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From Day One


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This is just something I wanted to throw out and get opinions. How do people feel about reviewing chain-style restaurants early on? Especially those that are well-established. I suppose I am largely pointing to the case of Vapiano. And not simply because it's a bit of a faceless corporation that we can throw dirt at with fewer qualms.

I would think that the food should pretty much be a free-for-all in the beginning. The idea being that chains are there to create some level of consistency, if it is not just a franchise. Also I would imagine the food is generally at its peak in the beginning since everyone is freshly trained and in Vapiano's case some of its first forays into a new market. I recognize that it is also perhaps a special case in that the menu might not be adapted to American tastes.

What do you folks think?

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This is just something I wanted to throw out and get opinions. How do people feel about reviewing chain-style restaurants early on? Especially those that are well-established. I suppose I am largely pointing to the case of Vapiano. And not simply because it's a bit of a faceless corporation that we can throw dirt at with fewer qualms.

I would think that the food should pretty much be a free-for-all in the beginning. The idea being that chains are there to create some level of consistency, if it is not just a franchise. Also I would imagine the food is generally at its peak in the beginning since everyone is freshly trained and in Vapiano's case some of its first forays into a new market. I recognize that it is also perhaps a special case in that the menu might not be adapted to American tastes.

What do you folks think?

I think the whole notion of reviewing a restaurant in its first few months (yes, I said months; not weeks) is tenuous at best. And when I say "reviewing," I mean a Review Of Record - one that gets framed and put on the front of the restaurant. Very few restaurants are at the same level one-year after they open than they are three-months after they open - struggling mom-and-pop places often become much better, and well-funded, savvy places often become much worse. That having been said, there's probably a higher potential for long-term accuracy in reviewing a chain early on, mainly because the food won't reach such high-highs or low-lows, and because "the system" - some sort of system ensuring consistency of product - is usually in place from day one.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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To throw a log on the fire, I propose that many restaurants that Sietsema reviews, especially the Big Ones, are substantially worse six months after he reviews them, so maybe they're the ones getting the free pass by being able to put on a full-court press during review season. (I can assure everyone here with 100% certainty that this is a common industry practice, and it has only become easier and cheaper for the restaurants to pull it off now that reviews tend to come out earlier.)

Cheers,

Rocks.

Off topic, but...

A review of a restaurant before that restaurant has been operating for a full six months is a snap-shot of an inchoate, unformed creation, a work-in progress, and therefore inherently both innaccurate and unfair to restaurateur and consumer alike--unfair to the consumer since it may be misleading and unfair to the restaurateur because it denies him the ability to create a proven identity and forces him to focus on impact, style and hype.

Two examples for discussion:

The too-soon and too-negative review of PS7, and the too-soon and too-positive review of Ray's: The Classics.

In my experience, the best thing in the world that happened with Ray's: The Steaks is that we were not reviewed for a full year and a half after opening, and by the same measure, the worst thing in the world for Ray's: The Classics, especially vis-a-vis our relationship with the Silver Spring community, was to be reviewed a mere eight weeks after opening (based on visits during our fourth and fifth weeks of operations).

Great restaurants evolve and respond and do not thrive from customers and popularity, but rather from community and relevance.

And Don, to take issue, when you consider the reality of: the necessary gauche design of restaurants today and the accompanying shockingly high costs of architect fees and awe-inspiring bathroom fixtures; and the ascendence of power of the PR world over quality dining, the costs of "opening strong" have never been higher--and never more prejudicial and preclusive to innovative or deserving talent achieving ownership or enduring success. It is easier only for those who already have the game rigged.

As you all can imagine, I have some opinions on the subject, probably more than would be prudent to share, but if Don wants to start a thread on the subject, I would be happy to share some further insights on the matter, or explain points already raised.

Or Don can just delete this and maybe, maybe, save my career.

(merged to Criticizing Restaurants and Criticizing the Critics)

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I don't subscribe to the "they're new, go easy on them" school of thought. You know you're going to be busy; have more that 2 people behind the bar, for crying out loud. If you're not ready to open, then don't open.
Well, you should change your mindset. Just think about your first week on a new job. There are just certain quirks to that new job that you have to be taught, they're not automatic.

Why should it be any different for a restaurant? Yes it's a service business, but that doesn't stop them from being human and subject to the same adjustments that we need in our first weeks. I'm sure that it's a totally different clientele from what they had on K St, and totally different expectations. They're also not part of some behemoth chain that has consultants watching every move. Or even a restaurant group that has most things nailed down. It's a small business, and they're going to have a harder time functioning that way.

The reality is that most places DON'T know what to expect the first week. There are several highly-regarded and successful restaurants on this board that had similar problems their first few weeks and needed a little time to fix them.

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Well, you should change your mindset. Just think about your first week on a new job. There are just certain quirks to that new job that you have to be taught, they're not automatic.

Why should it be any different for a restaurant? Yes it's a service business, but that doesn't stop them from being human and subject to the same adjustments that we need in our first weeks. I'm sure that it's a totally different clientele from what they had on K St, and totally different expectations. They're also not part of some behemoth chain that has consultants watching every move. Or even a restaurant group that has most things nailed down. It's a small business, and they're going to have a harder time functioning that way.

The reality is that most places DON'T know what to expect the first week. There are several highly-regarded and successful restaurants on this board that had similar problems their first few weeks and needed a little time to fix them.

I agree 100% with Ubet. Sorry, if I was not able to handle a new client's needs I would be out the door and I hold any organization to the same standard. Don't open until you are ready to deal with anything (expected or not). Prepare for the worst and adjust accordingly.

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Unfortunately, in the restaurant biz (and in many others, as well), that's a non-profitable business model. The amount of money you burn by having paid staff on the books far before you open

Same could be said for law firms paying a salary to new associates while they are studying for the bar etc etc etc. I have to disagree with you here. My simple point was any business should be ready to cater to clients/patrons in a productive manner when they open their doors for business. End of story.

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Same could be said for law firms paying a salary to new associates while they are studying for the bar etc etc etc. I have to disagree with you here. My simple point was any business should be ready to cater to clients/patrons in a productive manner when they open their doors for business. End of story.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd hold a law firm to far stricter standards than a bar/restaurant. If my burger takes longer than I expect and comes without the salad I ordered, that's far less problematic than a law firm sending me documents that are incorrect.
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Maybe it's just me, but I'd hold a law firm to far stricter standards than a bar/restaurant. If my burger takes longer than I expect and comes without the salad I ordered, that's far less problematic than a law firm sending me documents that are incorrect.

Ok. Keep mouth shut before I get in trouble. Thanks. Bye.

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Maybe it's just me, but I'd hold a law firm to far stricter standards than a bar/restaurant. If my burger takes longer than I expect and comes without the salad I ordered, that's far less problematic than a law firm sending me documents that are incorrect.
Just a guess, but when you start at a law firm there is someone above you who checks what you're doing. Not to mention that law and handling suits is a little bit more black and white and not subject to the same variation as a restaurant. They're not exactly similar creatures.
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Spending unlimited funds buying food and training without any income is, as Daniel said, a non-profitable business model. There's no way of knowing how many customers you will have, whether there are any kinks to work out with the vendors, or even if you will have enough food on hand. "Don't open until you are ready to deal with anything (expected or not)" is the ideal, but there really isn't any way to teach someone how to get out of the weeds except to throw them in the deep end. Things like dishes that seem like a good idea but don't work out once you start service, etc., are discovered sometimes by trial and error.

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Same could be said for law firms paying a salary to new associates while they are studying for the bar etc etc etc. I have to disagree with you here. My simple point was any business should be ready to cater to clients/patrons in a productive manner when they open their doors for business. End of story.

That's, of course, a bullshit analogy because law firms don't just spring up out of nowhere on day one with a full staff and a full client roster. Likewise, you taking your established practice and adding one new client is in no way analagous to going from zero to sixty overnight.

Given that every restaurant in the history of dining out has had a few kinks to work out after the doors open, we have to conclude that either every restaurant owner on earth is an idiot, or that it's an unavoidable part of the process and people who don't want to deal with the chaos but show up at new establishments anyway are....

May as well huff and puff about the sun rising in the morning.

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Just a guess, but when you start at a law firm there is someone above you who checks what you're doing. Not to mention that law and handling suits is a little bit more black and white and not subject to the same variation as a restaurant. They're not exactly similar creatures.

I don't think they're very similar. I wouldn't have used it as an example. Having under- (or non-) utilized employees on the payroll would be awfully different in the two cases. It also sounded as though (from what was posted in the thread from which this was spun off) the restaurant in question had employees leave right before or at the time of opening, leaving the kitchen short staffed. Restaurants tend to have fairly high turnover of employees, so waiting to get everything just right doesn't guarantee anything, if you're going to have people walk at the last minute.

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I am forgiving of a new restaurant that acknowledges mistakes while in the growth period and makes every effort to satisfy the disappointed customer. "Within reason"

Even well run restaurants that have been in business for years have unexpected obstacles because after all were talking about the human element. In new restaurants what seems brilliant on paper may translate to failure in reality and as in many businesses it comes down to trial and error. I mostly focus on how those mistakes are addressed when they occur.

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It's still new so I think it is fair to give them time to turn it around.

I'm not trying to say that you're wrong, just legitimately wondering this myself: how much of a grace period should/does a restaurant get where issues can be chalked up to being new? At what point is it fair to say that a restaurant like FS1 is just not up to par?

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