurants to improve labor relations — pay more to staff — and try to renegotiate the fundamental elements of their business.” Landlords and suppliers need restaurants as much as restaurants need them.
While diners have embraced some changes — who would have thought so many of us would be making reservations to eat outside in winter? — restaurants aspire to hang on to what made them draws in the first place.
Beran, an alumnus of the experimental Alinea in Chicago and a James Beard Foundation award winner, still keeps tweezers in his kitchen, but he’s not chasing Instagram likes. “Beautiful food will never save bad flavor,” he says, “but delicious food will always save an ugly dish.” Even so, says Beran, he pulled from Pasjoli’s takeout menu the tomato stuffed with tuna tartare, a popular appetizer that tends to roll around and break apart in transport. “The trick is to not make things look cheap, but not cost a fortune, either.” One of his successes is coq au vin packaged with a light pastry cover and herbs and garlic butter that customers can use to finish the dish at home — “chicken pot pie, basically,” says the chef.
As for a lot of establishments, takeout was a big switch for the 44-year-old Rainbow Lodge in Houston. “We’re not the kind of place where you do that: Click, click, click and pick up a bag of food,” says owner Donnette Hansen. “People are taking a risk going out, and I appreciate that. I don’t want to lose all the hospitality touches.” So the dining destination continues to offer a printed menu on “thick card stock that doesn’t feel cheap” and salt and pepper in shakers rather than paper packets. No one will tell patrons they can’t linger, either. “That’s a total turnoff — not to say we’re going to stand around hugging you for two hours.”
The big change? “People sitting outside” the restaurant, says Hansen. “They never did that before,” not in the Texas heat. The lodge, which sits next to a creek, invested $120,000 on new stone walls and enhanced sound and lighting systems. Looking ahead, the owner expects even “the ladies who lunch and guys in suits” to continue dining in the open air.
Elsewhere, fussy diners, or those with dietary restrictions, are hearing “sorry” more often. “Previously, we just wanted to make you happy,” says Jeremiah Langhorne, chef-owner of the Dabney, Washington’s ode to the Mid-Atlantic. He also had “a huge palette from which to choose” and plenty of staff to customize dishes. “It’s so much more difficult now,” says the chef, who kept just half his crew and switched from a la carte to a fixed-price list last fall, when the restaurant reopened for indoor dining. Langhorne advises diners with special requests to email in advance, “but nobody does that,” leaving him with “less ability in the middle of service to crank something out.”
The days of people camping out at their table are mostly history, done in by requests from restaurateurs to limit the time diners spend eating and drinking, when masks are removed. Ninety minutes for two, basically the industry norm, is common. The difference between now and the past is that often the restaurant makes an explicit printed or verbal appeal to eat and leave.
“Time restrictions will probably stick going forward,” says Susskind from Cornell. Guests want to spend less time on average — a trend he says emerged pre-pandemic and has accelerated, particularly with millennials and Gen Z’ers. The exception: high-end dining. People who have been stuck at home forever, away from cosseting servers and sommeliers, probably don’t want to speed-eat a tasting menu. Otherwise, says Susskind, “less is more will kick in.”
Nick Bognar, one of nine national chefs to receive Food & Wine’s Best New Chef honor last year, was used to playing to a full house at Indo in St. Louis, which riffs on the backgrounds of his Korean and Filipino cooks as well as his Thai heritage and his family’s long-running Japanese restaurant, Nippon Tei. The signature dish is Issan hamachi, precise cuts of Japanese fish with Thai accents of fish sauce, coconut, yuzu paste and chile oil. Until the pandemic, his food rarely left the restaurant in a box. Now, there are slow nights, and “to-go is here to stay.”