For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, let’s talk about a dilemma faced by many chefs.
That problem is the “art vs. commerce” equation. What I mean is that unless a chef is cooking solely in competitions or to entertain guests in his/her home, they’re probably conscious of their food costs. In fact, that’s the number one issue I think restaurants face because unlike rent and utilities it’s a highly variable cost. In my mind it comes down to do we want to make art – some wonderful dish that has expensive ingredients and requires a lot of labor to produce – or are we making commerce – highly repeatable, high margin plates. That’s something that affects your business too.
I’ve always found it interesting that culinary schools offer both culinary arts tracks as well as culinary management tracks. The former is about food science – nutrition, flavors and cooking techniques. They also spend time on presentation but mostly on creating great flavors and developing cooking skills. The latter program is about running the business – hiring people, accounting, running the front-of-house (the non-kitchen part of the business). Art vs. commerce. One would think that to be successful in the food business you’d need a heavy dose of the other side.
These sorts of choices are made all the time in your business as well, I’ll bet. Where do we put the ads on the web page? Do we auto-start our audio or video without user initiation? Do we provide our store staff with uniforms or let them wear whatever? Are we PBS looking to make art or ABC looking to sell ads? Should we have someone go get the goods from storage or just go floor to ceiling with boxes of inventory? Obviously no one would confuse Nordstrom’s with Costco, but to a certain extent that’s the art vs. commerce equation at work.
Obviously it’s possible to pay attention to both elements. There are high-end restaurants that charge $200 for a meal and fast food joints that charge $2.00. The reality is that the high-end “art” places often don’t last long because they’re not paying enough attention to the commerce. We need to run our businesses as businesses but do so with flair and as much style as our budgets will allow.
How do you deal with this dilemma?