Why do those patatas bravas cost $9?

Why do those patatas bravas cost $9? - blog post image

Why DO those patatas bravas cost $9??

An inside look at the huge but little-known costs of running a small business

By Deborah Hansen

Chef-Owner-Sommelier of Taberna de Haro

That snowy Thursday had me thinking about a sultry night back in August. It was 5:15 pm, all was brilliant with late afternoon sunshine and excitement, and my patio was full. A restaurateur’s dream unfolded before my eyes - every table was seated, the song of lively chatter warbled, the familiar smell of my Spanish food wafted, my waitstaff scurried about amped and efficient. James Taylor would start performing in 2 hours just down the road at Fenway Park, and close to 100 of his fans came to Taberna de Haro first. An honor, and a profitable one at that!

It’s only profitable if all goes well. I mean Swiss-clock, synchronized-swim, Alvin Ailey dance-troop well. The man at table 104 who proclaimed his lamb chops inedible because they were too rare for his taste unwittingly nibbled at the profitability when he demanded they be removed from his bill - rather than asking for them to be cooked a bit more. The woman at table 3 who sent her gazpacho back because it “wasn’t what I expected” took another slurp out of the profits. The party of 8 that confirmed but then never showed up chomped into my bottom line as I could have served 8 more hungry guests while the table stood empty for 45 minutes. And the guest who forgot to mention he wanted his martini made with vodka rather than the standard gin, sipped again from Taberna de Haro’s profitability. But the real shark bite came at midnight when I was jolted awake by the text from my employee stating: “There’s water all over the basement floor. A lot.”

By 8:00 am my cook was on the job of clearing the water from the floor and the clog from the pipes. The power snake we keep on hand wasn’t up to the job, and I had to call in a professional plumbing service. $690 later, that sweaty and diligent plumber showed me the wad of paper towels that caused 4 inches of water to gush onto my floor, back up my sinks, and make my toilets unusable. It was nothing more than a full stack of hand towels, easily recognized, as they were not even balled up from use.

What possesses someone to put a stack of hand towels into a toilet? I must add that 2 trash cans are provided in that very bathroom. What goes through someone’s mind, right before going to hear the legendary James Taylor sing, that a toilet-clogging, pipe-jamming, floor-flooding, sink-sliming, grease trap-overflowing paper towel prank is the thing to do? Is it possible the poignant strains of “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground…” just aren't as moving without an expensive and destructive blow to a small business’ plumbing, as a pre-game event? I will consult several psychologists for consensus and share the results next time…

So when people query, as they do, how it is that a dish of fried potatoes with hot sauce and some garlic mayonnaise costs $9, I can answer them thus: The unseen costs of running a small business are simply enormous. Let’s break it down. A case of potatoes contains about 80 potatoes. In each order of patatas bravas, this hot-sauced potatoes tapa from Spain that everyone loves, I use about one potato and a half. That yields me 53 orders of patatas bravas, and $477. Given the $35 cost of a case of potatoes, and the accompanying sauce which costs about $20 a batch, profitability should be unquestionable and my kvetching should be minimal. However, I’d like to elucidate on a few general expenses that may be surprising, if I may. You know all about fair wages, sick time, 2 weeks paid vacation, payroll taxes, the costs of high-quality ingredients and Brookline rent, but consider, if you will, these numbers (Warning, this generally happy and grateful restaurant-owner is going to gripe for a few minutes, but she promises to conclude on a cheerful, upbeat note):

  • Trash collection costs $453, monthly, and yes, we recycle;
  • Energy costs run from $2500 - $3500 monthly, and water, another $500;
  • A full liquor license in the Town of Brookline costs $5500 per year, and the right to play recorded music is another $225;
  • Insurance is about $5000 per year;
  • Comcast takes $275 per month yet does not feel obligated to keep my Internet functional 24-7, and the losses in business incurred each time the internet fails can climb into the thousands. In the olden days, temporary phone outages caused this same problem. Nowadays, the high-tech shiny system, the internet, is just as fallible as that low-tech clunky one, the telephone.
  • I pay a C.P.A to keep me I.R.S.-compliant, and a bookkeeper to keep me in the kitchen rather than tethered to my desk, $200 and $350 per month respectively;
  • Open Table, without whom I cannot survive, charges me an average $850 monthly, based on how many reservations they deliver me;
  • Having a website costs about $100 per month when you factor in updates, QuickBooks on line is another $30, and Single Platform updates my menu changes across many on-line sites for about $40 monthly.
  • Laundry service, mandatory fire-monitoring, burglar alarm monitoring, payroll services, and pest prevention services total over $800 per month;
  • A state of the art POS system costs $150 per month; repairs, another $200.
  • These expenses add up to almost $8000 per month, and remember we haven’t contemplated the biggest expenses of rent, salaries, taxes, nor goods yet!! So why do I do it, this crazy little thang called restaurateur-ing? Because I love to make food, I love to share Spain, I love to turn guests on to interesting Spanish wines, I love the heat of a kitchen and the hum of a dining room. I simply like to make people happy by feeding them well and by offering them an experience. I love making people smile by easing them into a carefree place where the food on your plate, the wine in your glass, and the people at your table are all that matter in this world for a couple of hours.

    To do this, I need to charge you $9 for the patatas bravas. I raise my glass to all the small business owners in the world whose gripe-list may well exceed mine. I raise another to my dear guests who have allowed me these challenges and joys for close to 20 years now.

    ¡Salúd!

    Deborah 

    SHARE:

    Comments

      Post has no comments.

    LEAVE A REPLY

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*