Why do restaurants fail?

For a few years I’ve been mulling over whether to start a restaurant deadpool because there are obvious signs that places will fail before they have torn the butcher’s paper down from their windows to reveal their fresh circus-themed French diner fitout. The most obvious is if a string of restaurants have already failed in the same location.

Outside of the obvious (having poor operations management and a lack of financial knowledge), Parsa et al look at the demographic reasons behind restaurant failure in Boulder, Colorado and specifically looked at what they call “the phenomenon of “fatal attraction””: where restaranteurs move in to a previously failed property. Their findings:

Our data from Boulder indicate that the fatal attraction limit is reached after the third ownership turnover, and restaurants are no longer considered for the fourth ownership turnover. Thus, one can conclude that restaurant ownership turnover at a particular site could happen up to a maximum of three times, after which it is likely that the location would cease to function as a choice for restaurateurs and be converted to a non-restaurant business site.

As for success factors: being located near transient university students, apartment dwellers, the well-educated and low- to middle income families. Maybe this explains the longevity of venues on Lygon St?

Parsa, H.G., van der Rest, J.P.I., Smith, S.R., Parsa, R.A. and Bujisic, M., 2015. Why Restaurants Fail? Part IV The Relationship between Restaurant Failures and Demographic Factors. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 56(1), pp.80-90.

Melbourne’s Oldest Restaurants

Melbourne’s oldest restaurant is Florentino (est.1928), if you count restaurants opened on the same site, serving the same cuisine under the same name. The oldest continuously running restaurant (as far as I could find) is Cuckoo Restaurant in Olinda (est.1958) which took over the site from Quamby (est.1914). Even though they’re important to local cuisine, I’m not counting pubs. The oldest is the Duke of Wellington (est.1853) but it’s unclear if it has had a kitchen for that long.

Can you make generalisations about who will last a quarter of a century in the restaurant business? Is there a recipe for success in Melbourne?

Name yourself Jim and serve any cuisine at all as Jim’s Greek Tavern, Jimmy Watson’s (Italian), Jim Wong (Chinese) all attest. As for location, get in on Lygon Street and serve affordable Italian food, or as close to Parliament House as possible. Public servants obviously like to eat.

As for what to serve, it doesn’t seem to matter a great deal. The quarter century industry survivors run the gamut from some the world’s finest dining to unmitigated shit. There’s not any clear pattern as to what price point or level of service guarantees longevity. What does guarantee it is that they’re almost all family-friendly. If you go to any of them for a weekend lunch, I’d bet there would be more than one high chair. This is a list of restaurants where people went as children and still return as adults.

Here’s the list from the map: all of Melbourne’s restaurants older than 25 years as of today. Huge thanks to eatnik, essjayeff, stickifingers, mysecondhelping and dananikanpour for all the suggestions.

I’m sure that there are a large number missing: almost every suburban fish and chip shop will be 25 years old by now. It also omits chain restaurants. The first McDonalds opened in Melbourne (Glen Waverly) in 1973 and by 1982, there were 33. In the same year, there were 35 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Burger King set foot in town in 1986. Also a word of caution about the opening years: they’re not necessarily exact. Quite a few were gleaned from reviews where they mention that a restaurant has “been open for more than 30 years” without mentioning an exact date.

If you know of any missing, comment below.

Alasya Restaurant1978Lebanese
Bedi's Indian Restaurant1980Indian
Brunetti - Carlton1985Italian
Cafe Di Stasio1989Italian
Caffe e Cucina1988Italian
Casa Del Gelato1980Italian
Cuckoo Restaurant1958German
Donnini's Pasta1981Italian
Domenico's Pizza1968Italian
Dragon Boat Restaurant1986Chinese
Dunyazad Lebanese RestaurantLebanese
Flower Drum Restaurant1975Chinese
Gaylord Indian Restaurant1985Indian
Golden Orchids Malaysian Restaurant1979Malaysian
Grossi Florentino1928Italian
Hanabishi Japanese Restaurant1988Japanese
Il Gambero1970Italian
Izakaya Chuji1989Japanese
Jim Wong Restaurant1968Chinese
Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar1935Italian
Jim's Greek Tavern1980Greek
Joe's GarageItalian
Kunis Japanese Restaurant1977Japanese
La Porchetta Carlton1985Italian
La Spaghettata Restaurant1984Italian
Lobster Cave1987Seafood
Masani Italian Restaurant1984Italian
Paris Go BistroFrench
Patee Thai - Fitzroy1983Thai
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar1954Italian
Penang Coffee House1976Malaysian
Ricardo's TrattoriaItalian
Shakahari Vegetarian Restaurant1972Vegetarian
Shark Fin Inn City1980Chinese
Spaghetti TreeItalian
Stokehouse1989Modern Australian
Stuzzichino Caffe Bar Spuntini1987Italian
Sukhothai Restaurant1989Thai
Supper Inn Chinese RestaurantChinese
Tandoori Den Camberwell1981Indian
Isthmus of Kra1989Thai
The Old Paper Shop DeliCaf‚
The Olive Tree1971Italian
The Waiters Club1947Italian
THY THY RestaurantVietnamese
Toto's Pizza House1961Italian
University Cafe1953Italian
Vlado's Charcoal Grill1964Steak
Warung Agus1989Indonesian
Geppetto Trattoria1981Italian
Eastern Bell1989Chinese

Food Blogger Tip: New Melbourne restaurants with no reviews

A short while ago Fitzroyalty thought that I might be up to the challenge of building some sort of site that churned out lists all of the unreviewed restaurants in Melbourne.

I quite clearly wasn’t. I tried a few approaches and none were at all accurate. I couldn’t think of an immediate way to legally make money from it and lost all motivation.

In its stead, here is a bundle of RSS feeds that grabs new restaurants from Urbanspoon that have never been reviewed by a food blogger whom suckles from Urbanspoon’s teat. If you subscribe, it will alert you when a new restaurant in Melbourne is added or an unreviewed restaurant is updated in the Google index, so that you can be first to post your capsule-sized review. It’s not all quality. You’ll get alerts whenever a new McDonalds graces the earth or your local milk bar gets uppity and installs a coffee machine, but you’ll soon realise that almost all of the writing about restaurants in Melbourne happens within a ten kilometre radius.

Melbourne Restaurant Alerts

Indentured Labour: Camy Shanghai Dumpling House’s secret, part 2

Last time that I mentioned Camy Shanghai Dumpling House, I conjectured that the popularity was due to its open secret status and cheapness. At least now we know where the cheapness comes from: not paying their staff. From the Herald-Sun:

Mr Chang worked 13-hour days from 9.30am-10.30pm with only five-minute breaks, which had to be approved by the boss, for $100 a day.

He worked six days a week and his only holiday was Christmas Day, according to Federal Magistrate Grant Riethmuller. “It is clear that the patrons attended for the quality of the Shanghai dumpling-style cooking rather than the ambience of the premises,” Mr Riethmuller said.

Mr Chang feared if he lost his job his visa would be cancelled and he took action only after he had permanent Australian residency, the magistrate said.

The court found that Mr Chang had been underpaid from December 2004 to January 2008.

Mr Riethmuller ordered restaurant owners Min-Seng Zheng and Rui Zhi Fu to pay $172,677 in unpaid overtime and penalty rates, and $25,000 of superannuation. Their lawyer, Alex Lewenberg, said the owners planned to appeal.

I also praise Federal Magistrate Grant Riethmuller for his knowledge of the premises.

Melbourne Restaurant Name Generator

Not sure what to name that new cafe or restaurant that you’ve lovingly crafted from rotting couches in a Melbourne laneway? Can’t find an fitting piece of pornocracy or Italian horror film to print on your disposable coffee cups?

All you need to do is combine an honorific of some kind with the name of a character on Mad Men, or parts of a spaghetti Western with a radio call sign. Or do all four at once and then follow whatever food trend is hot right now.

I think you should name it:

Press reload for more random free advice.

There is a one in nine hundred chance that you’ll get the exact name of a real restaurant. Sorry.

Gordon Ramsay’s Melbourne Restaurant

Unless you’ve been bound up in real news in Australia (e.g. remember Iraq? there’s still a war there), you’ve probably heard the words Gordon Ramsay Lesbian Tracy Grimshaw combined in some unholy fashion with great density. Chef Gordon Ramsay has been in town, stirring up the sort of misogyny that could only be surpassed by a visiting rugby team.

The media is loving it and milking it for a full week of coverage. The Prime Minister has weighed in saying Ramsay’s comments’ “as reflecting a new form of low life” which left me wondering what were the older forms of low life that are of concern to an Australian Prime Minister? Libertines? Footpads? Mountebanks?

Generally when you meet chefs or see them interviewed, their obsession with the minutiae of ingredients and the process of transforming those ingredients into food is evident and inescapable. Any attempt to interview them about nigh on any other topic eventually gets steered back to eating. What is most dismaying about Ramsay’s flight through town is his lack of focus on food and the media’s lack of care.

He’s planning to open an outlet of his Maze restaurant in Melbourne in the Crown Casino complex, and it hardly rated a mention by himself or anyone else. Odds on bets are that it will be doing haute tapas as it does in Cape Town and New York which will lead to an inevitable showdown with Movida. Anchovies at high noon. It is opening in the middle of an economic downturn. These are compelling food stories and they’re not being told. Ramsay seems to be too busy telling dick jokes to talk about food.

This is the outcome of food and television. Food plays a backdrop to human drama rather than a central focus because food alone makes for bad television. To be sure, television can mirror the soft-focus porniness of food magazines or blogs – the panning shots of a steaming meal, wide vistas of a cornucopia of ingredients – but to draw and keep an audience it needs narrative drive.

The narrative of food alone is either recipes or the path from living animal or vegetable to the plate. You could tell these stories almost without human intervention. By themselves, neither of these narratives are engaging because for the former, we’ve had almost 70 years of the “stand and cook” model of recipe TV to be oversaturated and for the latter, most of the public still don’t want to know from whence their food came. If you eat food with a head on it, you’re amongst the minority.

This is how we end up in a situation where we have food television without food. Human drama is the driving force behind food television. It seems that (in Australia, at least), we want chefs who say “fuck” to camera (Ramsay) or game shows (Masterchef). Nobody wants to see the prep chef peeling potatoes in the basement. The prep chef is only intriguing when she knifes someone.

Most telling of this whole foofaraw is a comment by Jason Atherton, one of Ramsay’s chefs, who is also in Melbourne at the moment presumably to begin staffing Maze. In Hospitality Magazine, he mentions:

“Atherton said Gordon Ramsay will spend as much time at the Melbourne restaurant “as the concept needs him”.”

It’s similar to McDonald’s: the concept needs the clown Ronald to make the occasional appearance. (At least, it used to). Gordon Ramsay’s primary qualification is no longer chef, it’s television presenter; the provider of drama against a food backdrop. He still needs the pretence that he cares about food lest the whole edifice and concept behind his restaurants crumble. The concept needs celebrity to survive and give it sustenance. It needs celebrity to somehow differentiate itself and draw in the punters who would never otherwise throw down a hundred dollars for a meal.

It no longer needs food.