Someone who writes for the SMH got turned away at a hot new restaurant. They wrote an article detailing it and a barrage of comments supporting the author ensued. The restaurant gets named and shamed for having bad service when they gave the author’s party extra holding time before letting it go to someone else.

Hot new restaurants can only serve so many people. If their food is good, they might be lucky enough to maintain reasonably high numbers of customers. If they’re well managed, they might be able to break even and maybe hang around for a bit. Or if the chef/owner also has a successful sideline in art projects, appearances and cookbooks because they invented the next great wave of food, they can just use that to turn a profit.

In order for them to do well, they need to make money. In order for them to make money, they need customers. Ideally, two sittings. 6pm to 8.30pm and 8.30pm to 11pm. Full house at each sitting with customers who know what they want. If a restaurant can guarantee these numbers or maybe gauge it close enough throughout the week, it will be able to maybe adjust their staffing weekly and their menus daily. Of course, that surmises that you can find good staff willing to not work full workweeks depending on the season. Also, you should account for fluctuations based on weather and holidays and disasters and all manner of unpredictabilities. You also depend on being able to source the same or close enough standard of ingredients and have a head chef knowledgeable enough about food and seasonality with the creativity to make interesting food that people actually want to eat when they’re hungry. Also, they should be able to juggle their time between that and managing the kitchen staff. The same people who have to deal with the physical, chemical and mental extremes the professional kitchen harbours. Add to that the waitstaff not tripping over prams and strollers or drunkards stumbling towards restrooms whilst holding 4 hot plates on 2 arms trying their best not to swirl the sauce about or topple the tian of foie that hopefully will go down ok with the vegetarian who ordered it.

Good food is worth waiting for. The people who do it tend to love it because they don’t get a lot of respect or a lot of love and certainly not a lot of money. The richest restaurants, in my experience, the ones with the black numbers in their accounts, tend to be the worst; pigpen style tourist sheds that shovel junk into random esophaguses. You can eat there if you want. Sometimes, the food’s even good. The ones with really good food never really last. Like El Bulli. Never turned a profit. 6 hour marathon degustation were the norm and  they continuously innovated but they’re also closed. Not every place gets the next Ferran at the helm, attracting a legion of the world’s best young chefs working for free. What about poor no name chef blessed with above average talent but nothing befitting a Michelin star? He gets numbnuts applying for jobs who hack their own digits off whilst trying to cut figs (true story). Then the customer turns around and wonders why the food isn’t as good as El Bulli’s. Afterall, they came in 20 minutes late and downsized from a table of 6 to a table of 3, took an hour to order and paid $2 less than the bill because they complained the ice was too cold. That’s ok. Mr. No Name will be satisfied knowing he just managed to break even because he just put in that extra shift over his regular 80 hour week so he could let the young gun go to Costa Brava and he gets to go home to the comfort of his wife and kids at 3am on a Sunday and get back for breakfast shift 3 hours later.

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