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Don't give away your business, or recipes

Question:

Sometimes guests ask for my recipes, so much that I’ve even been working on a cookbook. My question is, would giving away or publishing recipes that I use in the restaurant be risky from a business standpoint?

– Osei Blackett, Chef/Owner, Picky Eaters, Brooklyn, NY

Answer:

There are many reasons people dine out—to feel pampered, to avoid the time commitment and hassle of cooking, to have a venue to socialize or do business, to start, deepen or end a romantic relationship, to mark an important milestone, to grab a quick bite at a convenient location, to enjoy the food. Chances are your guests are choosing your restaurant for a combination of these factors. Even if you gave away all of your recipes, directly from your operations manual (something I do NOT recommend), guests would still patronize your restaurant for the same reasons.

Unless you have a secret formula for a signature item, I see no reason to hold back on sharing recipes. You will join many big-name chefs who publish recipes and find that their fan-base and restaurant sales grow. Do not share those recipes that are particularly challenging for home cooks, use unusual or hard-to-source ingredients or equipment, or represent the key to your financial success.

Matt Sartwell, Manager at Kitchen Arts & Letters, a cookbook store in New York City, agrees, “It's a great compliment to be asked for recipes. Unless a chef has an incredibly surprising secret ingredient, he or she is probably succeeding on the basis of more than just a recipe.  A great cook brings all kinds of skill and expertise to preparing a dish, as well as the willingness to source particular ingredients and to indulge in extra work that home cooks won't be interested in duplicating so often that a restaurant will suffer. The alternative is to be known as paranoid prima donna.  And as for the old trick of leaving out some crucial little detail, well, that's a fast track to lost good will.”

Before moving forward, make sure you have a strong enough concept and business footing that a competitor owning your cookbook would not be the beginning of the end. Finally, be sure your recipes are scaled for home quantities and tested in home kitchens—nothing is worse than giving away a recipe that doesn’t work.

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