Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Bleeping Bleep Report (Ep. 14)

The Bleeping Bleep Report
for Hell's Kitchen - Episode 14
first aired on Thursday, May 30, 2013

Right to it!!

Chef Gordon Ramsay:  1
Susan:  4
Zach:  7
Anthony:  6
Cyndi:  1
Jon:  10
Mary:  0
Ja'nel:  2
Unknown:  3
Total:  34
That's about 0.8 bleeps per minute or one bleep every 74.1 seconds given a 42 minute air time.

Amazing!  I don't remember the last time - even over all 10 seasons - that there was fewer than one bleep per minute.

The Team competition was "Name that basic food".  Contestants are blind-folded and put on ear phones (so they can't here).  Then, Chef Ramsay feeds each of them a basic food that they must identify.  Each chef tastes four foods (for a total of 16 foods total for each team).

Anthony got skunked (zero for four).  But the big surprise is Jon.  He identified 3 of four foods despite being a smoker.  Statistically speaking, smokers should have a reduced sense of taste.  But Jon knows his food.

Back to the Bleep Count.  Why was it so low?!  Well, this episode did not have a dinner service.  And it's the dinner service with accompanying debate about who should be eliminated that creates almost two-thirds of the bleeps.  Indeed, if you compensate for the dinner service using the 2/3rd's rule, then you get 102 bleeps for the day (very comparable with last week's 109 bleeps).

Speaking of dinner service, since there wasn't one, no chefs were eliminated today.  Yep, another cliffhanger.

However, we did get a quick preview showing us that someone will set the kitchen on fire next week.

Wait, there's more!  Next week, after one of the chefs is eliminated, the remaining competitors will receive a Black Jacket.

See you next week.

Until then, bleep off.


The Bleeping Bleep Report (Ep. 13)

The Bleeping Bleep Report
for Hell's Kitchen - Episode 13
first aired on Thursday, May 27, 2013

Yeah, I'm behind.  There will be two Reports today.

This was a big episode.  The Men's Team had too few chefs.  Nedra moved over to make the teams even.  Some of you will say that this was a very Monkish thing to do.  But it's not because the teams did not wind up with ten members each.

To make matters more dramatic, the bleep count was awesomely high.  Here we go.

Chef Gordon Ramsay:  31
Susan:  1
Nedra:  38
Zach:  13
Anthony:  1
Cyndi:  1
Jon:  12
Mary:  0
Ja'nel:  5
Unknown:  7
Total:  109
That's about 2.6 bleeps per minute or one bleep every 23.1 seconds given a 42 minute air time.

Yowzas!  Nedra had more bleeps than Chef Ramsay.  That's relatively rare.

In the end, Nedra was eliminated from competition.  It's just as well.  No sane person wants to work with someone who uses that much profanity.

Nevertheless, Nedra had a good run.  Good fortune to you ma'am.  You demonstrated excellent cooking skills on several occasions. 

Everyone else ... bleep off.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Revisited: Amy's Baking Co.

Kitchen Nightmares Episode 6.16
Amy's Baking Co. (a.k.a. ABC Bistro)
first aired on Friday, May 10, 2013

Please keep this in mind when you view Kitchen Nightmares or read this article:
"A great chef doesn't create great food.  A great chef created food that other people think is great."
Last week I reviewed the Kitchen Nightmares episode on ABC Bistro.  Both the owners (husband Samy B. & wife Amy B.) demonstrated psychological behaviors so toxic that they are hard to watch, harder to accept, and almost impossible to work with or treat without professional, psychological intervention.

Now, after a week has passed and my emotions have subsided, it's time to look at Amy's Baking Co. a little more closely and through a clinical lens.

If you didn't see this episode, you can view it here on  Hat tip to DemSign who provided the link.

Before we begin, you need to know that I am not in the mental healthcare industry and I have no formal training in the mental health disciplines.  Please exercise your own judgment regarding my analysis and certainly don't be afraid to do your own research.

The Problem with Amy

Indeed, the problem - all of the problems - stem from the wife, Amy B.  And her problems stem mainly from Narcissistic Defenses.  More on that at Wikipedia.  Here are the key attributes of Narcissistic defenses.
  1. They are rigid and totalistic.
  2. It is one of the earliest defense mechanisms to emerge; usually in childhood.
  3. The typical five narcissistic defenses are:  repression, denial, distortion, projection (blaming others), and codependence.

Evaluating these in order ...

Rigid and totalistic:  Amy is always right.  Anyone who disagrees with her is always wrong.  There is no in between.  There are no filters.  There is no analysis or evaluation.  She even has a negative attitude to those who want to substitute items listed on the menu.
Key phrase:  "The customer isn't always right. And I won't take (expletive deleted) from anybody"

Develops in early childhood:  two quotes that are dead give aways.  Any emphasis is mine.
"It was at a very early age that I discovered I had a real true passion and talent for anything having to do with the culinary arts."

"We're in the restaurant business.  It's not all daisies and ponies and unicorns."

"At a very early age" ... Amy believes that she has a "real true passion and talent".  And in her defense, Chef Ramsay did validate the quality of her desserts.

But the blowout phrase is, "it's not all daisies and ponies and unicorns."  These aren't just fantasy items ..., they are childhood fantasy items.

Uses one or more defensive tactics:
Amy uses two in particular:  Projection & Codependence.
Projection (or blaming others) is described beautifully and frankly by Amy:
"Approximately two years ago, these Reviewers and these Bloggers decided to make up lies and say that they ate the food and that it was disgusting.  And we lost a tremendous amount of business because of it."

If you listen carefully to the youtube posting, Amy says "these Reviewers and these Bloggers" with a slightly sarcastic disdain.

Codependence:  Although some of the employees have learned to adapt to Amy's um ... quirks, The Codependence Crown obviously goes to her husband Samy B.  What is he willing to do to support his wife?  I mean besides spending over One Million Dollars opening the Restaurant.  Here's what Samy says:
"If anyone (mumbled) my wife's food is no good, I just tell them to leave the restaurant, I don't want them and don't come back." 

And he proves it immediately.
Samy:  "Madame, is this your first time here?"
Woman:  "And my last."
Samy:  "And it's your last.  Don't come back."


Problems Beyond Amy.

The first thing you have to do is to get Amy to understand what's going on inside her mind.  I'm not getting into that.  It's too complicated.  Perhaps a Psychologist can write a book about her.

The next problem is getting her through the other defensive mechanisms that are listed here.  Scroll down to "Vaillant's Categorization of Defense Mechanisms.  Amy will likely seek out other defenses if (a big IF) she works past the narcissism.  This is the way personalities work.  She won't immediately become mature.  Small parts of Amy will continually seek any approval and react badly to any criticism; probably for many years.  And again, the codependent husband will make that process much more difficult.

Another viewpoint:  Mindset

Another way to view Amy is through Carol S. Dweck's incredible book, Mindset:  the New Psychology of Success.  According to her research, people have one of two mindsets that determine their views and actions in life:  Growth and Fixed.

As you read the book (or the Wikipedia article), it is obvious that Amy possesses a Fixed Mindset.  From this perspective, it may be easier for her to adapt to the Restaurant Biz with this system than through the challenges listed above.

On a tangent, I highly recommend Mindset.  It's easy to understand.  It gets an entire chapter in SuperFreakonomics (or Freakonomics ... can't remember which).  Read for yourself how college researchers turned Fifth Graders into a bunch of helpless liars by telling them they are smart.  Very enlightening.  By the way, they do go back and fix the kids.


It may be hard to believe, but I hope the best for Amy and Samy B.  They make a few good desserts.  They keep a really clean restaurant (I'm not being sarcastic here).  They are not career criminals or hopeless drug addicts.  They have invested their (or his) own money in the restaurant. 

And I hope the best for them because their path will be full of brutal work.  Any and all progress they make will have to begin with the phrase, "We are doing this wrong."  That's a huge pill to swallow - even for a horse.  But, the rewards will be worth it.

Good luck Amy and Samy B.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Bleeping Bleep Report Ep 11

The Bleeping Bleep Report
for Hell's Kitchen - Episode 11
first aired 05/13/2013 at 8:00pm EDT

Good evening:

First, we must correct an error from last week.  Cyndi was NOT ELIMINATED at the end of Episode 10.  It was Amanda who was let go on that show.  Good luck to you Amanda.

Second,  Chef Ramsay left us with a cliffhanger ending from last episode.  It concluded at the beginning of this episode with the elimination of Barrett from the competition.  Farewell Barrett.  You did make it into the last half of the season.

And now, for the Bleeping Bleep Count.

Chef Gordon Ramsay:  10
Susan:  1
Nedra:  4
Ray:  11
Zach:  17
Anthony:  3
Cyndi:  0
Jon:  10
Mary:  0
Ja'nel:  2
Michael:  2
Unknown:  3
Total:  63
for an average of 1.5 bleeps per minute or one bleep every 40 seconds based on an air time of 42 minutes.

Chef's Surprise:
Besides terminating Barrett at the beginning of the episode, there were two other surprises in this episode.
  1. Ja'nel got bleeped twice.  To this point, she had never been bleeped for anything.
  2. During the dinner service, each of the contestants were given the leadership role of their particular course.  This is an important event, since the ultimate winner will be in charge of Ramsay's newest restaurant.
Have you noticed?  That the chefs who get bleeped the most are also the worst performers.  I suggest to all you Psych Majors out there that this is an opportunity to get to the root of this correlation.  Are they bad chefs because they curse?  Or do they curse because they are bad chefs.  Are they just frustrated?  Is cursing a way to confront the issue without actually dealing with it?

At the Episode's conclusion three chefs were up for elimination:  Zach, Ray, and Nedra.  For better or worse ... for right or for wrong ... all three of these contestants have been up in front of Gordon Ramsay many times.  I'm sure he's getting tired of seeing their faces. 

In the end, Chef Gordon Ramsay eliminated Ray.  Ta ta for now Ray.  If you have been in the food biz this many years, your future looks bright.  BTW Ray:  Semper Fi!

The rest of you ... bleep off.


P.S.  My magic recording device didn't pick up the second hour of this show.  It contained Episode 12 (9 Chefs competing).  If it is re-aired, I'll create a report for it.  Until then, just assume that we'll omit it.  After all, I'm doing this for fun, not for posterity.  R.B.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Bleeping Bleep Report #10

The Bleeping Bleep Report
fort Hell's Kitchen Episode 10
first aired 05/07/2013

Well, everyone seems to be leveling off.  To a certain degree, the bleep count goes down as we approach the season finale.  However, it doesn't usually drop off this soon.  Perhaps next week will show a rebound. 

Special notes about the Daily Challenge after the bleep count.  So, here we go ...

Chef Gordon Ramsay:  32
Barrett:  9
Susan:  0
Nedra:  10
Ray:  5
Zach:  5
Anthony:  2
Amanda:  5
Cyndi:  1
Jon:  2
Mary:  0
Ja'nel:  1
Michael:  2
Unknown:  2
Total:  76
for an average of 1.81 per minute or one bleep every 33 seconds based on a 42 minute air time.

And now a special note regarding the Service Challenge at the beginning of the episode.  Each team had to prepare five dishes for three people heavily involved with a debutant's ball:  the debutant herself, the debutant's mother, and the debutant's god-mother (who was also the party planner).

The women were very clear.  The young deb did not like really spicy food.  The family wanted big food portions.  Any and all steak dishes had to be medium to well done.

THE MEN'S TEAM IMMEDIATELY DISREGARDED THESE INSTRUCTIONS!!!  Zach said, "What does a fifteen year old (meaning the deb) know about chicken?"  Anthony made a similar comment.  Michael just didn't hear or care about the steak request.

And sure enough ... THE MEN'S TEAM LOST.  Why?  (you're not going to believe this)  because Jon made a really spicy macaroni & cheese stick and then Michael created a great NY Strip steak that was MEDIUM RARE.  And so the men spent the day decorating the dining room for the debutant ball - all according to the very nit-picky instructions of the god mother.

Salt in the wound ... the Men's team could have been excluded from the elimination round if it weren't for two men.  Barrett (who got lost in the service) and Zach who could not get it through his head that hey had to double the portions according to the instructions in the morning challenge.

LESSON:  Cooking great food doesn't make you a great chef.  Cooking food that other people think is great makes you a great chef.

Four people were up for elimination:  Zach Barrett, Amanda, and Cyndi.

Cyndi was eliminated.  Farewell Cyndi.  Take solace knowing that you made it into the top half of the class.

Everyone else .... bleep off.


Kitchen Nightmares: Amy's Baking Co.

Kitchen Nightmares
Episode:  6.16
Amy's Baking Company & Bistro
a.k.a. ABC Bistro
Scottsdale, AZ
first aired on 05/10/2013

Did you see Friday's episode of Kitchen Nightmares?  Although I frequently cite this show and others as examples of poor restaurant management, I don't usually discuss a single episode at length.  This restaurant is an exception.

Any and all viewers should watch reality shows with some skepticism.  Most shows in this genre up the drama a bit and work to make the host a little more heroic.  There are also cultural differences that might not translate well.  For example, the British culture avoids humiliating or shameful situations at all costs.  Finally, the limits of TV time require quick editing to get as much of the story in as possible.

And so it goes with Chef Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.  Most of the owners on his show are completely incompetent.  They can't even keep a refrigerator clean or their equipment maintained.  How hard is that?  So the Owner's humiliation begins with a dressing down from Ramsay about the simplest things.

But not so with Amy & Samy (husband and wife), the owners of Amy's Baking Company & Bistro (heretofore:  ABC Bistro).  They keep their restaurant immaculate, have a passion for food, and sincerely desire a well-run restaurant.  Chef Ramsay complemented the pair on the kitchen (a floor cleaner than most kitchen tables) and the cakes in the display case (made fresh from scratch).

Key phrase from Gordon Ramsay:  "If the food here is as good as this cake, then why is there a problem at this restaurant?"

And that's where the fun begins.  Good heavens.  I hope I'm not being snarky.  Let me check the dictionary ... Nope.  I'm not being snarky, yet.  But I am doing my best Gregory House, M.D. impression.

First Red Flag: Amy & Samy met in Las Vegas where, according to both of them, Samy was a real playboy - surrounded by beautiful women every night.  But Amy put a stop to that and said (paraphrasing), "It's either me or the playboy lifestyle.  You can't have both."  And so Samy (btw, I am spelling the name correctly) gave up chasing women and married Amy.  She was all smiles.  What a powerful moment.  She was so good that he gave up several women to be with her.  This is an enormous ego stroke.

Second Red Flag: Samy retired from building custom-made homes when the housing market crashed.  He then spent $1,000,000, $1 million ... One million dollars .... wwwooonnnn mmilllllliiioonnn dollllarrrs) to open ABC Bistro.  Another ego stroke for Amy.

Third Red Flag:  Amy's bakes several desserts well (that's good).  She then develops a passion for cooking other things (that's good).  She believes that this passion makes here a good chef (that's a logical fallacy).  Cake cookers work under a different set of constraints from Restaurant Chefs.  This becomes evident later.

Fourth Red Flag:  Amy & Samy are both very defensive regarding their work.  Specifically, Amy said there was a drop in business when ABC Bistro received a bad review on the internet.  They retaliated against the vicious lies spread about them (their words, not mine).  Since then, they have spent a lot of time fighting the "haters" in the internet.  This is defending the ego.  Or should I say, "She can't stand having her reality challenged."

In Amy's defense, she did say that ABC Bistro had received many positive and glowing reviews.  And you can find those reviews on several web sites.  One good source is  BEWARE:  This episode has generated a lot of feedback on yelp.  You'll need to dig to the back to find those positive reviews.

Fifth Red Flag:  Samy keeps the waiter's tips and pays them an hourly wage.  This is contrary to every restaurant in America.  Chef Ramsay understands this.  Samy (being defensive) claims that he'll let the waiters keep their tips when they demonstrate skill at their jobs.

Sixth Red Flag:  Samy won't let the waiters use the Point of Sale System until they can demonstrate skill at their jobs.  This means that the staff has to write down their orders and hand them to Samy so that he can enter the order in the P.O.S. machine.  An unnecessary step in the process.

Seventh Red Flag:  Samy also handles all the sales transactions.  All cash and credit card sales must be brought to Samy to process .... until the waiters can prove they're skilled at their jobs.

If you confront Samy, "It's your job to train them.", you'll get a sharp rebuke.  What do you know about restaurants?  Samy actually owns one.

Eighth Red Flag:  Amy believes that God himself has given her this talent and purpose in life.  That's an incredible leap of faith.  Unfortunately, it's not born out by the way she treats the staff, her customers, or Samy.

Ninth Red Flag:  She & Samy have called upon Chef Ramsay for the wrong reasons.  They have both seen Kitchen Nightmares.  They know he is respected.  Amy quite naively stated, "I wanted you to come here to tell people that our food is really good."  Amy & Samy should know better.  Their restaurant is failing, it is getting poor reviews (despite the good reviews from 2010 and 2011), and other businesses in the area are doing well.  Ramsay's M. O. is to ferret out the problems and correct them.  That usually involves major changes on the part of the owners.

But it keeps getting better (he said sarcastically).

This is the only episode where the first fifteen minutes is nothing but cuts from the day before Chef Ramsay shows up to meet the owners.  They are both shown screaming and yelling at customers and employees.

Amy called the police when someone didn't pay for a pizza that was never served!  Yes, the guest ordered a pizza.  Over an hour later, the pizza had still not been delivered.  The customer said, "We don't have any more time to wait.  Just cancel the pizza.

Samy flew into a rage.  "No, you pay for the pizza you ordered.  Then you can go."  There was a confrontation.  They actually ended up paying for a pizza he didn't eat just to get away from these two people.

Chef Ramsay learned that 50 employees had been fired or left ABC Bistro in the previous year.  Samy corrected him.  There had actually been over 100 employees who quit or were fired the previous year.

I'll have to stop here.  There are several other details.  I highly recommend finding a repeat of this episode somewhere out there.

Two last things though:

One:  This episode enraged so many people that the yelp web page for ABC Bistro has over 500 reviews dated from Friday, May 10th and Saturday, May 11th from people who witnessed these two owners be cruel and unusual to almost everybody.

Two:  Chef Ramsay walked out.  He couldn't help them.

The restaurant is still open and running losses.  It will continue to be open until Samy runs out of money.

What a train wreck.  Really, it should be researched by psychology majors.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rules for Coupons

Well, I'm on a roll regarding Food Service.  Coupons have been mentioned many times.  If you're a restaurateur or want to be one, here are a few things to consider IF, AND ONLY IF, you decide to have coupons.

Coupons can bring in more business

Electronic media coupons (including internet coupons) seem to do a better job than the print media coupons (Newspaper ads, door hangers, etc.).  People using the internet are able to quickly target the type of restaurant they want to dine at.  However, keep this deeply in mind ... the interweb people fall into three groups:  1) people looking for porn (55%), 2) people looking for free stuff (44.885%), and 3) people researching topics for their own edification (0.115%).  Guess which group will buy your electronic coupon.

Don't give away the store

You can give away profit, but don't be the one paying the costs of the meal or the restaurant's  overhead.  You have a right to remain in business and are absolutely under no obligation to go broke paying for any portion of a diner's meal.  Here's what I mean.  Let's say your average meal price (a.k.a. PPA) is $12.  For the typical restaurant, 25% of that $12 pays for the food; 25% for Labor, 25% for overhead (e.g. rent, utilities, etc.), and 25% is your profit.  So any coupons you offer should not be worth more than $3 per meal purchased.

How bad can this situation get?  I just saw an episode of Restaurant:  Impossible where the restaurant owners were paying off $10 coupons on $13 meals.  That means they were losing $6.75 off of every meal.  And there was a large stack of coupons.

Here are a few examples.

  1. O'Charley's coupons are almost universally "Get $5 off your meal if you spend $20 or more on dinner." The emphasis on 'or more' is mine.  It also emphasizes the 25% profit margin.  Also notice, that the diner must spend at least $20.  It's almost impossible to spend exactly $20; so O'Charley's is almost guaranteed to receive some amount of profit.
  2. "Buy one meal, get the next meal half off."  This is very popular.  50% of the equal or lesser valued meal will never be more than your profit margin.
  3. "Get an extra side item (usually a vegetable) if you purchase a dinner with a salad."

Don't forget any restrictions.

This is typically forgotten or glossed over.  Don't forget that YOUR COUPON IS A DEFACTO PUBLIC CONTRACT !!!!  Whatever it says and/or doesn't say is enforceable under the law.  So, any expectations you have of the guest must be included on that coupon.

I promise and swear that the diner will work around any coupon or try to maximize the benefits of any coupon.  For example, about a week ago, I detailed a guest who expected to use three coupons to get 9 meals for free.  And I mean she was REALLY hoping for free food.  Here are a few restrictions typical to the industry.
  1. ... of equal or lesser value ... :  as in "Buy one meal get the next meal of equal or lesser value for half off."  That's important.  Many (although not all) clients will order a meal for $30 and order a $7 appetizer as a meal, then expect you to comp $15 off the bill for the entrée.  Don't argue with me about the general goodness of mankind ... they will do this.  If you don't have this restriction, you'll be paying for lots of salmon and crab legs.
  2. Only one coupon per visit / alternately Not valid with any other offer:  Back to the lady with three coupons.  Our coupon clearly said "One coupon per visit."  This had to be pointed out to her over the phone.  Please note that, despite the plain English, she was still upset with us for the restriction.  What does that say about some peoples' character.
  3. ... when you purchase a drink or when you purchase two drinks:  as in, "Buy one meal get the next meal of equal or lesser value half off when you purchase two beverages."  Almost all guests will order water if this restriction is not listed.  But why does this limitation exist at all?  The not so little secret in the Food Biz is ... non-alcoholic beverages cost about $0.25 to $0.50 per glass depending on a few factors that I refuse to list here.  So, with this restriction, the restaurant can regain almost all the profit it lost giving you the discount on food.
  4. Does not include... :  This could be any exclusion although typical items on this list are taxes, gratuities, and alcohol.  In fact, you should probably have a reminder to tip the waiter based on the gross amount of the bill before the coupon is applied to the meal.  Alcohol is typically excluded because restaurants don't want to deal with someone who comes in just to drink booze (or get plastered).  That's a lawsuit waiting to happen.  And taxes?  The local mafia state always wants its cut (didn't Al Capone say that?).
  5. The expiration datefor the love of all that is holy in the universe, do not forget the expiration date.  A coupon without an expiration date can live on forever; even if you sell the restaurant.  On a more subtle point, an expiration date creates a small sense of urgency that will hopefully bring the guest in sooner - and sooner is always better.
  6. Get $5 off if you purchase $20 or more:  OK, it doesn't have to be $5 and $20.  You can pick any dollar amounts you like, just so long as the discount is not greater than your profit margin.  Out of all the coupons I've ever seen, I like this one the best - no holds barred.  As the owner, you make sure that you're at least breaking even.  And the customer is free to order anything he wants ... and can even come in by himself.

An alternative to Coupons:

Coupons cost money (even if it's just your profit).  But, some marketing beyond word-of-mouth is almost always necessary.  What to do?  Give this a shot:  don't print/offer coupons.  Instead, advertise regular deals.  My BBQ place did just that on at least one item.  If you purchased a full rack of ribs, you also got two pints of vegetables for free.  And yes, it brought in a lot of customers.  And yes, we still made a profit.

Your restaurant may need coupons for a variety of reasons:  it's the slow time of year, competition is fierce, you're new in town, or you're in a small town.  The list goes on.  But you can't let your marketing campaign drive you under.  No one wants to be a busy failure.  If you fallow the items listed above, you will be a busy success.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Coupons Trending

Coupon Trends Over the Past Few Years

Coupons are the double-edged sword of the restaurant biz.  They steal your profits (which you have a complete right to) but they can bring in new customers.  Many people won't try a new restaurant without a coupon.  Some of those won't go to a restaurant at all without one,

As you can imagine, a delicate balance has been struck by restaurateurs who offer coupons.


Section I:  Who Offers Coupons?

It used to be that only Mom & Pop proprietors and fast food joints offered coupons.  Their Restaurants sat in locations that had little or no auto traffic.  Or perhaps they needed to sell more product to meet sales goals.

Now, just about everyone - big & small - offers coupons.  First out of a sense of community.  Non-profit fund raisers (e.g. school booster groups) are able to sell more coupon books when big names are available.  And the big names earn a "sense of belonging" in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Second: fierce competition.  The proprietors start to get more business from the people looking to get a good deal.

Section II:  Coupon Venues

Originally, customers dutifully sat around their dining tables with Sunday editions of their newspapers as well as the weekly load of print ads delivered by mail and door hangers.  They would spend two or three hours flipping page after page; scanning for coupons based on restaurant genre, location, and known reputation.

It should be no surprise, however, that coupons are now widely available online.  Internet coupon websites like,, and have been around for several years.  These internet coupon companies are very popular with shoppers.

And there are a few reasons for this.  First, customers can narrow their search for a restaurant by several factors such as: location, food type (BBQ, Mexican, etc.), and type of coupon.  This in turn reduces the amount of time they spend looking for coupons.  Second, they can also compare coupons between restaurants.  Third, using a computer (especially in this type of application) makes the shopper feel smarter and more powerful.  Who knew couponing online could produce megalomania?

But couponing online produces one more magical effect.  The internet shopper pays for the coupon they print off.  Even if the amount is miniscule, paying for it heightens the value of the coupon and keeps it at the forefront of the customer's mind.  So they are much more likely to come to your establishment than those who still flip through direct mail packages.

Section III:  Coupon Values

The value of coupons has been getting lower over the years.  Driven by competition, increased quality of home-cooked meals, and the economy, restaurant profit margins have been hit hard.  Consequently, the discounts available on coupons have dropped sharply.

Early coupons were for 50% off your meal.  Then, 25%.  Then 10%.

Then came "Buy one, Get  one free".  The free meal is always of equal or lesser value.

Then came "Buy one, Get one free ... when both diners purchase a beverage of any kind".

Also popular beginning in the early 2000's:  "Buy $20 or more and get $5 off."

Then, whatever coupon you used came with the stipulation: "Not valid with any other offer."  and "Only one per party."

Over the last five yeas, "Buy one, get one free" became "By one, get one half off."

Most internet coupons require you to purchase $xx amount to get $xx amount off.  For example, issued a $16 coupon on our behalf; BUT YOU HAD TO PURCHASE $16 of food before the coupon could be used.


I don't see the value of coupons returning to their glory days.  First, restaurants simply cannot afford to feed people for free or to even pay for part of the meal.  Second, restaurant organizations are helping their clients overcome this type of obstacle (and yes, coupons are an impediment to business).  And third, even TV shows such as Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant: Impossible are directly telling their clients to dump coupons in general.

Good luck diners!
Good luck restaurateurs!


Friday, May 3, 2013

My Trail of Tears

Consider this before you open a restaurant.

The restaurant history of Russell Britt.

1980 to 1983:  Six Flags Over Texas
A) There were 13 Pink Thing Carts; now there's just two.
B) Rose's Cantina served nachos and foot-long hot dogs.  Now it's just snow cones.
C) Colonel's Café served Chicken Fried Steak.  Now it's one of five pizza places.
D) Southern Plantation Chicken served Fried Chicken.  Now it's an Alligator place.
E) The Alligator Place, Casa de las Banderas (Mexican food), and Dry Hole Charlie's are now open only between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  They are closed during weekend-only operations.

1984:  El Chico in the Golden Triangle Mall in Denton, TX is now closed

1984:  Bonanza on I-35E in Denton, TX is closed and the building is now a feed store.  It's sister restaurant on I-35E in Lewisville, TX is also closed.

1985:  El Chico on I-35E in Lewisville, TX.  I opened the restaurant in 1985.  It was new, clean, had great access to the interstate freeway and was substantially renovated in 1995.  Business was booming!  It is now closed.

1985:  Tio's Mexican Restaurant (not to be confused with Tia's Mexican Food Restaurant) located in Highland Village, TX.  It was closed by the Sheriff's Office - probably for falling behind on the lease payments.

1986 to 1990:  Steak & Ale at 10909 Composite Drive near the intersection of Walnut Hill and I-35E in Dallas, TX.  This was part of Dallas' well-known Restaurant Row which included Bennigan's, Old San Francisco Steak House, Tony Roma's Ribs, Red Lobster, TGI Friday's, Chili's, and Trail Dust Steak House.  This particular Steak & Ale was closed in 1999 or 2000.  At last visit, all restaurants (except for the TGI Friday's and the Chili's) are closed.  The Steak & Ale and Tony Roma's were razed and a Car Dealership now occupies that location.  The Bennigan's was razed and two gas stations now occupy the that location.  The Red Lobster was also razed.  I don't know what occupies that address now.

2003 to 2006:  O'Charley's in Florence, KY.  This restaurant used to pull in $95 to 100k per week.  There's more competition in the area now and an O'Charley's was opened in Campbell County, KY.  Since then, sales for my former employer have dropped.  But it is still there and it is still profitable.

2008:  The entire Steak and Ale Corporation closes.  The Bennigan's and Bay Street restaurants (which operated under the Steak & Ale banner) are also closed.  I wasn't working there at the time (so it's not my fault).

Oct. 2012 to May 3, 2013:  H & D BBQ & Grill.  Open for approximately six months.  It closed it's doors permanently today.

The moral of the story?  (If there is one).  All but two of the restaurants/locations are closed permanently.  The other locations are substantially changed and not performing as well as they had in the past - regardless of the reasons. 

If you are considering opening a business (and especially if it's a restaurant), prepare a detailed exit plan in the event things don't work out.  Some items (but not all) to consider in the plan are:
  1. How will you sell the business and its assets?
  2. How much monetary loss can you handle?  Can you handle 1 month?  Are you willing to take out a second mortgage?  If things do get better, how long will it take to get into the black?
  3. Are you networked into another job if the restaurant closes?

Update 5/03/13 @ 8:45pm CDT
The owners of H & D BBQ & Grill will continue to run a catering only business from a location in Allen, TX (North of Plano, TX).  If that succeeds, they will try to open a Take Out only storefront in Allen. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Coupon Delirium

Alternate Title:  "Why I Hate Coupons"

1. A temporary state of mental confusion and fluctuating consciousness resulting from high fever, intoxication, shock, or other causes. It is characterized by anxiety, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions, and incoherent speech.  [emphasis - mine]
2. A state of uncontrolled excitement or emotion: e.g.  this lady walks into a restaurant with three coupons.

Over the past few years, some people have become really cheap. 

Here's what happened yesterday at lunch:

A woman calls in a large order.  "I have a coupon." she says rather simply.  The Owner/Manager and I are both on the phone.  He's letting me take the order and explain the limitations on this particular coupon.

"Of course ma'am." I say.  "There are a few conditions regarding this coupon.  You must spend $37.50 on food.  It does not include our lunch specials.  The coupon does not cover beverages.  It does not cover Sales Taxes.  It does not cover gratuity.  It can be used for Take Out orders.  If all this is done, $25 will be deducted from your bill."

(By the way, this list of "conditions" is one reason I hate coupons; especially internet coupons.)

"That's fine," says the mystery woman.  "We'll be ordering a lot of food." 

"We need," she continues ...
1) Grilled Chicken Breast dinner
2) Grilled Shrimp Dinner
3) Two stuffed Baked Potatoes.
4) Three-meat combination dinner
5) Two-meat combination dinner.
6) Grilled Salmon dinner
7) Rib Dinner, and
8) Sliced brisket dinner.

"Yes ma'am."  I say.  "and your total before taxes is ... $75.86"

"Fantastic." says the woman.  "I have three coupons."  That's right!  She expects us to deduct $75 from the check so that her friends only have to pay a combined $0.86 plus tax on their food!

Now, there are two things a waiter never wants to say: "No" and "Sorry."

"I'm sorry ma'am."  I say.  "I can only take one coupon per order."

"But I spent more than $37.50.  And using one coupon per visit isn't part of the conditions you listed before."

At this point, the Owner takes over the phone call.  Thank you Big D.  I really owe you one.

"Yes ma'am."  Says the Owner.  "If you'll look in the left column in the second to last paragraph, you'll see the line about one coupon per visit."

"Well, can I divide up the bill into two parts and then use two coupons?"

"Not likely ma'am.  Since the current food cost is $75.86, it's more probable that one order will be over $37.50 and the other order will be below $37.50.  And you'd only be able to use one coupon."

"OK.  Hold on a moment."  She puts us on hold while I continue to get seated.  Yep, there's at least six people I haven't helped yet just because of this order.  The Owner let's me off the phone call so I can wait on the new customers.  Thanks Big D.  I now owe you two.

While I'm filling the new guests drink orders, I can hear the owner, "Yes ma'am.  You'd like to delete the Grilled Shrimp dinner, one of the stuffed baked potatoes, the grilled chicken dinner (yada yada yada).  Your new food total is $40.55.  Your total after the sales taxes and the $25 discount is $19.10.  Your meals should be ready in about 7 minutes."

She comes in to pick up the Take Out orders and hands me a twenty.  While I'm getting the change (all ninety cents), she says to the owner, "We really were expecting a free meal today."  And by that, she expressed self-righteous  indignation that we (i.e. the Restaurant) ruined her lunch and her friend's lunches.  Well, who were we that we weren't willing to pick up the cost of someone's meal.

Hello ... McFly!  When customers use a coupon, the restaurant is foregoing its profit to give that person an opportunity to try something new.  The restaurant does not have the money to PAY FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S MEALS!!!  Hell !!  If this woman thought she could steal a meal by using three coupons, why shouldn't the two bit granny go all the way and use 200 coupons?  That way, the restaurant could pay for her food AND HER MORTGAGE!!!

Please, please, please ... if you use a coupon, do not even ask if you can use two coupons at one time.  And for the sake of all that is good and right, tip your waiter on the total bill before the check is discounted.

You may now commence with comments ... both constructive and unconstructive.