How does a nice Italian boy from Queens turn his passion for food and wine into an empire?
In his winning memoir, Restaurant Man, Joe Bastianich charts his culinary journey from working in his parents’ red-sauce joint to becoming one of the country’s most successful restaurateurs. Joe first learned the ropes from his father, Felice Bastianich, the ultrapragmatic, self-proclaimed “restaurant man.” After college and a year on Wall Street, Joe bought a one-way ticket to Italy and worked in restaurants and vineyards. Upon his return to New York, he partnered with his mother, Lidia, and soon joined forces with Mario Batali, establishing one superlative Italian restaurant after another.
Writing vividly in an authentic New York style that is equal parts rock ’n’ roll and hard-ass, bottom-line business reality, Joe explains: how Babbo changed the way people think of Italian restaurants; how Lupa and Esca were born of “hedonistic, boondoggle R&D trips” through Italy; and how Del Posto managed to overcome a menu that was so ambitious that at first it could not even be executed and became the first four-star Italian restaurant in America. He lays the smackdown on the wine industry, explaining that no bottle of wine costs more than five dollars to make.
Joe speaks frankly about friends and foes, but at the heart of the book is the mythical hero Restaurant Man, the old-school, bluecollar guy from Queens who once upon a time learned to sweat it out and make his money through hard work. Throughout he stays true to the real secret of his success—watching costs but being ferociously dedicated to exceeding the customer’s expectations on every level and delivering the best dining experience in the world.
c h a p t e r o n e
Here’s everything you need to know to open a restaurant. Your margins are three times your cost on everything. Some things you make more, some things you make less. You have loss leaders on the menu veal chops and steak might cost you 50 percent of the ticket price on the menu. Pasta and salad you can run closer to 15, just as long as everything works out to 30 percent.
Bells and whistles like appetizers and desserts bring down the cost. Desserts are almost pure profit. Wine by the glass is usually marked up four times, although we don’t always do that. At Babbo we get about three times cost for a quartino, or sometimes even two times, so our wine cost is 30 to 50 percent.
Thirty percent of your monthly take is going to be your food and wine cost. Thirty percent is going to be labor, 20 percent is miscellaneous, including the rent, and 20 percent is your profit. Your rent per month should be your gross take on your slowest day.
And that’s it. Restaurant math is easy. If you need to gross ten grand in a day, then it’s about having two hundred people coming in and spending fifty bucks apiece. And within that $10,000, you should have $3,333 going to the cost of goods sold, $3,333 going to labor to execute that, and 20 percent miscellaneous, including the linens and insurance and bug spray and anything else. That leaves 20 percent profit. Like I said, it’s very simple. There are a lot of more complex models, but this is the basic way of doing it.
Anything you give away for free is bad. Linen is the number one evil, because it is expensive and no one pays for it. Same with bread and butter. You don’t mind paying fifteen bucks for a veal chop you sell for thirty dollars, but paying a dollar and a quarter for a tablecloth and thirty five cents for each napkin that someone gets dirty before they even have their first drink is a drag.
In a typical Manhattan fine dining restaurant, between 10 and 20 percent profit is an acceptable margin. Twenty percent if you’re a stud, 10 percent if you’re just doing okay. But every little thing will eat into your margin. A spoon that goes into the garbage is coming out of your pocket. A pot of coffee no one drinks costs you money. How close the chef cuts the fish to the bone will make a big difference. In this business, to make money you have to save money.
My dad taught me that. He was a restaurant man. That’s what he called it: “Restaurant Man.”
He taught me at an early age the enigma of the business you have to appear to be generous, but you have to be inherently a cheap fuck to make it work. He taught me how to make money it’s a nickel and dime business, and you make dollars by accumulating nickels. If you try to make dollars by grabbing dollars, you’ll never survive. It comes down to a very simple concept that my partner, Mario Batali, and I live by in all of our restaurants: We buy things, we fi x them up, and we sell them for a profit. That’s been our mantra since we started. We’re not full of ourselves. We can’t afford to be. This is a business that will always see more failure than success. We are very passionate about what we do. We live to pleasure our customers. We want to bring them to gastronomic orgasm, and we want to be there to bask in the afterglow. We’re the luckiest guys in the world to have this job. But really, what we do is very simple: We buy it, we fix it, we sell it for a profit. That’s the restaurant business.
At Babbo, our first truly celebrated restaurant, we had a low fixed cost when we started, our rent was only about $12,000 a month, and we had 110 seats. We were lucky; a comparable location could easily have cost two or three times that. We figured we’d take in about forty or forty five bucks a person and turn the place one and a half times a night that’s 155 covers a night, which is $7,000 a night, about $50,000 a week. It’s a nice little $2. 5 or $3 millionayear operation. If we’re doing well, all told we make 20 percent, $600,000. But these days utilities cost more than rent. It’s crazy you have to have extremely high revenues. You have to be busy all the time.
Most people who open restaurants will fail, because they lack the fundamental understanding of restaurant math. Either they think they’re superstar cooks or they think they’re superstar hosts. They do it for ego, and they don’t realize that without making money it’s nothing but bullshit. You are in the business of marketing, manufacturing, and customer service, all at once, every day. If you don’t break it down into these elements and take each one of them for what it’s worth, if you think you’re some sort of glorified dinner host or some artistic cook, you’re not going to last a week.
“Restaurant Man by [Joe Bastianich is] a terrific trench level primer on the biz.”
— Anthony Bourdain
“In Restaurant Man…Joe Bastianich has served up a very smart insider’s take on the New York City culinary scene as only and erudite and successful member of the secret society can do. The subtext of this love letter to the memory of his father is in itself a magnificent stand-alone dissertation. Joe pulls no punches and tells it exactly like it is in a way that punctuates the many oddities with brilliant black humor and scene-of-the-crime, matter-of-fact perspective. Restaurant Man will resonate with anyone who has come in contact with the world of food, entertainment, and wine or the cottage industry of scripted reality television it has spawned.”
— Mario Batali
“[Restaurant Man is a] rambunctious memoir….Mr. Bastianich writes in a vigorous, swaggering style….a cross between Anthony Bourdain and Holden Caulfield.”
— Moira Hodgson, The Wall Street Journal
“Enthralling…. Funny, often surprising, and if anything, illuminating.” — The New York Observer
“A fascinating, brutally candid look at the realities of operating your own eatery.” — People
“Compulsory reading for anyone who dreams of someday opening an eatery….The lessons [Joe] Bastianich has to offer are important and fundamental.”
— Russ Parsons, LATimes.com
“[Restaurant Man is] a wild ride that ends with a richer, happier, healthier man amazed at his survival, emotionally reconciled with his past and committed to nurturing his family and his culinary legacy.”
— Wine Spectator
“[A] darkly humorous and gossipy memoir…[Joe Bastianich’s writing style] is reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential; Medium Raw) and covers some of the same territory.”
— Library Journal
“Joe Bastianich tells it like it is….Restaurant Man is a brutally honest account of his rise from self-proclaimed Queens “punk” to a James Beard-winning restaurateur….[Restaurant Man] serves as an education—and a warning—to anyone who is thinking of entering the restaurant business.”
— The New York Daily News
“[Restaurant Man] is a raw, throbbing nerve of a biography: if [Joe] Bastianich has any intellectual filters, he checks them at the door here, and Restaurant Man is the beter for it….This is the Some Girls of restaurant memoirs.”
“[Restaurant Man] is a combination of homage to food and wine, and tutelage on owning and managing restaurants….Restaurant Man serves as an education to anyone wanting to enter the restaurant business”
“[Restaurant Man is a] salty, rollicking memoir….[Joe Bastianich’s] forthrightness about the business nitty-gritty and his own failures and mistakes are bonus takeaways along the utterly readable way.”
— Publishers Weekly
“[Joe Bastianich’s] easygoing voice and substantial knowledge of real Italian food (not the spaghetti-and-meatballs kind) will lure booklovers and food lovers alike…. Engrossing details of being the front man in a variety of thriving restaurants.”
“Joe Bastianich paints a refreshingly honest picture of what it takes for a restaurant to not just create an impeccable dining experience, but also turn a decent profit…. An entertaining read, a blend of heartfelt family history, practical advice, and insider stories.” — www.StarChefs.com
“One thing is for certain, after reading this book you look at your next restaurant visit in a different light.” — Palm Beach Daily News
“[Restaurant Man] is full of frank, personal revelations…but it’s also an eye-popping industry expose.”
“A fascinating look at the nuts and bolts of running successful restaurants…. Offering tantalizing and deeply personal behind the scenes [sic] information about pricing, menu development, wines, hiring and firing.” — www.NorwalkCitizenOnline.com
“[Joe] Bastianich’s Restaurant Man rightfully sits alongside Anthony Bourdain’s seminal Kitchen Confidential, pulling readers into the complex inner workings of the restaurant industry…. It’s compulsively readable…. Unabashedly dishy.” — www.FoodRepublic.com
“An insight into the restaurant business that few offer in this way.... Read this book and you will never look at a restaurant the same way again. You will have a new and broader appreciation for what it takes to make the experience for you and what it costs to do it right…. Four stars.” — The OpelikaAuburn News
“A fantastic memoir…. Brutally honest, and one of the best memoirs of its kind since Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.” — The BookReport
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