The outpouring of community support for local restaurants has been nothing short of amazing. So many people have found their own way to help so many of our local restaurants. To see such a strong community help in so many ways is heartwarming and gives me hope for the changes that must come.

The restaurant industry has been sick for many years now. This current crisis has only shown that the cupboards have been bare for a long time. The race to the bottom to offer the cheapest prices for the best meal has led us to this place. From fast food chains to fine dining establishments, the true cost of what it takes to create your meal has been kept from you, the dining public. As restaurants, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Out of fear of losing guests, every restaurant tries to offer you more and more — many times to its detriment. Not only has the cost of all our products (produce, beef, chicken, fish, butter) gone up dramatically in the past 10 years, but the cost of doing business (insurance, credit card fees, payroll, rent) has gone up as well. Restaurants have more or less absorbed these costs without you seeing a reflective increase in the prices. The restaurant business model has always been one of volume. We need as many people as possible to come through the door in order to stay afloat. The squeeze from all sides pushes the number of guests we need up all the time. So every restaurant falls all over itself to get as many people in the door as possible. Many times at the cost to its employees and even guests.

In our industry the word “value” is used a lot. “How do we offer the most value to our guests?” is the question we ask every day. At some point the answer might be changing expectations and/or increasing prices. The model of having restaurants buzzing with bars filled to capacity is not something we will see again soon.

As a business owner, I never expect anyone to help us make money. Our margins and costs are not anyone’s concern. We are in the hospitality business, and our goal is to provide a remarkable experience for every guest we see. Many of us got into this business because of the joy it brings us to bring others joy. In order to continue to do that, we have to change.

When you ask someone about a restaurant, you often hear, “It was good, but expensive.” The interaction at a restaurant is so very unique. We go to a place where we ask someone else to cook, pour, deliver food and clean up after us. People bring us food and drink until we say so. It is an amazing production and we all play our parts. Only at the end do we see how much it all costs as the bill comes. As high as this bill might be, this cost is not accurate. The number of people who were underpaid along the way to bring that meal would break your heart if you knew.

These are not sour grapes. We face an uncertain future, but we do so with hope, excitement and passion. We have been given an opportunity to make positive, sustainable change in the world we operate in.

What do we need from you, the dining public? We need patience and understanding as we reinvent business models, meet a changing landscape of restrictions and find ways to create a better work experience for all our employees. We need you to continue to support your local restaurants as we navigate what is to come. The “old days” are gone. Our only hope is to make the future better for our workers, guests and the community as a whole. We will need to change, and we will need your support as we do. We hope you are as excited to see us in the restaurant as we are you.

Jason Miller is an owner of The Wine Kitchen, which has locations in Frederick and Leesburg.

(10) comments

caspiansails

It will be different until we decide it no longer need be. This could be with or without a vaccine. We, not the government ultimately make that call. When fear subsides and that is primarily what we are dealing with and the virus becomes more known and the outcomes are more known and the nonsense we hear on tv is proven to either be true or false, the people will ultimately decide how we move forward. It may end up being another in a very long list of things that can kill us or sicken us. Things we live with every day and yet we on without fear. When the unknown becomes known, the fear dissipates.

Piedmontgardener

With respect, we just dropped 136 dollars, including a 20% tip for six sandwiches and salads and two appetizers at a neighborhood restaurant running take out. C'mon man, crying about your margins prior to this isn't attractive, those of us paying your freight right now are doing it to be decent, but your restaurant isn't on my list forward.

Greg F

For six people...that’s decent. I drop that on 3...easy.

Cardamom

We love the Wine Kitchen and have always had a top notch experience there, including complimentary bubbly on our anniversary. It’s always been worth it. We can’t wait for it to reopen and will save up for special occasions there in the new reality.

dabittle

Alas, the "old days" as I recall them are, generally speaking, chock-full of experiences of mediocre meals and opportunistically overpriced alcohol served by frequently inattentive servers who deliver little in the way of a quality customer service but who nonetheless presume to have earned a 30% tip. If customers are expected to drop $100-$120 for dinner it should be of high quality and freshness served by earnest waitstaff, otherwise it simply isn't worth it. When potential customers can prepare high-quality meals at a fraction of the price at home--it's not rocket science--why go out?

Greg F

30%? Are you nuts?

francesca_easa

I was thinking the other day how nice it would be if June's 1st Saturday was a 4 day affair. Close Market between South Street and 4th and let folks like Wine Kitchen set up tables al fresco and serve highlights from their menus. Tables 8 feet apart. Perhaps charcuterie and wine from WK, salad from another, main course from a third and dessert from another. A flat fee, pay ahead and all restaurants split the profits evenly. Music can stream from the rooftop of one of the garages. Add a 50/50 raffle to the fun. Fresh air and distance should eliminate the need for masks. I also like the idea that some U.S. restaurants have done with car service while families watch drive in movies. Can't we do that here?

Hollowed Ground

The first half of this letter is standard business owner fare, confirmed indeed by the second half. They are too poor, costs are too high, prices are too low, insurance and swipe fees too high, taxes too high, labor too high. It's like, really, what kind of cheese do they swerve with their whine? I bet it is not American cheese. Well, the pandemic has taught us we really don't need restaurants. We have re-discovered how to prepare fine meals at home with fresher ingredients and at much lower cost, most in less time it takes to travel, order and wait. We can mix drinks with the alcohol we want in quantity we want at a fraction of the cost. We sit in a quiet calm ambient undisturbed by the chatter of hundreds and uninterrupted by the robotic "how is everything?" Our tables are cleaner. So are our rest rooms, and strangers don't use them.. Especially important, we can return food for a little extra cooking without delay and frowns. We can sit at the table as long as we want with no one dropping hints to get out. During pandemics, those we would normally dine out with can come over and dine in with us, without risking health or life by lingering among dozens of unknowns. We can watch TV if we want, or not watch it. We have re-discovered the pleasure of in-house socializing among friends and family. No, we really don't need the services of restaurants at all, despite their efforts to convince us otherwise. If they really face all the difficulties identified in this letter all the time, maybe closing instead of whining is the best option for them.

bosco

And, Holllowed Ground, dining out is a luxury, not a necessity. I certainly don't want to go to a sit down restaurant and pay for a meal when I have to wear a mask and the server has to wear a mask. And don't get me started on those ubiquitous rubber gloves that are of no value except for show.

Greg F

Awwwe...poor you. Maybe you’ll get served up a healthy dose of Covid without your oh so inconvenient health accessory mask. It’s not about you...it’s so you don’t kill orhers. Please...just stay home. Nobody wants to see you or catch their death from you.

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