Do San Francisco Restaurants Fail Because They Have Too Much In Common? (Essay #13)


I read an interesting post about why restaurants fail today. The author recommends making as many unique features in your restaurant as possible and taking out whatever is similar with other establishments. That is an interesting point of view. It will be hard to think as such in San Francisco because restaurants fall into many categories. San Francisco was never big on chain anything and what chain restaurant (real restaurant no fast food, etc.) have corporate designs which are unique and frankly most people in the business don’t care if they disappear. The independent restaurants are expensive to setup and are unique by design. The basic layouts are very similar. The floor shape determines where the bar goes, where the kitchen is and the dining room(s) shape or location. San Francisco real estate does not follow normal standards so many establishments are automatically unique in many ways. What makes them similar is how they repeat success by copying successful features and concepts from other restaurants. That is very San Francisco and frankly works well.

I am still thinking about applying this idea and so far I have not found no real use for the idea. It may actually be applicable but restaurants in San Francisco are expensive to setup and operate. That means much of what may be luxury for many businesses is automatically built into the places to make them competitive and frankly that does pay off. Going to restaurants is a sub-culture in San Francisco. Foodie is not just a word about people who like good food and follow it. Being a regular in many restaurants and bars is a lifestyle for many San Franciscans and let’s not forget it is quite costly. Some people work to blow their money on night clubs, travel, friends and so on. San Francisco has many residents who spend a big part of their regular income as restaurant-goers. The industry refers to this by saying how the average diner spends more in San Francisco than anywhere in the country and they are locals not tourists. That is a lifestyle feature and all of these restaurants are very nice in many ways and if they are not unique, they are copies of active success at some other restaurant which works till God knows what will become the fashion and norm. That is all I can figure for San Francisco today but maybe more to this idea.

San Francisco has many small establishments that are no more than a long bar and some tables. That is about as standard a restaurant/bar can get in San Francisco. They are not generic places however and can be very high on the scales as far as food, beverage and service. The basics are however very similar. Many spaces in San Francisco are narrow and long. They make for an entrance and a long bar. The floor side opposite of the bar can take seatings and though the space is fancy but that simple the food and drinks can be extremely serious. I don’t have to name any places because too many are as such and I think they are still unique as they can get. Changing menus for food, bar and wine (though slower for the bottles) glasses is a daily trend in San Francisco. The concepts that have take root in many establishments require active creativity by the key staff. This manifests itself in changes on the food menu, new drinks on the bar menu and what is poured by glass or is made available by the bottle. San Francisco leads itself and many other cities in such creativity.

I think San Francisco is okay on being unique but the idea keeps going back and forth in my head because the other half of it makes good sense for San Francisco. If we are to take out sameness and bring uniqueness into our restaurants to keep them from failing, San Francisco definitely has plenty of sameness. Local establishments have too many features that are not necessarily ordinary, because of the general diversity of life in San Francisco, but are not unique or even interesting at all. Interior decor is of great standing in San Francisco but the exterior is usually very basic and hardly worth anything but being glanced at. That is very San Francisco because buildings have small facades. This factor may have adverse effects on business however and everyone has taken it for granted. The inside of restaurants may look great but an extreme majority have strong flaws in common. Many San Francisco restaurants have extreme levels of noise during service time and they share this flaw and ignore it also.

The service at many San Francisco restaurants is a joke but everyone pretends is real. Most of restaurant staff in San Francisco are hired not on qualifications but on what they look. They are used as fresh until mistakes are made and they are let go to be replaced by someone who looks right. Many San Francisco restaurants think of staff as furniture. They are hired based on height, physical shape, who they look like, and how they fit the decor. That is real and shared by many places. The job they perform can suck but as long as they look like their parts the system thinks of them as the right fit for the job. Service sucks therefore for the obvious reason that staff are fake and hired to wear the standard uniform and function as robots according to the restaurant scripts and steps of service. One reason this problem exists is that real staff do not exist. Where do you find a large number of trained and skilled but good people to wait on your guests. The system does not produce anything like that. The San Francisco City College has a program for that but may put out 20 rookie servers each year. The other sources are the same. The only employees available are people off the street ( and who can train them? ) and making them look real is as far as service goes in San Francisco.

Big hotels take the pain to train their staff in many areas systematically not because the staff need that training as minimum to do their jobs. Maybe the unions are willing to take responsibility to train and certify their members and others for such positions. Somebody has to do it RIGHT and in LARGE enough numbers to make a difference and until then fake is what works in San Francisco restaurants. That is one thing many San Francisco restaurants have in COMMON and could change to stay in business. I can think of many other things San Francisco restaurants have in common that possibly hurt everyone but what I have mentioned are the biggest problems. What is not available in the society and industry is made up for by making fake versions so business can go on. Restaurant designers create notable interiors for too many of San Francisco places but exterior sucks because facades are too small thus ignored. Service is fake because American society does not believe in servitude and has no heritage of a servant class as Europe does. The institution of stewardship has been neglected thus because of what it resembles to the stigma of servitude. A strong commitment to stewardship as an American institution can and will promote able persons who believe their function is to be of assistance to others in their positions. The industry will be able to recruit qualified people then and not anyone dressed as the stewards. That is a flaw San Francisco restaurants still have in common.Too

*This post belongs to this week’s edition of Wine by Cush Magazine blog and published early in World of Cush also.

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