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Sera Trevor
04-18-2016, 08:38 PM
Place: Los Angeles
Time: Present day

I'm looking for my character to work as a waiter in a very small, independently run cafe. For plot reasons, I need this restaurant to be open until 1am or so. (Or maybe even 24 hours)

QUESTIONS:
1) What is the MINIMUM staff needed to run a restaurant like this?
2) What sort of food would they be serving?
3) The restaurant is not very good, and they are on the brink of closing their doors. How many customers per day would be necessary to keep them just barely afloat?
4) Any other details about a failing restaurant that might be of interest?

marialou
04-18-2016, 08:51 PM
I don't own a restaurant or work in one, but I used to work in the culinary industry so I have some suggestions.
1. Are the workers full time? If so, I'm thinking two cooks and two servers per shift (so that one of them is actually working each shift but no one is working seven days a week).
2. If they're open 24 hours, I'm expecting diner food.
3. No idea here, depends on so many factors.
4. If they're running out of money, maybe their menu is shrinking or they have to keep marking out menu items because they can't afford to order all the food they need. Being present day, maybe they also stop offering free wifi?

davidjgalloway
04-18-2016, 08:58 PM
Is it wrong that all this thread does is make me hungry? Probably.

I spent some time years back researching this for fun: there are lots of pages that tell you how to set up a restaurant and issues of staffing, budget, as well, so just some google searches in general on this as well as "top reasons restaurants fold" and so on should get you some case studies of failure you could mine for details. You also can look in local papers for articles when mainstay restaurants go out of style, they almost always talk about why if the details are known, since people want to know.

Sera Trevor
04-18-2016, 09:02 PM
@marialou - yes, I'm thinking the employees are full time. Would they need a dishwasher as well? I like the idea of having menus where things are marked off.

@david - that's a good idea to google the top reasons restaurants fail - I hadn't thought of that! Thanks!

AW Admin
04-18-2016, 09:25 PM
Check Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on Netflix or YouTube; several small restaurants in the Los Angeles area.

mirandashell
04-18-2016, 09:44 PM
Having worked for some years in catering, I think the number one reason is bad food. People won't go back if the food is crap and word does get around. Even more so in these internet days.

And yes it does seem obvious but a lot of restaurant owners don't seem to understand that very simple idea.

cornflake
04-18-2016, 09:58 PM
Place: Los Angeles
Time: Present day

I'm looking for my character to work as a waiter in a very small, independently run cafe. For plot reasons, I need this restaurant to be open until 1am or so. (Or maybe even 24 hours)

QUESTIONS:
1) What is the MINIMUM staff needed to run a restaurant like this?

This depends on a lot - like what kind of food they serve, how many seats, if they do takeout/delivery, etc.

2) What sort of food would they be serving?

How would we know??

3) The restaurant is not very good, and they are on the brink of closing their doors. How many customers per day would be necessary to keep them just barely afloat?

Depends on staff and food costs, plus location (rent), etc.

4) Any other details about a failing restaurant that might be of interest?

You need more info I think - like what food, seats, area, etc. Is it like, a tea shop, a sandwich place, a bakery, a Thai restaurant, what? Does it do all meals? Lunch and up? Is it near anything? Why isn't it good? Bad food, bad service, prices.....

Seconding Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

King Neptune
04-18-2016, 10:58 PM
One problem that I have seen with small restaurants has been a mismatch between the location and the type of food. One of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at closed after about a year and a half because the food was too good for the location. A pizza place or Chinese would have done fine there, but moderately priced, gourmet food didn't fit. Another common reason for a restaurant to die is incompetent management; the manager might be a great chef, or a great something else, but as a manager that person doesn't make it.

Cyia
04-18-2016, 11:02 PM
Check Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on Netflix or YouTube; several small restaurants in the Los Angeles area.


Here's a good one to start with: Amy's Baking Company. It's not in LA, but it's a textbook for how to run a business into the ground.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy's_Baking_Company

Other problem kitchens have been too specialized, or too dirty, or you've got a legacy business where the people who inherit it either can't run a restaurant, or they're so set on keeping up the legacy that they end up with an outdated business model.

Siri Kirpal
04-18-2016, 11:22 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I used to work in a small café that folded. The food was actually very good. Problems were a) there were too few tables for the lunch crowd, so eventually, the lunch crowd took to avoiding it and b) the owner (who was also chief cook) kept changing her mind about the hours, which confused all of us, alienating staff and customers both.

We had no servers, but each shift had two people: one to cook and one to man the till, the dishwasher and wipe down the tables. If you've got servers, they could also bus the tables and maybe man the till.

My first non-tutoring/babysitting job was washing dishes in a smallish restaurant. At peak hours, we had one cook, one assistant cook, one dishwasher and two servers. But we could do it with one cook, one server and one dishwasher.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Siri Kirpal
04-18-2016, 11:37 PM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Oh, yes, you wanted information about the food. That'll depend. The one with the good food and the poor management was vegetarian. The one where I was dishwasher had standard diner fare: steaks, hamburgers, etc. I've also eaten in lots of small ethnic restaurants: Chinese, Mexican, etc. (Although the Mexican one did hugely well, largely because it made the best tacos in San Diego and sold them to other restaurants. Selling to regular customers was a sideline, and completely takeout.)

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

WeaselFire
04-19-2016, 08:53 PM
QUESTIONS:
1) What is the MINIMUM staff needed to run a restaurant like this?

How many tables do they have? What time of day? What is their turn? Types of food served? Does anyone actually come to the restaurant?


2) What sort of food would they be serving?

What sort of food would people buy?


3) The restaurant is not very good, and they are on the brink of closing their doors. How many customers per day would be necessary to keep them just barely afloat?

What is the cost of business? What is the average ticket?


4) Any other details about a failing restaurant that might be of interest?

Food will usually be frozen, poor quality and the place will be dirty and understaffed. There will be a constant churn of employees as paychecks bounce. Bank notices and creditors calling and piling up. Owners will be irritable and complain a lot.

What do you need for your story? Ever go to a small restaurant or diner? What did you see? Go back and look some more. Talk to the staff. Research on this is simple.

Jeff

Sera Trevor
04-21-2016, 12:44 AM
Thanks for the replies, everyone! I'll definitely be checking out Kitchen Nightmares.

L M Ashton
04-21-2016, 09:13 AM
I ate at what I would consider a failing restaurant. They were attached to a hotel, which is probably the only reason they stayed afloat - guests who had no idea what the restaurant was like.

They had something like ten pages of menu items. In reality, they only ever had perhaps four of those items available on any given day, but as the day wore on and supplies diminished, they'd wind down to one menu item available by dinner time. And given the availability of supplies, what each menu item was actually like varied from day to day depending on what supplies they had in stock. One item that the husband ordered on two subsequent days literally did not resemble each other in any way. Portion sizes were hugely different, the ingredients used were hugely different. We ate there because there was nothing else in close proximity and we had no vehicle.

And they were unreasonably expensive given the offerings and the locale. Service was slow and apathetic. They had one server on staff with a total of about 25 tables, only one other one occupied while we were there despite it being during the dinner hour. They probably had a single cook.

BDSEmpire
04-23-2016, 12:47 AM
Thanks for the replies, everyone! I'll definitely be checking out Kitchen Nightmares.
Seconding the recommendation to watch Kitchen Nightmares. Gordon Ramsay is quite a character. Here is the Amy's Baking Company episode referenced above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uPOGxUtZvk The episode about Finn's pub is a good look at a dysfunctional family dynamic for running a restaurant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UmC0PHvTrU

Note: Gordon Ramsay has a serious potty mouth. If you have delicate sensibilities you'll want to skip his UK episodes.

Another good show for seeing struggling businesses is Bar Rescue with John Taffer. The episode with the Piratz Tavern is especially instructive on how sticking to a losing concept can wreck your business.


As far as your questions go, watch a few episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and you'll see places run by two or three people and those with a staff of dozens. If you need your restaurant to be open till 1am, no problem. There's plenty of little places with weird hours. Staffing unusual hours can often put a big financial burden on a place, especially if they don't have the traffic to warrant being open that late. The flipside is when you have a coffee shop that's open late - it can still struggle despite having lots of people because you'll have customers come in, order a single coffee and then plant themselves for hours on end. They take up space new paying customers could be using

aygnm
04-24-2016, 02:34 AM
My family has experience with selling to restaurants and even briefly running a franchise. I also have a close friend who is a part time manager of a successful restaurant.

According to my observations, many restaurants over-hire and then have to cut back...just FYI.

Bren McDonnall
05-07-2016, 08:31 AM
You'd need a cook and a cashier/waiter-waitress on duty at all times. That's it.

The cook does prep, cooks, and washes dishes. I haven't seen any sort of restaurant without a mechanical dishwashing machine in decades. The cleanup duties will be shared.

Cashier busses tables, takes and delivers orders, folds napkins, keeps the joint clean.

If there's a delivery operation, you'll need at least one driver, who'll probably also be a dishwasher and general kitchen helper.

The last restaurant I worked at was owned by a friend, and my working there was more to help out than anything. It was a Chinese restaurant and deliveries were half their business. The cook was in his late '60's, as was the owner, a lady who did everything else.

How much you have to make depends on how high your bills are. My friend's rent was around $2000 a month. Other bills, advertising, shrinkage (the food you have to throw away) added to that. If I recall correctly, she said that if she didn't gross $400 a day, she was losing money, even before salaries. Given that the average meal was around $8-10, the math is pretty simple.

The number one thing that'll kill a restaurant is a lack of cleanliness. Dirty tables, sticky floors, suspect silverware, floaties in the drinking glasses. Most of these small restaurants don't rely on passersby, they rely on regular customers. Even a good restaurant cannot cope without repeat business.

Increasing food costs hurt alot. One friend lost a pizzaria because the cost of the ingredients went up so fast and so far that he couldn't keep prices low enough.

In my friend's case, she did a whole lot of lunch deliveries to the same basic set of businesses in town. When the first stages of the affordable health care act hit, many of them closed down rather than put up with the extra layers of BS. There went 2/5 of her business, so she retired. It IS possible to go broke with good food.