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Missing spoons and other cost saving abominations

What cost-saving trends have you noticed at restaurants during the beginning of this recession?

I'm a Floridian and for the last year I have been observing an aggravating trend. It started in chain restaurants and is now moving out into the independents. They aren't giving their customers spoons anymore! The first few times it happened, I thought it was an oversight, especially when when I ordered coffee later in the meal and was left with no way to stir in the sugar I added.

But it is no oversight. It often happens to me in restaurants where they roll the silverware into a napkin or paper napkin. You don't notice it until later in the meal when you need to spoon some sauce over a meat entre, etc.

The last recession, the restaurants did away with providing you with a glass of water at meals, unless you specifically asked for it. Spoons seem to be the next trend. What else?

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  1. also noticed this in Florida recently. Just a knife and fork wrapped in the napkin. And one deli - recently closed, used to wrap the knife and fork in a paper bag!

    1. No more tablecloths!
      That's the new big time fancy trend.
      The twist here is turning the lack off < you fill in the blank > into a fancy thing.

      1 Reply
      1. re: RicRios

        Or into a "green" thing or 'health" thing.

      2. in most places where water is not served it is because of (often mandatory) water use restrictions due to drought.

        1. I hadn't been to Union Square Cafe, in New York, for about 10 months. Surprise, surprise--no bread basket on my recent trip. One piece of toasted bread each was brought out. They offered us more when we finished that, and I was glad enough to have a check in place for my bread eating, but the change really screams "Money saver!" to me. Also, the traditional dish of olives was smaller than in the past.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Angela Roberta

            Sounds more like they were tired of throwing away uneaten bread -- a waste of food and money -- rather than skimping. Especially since they were willing to give you as much as you wanted. Friends that work in restaurants tell me this really gets to you after awhile, seeing all the food that is wasted. Automatically bringing a basket of bread to every table guarantees that alot will be thrown away.

            1. re: purple bot

              I agree. I think it's great that USQ is opting to do that. Less wasting food. It would be great if more restaurants would do it. It will also probably translate to lower prices (or prices not being raised as much) as there's less waste of bread involved. It's about seeing the larger picture.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                I agree. I'd much rather not see the waste, or the tempting bread basket - seems better to me to ask for bread if I really want it, rather than nibble on it for no reason while waiting for my food to arrive.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  I also agree, i just think the waitstaff should make it clear to you that they offer complimentary bread should you want it.

            2. I took my daughter for a curry last week at a newish Indian here in south Fl. Last time we were there we were given a big plate of samosas and pakoras on the house. This time - nothing.

              1 Reply
              1. re: smartie

                The gratis apps may have had to do with the place being new - often new places will offer such freebies at the beginning as a way of showing their good will and winning business, but if they continued to give away big plates of appetizers, it wouldn't do much for their continuing in business. Samosas and pakoras are not giveaway food, in my experience.

              2. One of the places I frequent use to have nice wine glasses. In the last several months, as they have replaced the glasses (due to usual breakage), they have replaced them with a much lower quality and cheaper wine glass. The owner was honest that it was a $ decision. They also stopped serving bread to everyone and only provide it upon request.

                18 Replies
                1. re: Bluebird

                  >>They also stopped serving bread to everyone and only provide it upon request.

                  Do they charge if asked for the bread?

                  Angela Roberta, I remember Union Square Cafe back in the day. I'm horrified they're buying into the hosing of the bread routine.

                  A cost saving abomination indeed.

                  Oh well, if no one complains, they win.

                  1. re: dolores

                    actually, if we waste less food we all win

                    1. re: dolores

                      No charge for the bread when you ask. Although I think they have switched to a lesser product. Last time I had the bread it was only okay. I haven't asked for it since. Maybe that is what they ultimately wanted. I rarely see people with bread there.

                      I don't mind asking for bread if I want it, I'm all for wasting less food.

                      1. re: Bluebird

                        >>I don't mind asking for bread if I want it,

                        Absolutely, as it should be.

                        And as long as I can find restaurants that give free bread in baskets whenever I eat out, I'll be perfectly happy. Life as it should be.

                      2. re: dolores

                        I hate waste, too--especially with food. "It's a sin," I can hear my mother say.

                        Still, there is something less exciting about one kind of bread, one slice each to start and a basket filled with three different varieties (which was what USC used to offer). I always looked forward to having some of each kind. Now I'll feel like a hog if I agree to a second piece. A bit of the thrill is gone.

                      3. re: Bluebird

                        jfood is glad that restaurants are having a social conscience in this day and age. matching supply and demand is a wonderful and economic event. The waiter can arrive and state "would you care for a drink and would the table like some bread"? Now if the customers can also get a social conscience for the economics of the restaurant and stop thinking that everything is free, maybe more of the non-chains can survive which will benefit us all.

                        1. re: jfood

                          I agree, but would modify the statement by the server to be, "would you care for a drink and would the table like some complimentary bread": given the thread on upselling I'd be afraid to say yes otherwise at some places!

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            And since they can all put the cost of the bread in the food and beverages sold, this is a good idea susancinsf.

                            To think, all these restaurants are going under due to the pressure of providing 'free' bread. I'm curious that they didn't learn how to manage overhead when they opened.

                            1. re: dolores

                              Well, I think that part of the issue is restaurants dealing with higher food prices, which aren't overhead, per se, and trying to remain profitable while still offering quality meals to customers, and not scaring customers away with significantly higher prices on their menu.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                Yes, but I would rather pay more for an entree than not have a spoon or a bread basket. Note that the missing spoon was listed under the heading of a 'cost saving abomination', so I don't think the restaurants are doing too good a job in keeping customers with their nickel and diming.

                                1. re: dolores

                                  Dolores, having read many of your post on this subject I know this is a issue you strongly believe in but please help me understand one thing. Why is it better for a restaurant to increase the cost of the entrees rather than just charge for bread? Wouldn't you rather know the "real" cost for bread rather than have it be a "hidden" cost?

                                  1. re: KTinNYC

                                    Perception, KTinNYC. I was a regular patron at a lovely restaurant in Eastchester who, in their last gasp days, began to charge for a potato. I didn't know of the change when I ordered a meal that included a salad and previously a potato, and after a discussion with the owner, didn't pay for the potato. His place closed soon after that.

                                    I view it as nickel and diming me. Of course, I am paying for the potato and the bread in the new and improved raised prices, but that is acceptable to me. It's my choice, simply that. Very many others have their opinion of this and would rather pay by the piece.

                                    What I have a continuing issue with is the idea of freedom of opinion. They are as welcome to paying by the piece as I am to paying a hidden charge. It's all about live and let live. I, of course, won't go to the Caribbean place that charges for bread or the other places that charge for takeout containers and cups for water. There are many, many, many restaurants out there.

                                    My choice. Live and let live. Very simple.

                                    Does that help clarify?

                                    1. re: dolores

                                      D

                                      How would you handle this. The restaurant raises its prices $2 per entree with a little note that says"

                                      "Due to the increased price of wheat we need to raise to the price of each entree $2 so we can continue to include bread in the price of the meal."

                                      Couple walks in and are allergic to wheat. They point to the note and tell the server that they cannot eat the bread and then ask for $2 off each entree. Should the restaurant lower the price for this couple?

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        I've been to enough countries where bread isn't free that it doesn't bother me so much anymore. I remember once when I was in Munich I went to some cafe where they just gave you some bread from a table that was finished. I'd rather pay for fresh bread than get bread that has been sitting out for who knows how long.

                                        There are quite a few places in the US that seem to tailor the bread quantity to how many people are at the table and ask if you would like the bread. This seems to make the most sense to me instead of bringing tables a big loaf regardless of the size of the party.

                                      2. re: dolores

                                        Reminds me of one of my friends who refused to use her Metrocard (subway pass that allows you to transfer to a bus within 1.5 hours of using it for free) and instead purchased a token that was the same price. With a token, you get no free transfer. I didn't understand her logic at all and asked her why. She said that she'd lose out using the Metrocard because she wouldn't be taking advantage of the free transfer. I said that it was the same exact thing whether you used a Metrocard or used a token -- except that she would have to wait in line to purchase a token when she had the Metrocard in her hand. Apparently, she disagreed with me and said it was all about perception.

                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                          "perception" is also something that changes with the times. my grandma, were she living, would be appalled if she were ever charged for a bread basket, artisan home baked or wonder-bread otherwise--the same if she were ever charged for the hot water/lemon/milk/sugar setup for the tea bag she used to pull out of her purse. however, many contemporary diners see that these are not penny costs, they are real $$ expenses, in ingredients and labor, which artificially increase the prices of each & every menu item at a restaurant. they would rather avoid the cost, and the waste, of these items. many diners tell me that they appreciate the option of whole grains as a side, rather than refined rices/potatoes, and that they would be willing to pay more for this (although the price is the same for everyone). i suppose it's a matter of priorities. folks pay for artisan bread at my establishment, but not for the option of whole grains (which take more labor, expenses wrt storage, etc). the customers do not yet pay for to-go boxes, although this is a loss leader. the day of paying for to-go boxes is coming at every restaurant in america. i would *much* sooner charge each and every one of my customers a small fee for a more expensive biodegradable or recyclable to-go box than give away free styrofoam containers. to me, the cheap/free option would be wasteful, unsustainable, and unconscionable. luckily, my customers seem to understand this, and support our business model with their business, feedback, and their $. i believe they would rather have charges for sustainable to-go boxes and organic whole grain options passed on to them, rather than the traditional complimentary basket of white bread and rock-hard butter. it is all about priorities for the restaurant, and perception/critical thinking, for the diner.

                              2. re: susancinsf

                                Adding "complimentary", if appropriate, is a good delta, given the theme of this thread. And if there is a charge for this item thenit should be clearly stated on the menu.

                          2. I don't see how not automatically receiving a spoon reaches the level of "abomination." It is more "green" than giving everyone a spoon and it is a money-saving measure for both replacement costs (because they get bent, lost, and stolen, especially stolen) and labor to wash unused spoons. Restaurants are paying more for ingredients and dry goods; they need to save money just like individuals who are paying more for gas and groceries. I'd much rather ask for a spoon than pay more for my entree.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: nc213

                              I don't mind this, but then the restaurant needs educated the staff on when to serve a spoon automatically. Nothing is more frustrating then getting the coffee or any other item that requires a spoon (soup an ice cream dessert), having the server disappear, then realizing there is no spoon. I should not have to ask for a spoon after a dish that usually requires a spoon is served.

                              I have noticed at several different places recently, the lack of serving utensils on appetizer plates that are being shared by the table. Not sure it this is just laziness on behalf of the restaurant or a cost/environment savings decision. I don't mind it so much when it is just my husband and I sharing an appetizer, but when we are out with other couples, it is to much to have serving spoons with the shared dishes?

                            2. Nobody's mentioned the fork thing yet, which bothers me even more than not getting a spoon.

                              (Disclaimer: My ideas of what is "gross" or "dirty" sometimes seem strange to other people. What can I say? I'm an oddball.)

                              I really, really dislike having to keep my fork after eating an appetizer. Why would I want to set my fork on the table while waiting for the entree to come? I really don't want to look at the food bits stuck onto the fork for the next ten minutes. And it's sitting on the table, which may or may not have been wiped with a clean cloth. Pleh! Gross! Just bring me another fork!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Gnome

                                Have you tried placing the fork on the app plate for discard. And if the server attempts to place on the table just ask him/her for a new one with your entree. Pretty simple fix.

                                1. re: Gnome

                                  Good point, Gnome, but isn't that a mark of a higher level restaurant? I've never bothered to dispute being asked to 'keep my fork' in moderate restaurants. I just do it. I have, after all, so many other deal breakers.

                                  Conversely, I have never ever not had my cutlery replaced in top notch restaurants.

                                2. How does not inclduing a spoon save money for the restaurants?

                                  No water could be for water saving. We are experiencing a statewide drought here in Calif.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: PeterL

                                    not providing spoons automatically saves in inventory--money spent on spoons--and labor.
                                    If each table is set with a spoon you need enough on hand to set all of the tables plus extras to give out as necessary. imagine you have 20 seats. if you set with spoons you need about 60 spoons on hand. if not, you need 40.
                                    Next, there is loss, damage and theft. The more silver circulating the more will be stolen, lost, or bent, making it necessary to buy more.

                                    Then there's labor for setting--assuming servers/bussers set the tables or do rollups while on the clock. setting tables and making rollups will go more quickly and no one will be sitting around waiting for clean spoons from the dishroom so they can reset their station or do their rollups before they clock out. Cutting the number of dishes that go through the dishroom saves labor.

                                    These sound tiny, but they do add up eventually. Most restaurants run on very thin margins. And most have had huge increases in food cost lately. I don't know how many ran out to have their menus reprinted to reflect higher food costs or how many are trying to avoid raising prices to that they don't lose customers, but it's definitely a tough time for the business. I know that we've cut down our dining out substantially and I'm sure we're not alone.

                                    1. re: nc213

                                      I understand the savings involved, but I do not sympathize with those who deny me the spoon. Not providing the spoon (or whatever other cost saving procedure we are talking about) inconveniences me, since I have to wait around until my "waitron" (as Anthony Bourdain would say) wanders by, or ask another waiter to provide me with a spoon--or, more likely, get the first waiter to get my waiter to provide me with a spoon.

                                      It's a spoon, for goodness sake, and the restaurant owners have decided that saving money is worth inconveniencing me.

                                  2. We used to occasionally eat at a (thankfully) now defunct Italian restaurant in the Chambersburg area of Trenton, NJ until two things really turned me off:

                                    1) They never changed the dark brown tablecloths between seatings. We didn't notice it for a while because we would get there early with our young daugher, but when we came for a later dinner, sans offspring, I was appalled. They didn't even care that residual crumbs were on the table -- they just made a minimal attempt to remove those, and were clearly not going to change the tablecloth to save money;

                                    2) The old toilets were unreliable, and the staff didn't seem to be concerned about it.

                                    Like I said, "(thankfully) now defunct.

                                    1. Not providing a spoon is not a cost-saving measure. No restaurant where I worked that rolled silverware in napkins included spoons. It makes rolling more difficult, and most restos don't have as many spoons as they do forks and knives. People simply don't use them as much.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        Thank you, mojo. This "no spoon" business is nonsense.

                                        1. re: mojoeater

                                          I agree with you, Mojo. The amount of time it would take to wash all these unused spoons wouldn't be worth it. I can't think of a time where I served something that didn't come with a spoon and had the guest ask for a spoon. Of course, where I work, we are very careful to mark the tables with spoons for desserts, coffee, soup.
                                          It's the same as asking someone if they want cream with their coffee. No reason to waste.
                                          As far as bread goes, I'd rather it be by request only than to worry about the more unsavory places that "re-use" uneaten bread. Bleh!

                                          1. re: Azizeh Barjesteh

                                            >>>
                                            The amount of time it would take to wash all these unused spoons wouldn't be worth it.
                                            <<<

                                            With all due respect, that is nonsense. As someone who started his working career as a dishwasher, I can tell you that washing spoons is no harder than running them thru the dishwasher with the forks and knives. In all likelihood, it wouldn't even result in one fewer dishwasher load.

                                            Not putting out spoons is just plain cheap...and unnecessarily so.

                                            I don't have a problem with asking if a diner would like bread. I, too, hate to see food wasted, and saw lots of untouched bread go in the trash.

                                        2. I use a knife far fewer times than a spoon, so the argument about saving having to wash extra utensils doesn't hold a candle! There are few meals where a spoon is not used and all it does is have the wait staff make an extra trip. I always make a point of asking even if I may not use it. I have begun ordering it with my food - how lazy can they be!!! One place said it was because they kept losing spoons when they cleared the dishes - hire better help. Theft cannot be that costly because the price of most spoons used today are pennies. I do appreciate a straw with cold drinks because they often serve the glaqss by holding it by the rim - with the same hand that they just picked up the previous patron's dirty silverware.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: clan01

                                            i'd have to say that i use knives far more often than spoons.

                                          2. On this cost saving trend, I ate at Village Inn this morning for the first time in probably 20 years because of their VIB promotion. A big list of 30 or so items, you pick four and it is the same price. I'm on a no/low carb diet, and I love going to breakfast on Sunday mornings.... but I hate that I always am constricted to sides of hash browns/toast/pancakes/etc. I don't want to waste food, but I don't want to pay for something and not eat it either. I was surprised how enjoyable the meal was, considering that was a place I wrote off as a place to get sober after a college drunk years ago. I'll go back. My BF had a traditional breakfast with pancakes (apparently because he hates me and likes to mock my lack of carbs) and said he preferred it to our regular rotation of small diners and IHOP.