On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and others who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, John Broening, chef, writer, and co-owner of Spuntino, shares his thoughts on food and cooking copyrights and protecting originality in the restaurant world.
There are a handful of relationships that seem to breed mostly misunderstanding and antagonism: black/white, believer/atheist, and cop/civilian are some of these. Owner/ employee, particularly in the restaurant world, is another. Although I'm an owner, I've spent most of my career in restaurants working for somebody else, so I still know in my bones what it feels like to be an employee. So here, for the sake of greater mutual awareness, are some things employees think owners should know and some things owners want their employees to know:
What Employees Want Owners to Know
We already know you're boss.
There's no need to remind us every time we deal with you.
We are watching you very closely.
Because you control our livelihood, which means you have power over us. We are watching you every day to see what kind of mood you're in, whether you're pleased or displeased with us, whether you're hopeful about the prospects of the restaurant or are about to pack it in.
We are also carefully checking to see if your words and gestures match your deeds. The way you clasp us on the shoulder every time you talk to us, the aggressive way you make eye contact, that "concerned" way you furrow your brow every time we tell you we have a problem, the way you're sure to drop our first name into every other sentence—if these things are not matched by real concern and real action, then we can see them for the empty salesman's tricks that they really are.
We want you to acknowledge that we have an identity outside of work.
We are not just line cooks and baristas and hostesses and servers and bartenders but yoga teacher-trainees and artists and snowboarders and parents and spouses. If there's anything that's demoralizing, it's the feeling that you see us as nothing but a means to an end.
We love it when you take an interest in us and our careers once we've stopped working for you. If you do this, chances are we might want to work for you again.
But don't be too familiar.
If you sleep with one of our co-workers or sexually harass us or even hit on our friends when they come in to the restaurant, we will immediately lose all respect for you. And not only that, but everyone in the restaurant will know. And not just everyone in the restaurant, but everyone in the restaurant community.
Share what you know.
Bad owners keep everything in an atmosphere of secrecy and uncertainty. Good owners believe in transparency.
Also, some of us want to be where you are now, some of us want to be owners. Tell us how you got where you are.
If you have more money than we do, you don't need to rub it in our faces.
If we've just turned our apartment upside down looking for enough loose change to put gas in our car and food on our table until payday, we don't need to hear about your month-long vacation in Tuscany.
Keep your word.
Did you tell us we would get a raise in three months or that you would pay for a trip to San Francisco?
Believe us, we haven't forgotten your promise. If it's not going to happen, when you said it was going to, at least tell us why.
What Owners Want Their Employees to Know
We are probably making less money than you think we are.
Unless you own a bar, if you're an owner you go through a long period when you don't pay yourself anything.
Don't take personally what it usually just a business decision.
If we haven't bought you that new stove you need, it's not because we don't' think enough of you as a chef, it's probably because it's a choice between the stove or meeting payroll.
Treat our place like it's your own.
And we don't mean comp stuff for your friends. But treat the equipment with respect and share our interest in growing and protecting the business.
If we've paid ten grand for a new stove that two weeks later it is covered in carbonized grease, believe us, you will be on our shit list.
But if you come in on your own time and fix the compressor for us or spot a way to save us money without diluting the product, we won't forget.
And by the way, we don't like injustice collectors, drama queens, shit-stirrers. But we love people who enjoy their jobs and communicate that enthusiasm to everyone, which is why, if we know what we're doing, we spent a lot of time and energy matching the right person with the right job.
Don't complain if we seem to be working fewer hours for more money or coming and going as we please.
Why do you think we became owners in the first place? To work ourselves to death? No, to make money while we sleep, which is the goal of any competent entrepreneur.
Think of the worst case scenario-that the restaurant closes. For you, as an employee, the worst case scenario is that you have find another job. For us, it might be that the bank seizes the house that we've put up for collateral, that our credit is fucked for the foreseeable future, that if we've borrowed money from friends and family, those relationships are fucked too.
So the flip side of this is that if the business is a success, we get the lion's share of that. The greatest reward goes to those who take the greatest risk-that's what capitalism is all about.
Chances are, if the place takes off, you will share in its success as well, in the form of raises and tasty perks like dining allowances.
Keep your word.
Tell us in the interview that you have a passion for food and then serve up slop that you haven't tasted or bothered to plate with care? No-show on Valentine's Day and then call us with some story about a sick grandmother?
There's nothing to turn an owner from a generous soul with an upbeat view of human nature into a paranoid, bitter, controlling person like being continually lied to and deceived by his employees.
· Yasu Kizaki of Sushi Den on Sourcing Fish From the Japanese Fish Market [EDen]
· Justin Cucci on the Three Words of 2012 [EDen]
· John Broening of Spuntino on Originality and Copyrights in the Food Business [EDen]