Go to Jimmy’s blog for more stories, tidbits and maybe a laugh or two.  Product, Passion and Salt
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Excuse me, how much is that soda? …………………….   January 2011

Smart, these chain restaurants.  They’re all trying to cut costs on their food and labor.  The results are sad.  Then they need to figure out how to suck money from your pocket.  Supersize that for you?

Well, one way is to omit putting the prices of commodities, like soda, on the menu.  I noticed it a couple of years back when I went to lunch with my boss’ henchman.  He wanted to know why the prices at our upscale restaurant were higher than this chain restaurant.  I tried to explain about fresh ingredients and passionate cooks but he gave me the same look my dog gives when I ask her what day it is.

Anyway, I noticed something.  The wings were $9.99, the calamari was $11.99 (good thing it wasn’t $12 or I wouldn’t have ordered it) and the soft drinks were….unpriced.  Interesting.  They were listed: Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper, Fanta Orange, and even iced tea.  But no prices.  So I asked the waiter how much for a diet coke.  His answer?  “I don’t know, nobody has ever asked that.  But I can go find out.”  Please.

He came back to inform us that the sodas were $2.49.  Are you shitting me?  $2.49 for a fountain soda?  For the record, a fountain soda costs about a penny an ounce to the restaurant, so a sixteen ounce glass filled with ice contains about 9¢.  Oh yeah, refills are free.

At a major chain, you’re going to pay $9.50 for a burger and fries.  Their profit is somewhere around 95¢ on your meal.  If they can get you to pay $2.49 for a soda, their net profit on the drink alone is around 98¢.  Here’s the psychology.  If you saw the price of the soda was $2.49, you’re likely to say “I’ll just have a glass of water”.  If the soda was $1.99, you’d probably say “I’ll just have a glass of water”.  If the soda was $1.25, you’d probably say “I’ll just have a glass of water”.  But since there’s no price listed, you don’t give it a thought.  “I’ll have a Coke”.

For the record: it costs a restaurant a lot of revenue when customers ask for water instead of a soda or tea.  And, it costs almost the same to bring a glass of water to the table (glass, ice cubes from an expensive machine, wedge of lemon, server’s time) as it does a soda.  Actually, the soda’s probably easier, unless you want lime with that.

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Dress code?  Really? ………………   December 2010

In 2008 I moved to Naperville, IL to open SugarToad at the Hotel Arista.  Wow.  I still think it’s the best restaurant in Illinois, even if I do say so.  Mostly it’s because of Geoff Rhyne, probably the most talented 30 year old chef I’ve ever met.  I got lucky….

But, I digress.  This story isn’t about me.  It’s about dress codes and how they can suck the life out of, well, life.  Times have changed, of course.  I remember staying at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in the late ‘80s and being told that jackets were required in the lobby, and jeans not allowed.  Ha!

But, I digress.  Here’s the story.  I was looking to experience Chicago’s finest.  I just didn’t know what or where that was.  Someone suggested I try the food of Chef Grant Achatz, at Alinea.  Who the hell is that, I wondered.  I was told that he was perhaps one of the best chefs in the world.  The world!  How is it that I didn’t know of him?  Why, back in the day I knew ‘em all.  Back in the day.

So I called the restaurant to make reservations, a week out.  Four people at say 6:30, next Wednesday?  “Of course, we can accommodate that.  What menu would you like?”

“Menu?”, I asked.

“Yes sir, we have two menus:  A tasting menu for $125 with eight courses and a culinary tour with 16 courses for $195.”  Per person.  “The tour takes about four hours.”

“Well,” I said, “we have the time so let’s take the tour.”

“Very good Sir.  We will need to guarantee that with a credit card.”

“OK, here ‘tis.”

“Also, Sir, please note that if you need to cancel you must do so 48 hours before your reservation or we will charge your American Express card $75 per person.”

“Ouch.  Oh, ok, I’m in.”

Them: “And we ask that you do not wear jeans.”

Me: “I wear jeans.”

Them: “We ask that you not.”

Me: “But I do.”

Them: “What kind of jeans are they?”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Them: “We do not allow them if they are torn or faded.”

Me: “Not a problem.”

Them: “And we don’t allow tennis shoes.”

Me: “Again, no problem.  I wear cowboy boots.”

Them: “Very good Sir.  We’ll see you on Wednesday.”

The next morning I called and canceled.  Sucked all the fun out of dinner, they did.  Do I get their point?  Sort of, but not really.  I understand that there are people, wealthy and well bred people, who love to dress up and, boy, would they feel silly if the other customers were in tie dyed t-shirts and Birkenstocks.  But c’mon, at these prices are you really going to tell your guests that the clothing they think is appropriate for a night out doesn’t meet with your approval?

I’ve since learned that Alinea now only offers the culinary tour.  I also note that they were just awarded 3 Michelin stars.  What do I know?