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Oct 18, 201811:12 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

The Thing About Restaurants

It’s the People

 

I keep waiting for the turning point for restaurants in New Orleans. By “turning point,” I mean the point at which we are seeing more restaurants close than open. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but I do know that every restaurateur I speak to complains about finding employees.

I don’t see that becoming easier any time soon, and I don’t think that bodes well for the dining public. You can be the most talented chef in the world; if you don’t have the staff to prepare and serve your food, your restaurant won’t succeed. But consider the issue from another perspective: when you first open a restaurant, you can’t expect customers to consistently fill every seat at every service. In a perfect world, you’d only hire people to work when you needed their labor.

But if you are a cook or server, you don’t want to work only when the restaurant is busy – you want a full time job and you want to be able to count on getting consistent shifts so that you have a consistent income. After all, you’ve got expenses too.

New Orleans has always been a relatively expensive place to live as compared to other Southern cities. We were once one of the most densely populated cities in the country, and it is still very expensive to rent a place here.

I love this city and am probably unfit to live anywhere else, but I’ll be damned if I don’t question that love when I drive over yet another pot hole or when I look at the bill from the S&WB, Entergy and my insurance company. I’m from here. I speak the language and I know people. If I was young and looking for a job in the hospitality/restaurant industry this is where I’d come, too. But I don’t know that I’d stay. I don’t know that I could afford to.

I don’t know that there’s really a solution to the problem. Some argue for an increase in the minimum wage, but for restaurants that already operate on thin margins any significant added expense could be fatal. I suppose an ordinance restricting new restaurants could help, but that’s benefitting established businesses at the expense of start-ups. We could maybe start tearing down blighted properties that have been vacant since Katrina and let people add to the housing stock but we all know that’s not going to happen in any serious way any time soon.

Despite all of the above I’m optimistic. New Orleans is always going to be a great town and people will always love eating here. As long as we stay above water we’ll have a vibrant restaurant scene supported by locals and tourists alike. We’ll always have young people wanting to come here to work in our restaurants. I just hope that things change enough that those folks want to put down roots.

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived in New Orleans his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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