New Restaurant Owners

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A little background on myself before I get to my question.

16 years in the industry. started as a dishwasher and prep cook working in various culinary establishments eventually wound up at a country club as a line cook/banquet cook 8 years ago.  Within 2 years i was promoted to Sous two years after that I was promoted to head chef.  5 years later I was presented with a bunch of different job opportunities. I decided to roll the dice and leave my comfortable job at the country club for a better paying job at a restaurant that just opened four months ago. I'm married, no kids yet, I rent so I figured this would be a good opportunity to save for my own potential business venture in the future.   The owners are successful business people who have owned multiple businesses but this is their first venture as restauranteurs.   I've met with them a couple of times and was offered the job.  Upon first inspection of the kitchen in our last meeting I noticed many things that are way below industry standards for cleanliness, That's an issue but not a big one because one or two days of deep cleaning I can get it to where it needs to be.   I think the biggest issue will be the food cost.  When I met with them the first time I stressed having a good product mix and cross utilization of product in a small kitchen to provide the best possible food cost and ease of service.  After the job was offered one of the owners seemed much more apprehensive about menu changes the other seemed open.   44 items on the dinner menu alone (open b/l/d).  I know from past experience that the smaller the menu the easier it is to control consistency/waste and food cost. This menu is all over the place, tex mex, italian and american fair.  there's no cohesiveness. I found 15 items that only appear on the menu once. there's no cross utilization of product.   Do you guys have any suggestions on how to approach this a little more firmly? Perhaps some articles showing correlation to size of menu/food cost.  Apparently the last chef they had blew a bunch of smoke up their collective behinds.   They trust that i'm incredibly business minded but I think they need a push in order to understand how much waste is going on in their kitchen. I know going into this that their labor costs are going to be high because they "insist on paying good people good wages." So the only way i see this place making money is by controlling the food cost.  I start Monday and any advice you guys could give me would be great.   Thank you in advance!
 
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I would suggest that you write a comprehensive report on the menu.  Here is a book that is pretty good:   A fourth edition is available but this is cheaper.  After reviewing and writing a report meet with the owners about the menu.  Don't be surprised if they don't have the accounting numbers you/they need to know to evaluate the items on the menu. If not have a meeting and start working with them to work up the numbers.  They may be business savvy but the food business is different than other types. Welcome to cheftalk.
 

pete

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Do they have a POS system?  If so, you can probably pull up sales reports that show how many of each item is sold.  That's a good start.  Look at your bottom sellers.  How many of each of those do they sell?  If there is no cross utilization are they selling enough of those items that food isn't being wasted or is the prepped food being trashed because it doesn't sell?  Show them solid numbers.

I know many places like this.  They want to be everything to everyone.  They feel they need to be, and you will never change them, but you can work within those parameters.  If you can even get them to drop 6-8 items then you will be ahead of the game.  Then start coming up with new recipes to replace some of the current items so that you can use some cross utilization.  Show that you can work within their vision, but that you can tweak it just enough to make the food better and to make them more profitable.
 
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I wouldn't go in with guns blazing. I would go in to see and learn what is happening on a business level in it's present state. At only four months of operation and no prior restaurant owning experience, they can't possibly even have anywhere near a feasible baseline report. Without a valid big picture you can't prioritize improvements.

If you are trying to save water, there is no point plugging a pin hole in your container, if the bottom drain is open.

What is the food cost? What is the labor cost?
 
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IMHO, it s/b up to the Chef to control food and labor costs. The only way labor can be controlled in your case is if the sales are through the roof and it doesn't matter. If thats the case then food cost will also fall into line because volume solves all problems. I agree a POS will keep track of what items are selling. The owners maybe successful in other business ventures but it does take a knowledgeable operator to be successful in the restaurant business. Some people think a large menu shows how talented they are. Sorry to say it's the other way around.........Good Luck.......ChefBillyB
 
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Thanks guys. Step one. Get the kitchen cleaned and organized I will see if i can get the itemized sales reports off the POS prior to advocating the menu changes. I know this will probably be a long uphill battle but being able to provide them with supporting evidence will be able to help.
 
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44 items on the dinner menu? Ridiculous. Why would anyone even attempt that, there is almost no chance of quality control, product rotation, etc with a menu that big, unless you are like the Cheesecake Factory or something and have an army of employees.

They are better off figuring out what kind of restaurant they want to be and focusing on that. That's just madness.
 

pete

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44 items on the dinner menu? Ridiculous. Why would anyone even attempt that, there is almost no chance of quality control, product rotation, etc with a menu that big, unless you are like the Cheesecake Factory or something and have an army of employees.

They are better off figuring out what kind of restaurant they want to be and focusing on that. That's just madness.
It's really not all that uncommon.  Look at most "family restaurants" and they probably have that many items, or more on their dinner menu once you count up the apps, entrée salads, soups, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, daily specials, and all the various types of entrees they offer up.  Granted, most of those places don't serve "great" food although, occasionally, one rises above the crowd to become a stellar example of that style of restaurant.  But, if properly manager, and with knowledge of how to control such a large inventory these places can be goldmines, or the landscape wouldn't be littered with them, many of which have been open for multiple generations.
 
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I will agree with Pete. It can be done and is done. Except that it can and is done with a varied presentation of a list of essential ingredients/inventory. 

However, from the original post, it sounds more they have a broad spectrum of ingredients, solely for the goal of providing multiple options. 

If that's the case, then Someday is on the money. 

I frequent a local establishment that falls under Petes' idea. They have plenty of items to offer, steaks, burgers, wraps and seafood. But the owner knows how to manipulate the ingredients

and make a new dish out of the same items used for everything else. All items sell frequently enough to keep all ingredients fresh, rotated and manageable. The menu is not huge, but does offer quite a variety of dishes that don't resemble the others. 

I've worked for places like Somedays', where half the menu and every new creation requires new and individual ingredients, with little cross utilization. They complain about high food, labor and inventory costs but don't see the broad menu as the problem. 

Thats where the POS reports and a bit of paperwork come in. Cost of ingredients, storage, prep, etc. versus lack of sales for each item. Numbers spell out the problem quite clearly.

If, as has been mentioned, you can put together a clear, number based presentation, they should recognize the fly in the ointment immediately. 

If they don't, and insist on continuing with the current setup, I'd get the resume together. 

I should add that this has nothing to do with identity and from the OP, it would seem this is lacking. Offering tex mex, italian, american would tell me they don't know who they want to be.  Whatever kind of place you decide to open, there is plenty of room for variety and creativity. But in the customers' mind, you need to have a singular

identity such as gastropub, fine dining, tavern, pizza place, etc. 
 
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Might have completely screwed the pooch on this one, not going to lie. Still haven't recieved the pos reports. On top of the already large dinner menu there's an early bird, weekly and daily specials menu. Seats 90. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Walk-in is 8'x10' The amount of inventory I've seen thrown out in the last two days is half way through the triple digits from my estimates though i haven't been able to see invoices yet. These are all things that should have been caught by their last chef, GM and the bookkeeper. I feel like I'm at a juxtaposition here because i see so much potential here but I don't know how to reach the owners in a way that's not disrespectful.
 
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They have a small pub, a cafe with a nice display case a top and a top of the line barista set up and a great looking so dining room. I feel this would be a great setup for a scratch, small menu kitchen. Refined bar food. Contemporary American cuisine in the dining room and some killer breakfast and pastries.
 

pete

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They have a small pub, a cafe with a nice display case a top and a top of the line barista set up and a great looking so dining room. I feel this would be a great setup for a scratch, small menu kitchen. Refined bar food. Contemporary American cuisine in the dining room and some killer breakfast and pastries.
Great ideas, and you can present them, but ultimately you were hired to make the owners' vision a  reality. I'm not saying that their vision does not need some serious tweaking, but you are just the hired gun, and it's their vision that takes precedence.  It is your responsibility to make that vision possible, and, if not fully possible, show them why it is not possible, and what you can do to alter their vision, but still keep the core of their vision.  It's easy to tell them that their vision sucks and it can't be done, but once you do that you will be looking for a job.  The harder road, but ultimately the more fulfilling, and the one that will make you look like a hero, is figuring out how to move the place in the right direction while keeping the owners' vision alive in some way.  You already have some good ammunition. Talk to them about the money you see walking out the door in spoiled inventory because of the large menu.  Unless these people are rich beyond dreams, seeing money just walk will start to make an impact on them.  Show them the numbers.  It's not sustainable.  Then talk about how you can make the menu more efficient by cross-utilizing some product and by slightly focusing the menu, but again, the minute you tell them you want to scrap their menu, they are going to shut down and you are going to be out the door.
 
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I will again second Pete's response. Tightening up the existing operation is the plan. Trying to create your own vision is futile. 

 But all that you have written makes me wonder a few things. 

Why haven't you seen the POS reports yet? 

Why have you not been able to see the invoices yet? 
When I met with them the first time I stressed having a good product mix and cross utilization of product in a small kitchen to provide the best possible food cost and ease of service. I found 15 items that only appear on the menu once. there's no cross utilization of product.   
To me, this is the root of your position. I am only guessing that you actually explained all this the first time, mentioning the 15 items and lack of utilization. I'm thinking that perhaps you may have  thought they understood you when they actually did not. Given that the POS reports take minutes to produce, you should already be studying them. 

That you are not tells me there are several possibilities.

You didn't make the situation clear. While you were talking, the owners nodded their heads, not really understanding the point you were trying to make. 

The owners don't understand or know how to produce the POS reports. (The POS representative should be able to show them)

The owners don't want you to see the reports or invoices. 

  Obviously from here I don't know the particulars of your situation, the personalities of the owners, the management set up, etc. 

But it isn't disrespectful to ask to sit down again with both owners and lay it out clearly again. As I stated before, the numbers don't lie. If they really understand your point of view on this, they should be as interested as you are in seeing what the numbers actually say. Offer to go over the reports and invoices together so you can all discuss what you see and you have the opportunity to let them reach their own conclusions based on what should be obvious. 

To me this is a black and white situation once the numbers are crunched. If you can't get to that point, there is something else going on. 

     Last, I'll throw in that I like to state the obvious because I have found that what is obvious to one isn't obvious to the other. So make no assumptions about their knowledge of anything. In your talk, you may have to explain what the POS reports show, explain what the invoices show, explain the concept of cross utilization.  If they make it clear that they understand the whole thing, then the ball is in their court to explain why you aren't already doing it. You may or may not like the answer but at least you'll have one. 
 
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Plot thickens. Time temperature abuse everywhere. Half the food is being microwaved. I have 4 pages of serious serious issues ive found in the 4 days i've been there. The owners seem dismissive, going to ask for a sitdown at the beginning of the week and might get myself fired. There is just so much wrong and i dont know if theyre prepared to make the changes. Men'u fraud, questionable food. I don't even know what to do at this point. I know im going to be telling them some very uncomfortable truths and i have a feeling they won't be receptive. I guess i should have my resume on standby
 
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If you get to the sit down, my first question would be "What do you want?". 

As in what do you want the restaurant to be? 

What do you want my role to be? 

What standards do you want to see?

Aside from that, do you get the sense that the partners get along? You might be going up against one partner in reality but neither will admit that to your face so 

it seems as if they don't care when really they simply don't agree. 

In your first post, you mentioned that one partner seems more likely to accept change, the other not so much. This might really be a personality struggle between the partners more 

than it is about you. 

In any event, I'd definitely have the resume on standby. If nothing else, this is a good experience to use going forward. You might attempt to keep the lines of communication open 

with the more agreeable partner, just in case the other decides to bail out at some point in the future. If you have to leave now, try and do so on good terms and the partner who is left might ask you back. 

In case it helps, uncomfortable truths are only uncomfortable for those who take it personally. You have no reason to be uncomfortable. You are simply stating factual problems. This is business, not a relationship. You are trying to help. 
 
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Thank you chefwriter you summed up my feeling and my potential approach to a tee. Unfortunately they're husband and wife so the personality conflicts most likely wont end well for me. I ran into another local chef from one of the highest rated restaurants in my state tonight having a drink at the local dive. After discussing the business i asked him if he'd be opposed to hearing my gripes about the current place. I showed him my lists(they havent done a single inventory since theyve been open and the quarter is almost over. I did a breakdown of all the components on the dinner Menu and i was at 6 pages in my notebook). He volunteered to come in as an outsider and provide some feedback to the owners if they'll talk to him. I dont think the owners will care at the end of the day and its their business, i just dont think they want to hear that their current business model is unsustainable. I know that providing some very uncomfortable information and they can do with it what they want but at least i will have spoken my mind and aired everything out even if it costs me my job
 
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Don't bring the other chef in. You are the on site expert. If they aren't listening, bringing in the other chef won't help and make it look like you get your knowledge from the other chef. 

I'll take a wild guess and say the husband won't listen but the wife will. 

You may not have a shot in hell of keeping this job but in the event you do, here goes. 

Use your professional colleagues to iron out your presentation, just like a practice interview. This is a sales pitch. You are pitching your point of view. 

Bring your six pages of ingredients and your other notes with you, typed if possible.  They own the restaurant but seeing it in print like that may help put things in perspective.  The POS reports if possible, should be at the meeting. If you can, bring a Serv Safe book with you. If you have the sanitation code booklet from the local health department, bring that too. So you have official backing for your sanitary concerns. You are, after all, responsible for the health of your customers. They may not get that completely. 

 If you can find the time, have an alternative menu with analysis (ingredients and cross utilization) set up on paper as well. So display #1 is what they are doing, display #2 is what they should be doing. I should add that you are presenting a working version of their vision. So their menu, done correctly, not your menu. 

Begin by asking what they want. When the conversational time is right, present your proposal

I've had some experience with husband and wife teams. A logical, clear presentation will be most likely to get the point across. You present the information and stop. Give them time to absorb it. 

They may need a day or two to iron out things. Let it happen. 

Stay calm and professional. Let them be emotional if need be. 

The clearer and better documented your presentation, the more receptive they can be.

Finally, give it your best shot but in the end, be ready to move on. 
 
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After discussing the business i asked him if he'd be opposed to hearing my gripes about the current place.
I would advise against ever doing this again. Doesn't matter how right you might be, it doesn't reflect well on you. Just like in a job interview, you never say anything negative about a previous employer unless you can do it in a positive manner and being sure to tread very lightly. Calling them gripes and 6 pages worth of notes makes me suspect that you may have gotten a little heavy into negativity in your discussion with the other chef. There is also a very thin line between doing an honest appraisal and gossip.

Going forward, use this last week's experience to help you make better informed choices in the future when it comes to accepting or declining job offers. How many times and for how long did you meet with the owners prior to accepting? How many times and for how long did you observe the business in operation prior to accepting? Did you pick the owner's brains and ask hard questions prior to accepting? Etc. etc. etc.

Homework and due diligence can eliminate a lot of potential troublesome job opportunities before they come to fruition.

Misjudgements of job opportunities will probably still be made (at least I know I still make them) in the future, but nothing says we have see them through. Many times it is mutually beneficial to all parties involved, to cut losses and ties and move forward. Rotten meat ain't gonna smell any better next week!  :~)
 
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Cheflayne. I tried to keep it as light as possible i asked a peer for their professional opinion on how to approach the situation in a manner that doesn't come across as abrasive. I kept the business's name out of my mouth and asked if he had any experience working with new restaurant owners which he did. If it doesn't work out it doesn't work out. I'm going to give it my best shot I have a lot of experience giving detailed presentations so if it doesn't work i am prepared to to walk away
 
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Plot thickens. Time temperature abuse everywhere. Half the food is being microwaved. I have 4 pages of serious serious issues ive found in the 4 days i've been there. The owners seem dismissive, going to ask for a sitdown at the beginning of the week and might get myself fired. There is just so much wrong and i dont know if theyre prepared to make the changes. Men'u fraud, questionable food. I don't even know what to do at this point. I know im going to be telling them some very uncomfortable truths and i have a feeling they won't be receptive. I guess i should have my resume on standby
Let me get this straight...you've been there 4 days and you're complaining on an internet forum about these things?  Why aren't you at work fixing the problem?  From your first post I can only imagine that you're the Exec. Chef.  Is that right?  If so, then why are you not on your employees asses about T&T?  If you don't like the use of the microwave, unplug them, and carry them into storage.  IT'S YOUR KITCHEN!!!

The changes you've mentioned so far, except the menu issues, are culture changes.  Why are you concerned about whether or not the owners are on board?  They hired you...so go control your kitchen!  If they are not on board, you'll know soon enough.  

Make a few new hires & get rid of those that need replacing.  Again, it's your kitchen...get the job done.

In the mean time work on streamlining the menu...on paper.  Get rid of the things you feel are unnecessary...on paper.  Remember that this isn't your restaurant, so keep the owners' vision in sight.  Show them on paper how their vision can be improved.  This is the type of thing that you go to the owners with...not whining about how Jerry doesn't use a thermometer or how Paula doesn't label the mashed potatoes.  (That's what they hired you for).
 
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