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3 stocking stuffers for merrier restaurants

sad santa

Dear Santa,

Crunch time again, huh, Fat Man? I hope this go-round finds you down three reindeer, facing an elf walkout and confused as to why Mrs. Claus hired a pool boy when you have no pool.

How else would I feel after 16 years of coal? You’re really hung up on this good boy/bad boy dichotomy.

What do you say we wipe the slate clean? I’m not even suggesting you try to find a heart under all those cellulite folds for me. I’m asking on behalf of restaurateurs, who’ve not had the easiest of years. Could you find it within your jolly self to leave them these surprises for 2016?

1. Solid do’s and don’ts on tipping

It’s not clear how you compensate the elves, a mystery we may or may not have mentioned to the Department of Labor. Regardless, chances are you’re not in the same pickle as full-service restaurateurs, who have to find an alternative to tipping if they want to avoid regulatory sanctions and close a widening gap between dining room and kitchen pay.

No-tipping experiments have generated more questions than answers. How much of a price increase will customers accept so restaurants can pay servers instead of leaving them reliant on tips? And if the money passes to restaurants as part of a sale, how will that affect fees based on revenues, like rent and credit-card charges?

We fielded a pair of doozies recently from a restaurateur: If more and more restaurants discontinue tipping, and the shift is reported widely by the media, will customers be unable to tell when they should leave a gratuity and when the servers’ pay is part of the bill? Will they stop tipping, mistakenly thinking labor fees are included in the menu prices?

Lug some answers along with the Xboxes, Chubby One.

2. Social credit

The start of the holidays was stained this year by the large-scale terrorist attacks in Europe and Africa, each a horrible reminder that much of the world has not learned how to tolerate cultural, religious and ethnic differences. The restaurant industry has its faults, but that clearly is not one of them.

It is the ultimate melting pot, where a French-trained chef can oversee a kitchen of Dominicans preparing food for a United Nations of customers served by relatively new arrivals from around the world. It’s not a flight of jingoism to say the business has been the first rung of the American dream for countless newcomers. Differences count far less than ingenuity, determination and hard work.

The industry is constantly bashed for setting that first step of the ladder so low. It deserves some credit for being blind to the origins of who puts a foot on it and starts the climb.

3. More agility from suppliers

We don’t need to sit restaurateurs on our knee to learn what they’d like to get from vendors. Time and again we’ve heard their beard-twisting stories of how they asked longtime partners for product changes that would keep their restaurants current with consumer preferences. But instead of assurances that less-processed (and usually higher-priced) products would be on a truck posthaste, restaurateurs are getting a “no-can-do.”

The scale of some suppliers is keeping them from moving closer to the cutting edge of consumer tastes. They can’t address a ripple until it’s built into a wave, and that’s frustrating operators who want to lead instead of follow. How can a restaurant zig and zag with the trends if suppliers need a year to retool?

That’s why smaller, nimbler suppliers may be heading into a particularly good time. But we at Restaurant Business hope this will be a happy, prosperous holiday season and New Year for everyone connected to the restaurant industry. There may even be an extra cookie for you, Santa.

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