Friday, January 13, 2012

Profit-why is it a dirty word in Hospitality?



Interesting post from Rita today prompted me to bring up a matter that many restaurateurs and cafĂ© owners consider to be a taboo issue, not so much for them but for some members of the general public. This topic is rarely ever acknowledged yet alone talked about and for many people the mere mention of it causes them great distaste and in some cases revulsion. Banished to the darkest corners, its revered and guiding flame reduced to a faint flicker of an ancient candle eternally at risk of being snuffed out by critical exhalations. Tis the Mercantile Love that dare not speak its name and thy name is ‘Profit’.
For reasons unclear to me, some people seem decidedly uncomfortable with hospitality businesses not only aiming to make a profit but also declaring it with verve and gusto. It just isn’t the done thing apparently, well at least for some in this country, perplexing really! It seems that to celebrate one’s raison d’etre is definitely on the nose. Does this have anything to do with the thought of others perhaps perceived to be doing better than ourselves? Is it too simple to suggest the Tall Poppy syndrome at play? Or do we project a false sort of altruism onto all hospitality businesses, deluding ourselves that they are doing it ‘For the Love’ and thus making excess money off us is somehow not in the spirit of generosity? Adding to this is a greater awareness these days of how much food costs so when we see something sold at a much higher price in a restaurant, a familiar item that we can purchase for the home, we rightly question its value but then I think we got a step further and we fall into the old ‘They’re making a killing’ kind of mentality. The next step down on this dreary ladder is the notion that ‘well if they’re busy then they must be only appealing to the masses’. This mind-set never fails to make me giggle. Firstly: if lots of people like something, it does not automatically mean that they are not providing something worthy or of note. Secondly: Isn’t it a moment to celebrate that a business is doing well rather than seeking a reason to fault it on shaky, less than egalitarian grounds?
Augmenting this attitude as we submit ourselves to a ‘service’ of sorts in an eatery or bar, it might be hard to shake off the reality that we are not in fact the Dukes and Duchesses, recipients of this attention but merely paying customers, forfeiting money in exchange to feel so for a moment. The cold reality is that someone is profiting from our inability to find peace, contentment or escape in its ingestible forms and this ruins the intoxicating charade.
Not wanting to end on a sour note nor make myself a large target for the suggestion that profit is all I’m interested in, which those who know me will attest is not my only passion I will just say that it should not be deemed a dirty word.

17 comments:

Ken Burgin said...

Glad you're speaking up on this Steve. Good profits mean we can afford proper uniforms for the staff, buy the most efficient equipment, send staff to a training day, be generous with local community organisations, buy a knife for an apprentice and not quibble about time off for someone with family problems. And keeps the owner well-rested and cheerful because he/she has a good holiday regularly and doesn't lie awake at night worrying about bills.

Unfortunately the image George Calombaris has crafted for himself over the last few years doesn't make him the ideal spokesman on the issue of high wage costs. It's a pity - crazy rates for Sunday and Public Holidays mean many businesses close or ignore their obligations. No-one wins.

Anonymous said...

Timely Steve-Excellent point, why is it so bad to say you run a food business for profit? Indeed, why do any businesses open if not for that outcome and food is no different?

Anonymous said...

Food is a basic human need. That explains a lot. To profit off a basic human need is always going to raise eyebrows.

steve said...

Hi Ken-good points all

Hi anon-exactly

Hi anon-you might wan to think that through. So Shelter & the builders who erect them should do it for free? As the manufacturers who stich our clothes? I dont think so

flylicheneagle said...

All I would hope is that profit be second place or lower in priority. Whether it is satisfaction in brewing coffee, reward in service appreciated by others, making the third place (home, work, cafe) for your community or any other reason you can find... keep profit in subjugation. I think this is true for any business. If you build, love building. If you write, love writing. If we do anything firstly for the money, we may wake up one day in desperation at the futility of it all. You said, Steve, that it is our raison d'etre- to me, that is a shame. Make a lot of money mate- no argument there- but let anything but that be your reason for existence.

steve said...

Hi Flylicheneagle-thanks for commenting. I knew that by posing this question might make me a target for doing so and its simplistic to assume that because of this somehow my own values are under scrutiny.
All businesses are there to make money just like all paid workers work to earn money to live.
Its always been intriguing to me that some sections of our society see all businesses as some sort of evil capitalists.
Anyone who has any idea about the realities of the running their own hospitality business will know that making a profit is a very rare thing indeed. So knowing this, why do we do it? Well obviously its because we enjoy it and getting rewarded fiscally for hard work is not a morally ambiguous state.

Michael Ryan said...

Hey Steve, another great post. The comment of Flylicheneagle is something you often hear. But of course we love what we do. Perhaps not everyday but on the whole. With the amount of work required to run a restaurant, and the corresponding profit return, you have to have a real desire to do it. And no matter how much you enjoy your business, it must make a profit. In fact, you have responsibility to your employers to ensure that your business is profitable and will still be open next week.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah lets open a business, not make any money and be satisfied with the 'reward' of a job well done. Excuse me Fly Like Eddy the Eagle-what planet are you on? Do you work? Do you draw a wage? how do you support your family?
As to the triteness of your loving your job comment-Does that apply for toilet cleaners, abbatoir workers, prison guards, domestic violence social workers et all?

GourmetGirlfriend said...

i don't get the issue here...are folks in hospitality not expected to feed their families?
of course it is about profit.....or else it is a soup kitchen.
we all gotta make a livin'!
on point as always Steve.

Anonymous said...

this sort of attitude toward resto businesses indicates that many people are simply out of touch with reality or are actually deluded

Michael Ryan said...

Sorry, I meant employees.

Anonymous said...

Since my last post seemed to have got lost in cyberspace...

I didn't say restaurants couldn't make a profit. I said that making a profit off a basic human need will always raise eyebrows. Food is a basic human need. In fact, it is the most basic of human needs.

It's nothing against restaurants. It's just my take on the situation.

Flylicheneagle said...

Well, I got pretty badly slammed indeed by some anonymous posters there. Slow down, folks; relax, go easy. Enjoy your morning, night and evening, have a latte, cup of chai or perhaps a long macchiato with hot milk on the side. It's okay- I'm not gonna slam you back. Steve, I really like your blog and I respect your respect. I think this is a good discussion, and you made a good point- especially about customers buying an experience. In my view, we as customers are often searching for more than food or drink in an eating place. Maybe for some it's time out, time to think, maybe it's the familiarity of knowing the staff and being known by them, maybe something else entirely- perhaps we really do savour the coffee. You seem to really love what you do mate, and I hope you make a great deal of money whilst fulfilling your passion. As I said earlier, nothing wrong with that. All the best.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

The trick is to make a fair profit that the punter never feels is what's driving the biz.

Kate said...

I'd say it comes from owners being ashamed to make a profit (and thus playing it down) when they pay their staff such a pittance. Every hospitality boss I've ever had does this.. cries poor at every little expense. Dude, I count your till at the end of the night. I know what you make. Don't tell me you're poor when the apprentices can barely pay their bills, and you're going to France for the second time in two years.
I'm not saying owners don't deserve to make a profit, they have a level of commitment to the industry that I don't. I work a 'real' job during the week (real only in the sense that it earns me real money- the hospitality job is the one that works me harder truth be told) and a hospitality job on the weekends for fun. I like it. I really do, I love the people and the interaction and getting to talk to people all day long, but the money I earn there, for someone that has 15 years experience in the biz, earning the same as the 18 year olds who are totally green, is practically charity.

I'd play it down too, if I was making a good profit owning a hospitality biz and paying apprentices under $10/hr. I mean, its kind of embarrassing.

steve said...

Thanks everyone for commenting. I enjoyed reading evryones opinions

Nick said...

Great post Steve,

One point that stood out for me was "greater awareness these days of how much food costs so when we see something sold at a much higher price in a restaurant, a familiar item that we can purchase for the home, we rightly question its value"

As someone who works in hospitality I know the other costs of a dish or menu item other than the ingredient. When I dine out I understand that I can buy meat, pork, fish or even a bottle of wine for much cheaper than what a restaurant or cafe charges. However I am also paying to be waited on, to sit at a table in nice environment, for a chef or chefs to cook for me and also for people to clean the plates I just ate or drank from not to mention a bit of entertainment for the evening.

If you are unhappy with paying more for an ingredient and allowing a hospitality business to generate a profit from it; then source and buy said ingredient, spend the time preparing and cooking it, set your own table while you sit alone and enjoy the washing up after you have eaten.

I love what I do, however I have similar bills and costs in life as my customers. So wanting to profit out of providing a service is wrong how? Doing it "for the love" isn't an option.