Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich Summary

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Restaurant Man Book Cover

Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich

My Thoughts

You may know Joe Bastianich from watching him on television as a judge on Masterchef or as an investor on Restaurant Startup. His biography is both entertaining and interesting. If you like watching cooking shows, eating at fine dining restaurants, or have an interest in wine, I think you will enjoy this book.

Here are some excerpts from the publisher’s summary.

How does a nice Italian boy from Queens turn his passion for food and wine into a nationwide empire? In his intrepid, irreverent, and terrifically entertaining memoir, Restaurant Man, Joe Bastianich charts his remarkable culinary journey from his parents’ neighborhood eatery to becoming one of the country’s most successful restaurateurs, along with his superstar chef partners – his mother, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali.

Restaurant Man is not only a compelling ragù-to-riches chronicle but a look behind the scenes at what it really takes to run a restaurant in New York City, the most demanding, fickle, and passionate market in America, from dealing with shady vendors, avaricious landlords, and vitriolic food critics, to day-to-day issues like the cost of linens (“the number-one evil”) and bread and butter.

Joe speaks frankly about friends and foes, but at the heart of the book is the mythical hero Restaurant Man, the old-school, blue-collar guy who stays true to the real secret of his success – watching costs but ferociously dedicating himself to exceeding his customers’ expectations and delivering the best dining experience in the world. ©2012 Joe Bastianich (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

My Favorite Quotes

  • Once you’ve been hungry, things are never the same.
  • The road to excess does not lead to the palace of wisdom.
  • When you fire someone, you are securing and enforcing the position of everyone in the restaurant.
  • Once your ego is making the decisions, it’s over.
  • Quality tells, every time.
  • Discounting is degrading the quality of your service and undermines the professionalism of the restauranteur.
  • We are in the business of exceeding expectations.
  • Everything on the table sends a message. A big statement is not to put salt and pepper on the table. If you are a chef driven restaurant, why would you allow your customers to alter the flavor of the food?
  • Failure and victory are not so far apart.
  • Never make decisions on your best day, and never make decisions on your worst day, make all your decisions on medium days.

Key Questions

  • What is this meal really worth in terms of the experience?
  • If there are misspellings on the menu, how much do you think the people who created it really care?
  • Would you want your doctor to give you a discount? Would you go to a different doctor because he offered a 25% discount?
  • If you are a chef driven restaurant, why would you allow your customers to alter the flavor of the food?

Key Places

Chapter 1: Restaurant Man

Everything you need to know to open a restaurant:

  • Margins are 3x your cost on everything
  • You have loss leaders on the menu (veal chops and steaks)
  • Desserts are almost pure profit
  • Wine by the glass marked up 4x
  • 30% of your monthly take is going to be your food and wine cost
  • 30% labor
  • 20% miscellaneous including the rent
  • 20% profit
  • Your rent per month should be your gross take on your slowest day

Restaurant math is easy:

  • If you need to gross $10k per day, you need to have 200 people come in and spend $50 apiece
  • $3,333 goes to cost of goods sold
  • $3,333 going to labor
  • 20% miscellaneous including linens, insurance, bug spray, everything

Everything you give away for free is bad. Linen is the #1 evil. Same with bread and butter.

In a typical Manhattan fine dining restaurant, between 10-20% profit is an acceptable margin.

You make dollars by accumulating nickels. Don’t try to grab for the dollars. The simple mantra Joe and Mario live by is “We buy things, we fix them up, and we sell them for a profit.”

Babbo was their first truly celebrated restaurant. It had a low fixed cost when they started. Rent was only $12k per month and they had 110 seats.

They figured they would take in $40-50 per person and turn the place 1.5 times a night. 155 covers per night for $7,000 a night or $50,000 a week. That would be 2.5-3M dollars per year with $600k margin.

Most people who open a restaurant fail because they lack the fundamental understanding of restaurant math.

You are in the business of marketing, manufacturing, and customer service all at once every day. You must break down each one of these elements every day.

Walking into the restaurant every day, you are looking for opportunities to make money. How do you make money? By stopping money from going out the front door. Have a scale at the front door, every meat purveyor and fish monger knows whether you have a scale or note. You weigh everything as it comes in and then check your invoices. They will try to rip you off.

You have people who are actively stealing, but you also have people who are wasting money and resources. They east expensive product and are wasteful. They don’t care about you or your business.

When setting the price for a meal, he asks himself this. What is this meal really worth in terms of the experience? The final check is the price of the experience.

The all-in check average fuels Joe’s mentality. That means the all-in final including tax and tip. The all-in check average is how he looks at his restaurants.

Joe’s Early Life and Becco

Once you’ve been hungry, things are never the same. What motivates Joe? An acute fear of poverty.

It was a shock to Joe how little food meant to some people. A lot of people just eat to live, Joe’s family lived to eat. The larger significance of that didn’t hit Joe until later in life.

Joe got an internship at Lehman brothers during his junior year of college. This taught him an important lesson, he could use everything he knew about wine to gain access to people who were impressed by his very specific expertise. He could leverage boutique knowledge and trade on his micro-specialty to create opportunities.

The road to excess does not lead to the palace of wisdom.

It is good business to invest in young people as potential ambassadors for your business. Invest in young people, give them your time, share your knowledge, try to impart to them some of who you are.

Joe greeted and seated every guest personally at his first restaurant (Becco in New York). His goal was to make every customer happy at all costs, whatever it took. The Becco mantra was “overdeliver, exceed expectations, every day.”

Restaurant Jobs

  • Pot scrubber
  • Dish washer
  • Restaurant cleaner
  • Chief Porter
  • Waiters
  • Bartender
  • Host
  • Service Director (a manager)

The chief porter is the key job. He is in charge of cleaning the entire restaurant overnight and accepts your shipments. If you don’t have the right guy for this position, that is the weak link.

Educate the waiters as much as you can. They are your voice. The waiter is the orchestrator of the meal, the conductor. He communicates the restaurant philosophy, the menu, and he is the interpreter for the back of the house. A waiter curates, it is his job to customize the meal for each customer.

The bartender is the figurehead of the restaurant, you want to pay special attention to them.

When you are firing someone, you have to look at it not as if you are eliminating someone’s job, but you are securing and enforcing the position of everyone in the restaurant. Once an employee gets in the way of maintaining the vibrancy of the business, that employee is jeopardizing everyone’s job.

Babbo

In 1998 Joe partnered with Mario Batali to open Babbo in New York.

An important lesson of the New York restaurant business: every restaurant opens based on a real estate deal. Eventually Joe would open places just because he could get the location, even before they had a concept.

The Menu

The menu is the document that drives the business and brings home the spirit of the restaurant. It is the most important document in the restaurant. The menu creates a structure for the meal on your terms. The menu is the Rosetta Stone of the restaurant.

The menu says so much about the restaurant. It tells you the personality of the people who created it. The menu will give you the first clue that the restaurant you are about to eat in sucks. If there are misspellings on the menu, how much do you think the people who created it really care? If the menu looks bad and has mistakes, get out!

The menu is part of the dining experience, part of the entertainment. The menu should be an alluring and engaging document. If you get a greasy menu with food stains on it, run!

The menu clearly states your financial commitment as a customer.

A lot of people overlook the importance of the menu as a marketing tool and a way of communicating to the customer. The menu tells customers about the ambition of your restaurant. The typeface, the design, what is it printed on? Is it cheap looking? Is it in a nice leather binder?

Joe says the greatest menu of all time is the Sparks Steakhouse Menu, which he has interpreted and knocked off at some of his restaurants. It has three pages of wine and leads you to believe that you’re going to spend money at the restaurant. Joe says this menu is epic and has a framed copy of it. The menu had over 1,000 wines, it was the greatest wine list in New York in it’s time.

Food Critics and Ratings

If you want a four star review, you’ve got to go out and tell people you are a four start restaurant. Unless you have the ability to communicate your intentions to the marketplace and the critics, you won’t be considered.

Once your ego is making the decisions, it’s over.

The Wine Industry

What drives wine prices is the perceived supply and demand. Scarcity and rarity, for the most part, are fabricated by the industry. Managing the perception of supply is one of the dirty secrets of the wine business.

Wine is not like other luxury items. For example, a Mercedes Benz is definitely better than a Toyota, you can feel the difference in quality. Just the sound of the door closing is different. One is so much better that you can actually hear the difference. Quality tells, every time.

Wine is different. A $150 bottle of wine is not three times better than a $50 bottle of wine. Do you think most people could tell the difference? Would people pay three times more for a bottle if they didn’t have the labels? To what extent is the myth of the brand informing your taste? The connection between quality and price-point in wine is an illusion.

What is the baseline for measuring the price of wine? It is more like art. Subjectivity drives the price. At the most basic level, wine is priced based on the illusion of rarity of the product. The myth of scarcity has proliferated in the wine industry.

The golden rule in wine making is: you always want to make six bottles short of what your distributor asks for. As soon as you make more than the market wants from you, you are immediately depressing the value of your brand globally.

If you shop hard, you can find a decent bottle of $15 wine. People make a living selecting quality wines for every budget. That’s what being a Sommelier is about.

Robert Parker is the emperor of wine. He has helped create a world where the value of wine is driven by the critics. He was the first one to popularize the qualitative approach wine criticism with the 100 point rating system.

Discounting

Discounting is degrading the quality of your service and undermines the professionalism of the restauranteur. Would you want your doctor to give you a discount? Would you go to a different doctor because he offered a 25% discount?

We are in the business of exceeding expectations.

Tableware

Joe likes Sambonet, they make good simple flatware.

Joe pays $30 for hand-made wine glasses. He puts a bucket for broken plates and glasses in every restaurant. He mandates that so he can look and see what his consumption rate is. He tells his dish washers that he will give them $10 every time they pull a piece of flatware out of the trash, even though they only cost $3. The point is that you are making such a big statement to your dishwasher, and he’ll never forget it.

They replace everything the second it starts to look tired, this includes napkins, plates, flatware, everything. They bleach their plates once a month, they put them in giant garbage cans filled with bleach and hot water and soak them overnight. Every few years you have to throw them out and replace them.

Everything on the table sends a message. A big statement is not to put salt and pepper on the table. If you are a chef driven restaurant, why would you allow your customers to alter the flavor of the food?

Joe changes the seats on every toilet every month. Having a nice clean new toilet seat is a small investment that goes a long way. A toilet seat with nicks on it is revolting.

Children and Family

Joe hopes to inspire his children through his hard work. He can’t and won’t give them the kids of victories that are bought purely with a family name and connections. He tries to share every part of his experience with his children.

His biggest fear is that his kids won’t be risk-takers. For Joe, playing it safe was never an option. He takes the kinds of risks that fuel growth. That has become the difference between running three restaurants in New York and more than 25 all over the world. Failure and victory are not so far apart.

You may have to give up a few bucks to make money next week. His mom was never about the fast buck. The long game is where its at. Look at the long-term.

Never make decisions on your best day, and never make decisions on your worst day, make all your decisions on medium days. This is one of the best lessons his mom (Lidia Bastianich) taught him.

Related Book Summaries

Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 30th book read in my 2019 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.

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