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The current state of things (spoiler alert: they're not good

The current state of things (spoiler alert: they're not good
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  • The current state of things (spoiler alert: they're not good

    Post #1 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:23 pm
    Post #1 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:23 pm Post #1 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:23 pm
    As I posted on another thread, in the post-pandemic era, my experience is that restaurants have not recovered and are mostly disappointing. Lousy/inconsistent food, arrogant/indifferent service, ridiculously overpriced and unreliable/irrational hours of operation. I know that we here at LTH are supposed to be the torchbearers for restaurants and dining out but I'm finding that to be just about impossible these days.

    This past weekend -- after not having visited in a few months -- I was at an old favorite. I noticed what appeared to be a serious dumbing down of what had been their signature item for over a decade. After some investigating, I learned that I was correct. In spite of ownership's wishes, the kitchen staff had decided the item was too labor-intensive, and didn't want be burdened with it anymore. They basically refused to make it any longer. Instead, a crappy, foodservice version is now being served. Clearly, this chef has the palate of soap dish, the work ethic of a slug and the pride of a pile of sludge.

    Later, during the same visit, I ordered a pour of something I knew they had. Without even faking an effort to locate it, the bartender told our server that they did not have it. Since I knew they had it -- and exactly where it was -- I mentioned it and was eventually served what I'd asked for. Our server, who was actually very good, was apologetic. Bartender never acknowledged it or apologized.

    Ownership's hands are tied. Given the choice between lousy help and no help, they chose the former. Who can blame them? They want to stay open. But what a shame that it's come to this. While this situation isn't entirely representative of what's going on in the world of restaurants and bars, it still sickened me. These are the industry caretakers now? This is as far as one can get from hospitality. And I cannot even imaging the plight of the owners who must contend with -- and acquiesce to -- this brazen impudence, abject laziness and total indifference. It's pathetic.

    I know there are places out there where the food is still great, and where the service is cordial, proactive and hospitable (I've been to a few) but they are a dying breed. And if this trend continues, it won't be long before dining out becomes one of those things we used to do. I'm more sad about it than angry but I'm feeling a lot of both. And I'm definitely not hopeful. :( :evil:

    =R=
    Same planet, different world
  • Post #2 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:38 pm
    Post #2 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:38 pm Post #2 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:38 pm
    Inmates are running the asylum’s everywhere. Post covid the workforce has become apathetic. Good god old school cats like me who have a great work ethic - we look like GD all stars nowadays by just showing up to work and trying.

    Bars and restaurants, especially mid to low end are suffering the worst imho. Crap servers, bad kitchen staff, and lazy bartenders galore. Some of the higher price point places I go seem to still hold some standards.

    I expect the worst when I go out. Lol.
  • Post #3 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:41 pm
    Post #3 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:41 pm Post #3 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:41 pm
    Not fair to generalize. Places that cared before still care. We have several spots in our regular rotation and they're as good as ever (as evidenced by the crowds they still draw). They also happen to be places that were quick to pivot as COVID hit and kept a lot of staff. I do agree that there are a lot of places that are going through the motions but there were hints of problems there even before COVID.
  • Post #4 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:58 pm
    Post #4 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:58 pm Post #4 - February 22nd, 2024, 4:58 pm
    I'm generally with you. On a similar recent case of a rush-through at a formerly hospitable place, I did receive a direct e-mail response, but it was notably from the original chef-owner who has been trying to pass the reins for years, and not the currently managing generation. The message was sort of heartbreaking: "I am working on fixing this kind of ongoing situation, we appreciate you supporting us through the years, we will be happy if you give us another chance..."
  • Post #5 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:01 pm
    Post #5 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:01 pm Post #5 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:01 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:And if this trend continues, it won't be long before dining out becomes one of those things we used to do. I'm more sad about it than angry but I'm feeling a lot of both. And I'm definitely not hopeful. :( :evil:
    Given your mistreatment, why let the establishment go unnamed? The only incentive to improve is a damaged reputation and less customers. Let people avoid this establishment and give their business to someone else.
  • Post #6 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:16 pm
    Post #6 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:16 pm Post #6 - February 22nd, 2024, 5:16 pm
    spinynorman99 wrote:Not fair to generalize. Places that cared before still care. We have several spots in our regular rotation and they're as good as ever (as evidenced by the crowds they still draw). They also happen to be places that were quick to pivot as COVID hit and kept a lot of staff. I do agree that there are a lot of places that are going through the motions but there were hints of problems there even before COVID.


    Perhaps. I am treated well at my local. But I stop pretty much daily for a round. Other than that it’s hit or miss. My talk of apathy in the workforce is across all industries. Every place I have worked in the last 3 years has been desperate for bodies. I’ve taken advantage of that for sure. $$$$ for an honest days work for those with any motivation.
  • Post #7 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:19 pm
    Post #7 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:19 pm Post #7 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:19 pm
    I share the frustration.

    We had a spot we regularly visited for weekend lunch/brunch. Post-COVID, we watched it decline. Lack of staff/quality staff led to un-bussed tables, sticky menus & filthy floors. If the front of the house was that dirty, God knows what was going on in the kitchen. We stopped going.

    I was so excited to go to new restaurant ‘Atta Girl. Total disappointment.

    Could give many other examples.

    When COVID hit, it had been many years since I had worked in a restaurant but I did have a great job in contract foodservice at the upper management level. When the time came to maybe return I realized that due to the lack of available and quality hourly labor, I would be doing my job as well as the jobs of multiple hourly employees. For the same $. No thanks. At this point, I am not sure I will ever return.

    Growing up in central Wisconsin in the 1970’s, we didn’t go out to eat that often. There weren’t many options. Socializing was mostly done in the homes of friends. Monthly bridge club gatherings, dinner parties, cookouts, picnics, etc… were the norm. Gathering inside friend’s personal space, I think, led to more intimacy. After many years of being just plain too tired to host due to my career, I have now opened up our home to friends and neighbors more frequently.

    Everything is cyclical. If the current state of restaurants drives people to learn to cook more and host friends/family at home more, that might not be a bad thing. I believe restaurants will eventually figure it out but it’s going to be a good while before that happens.

    Of course, there are exceptions. Shout out to Giant. Jason Vincent was featured on the Joiners podcast this week. We were so impressed with our experience there back in late December.

    I will continue to share good experiences here on LTH and support the businesses that are still managing to provide stellar food and service.
  • Post #8 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:38 pm
    Post #8 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:38 pm Post #8 - February 22nd, 2024, 9:38 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:This past weekend -- after not having visited in a few months -- I was at an old favorite. I noticed what appeared to be a serious dumbing down of what had been their signature item for over a decade. After some investigating, I learned that I was correct. In spite of ownership's wishes, the kitchen staff had decided the item was too labor-intensive, and didn't want be burdened with it anymore. They basically refused to make it any longer. Instead, a crappy, foodservice version is now being served. Clearly, this chef has the palate of soap dish, the work ethic of a slug and the pride of a pile of sludge.


    Not naming the restaurant and dish is, at minimum, a cop-out, if not small-c cowardly; it is also makes it hard to sympathize, because we simply do not have enough context or understanding to assess whether this is truly a matter of laziness or a outgrowth of the complexity of our dated and destructive economic and culture systems. I’m not suggesting Ronnie is wrong to feel the way he does (who wouldn’t after such an experience?); i am, however, suggesting the approach taken, because of the lack of specific detail, feels more like grievance than evidence.

    Oh, and: entirely not surprised to hear that restaurants are a lot less fun/well-run/good/et al. now that less people in hospitality want to be, you know, exploited; it’s not surprising the same is true of other industries faced similar reckonings and/or labor challenges. We are all sitting in the mess of our own creation.
  • Post #9 - February 22nd, 2024, 10:20 pm
    Post #9 - February 22nd, 2024, 10:20 pm Post #9 - February 22nd, 2024, 10:20 pm
    I’m not discounting or dismissing what has been said here. I think it’s in line with the general malaise of the world we are living in. Every quality of life indicator tells us that we are all finding less joy in everything. Literally everything. LTH has been a little island of old school optimism and honest critique, good or bad. Without getting too worked up, to me it’s been a model of civil discourse. So I’m sad to see the creeping blanket broad stroke pessimism and negativity here and rallying around the idea that things are just worse. But I’m not surprised. It’s almost impossible to resist.
  • Post #10 - February 22nd, 2024, 11:08 pm
    Post #10 - February 22nd, 2024, 11:08 pm Post #10 - February 22nd, 2024, 11:08 pm
    Wondering if places in the city are being harder hit by this than some of the places out here in the suburbs. Sure, a few people are short staffed, resulting in occasionally slower service, but I have found over all enthusiasm and carefully prepared food, ranging from Aboyer/George Trois all the way down the line to hot dog stands, supper clubs, and the many exotic places I enjoy out here in the 'burbs (Pinoy Grill and HD Cuisine, for example). I think a lot of folks who want to work are leaving the city, to avoid some of the problems that exist there and have been discussed here (such as multiple robberies). That said, I am simply comparing my experience with your comments, so don't know how much that reflects reality.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #11 - February 23rd, 2024, 12:40 am
    Post #11 - February 23rd, 2024, 12:40 am Post #11 - February 23rd, 2024, 12:40 am
    I almost feel like I should apologize for being so negative. I didn't intend to start a bitch-fest, and I certainly don't want any sympathy. Other than venting about what I see as a vanishing, formerly-reliable source of joy, I was hoping that others would share recent experiences that differ from mine. And I appreciate that some people have. Let's face it, we're a 'live to eat' crowd, not an 'eat to live' crowd. When that goes away, there's a void.

    I also wanted to highlight (once again) just how tenuous and fleeting the success of a restaurant/bar can be. We all know it's always been a tough business. And in the new paradigm, it's even more chilling to consider what factors -- many of which are beyond anyone's control -- can impact success . . . or failure. Is there poison in the well? Maybe in some of them but almost certainly not in all of them. I guess that provides a glimmer of hope. Maybe places that do their best to do things right can further distinguish themselves in the current mess. But what's clear to me now is that more than ever, one can do everything right and still fail. That's always been true but it seems to have ratcheted up quite bit. Those who, while at work, prioritize their own interests ahead of all else are a danger to their establishments, and the industry as a whole. They can unravel even the most earnest of efforts and intentions.

    I try to be patient and understanding; to see all sides of things but sometimes I'm just unable to do so. When I encountered irrational snootiness at Boonie's a couple of weeks back, I did my very best to figure out if there was something I was missing. There was no logical reason why anyone should be made to wait in the foyer for their full party to arrive for a 5:30 reservation, when the restaurant was virtually empty at 5:15 pm on a weeknight.

    Who would benefit from such a practice? Would the owner be happy that a customer had been treated in such a manner? Probably not, since it is not only rude and unnecessary, and could only lead to a smaller bill (please, DO NOT come in and order anything you might not have ordered otherwise while you wait, lol). Would the customer be happy? Certainly not. Could it possibly impact other diners? That seems unlikely, given that there is no way another party could have possibly dined at that table during those 15 idle minutes. The only beneficiary is the host, who simply wanted to do the bare minimum and be as unaccommodating as possible. Maybe I'm wrong but my guess is that the (any) owner would be horrified to see a (any) customer treated in such a manner. This is a textbook example of the inmates running the asylum. I try not to generalize but this sort of me-first myopia seems much more common at restaurants these days than in the past, at least in my personal experience.

    I try not to be too negative in my posts about places. My goal is to share the great experiences and soft-pedal the poor ones. But the Boonie's experience was so egregious, so ill-intentioned, so completely inhospitable, that I felt zero obligation to be courteous. It was their choice, not a mistake. While I try to be as supportive as possible of restaurants, I owe a lot more to our community than to the restaurants. Boonie's wasn't even courteous to me. How could they rationally expect anything different in return?

    On top of my OP, that's just one more example of the current state of things, and there are more but I'm just not going to go down that rabbit hole right now. They're hardly limited to employees, either.

    We're generally a savvy and appreciative bunch but there's no shortage of discourteous customers out there. I see them almost every time I dine out. There also are plenty of short-sighted operators out there taking shortcuts, doing the bare minimum and treating customers as if they have no alternatives. And let's not leave out the 3rd party vultures who add so little and make the dining experience worse for both customers and providers alike. There's a lot of shit going down and plenty of blame for all to share. And it feels worse than ever.

    All I want is some decent food and to be treated in a courteous manner, one that takes into account that my visit is entirely discretionary, and that I could have just as easily stayed home. And if you're sitting in the restaurant with the rest of us, please be polite and stop watching loud videos on your phone while we're trying to enjoy our meals. It's a restaurant, not your personal space. I mean, seriously. WTF is the matter with you?!

    I said I didn't want to start a bitch-fest and I really didn't. But clearly, I just cannot help myself.

    =R=
    Same planet, different world
  • Post #12 - February 23rd, 2024, 1:39 am
    Post #12 - February 23rd, 2024, 1:39 am Post #12 - February 23rd, 2024, 1:39 am
    This makes a great case for learning to cook at home.
  • Post #13 - February 23rd, 2024, 7:14 am
    Post #13 - February 23rd, 2024, 7:14 am Post #13 - February 23rd, 2024, 7:14 am
    I must really be in the minority here. I have not had a bad experience in some time. I will admit there are some instances where it was obvious a dish had been changed, and not for the better (the most egregious example being what was once an at least edible fried calamari being replaced overnight by inedible rubber innertubes). Service though has not suffered to any noticeable extent and in more than a few cases went above and beyond.

    The only real disappointment was a new Italian place that locals raved about which proved to be all style and no substance. Over the top to the point of kitschy interior and pretty sub par food - I simple never returned.

    The locals I frequent around oak Park though have all remained solid.
    Shout out to Margaritas, Avenue Ale House (changes in the last year or so made this well worth another try), Onion Roll, Poor Phil's, Salerno's, Kettlestrings, Tacos El Tio, Al's, and George's!

    ETA - I forgot Sen Sushi and Papaspiros! :D
  • Post #14 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:01 am
    Post #14 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:01 am Post #14 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:01 am
    I’m probably unqualified to comment on this, generally, since I don’t eat out much and probably 80% + of my restaurant spend goes to one place but I can at least add that LTH GNR Anteprima is still excellent. Yes, there are post-pandemic changes—no more antipasti selection; no more prix-fixe (we never go during the week so that didn’t impact us) and the prices are higher. But they managed to hold onto their staff and the owner is still there regularly and it shows.

    I have a hard time with the “inmates running the asylum” excuse—if an owner is engaged, (s)he should be seeing and hearing these things and doing something about it. If an employee won’t treat guests with warmth and respect or cook the food properly, they shouldn’t be there, not the least of which because they’ll poison the rest of the staff.

    I give a little side eye to places that claim they can’t get good staff, particularly in key roles—if you look under those hoods, I bet you find some bad owner behavior that’s creating those environments. Maybe not in all cases but some—maybe a lot.

    And just to add a data point, I planned a dinner at Boonie’s and made the reservation for 2 short of our actual number—just a brain fart—and it was already a large party. They graciously accommodated and we had a lovely evening with excellent service. Some of us arrived before the others and they sat us as we arrived, again with no issue.

    All this to illustrate that in a people business, there will be glitches and gaffes and it’s up to the owners and those they entrust with management responsibility to address it properly. I’m sorry you had that experience and don’t blame you a bit for being irritated by it. And it very well could be indicative of the way a restaurant treats its patrons but it also could’ve been one bad hire or even someone having a bad night (though it doesn’t sound like that applies in your case). Our party was fortunate to have a different experience.

    I think if the pandemic has taught me anything regarding dining out, it’s that while we may have to accept that some things have changed and not for the better, I’m still glad there are some wonderful restaurants out there, at all points of the spectrum, and I’m lucky to have them. Just one gal’s perspective.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #15 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:09 am
    Post #15 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:09 am Post #15 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:09 am
    Here's what I've been noticing more and more:

    The old, "Tables of X or more will be charged a 15% gratuity" line.
    I'm noticing that more and more servers are automatically counting the 15%, and just saying, "well, that table doesn't matter at ALL. I get a free 15%." As in, it would literally be dumb of them to actually provide decent service, because they're going to get paid a straight 15% no matter what. I'd also assume some of the patrons would view it as an opportunity to not tip more than 15%, but I like to start at 20%, and then hopefully work UP from there. I'd guess that there are some racial stereotypes that work against me when I walk in, so they assume I won't be tipping for adequate or stellar service.
    We cannot be friends if you do not know the difference between Mayo and Miracle Whip.
    Pronoun: That fool over there
    Identifies as: A human that doesn't need to "identify as" something to try to somehow be interesting.
  • Post #16 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:17 am
    Post #16 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:17 am Post #16 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:17 am
    LynnB wrote:Growing up in central Wisconsin in the 1970’s, we didn’t go out to eat that often. There weren’t many options. Socializing was mostly done in the homes of friends. Monthly bridge club gatherings, dinner parties, cookouts, picnics, etc… were the norm[...]If the current state of restaurants drives people to learn to cook more and host friends/family at home more, that might not be a bad thing.
    That was my experience, too, although it was more potlucks, 4H meetings, Lions and church smelt and chicken fries. There were a lot of really good home cooks, for the most part women but there were some guys who could whip up some astounding deep fried smelt, grilled chicken or cole slaw for 500+ a few times a year. Bill Penzey, before he devoted all this thinking to political rants, used to write a lot about love in family cooking. Love, seasoned with healthy dashes of creativity and good ol' competitiveness, is what makes home cooking great.

    On the for-profit front, there's plenty of blame to go around on both management and labor sides. Yup, lots of unmotivated employees who'd rather be doing something else (or nothing), or, if they are ambitious, are just learning and biding their time to set up a competitor. But there are also plenty of clueless management who view employees as disposable cogs, or worse yet exploit the underground economy. In the past few years, labor has begun to feel its oats and it'll be a while until the balance sorts itself out. New structures can be one answer - coops or employee ownership vs today's restaurant corporations. Many of the real gems mentioned on LTH are small, with owners working hard and often family members on the floor with them.

    I find American culture over-restauranted anyway. To me, more home cooking and the demise of many mediocre restaurants is a good thing = healthier, happier and wealthier ordinary Americans.
  • Post #17 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:44 am
    Post #17 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:44 am Post #17 - February 23rd, 2024, 9:44 am
    And this inconsistency--from ingredients used to cooking dexterity to pricing to clueless waitstaff--has led me to carryout as a default. And then, only then, if the carryout containers have some thought to them.

    It can be done. I'll use a quick example--Sushi Thai in Libertyville, Milwaukee Av & 137, where we've split dine-in and carryout in the past. The online ordering process interface is so great, right down to the spiciness of your food per order, and the carryout containers are plastic, well-fitting, and normal if not larger portions. Never a miss in the order, too. That means a ton to me.

    Prices are not cheap there, but I think their increases reflect a commitment to back-of-the-house investments. Consequently, they do an absolutely killer carry-out, and they get my Thai and Japanese business now, where in the past the twain never have would have met in my book.
  • Post #18 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:02 am
    Post #18 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:02 am Post #18 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:02 am
    In the last year or so a problem with my foot has severely curtailed restaurant visits, walking is difficult, though not impossible, and I factor distance from parking to the restaurant in planning. That said, I feel fine overall and am on the mend foot-wise.

    I only go to a couple of places to eat that are not my kitchen, notably Yellow Rose Cafe. Yellow Rose is perfect, great diner food, tip-top "fill you coffee hun" servers, and an owner who gets visibly angry when he talks about other places using base for soup starter or other common shortcuts, especially at this price point.

    The owner and staff know the names, and typical order, of 90% of the customers and there is constant inter-mural chatter between customers, friendships are made over a plate of corned beef hash.

    I love taking friends and family to Yellow Rose, many of my neighbors, who I told about the place are now regulars, and even my grumpy, dislikes most everything, 85-year-old Italian grandma neighbor adores the place, which is surprising.

    I do go to a couple of other places, Pho 5 Lau for example, and nothing much has changed there over the years, busy place, ok service, and terrific food. Occasionally I'll meet a friend for lunch and that's been a mixed bag both food and service wise, though the company is always terrific.

    I do some restaurant (BBQ) consulting and one place I've worked on and off over the last year, a brewery with 200-seat restaurant, has gone through 4-chefs and one complete change of personnel, which is unusual, to say the least.

    My thoughts, pick your spot, mine is Yellow Rose, tighten your home cooking techniques, and enjoy your friends and family.
    Hold my beer . . .

    Low & Slow
  • Post #19 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:34 am
    Post #19 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:34 am Post #19 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:34 am
    I feel terrible that you all have had such lousy experiences, but I personally haven't dealt with the same. I'm dining out a lot and there's definitely been some bad dishes i've eaten. But I can only recollect only a few instances where the service was downright bad.

    I swear i'm not trying to diminish those crappy experiences (Ronnie, yours was extra egregious.) but its also not my job to try and fix it. Instead, i'll list off a few places where both the food and service has been excellent. Hit these places up and Im confident you'll be happy!

    Diego
    Paulie Gees Logan
    Frank's Pizzeria
    Omarcitos
  • Post #20 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:45 am
    Post #20 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:45 am Post #20 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:45 am
    There’s been two seminal moments in our recent collective history. Both affected and changed our way of life to some degree.

    The restaurant industry is in a state of evolution after Covid for so many reasons, and it’s difficult to determine cost vs value, value being the total experience of eating out. I can only agree with the advice given, find value and support it.

    It seems to me that this forum has always discouraged bad reviews or at least embraces the “if you have nothing good to say” rule. Perhaps that should change, while continuing to support the deserving.
  • Post #21 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:12 pm
    Post #21 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:12 pm Post #21 - February 23rd, 2024, 10:12 pm
    I've noticed that a lot of restaurants have cut the number of hours they are open. A lot of places that used to be open for both lunch and dinner are only open for dinner, and I know Walker Brothers is only open for breakfast and lunch, I assume that is because they cannot get enough help. The Walker Brothers in Highland Park is only open until 2:00, and the last time I ate there, they had a line of people waiting for tables at 1:00pm. The Wilmette restaurant is open until 3:00.

    I went to a McDonald's in Michigan last summer only to get a cup of coffee, and it took me 30 minutes to get my coffee. I should have just gone to the gas station next door to get my coffee. This particular McDonald's is right next to exit 39 on I-94, and I have heard that it is one of the busiest McDonald's in the state. This is the only time it took me that long to get anything though.
  • Post #22 - February 24th, 2024, 9:19 am
    Post #22 - February 24th, 2024, 9:19 am Post #22 - February 24th, 2024, 9:19 am
    Our kid stopped at the McDonalds just west of Springfield in December, went indoors, waited a half hour for an order of fries. He thinks the drivethru orders are prioritized 100% over the indoor dining orders, so that the software doesn't schedule them for filling until there are zero drivethru orders pending. If that store had self serve soda, they got their comeuppance on the deal.

    Other than labor still being cheaper than robots, there's no reason McDonalds couldn't fully automate. No human decision making seems to remain in their processes.
  • Post #23 - February 24th, 2024, 11:59 am
    Post #23 - February 24th, 2024, 11:59 am Post #23 - February 24th, 2024, 11:59 am
    It's encouraging to know that good experiences are still to be had out there, and I'm definitely taking notes. We had a nice one the other night at El Habanero. Not everything was perfect (what happens when 12 people all converge on a 16-seat restaurant at the exact same moment?) but it was a great meal, and there's no question that they really care about their business and their customers. I also have a small set of places that I know I can count on: Psistaria, Loaf Lounge, heck even Pita Inn in Wheeling. They're consistent, friendly, and never disappointing. There are more but that's another thread.

    But as the saying goes, "good, cheap and quick -- choose two" really applies these days.

    As for the 'inmates' axiom, in a perfect world, ownership doesn't let this happen. They're on site, monitoring/steering operations, providing guidance and performing quality control. But in the real world, people/groups own multiple places. In many cases, it's just not possible for ownership to be omnipresent. Owning multiple places -- the only real way to scale up one's business in hospitality -- has always been challenging. In the past, it was more likely to succeed. But for owners carrying over in such a configuration -- through the changes in the world that we've all experienced -- it's as if the rug has been pulled out from under them.

    That often leaves things in the hands of non-ownership management and that, especially these days, is hit or miss. Creating a positive work environment, providing proper training and treating employees fairly and respectfully can certainly mitigate issues but it cannot eliminate them. There are some selfish, lazy-ass, quietly-quitting folks out there who simply do not care about the long-term health or success of the restaurants at which they work. They do the bare minimum, treating theirs job as fungible. If they don't work here, they'll just get a similar job somewhere else. In the current labor market, these folks are perpetually employable, even if they suck.

    A friend of mine who owns a few places told me that the available labor pool is about 50% of what it was pre-pandemic. Within that 50%, half are great and half are non-performing. So, the current viable labor pool is about 25% of what it once was. Not only does that result in quality staff being scarce -- and places suffering for it -- but it also drives up labor costs. The good ones know they're good and justifiably, seek appropriate compensation.

    There are only so many levers one can pull to keep things running smoothly. The best-run and most fortunate places find a way. The rest decline and suffer. The industry suffers. I really used to believe that over time, things would cycle back to the way they were. At this point, I no longer believe that. The changes the industry has experienced seem way more evolutionary in their nature than cyclical. As for what's next, who knows (we can all hazard our guesses) but I don't think it's ever going back to what it was.

    =R=
    Same planet, different world
  • Post #24 - February 24th, 2024, 12:40 pm
    Post #24 - February 24th, 2024, 12:40 pm Post #24 - February 24th, 2024, 12:40 pm
    I don’t think it’s 25% of what it was because some of that pre-C19 number still contained sucky staff. I also don’t recall things being so awesome before such that it’s drastically different now. But, again, I’m not out 5 nights a week (more like 5 nights out in 3 months—maybe) so I’m not sure I can judge fairly. I do happen to be on vacation in Florida and have had 5 meals out so far and both food & service has been good to very good at all of them. The only notable difference is the 15-20% price increase across the board.
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #25 - February 24th, 2024, 4:08 pm
    Post #25 - February 24th, 2024, 4:08 pm Post #25 - February 24th, 2024, 4:08 pm
    boudreaulicious wrote:I don’t think it’s 25% of what it was because some of that pre-C19 number still contained sucky staff. I also don’t recall things being so awesome before such that it’s drastically different now. But, again, I’m not out 5 nights a week (more like 5 nights out in 3 months—maybe) so I’m not sure I can judge fairly. I do happen to be on vacation in Florida and have had 5 meals out so far and both food & service has been good to very good at all of them. The only notable difference is the 15-20% price increase across the board.

    I agree 100% with 90% of this and I agree 90% with the other 10%. :lol:

    You are totally right about things not being uniformly wonderful before the plague hit. I don't want to paint an unrealistically rosy picture. But at least for me, the sub-par dining experiences are way more frequent now, so much so that a great experience stands out as being the exception rather than the norm. Because, like many of us, I tend to pick my spots pretty deliberately, the hit frequency used to be much higher. Now, disappointment is the default result.

    As for the labor side, suffice it to say that the pool of available and qualified talent is greatly diminished. Those numbers I posted above were just one friend's very unofficial take. I didn't intend to present them as hard data. IMO, it's always been a very difficult industry in which to work. I think that's why I -- and so many of us here -- have long admired the true professionals. They work their asses off to please others. That's not something many of us have any interest in doing, even when conditions might be ideal.

    =R=
    Same planet, different world
  • Post #26 - February 24th, 2024, 5:43 pm
    Post #26 - February 24th, 2024, 5:43 pm Post #26 - February 24th, 2024, 5:43 pm
    If on one hand you say people are essential and on the other, abuse them (talking the industry in general) it's no wonder people left. You can get a shitty gig anywhere and a side hustle or two may just turn into something.

    I agree though, most everywhere I've been post plague has been disappointing in some way w/a couple dealbreakers thrown in provoking a full on pout.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #27 - February 24th, 2024, 8:56 pm
    Post #27 - February 24th, 2024, 8:56 pm Post #27 - February 24th, 2024, 8:56 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote: A friend of mine who owns a few places told me that the available labor pool is about 50% of what it was pre-pandemic. Within that 50%, half are great and half are non-performing. So, the current viable labor pool is about 25% of what it once was. Not only does that result in quality staff being scarce -- and places suffering for it -- but it also drives up labor costs. The good ones know they're good and justifiably, seek appropriate compensation.

    =R=

    You have an industry literally built on the backs of a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor. Pre covid the writing was on the wall, wages were going to go up, but instead of looking for a sustainable model to absorb and pass on costs to their customers , the restaurant industry fought minimum wage increases at every front. It, (yes I am using broad terms but we are talking about a powerful lobby) could have gradually self adjusted by slowly raising wages and embracing a sane method of sharing those costs with the consumer; Instead you have pissed off under appreciated workers , forced tipping, weird tiny print help pay our workers surcharges, and hand wringing. So greed is for sure a contributing factor here.
  • Post #28 - February 25th, 2024, 11:27 pm
    Post #28 - February 25th, 2024, 11:27 pm Post #28 - February 25th, 2024, 11:27 pm
    JP1121 wrote:
    ronnie_suburban wrote: A friend of mine who owns a few places told me that the available labor pool is about 50% of what it was pre-pandemic. Within that 50%, half are great and half are non-performing. So, the current viable labor pool is about 25% of what it once was. Not only does that result in quality staff being scarce -- and places suffering for it -- but it also drives up labor costs. The good ones know they're good and justifiably, seek appropriate compensation.

    =R=

    You have an industry literally built on the backs of a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor. Pre covid the writing was on the wall, wages were going to go up, but instead of looking for a sustainable model to absorb and pass on costs to their customers , the restaurant industry fought minimum wage increases at every front. It, (yes I am using broad terms but we are talking about a powerful lobby) could have gradually self adjusted by slowly raising wages and embracing a sane method of sharing those costs with the consumer; Instead you have pissed off under appreciated workers , forced tipping, weird tiny print help pay our workers surcharges, and hand wringing. So greed is for sure a contributing factor here.

    Well, I don't disagree with the overall dynamic you describe but I think you're talking about Restaurants, not restaurants. If you're replying to what I posted, the distinction is important because I wrote off Restaurants a long time ago. I don't care about them and rarely patronize them. Yes, they are horrible for countless reasons.

    I'm talking about restaurants. They're the ones who are suffering now and while that may have something to do with the bigger picture, it's hard for me to lay much blame on them. Many of the ones I know treat their employees well and some even offer healthcare, etc. Again, it is a tough field and yes, a fish stinks from its head first but it's really hard for me to pin the blame for the current state of things on the small, local operator who's doing everything they can to make ends meet. I just don't see greed being part of the equation there at all. With very few exceptions, no one's getting rich running a restaurant (or even 2 or 3).

    =R=
    Same planet, different world
  • Post #29 - February 26th, 2024, 8:02 am
    Post #29 - February 26th, 2024, 8:02 am Post #29 - February 26th, 2024, 8:02 am
    Hi Ron,

    Sorry, I wasn't disagreeing with anything you said, I was just trying to add another perspective, in my usual axe swinging way; That being the labor shortage is also a function of macro dynamics that existed pre Covid. Paying well below minimum wage was pretty standard at almost all restaurants, it was a system that existed for years and while it is an incredibly difficult business to survive with low margins, it has always been low cost labor that provided the means to whatever profit there was, or is.

    Obviously Covid blew everything up, so its almost just a meaningless exercise, but my point is that even smaller restaurants benefited from cheap labor for quite a long time, and those workers were not necessarily appreciated. Not talking about the family run places I, and I assume you, love to go to, those are a completely different animal. I was as you noted, making a point regarding the industry as a whole.
  • Post #30 - February 26th, 2024, 8:45 am
    Post #30 - February 26th, 2024, 8:45 am Post #30 - February 26th, 2024, 8:45 am
    I'm painting with a broad brush here but some folks that dine out are just bad customers and I hate that restaurants have to deal with them. Its pretty easy to differentiate between legitimate complaints and loud noise from this vocal minority. BTW, I'm not specifically talking about this forum, but all vehicles where personal experiences are shared.

    Does that mean folks deserve lousy service at restaurants? Absolutely not! But I'm of the mindset that restaurants are far less to blame in many situations than folks are willing to admit.

    Sorry if i continue to come across as a restaurant apologist. I swear I have no skin in the game. But I do feel the need to defend that side here and i don't want this to become a 1 sided convo. :)

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