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"Small Plates" and "To Share" - Restaurants Have Successfully Co-Mingled The Two Concepts


DonRocks
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I don't understand how an entree type dish that is meant to "share" is so small. Shouldn't shareable dishes be bigger than a typical dish? Where did this all come from?!? Tapas in Spain are served behind a bar and you can literally eat one shrimp or one piece and be charged for that...this whole small plates/share thing may be related to that but it is so far removed from what actually happens at a Spanish bar that I have a real difficult understanding where this whole thing was born from.

I don't know, but it definitely isn't limited to The Dabney - somehow, within the last five years or so, restaurants began co-mingling "small plates" and "shareable items," and they've done so rather successfully, I will add. I get the "pass around the small plates" thing, but when I see "To Share" on a menu, I expect a portion size that's too large for one diner to reasonably consume, and all too often, I get served a plain old shrimp cocktail (or equivalent) with six medium-sized shrimp.

I've never read this before, anywhere, but I think it's time to call a spade a spade: The restaurant industry has been taken over by suits, just like the medical profession has (HMOs, third parties, etc.) - they've got their grubby hands in the till, and are squeezing customers. It's not always the case, of course, but we're starting to see it more-and-more. "Hospitality" is leaving the industry, and one day will be about as common as finding a full-service gasoline station or a pay phone.

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I've never read this before, anywhere, but I think it's time to call a spade a spade: The restaurant industry has been taken over by suits, just like the medical profession has (HMOs, third parties, etc.) - they've got their grubby hands in the till, and are squeezing customers.

This would imply that restaurants have become much more profitable in the past five years.

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This would imply that restaurants have become much more profitable in the past five years.

I'm not sure why - that would seem to be the objective, but it certainly hasn't been achieved at all levels. Running restaurants seems like it's becoming like owning gas stations, dry cleaners, or fast food joints - if you own ten of them, you're probably doing pretty well; if you're an independent, you're probably barely scraping by. I'd guess that the pie has gotten bigger, but there are a lot more hands grabbing at it.

All that said, more restaurants have opened in the past three years than during any three-year period in history (certainly DC history), and not by a little; by a *lot*. And many of these restaurants are being opened by companies who already own restaurants - I suspect they wouldn't be opening multiple outlets if they were losing money.

Have doctors made more money in the past ten years? Some have, but most seem to be complaining about the status quo, and were much happier before the advent of HMOs. From the patient's point of view, technology has gotten a lot better, but prices have gone through the roof, and I feel sorry for anyone living with a chronic condition, forced to negotiate the murderous bureaucracy.

Look at Neighborhood Restaurant Group as an example - ten years ago they were opening EatBar; now, they're opening multi-million dollar beer halls. Do you think they care about every dish that goes out? And in the grand scheme of things, they're one of the *good* ones. Great American Restaurant Group makes a bloody fortune by having an assembly-line mentality.

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I'm not sure why - that would seem to be the objective, but it certainly hasn't been achieved at all levels. Running restaurants seems like it's becoming like owning gas stations, dry cleaners, or fast food joints - if you own ten of them, you're probably doing pretty well; if you're an independent, you're probably barely scraping by. I'd guess that the pie has gotten bigger, but there are a lot more hands grabbing at it.

It makes sense that owning ten restaurants making a small profit would give better results than owning one restaurant making a small profit. Traditionally, on a national scale, restaurant profits tend to be slimmer as check average increases (the National Restaurant Association's annual reports have tons of data on this). Of course, some operators do a very good job of maximizing profit, and of course they open a lot more places. It's easy to look at rising ingredient costs, labor costs, construction costs, etc. as reasons menu prices are going up. But I haven't seen any industry-wide shift in ownership over the past five years that would indicate that "The restaurant industry has been taken over by suits (...) they've got their grubby hands in the till, and are squeezing customers." Profitability is fungible, but if this were the case I'd expect to have seen some major changes in the underlying numbers that traditionally drive restaurant operations, and at least so far I just haven't seen them (with the exception of recent changes in labor numbers, but that money is going to the opposite of "suits"). Sit down restaurants are, and have always been, a great vanity investment and a terrible financial one.

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I'd say these efforts are across the board, not just "restaurant groups" but where ever and how ever it can be applied.  Its about mark ups and its a way to overcome ever soaring rents, cost increases coming from everywhere and the overall tough competitive restaurant environment.  Regardless of the sharing concept (with small portions)...it struck me when I started seeing small plate presentations wherein I could guesstimate the costs of the items on the dish.  The one that first hit me some years ago were deviled eggs at $7.00 and up per order of 3 eggs.

Deviled eggs.  I make them.  Caterers have presented them for years.  They are great for parties....and they are incredibly inexpensive to make, can be wonderfully tasteful, and can be prepared in great quantity if necessary.

What do eggs cost you?  Well at current least expensive prices possibly $0.15/egg.  Certainly higher for larger better eggs.  The mix that devils the egg?   Incredibly inexpensive.  However you season or top them, the portions are extremely small, sometimes for remarkable flavoring.  Deviled eggs at $7,8,9,10 and up per small plate....tremendous profit margins.  Do the math with other small plate presentations when you can equate the items on the plate with your own shopping.

Maybe these places are making more in profits.  Maybe they aren't.  Their rents and other costs are through the roof.  I believe the bottom line results are usually a function of customer volumes and how many seats they fill during the week, week in, week out.

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