Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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BYO Recipe Restaurant

Got a recipe? Get the experts to make it.
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Like many people who read food magazines and watch cookery programmes, I can't actually cook. Also, I don't really know how to shop for food - where to buy those weird ingredients they don't sell in the Co-op, and I'm scared of delicatessens.

So what I'd like to do is if I've just watched that nice Delia Smith on TV, or read Nigel Slater in the newspaper, to get the recipe and bring it along to a restaurant where a trained chef who knows what he's doing could prepare it. This would enable me to try out the recipe, and if it's really nice I might even consider making it myself.

Ingredients would be a problem, but the restaurant could keep a good supply of basics and liaise with magazines and television companies, plus buy the latest cookery books to ensure it has most of what would be asked. Of course, if it's your granny's secret cookie recipe (incorporating rose water, powdered pumpkin root and toad oil) that wouldn't help, but you could email/fax in advance.

pottedstu, Oct 18 2001


       Good idea, but I'll bet it would violate some unwritten chef code.
stupop, Oct 18 2001

       //'I can't actually cook'//
Practice, it becomes easy. I agree about the 'where to buy' part though. I'm sick of hearing the TV cooks say 'You can buy this at any supermarket now'. They obviously haven't been to any in my town.
angel, Oct 18 2001

       // Practice, it becomes easy. //   

       If I was trying out a recipe and it tasted rubbish, normally I wouldn't know if the recipe was meant to taste that way, and I didn't like it, or if I'd screwed up somehow. If I found that when prepared properly, it tasted nice, I could try again until I got it right.   

       But mainly, it is born out of laziness/unwillingness to fail, I know.
pottedstu, Oct 18 2001

       Having worked as a restaurant manager for many years, I must say that this is the most misguided idea that anyone on 1/2B has ever come up with. For the following reasons:   

       The key to running a successful restaurant business is anticipation. Anticipate your busy times. Anticipate any specific customer needs. Anticipate which dishes will be most popular, etc, etc, etc. Once you fail to anticipate any aspect of your business, service levels drop dramatically.   

       No chef is an expert at preparing everything. They all have their specialities - stove, pastry, chocolatiere etc. You would need a huge team of chefs to deal with all the different requested dishes, with some inevitably standing around all night.   

       Restaurant dishes are designed to be part-prepped (half prepared) during quiet times - afternoons etc. This could not be done, as the chefs would have no idea what they would be preparing that evening. Restaurant dishes are also designed to be ready within a very short time of the order “coming on”. Part prepping helps this, but can only go so far. What if a customer asked for roast beef, garnished, dressed, marinated or flavoured in a particular way? Beef is normally marinated overnight. A large striploin can take 3 hours to cook. Are the customers going to sit at the table that long?   

       What about wastage? Again, the key is menu design. If you look carefully, most menus have some generic ingredients. Sour cream – goes with chilli or tortillas, or as a salad dressing. The greater the number of ingredients kept in a kitchen , the greater the level of wastage. Most TV recipes have somewhat exotic ingredients. Due to food safety laws in the UK, most chilled foodstuff, and even some dry foodstuffs can only be kept for three days. If nobody brings in a relevant recipe within three days, the food must be thrown away. The head chef or executive chef will normally prepare their own orders to suppliers based on previous experience and sales statistics. To run a BYO restaurant would eliminate the second of these indicators, making their job much harder, and thus increasing wastage.   

       What if the dish fails? Whenever I have designed a menu in the past, I have closely monitored and supervised the chefs while they practise preparing the dishes for several days before the new menu is launched. The results are sometimes quite interesting, as chefs experiment how far they can push a sauce before it splits and how fast they can cook a particular cut of meat without destroying it. So, what if the dish fails. Would the customer wait while the chef starts from scratch? Would the customer pay for the spoiled ingredients? Would the pric eof the dish depend on the complexity?   

       A good restaurant manager or exec chef will cost each dish when designing a new menu. The cost of each ingredient will be calculated, even down to the sprig of parsley on top. A standard mark-up is then added. This denotes the price to the customer. It also helps to guarantee a consistent product in terms of quality and quantity. This would be impossible to do on the night. What would you charge the customer? Would the chefs also need to be mathematicians? Would they write down the ingredients as they go, intending to calculate the total cost later? Would they do this while they have six pots on the stove?   

       Menu design also takes into account the layout of the kitchen and facilities available. “Cheap and cheerful” restaurants have lots of freezers, deep-fat fryers and microwaves. Upper class restaurants have multiple fridges, huge ovens and stoves. Fast food joints may only have a griddle and a microwave. To equip a kitchen to satisfy all the variable needs of a BYO restaurant would be almost impossible.   

       How would the customer explain to the chef (via the waiter/ess) the exact preparation instructions? “Make it crispy” could mean fry it, roast it, grill it, brulee it, or even add cornflakes to the top.   

       OK, I can think of many other reasons why this idea would not work, but I guess you are all bored by now, so I’ll stop ranting.   

       Just remember one thing – if you look at a menu, and can’t see anything you like, talk to the waiter. The chef may be able to alter a dish or prepare you a simple, custom-made dish.   

       Once again, sorry for ranting.
Mayfly, Oct 18 2001

       Mayfly: Lots o' good points and well said but there's one thing I'll disagree with. This is far from being even the most impractical idea on the .5Bakery let alone the stupidest. (just take a look through the triple fishies) I could tell you what I think is the stupidest but that would start an argument of epic proportions.
sirrobin, Oct 18 2001

       What sirrobin said, but still a very interesting and informative post, Mayfly. Maybe the idea of faxing ahead would solve some of the problems mentioned. The customer would have to put a deposit down of course.
PotatoStew, Oct 18 2001

       Mayfly: couldn't rustle me up some Vagina Jam back there, could you?   

       No, seriously, point taken. I'm sure most of us think a restaurant is just a matter of some people in a room cooking on demand, and don't think about the planning and preparation that must go into it. I know time is likely to be a real problem with my idea (both with things like cooking time, and with the time it'll take to prepare each item individually; you'd almost need one chef per dish), as well as ingredients. But I think we'd expect to pay more for the service (I don't know *how much more* though). But don't spoil the illusion of the all-powerful chef. We all need some heroes.   

       And not only is it nice to see someone apologising for a rant, that rant is far more reasonable than many supposed non-rants.
pottedstu, Oct 18 2001

       The more I think about this, the more I think that this idea resembles what a high-end caterer who comes to your home to cook for events does. I use such caterers, or chefs-for-hire, a few times a year when I am having a party at which I do not wish to cook (I love cooking but, sometimes, I like to just mingle--even though much great conversation happens in the kitchen during food prep).
bristolz, Oct 18 2001

       PotatoStew -- regarding putting down a deposit... reminds me of Steve Martin's primo restaurant, Le Idiot in 'LA Story', where patrons were required to pass a credit check before getting a reservation.
danrue, Oct 18 2001

       Mayfly: I like hearing from 'behind the scenes' people...I even am one occasionally...   

       I think all your objections could be overcome, although it'd take some fooling with. For the roast that needs to be marinated overnight, they fax in the recipe and make the reservations for the next day...and pay in advance. If they don't show up, you have a special on specially marinated beef roast.   

       For things you can only keep three days, either buy as necessary <Would need employees whose only function is to go get stuff>, or do specials on those ingredients again. Maybe give a discount if the customers bring in their own food to be prepared, with a waiver for the restaurant if their roadkill deer makes them sick.   

       And charge heavily. Cover the costs of the extra employees, extra time and effort involved.   

       There are lots of different sorts of chefs, and while they all have a specialty, I'm sure that it wouldn't be too hard for a trained chef to 'improvise' to a recipe.
StarChaser, Oct 18 2001

       Provide your recipe when you make your reservation, and pay, in excess, at the same time. Get a refund when you turn up.
angel, Oct 19 2001

       Provide the food, its weight, its cost, your weight, and a recipe. Cook and eat. Defecate, consider the difference in your weight to be 'satisfaction' and take a reasonable percentage of this (14%) as a mark-up additional to the cost of the ingredients and the chef's skill and equipment. Fair costing? Oh wait... Plus tax.   

       [Mayfly] is right, that kitchen would have to be the size of a football field.
sdm, Oct 19 2001

       To address Mayfly's concerns:   

       1) Start a business called Recipe Orphanage (RO) which finds homes for recipes.
2) Ulti-Media Enterprises (U-ME) wants to boost the appeal of their "Show Us Your Supper" TV show as well as in their "Eat This" magazine. How can they beat competition from other food shows and publications?
3) U-ME contacts RO, which, for a fee, contacts restaurants all over the country and secures agreements with one restaurant in each area served by U-ME, to offer one or two U-ME featured recipes for two weeks after the recipe's publication.
4) In the U-ME show and magazine, featured recipes are accompanied by a notice: "Visit our web site to find a restaurant near you where you can sample this delectable dish!"
5) The RO deal offers extra appeal for U-ME's show and magazine, and they can raise ad rates. They also have a natural new advertising clientele among the participating restaurants.
6) The Ulti-Media publicity and the limited time on the offer bring new business to the participating restaurants, each of which pays a small royalty to RO for each such meal sold.

       Everyone happy now?
beauxeault, Oct 19 2001

       One possible solution to the stocking of ingredients would be to build this adjacent to a gourmet grocery. With the grocery responsible for ordering fresh ingredients, stocking uncommon items, and moving items with a limited shelf life ("Attention, shoppers! Special on head cheese, aisle 3."). Any ingredients needed by the chefs could be delivered via dumb waiter.
Guncrazy, Oct 19 2001

       If the checkout was prepared to print a coupon with a receipt for the meal, specifying the exact meal just ordered and offered at a price of anywhere from 50% off, would that be an automatic incentive for the customer to return to the restaurant? Naturally that is assuming proof of purchase.
reensure, Oct 19 2001

       From an idealistic customer service oriented, "have-it-your-way" standard, this is a brilliant idea and I've had the thought pass my mind a time or two myself.   

       Unfortunately, after much personal thought on this very subject, the physics of business say it is a horrible idea. Some fellow named Mayfly pointed out some very strict guidelines that any restaurant in business must factor in and a BYO recipe model would be sure to make even the hardened of restauranteers and cook staff "tap out" for mercy. I work as a manager in my family's restaurant as well and I can attest that for what astronomical costs of just getting a simple hamburger out on the table can be. THEN, getting a simple hamburger made right to every customer's dynamically changing specific fickle tastes is a practice in impossibility sometimes within itself. You would not believe how frustrating it is just to get a simple hamburger right for some "insatiables". Then, if we only had 1 customer in a month's time walk through our door and order a hamburger, we have to charge maybe $8,000.00 per burger JUST to meet costs. This is where volume comes into play and the more people that eat burgers at our restaurant, the cheaper we can sell them and the more money we can *maybe* make after all the other red-tape expenses. If it's not going to make money, it's not worth anyone's time to even try no matter how good it sounds on paper or text. Then you suggest that someone can theoretically bring in grandma's "Possum'n' Pig-Nose" or "Venison hindquarter Soup" recipe and the restaurant would be expected to keep on stock a never-ending supply of freshly dead possum and cut pig noses? The only way I could see to keep just the ingredient costs down is if the patrons were to bring in all required ingredients for a recipe. Then you have a red-tape hell conformity with public and commercial health codes to contend. Then you have to employ 2-3 multi-talented chefs that are well capable of preparing anything that's thrown at them to the customer's already fickle expectations and I've yet to have found one.   

       The equipment, human resources, customer demand and supply costs that would be involved to actually make this idea happen would be so astronomical that $1,000.00 per plate serving 5,000 customers a month would probably not even scratch the surface of costs incurred to idealistically make this happen as imagined and I know of very few that would spend that much money on a such a novelty-themed restaurant plate, much less any business/restaurant manager that would see any worth in the dismal mountain of adversity they would have to overcome to make this fly.
fritzmusic, Nov 02 2003


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