In today's New York Times Julia Moskin lays out in clinical, terrifying fashion the awful current state of the restaurant biz in New York and the rest of the country. Although Moskin has dug up some truly terrifying statistics (between October 2008 and January 2009, the New York restaurant business lost more than 10,000 jobs, and nationally the restaurant industry has cut more than 100,000 jobs since September), I didn't need to read them to know that things are bad all over. What have you noticed where you live?
Here's what I have observed and heard from many well-known chefs and restaurateurs about their collective plight:
- Servers have bigger stations with more tables and diners to take care of. The result is sometimes but not always slapdash, imprecise service
- Shifts are being cut among both front of the house and kitchen staffs
- Overtime for cooks is verboten
- Restaurateurs are getting unprecedented numbers of front of the house job applications from folks with long, successful histories in other fields
- Private dining rooms, which often provide the real profit margins at many upscale restaurants, are being reserved and used far less often. This is a silent killer for many celebrated restaurants
Restaurants are cutting their hours and in many cases, reducing the number of days they are open
But there are a couple of bright spots for serious eaters among the darkness:
Reservations are far easier to come by, which is obviously a good thing. But sometimes they are so easy to come by that the resulting dining experience is more than a little terrifying and unsettling. A restaurateur friend told me that he and his wife and two Japanese visitors were the only people recently in the very expensive but very good Masa in the Time Warner Center in New York City. I'm sure they got great service from Masa and his crew, but that must have been a very weird experience.
Bargains are everywhere. Twofers, cheap prix-fixe menus, free wine, cheap wine, gratis cocktails. It's never been cheaper to eat at some of the best restaurants in the city and country.
All in all, it's mighty sobering out there if you are working in a restaurant.
Sign of the Times? Lots of Restaurants Closing in My Area [SE Talk, 1/15/2009]
Have You Noticed Any Restaurants Closing Lately? [SE Talk, 2/8/2009]