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Restaurants Running Out of Food

Has anyone been to a restaurant and found out they had run out of an item you really wanted before you got there? Do you ever encounter restaurants that close early because they sell out? Is this more prevalent in certain types of restaurants or parts of the country?

Bigray in Ok

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  1. It's happened to me, usually with daily specials. I don't get too upset over it, but I do make a mental note to get there earlier if I really wanted the special. I know a lot of BBQ restaurants that close when the meat is gone, so you have to get there early. And when I was an itamae, we ran out of some items pretty much every night, but that's how you knew we had fresh stuff regularly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ricepad

      We went to McCormick and Schmick's some years ago specifically for their Lobster Dinner (it was a special). They had run out, but since we had our hearts set on it, they asked us if we wanted to wait while someone made a special run to get more!!! It was worth it to us, we appreciated that they went the "extra mile", and it was one of the best lobster dinners we've ever had.

    2. Been to restaurants where this has happened, and I've also worked at restaurants where this happens.

      We often run out of our daily special, if it's a good one and servers are romancing it properly, sometimes it will go 2 hours into dinner service. We only prep so much and rather than trying to make more when we run out (which would screw up service, taking someone off the line), we just 86 it. No biggie. An email is sent out which would pop up on the pos screen for servers to read so they find out about it right away.

      When we run out of other things it;s usually just a case of having a rather bizzare run on something, like maybe over 2 days, we sell way more oysters than normal, so we are out for half a night. It's wierd, but sometimes some menu items are just strangely popular, in a way that we can't anticipate. We don't want to have way too much of any item on hand at any given time, cause that would result in more spoilage and higher food costs, which is bad for the bottom line.

      If it happens a lot at a restaurant that you frequent though, it could indicate whoever is ordering food isn't doing a good job with estimates.

      1. Happens sometimes with sushi restaurants, which is totally understandable. In fact, restaurants that offer fresh seafood generally speaking have more of this kind of problem than others, like a hamburger place or a pizza restaurant.

        Phenomenon is also keen to bakeries, for obvious reasons.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit

          Actually Ipsedixit - I remember when a local burger joint did just that. Ran out of hamburgers during the lunch rush. Patrons were left with the options of sides, grilled chicken sandwiches or fried fish. I thot it was quite funny at the time.

          1. re: JerryMe

            That happened to me at a Burger King, of all places- they ran out of burgers.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            The better seafood restaurants here do like to buy 'off the boat' when they can, and it's pretty common for them to run out of catch of the day for highly regulated species like truly local red snapper or for species where their presence in local waters can be somewhat hit or miss like cobia.

          3. I think there are times when I find it acceptable and others that I don't. A normal menu item or daily special that has had a solid run, I don't mind unless the special is still up on a board. An item that has appeared in a print ad and is gone within a short time I find unacceptable. Sort of like when a store advertises something and only has three in stock. It may bring in more customers for a day but hurts return business. Deception is not good restaurant practice.

            Years ago while bar hopping on St. Patrick's Day I was told that this place had great clam chowder. I asked for some and was told that they had none left and the owner offered me some chicken noodle soup. The disappointment must have shown on my face because he said, "no, it's really good, try it". I was hungry so I agreed. It turned out to be the best chicken noodle soup I have ever had. I learned a valuable lesson that day.

            1 Reply
            1. re: SanityRemoved

              It's happened to me fairly often. Ususally (since I eat a lot of Chinese when I am dining out) It involves items that 1. is made in house and 2. requires a lot (in the sense of days, or even weeks or months) of previous prep time. In my case the dish it happens most often with is anything involving Chinese bacon (which is usually made in house here if it is offered). Most of the time, I just shrug it off, move on to another resturaunt that day and come back another to try my luck again. There are only two situation where being out has actually made me annoyed or mad. Once was a case where I was informed that a place could not make me and order of Xiamen Mai Fun, becuse they had run out of rice noodles. this wouln't have bothered me so much except that 1 (this was in Chinatown (where a package of rice noodles is only a minute or two's walk away) 2. I was the first customer of the the day (which means that no one had bothered to check inventory after closing time, or during the 2 hours the kitchen staff was in before the place was open (I saw them go in)) and 3. it took them almost an hour between when I placed my order and when they finally got the message they were out back to me.
              The other situation that get's me mad is when a resturaunt is perpetually out of an item (i.e. don't serve it, or can't obtain it anymore) but make no effort to remove it from the print menu. I can understand if it's there for that run of the menu, but Ive seen places that have re-printed they're menus five or six times each time making major design revisions that would effect the template (i.e. it's not a case of just putting in an re-order for "more of the same") and no one bothers to take the listing off.

            2. Understandably it happens with specials. It isnt the running out that pisses me off, it's the not crossing it off the specials board when they know they've run out.

              Happened last week. Mrs H had decided what to eat - starter balancing out the main on the board. Main had run out, so it was not just a matter of her then having decide what would replace that but, also, what she would then have to start (in the end she decided just to have the main - so the restaurant lost money for want of a chalk line through the item on the board).

              1. Seems like this is more common with food trucks than with brick and mortar restaurants.

                1. Places like bakeries and BBQ joints where food is made fresh every day (The good ones anyway) running out is part of business. There are places I've seen and been to in the south that make it a well known fact that when the food is gone, they close.
                  Daily specials are also prone to run out however when they run out at 7pm it's unacceptable.

                  In general though, I hate it. I've found that it seems more and more these days it's an acceptable practice.
                  Now, I guess I have to temper that opinion with the fact that due to the way things are these days, places just simply aren't stocking as much so there is less waste.


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Davwud

                    Glad to see you've been to NC, and glad someone beat me to the BBQ comment. Most BBQ shacks around here will only make up a certain amount for the day. There's a few places that are legendary for shutting down two hours after open on a regular basis, they were just out.

                  2. I like the way a Bistro in the old city in Nice handled this. Up on the chalk board were the daily specials and the number of servings left of each.
                    We got the last two chicken tarragons and they were excellent. (Lunch service had only opened half an hour earlier.)

                    1. This happened to me today at lunch except the restaurant ran out of wine. Went in at 2pm, wanted a glass of wine with my lunch. They were out of my 1st, 2nd AND 3rd choice of wine! Sheesh! With less than 10 choices to begin with you'd think they'd be able to better manage their wine inventory!

                      And no, don't try and steer me towards your most expensive glass of wine which was conveniently in stock while everything else seemed to have disappeared.

                      1. Obtaining the semi-fabled sticky buns from Flour Bakery in Boston took no less than 4 visits on my part. If a place is known for a specific item, I fully understand if running out is a frequent, if not daily, part of their routine.

                        I've also worked in kitchens, and know that running out of simpler ingredients is ultimately unavoidable sometimes. Unexpected demands, mistakes in shipments, etc.. it happens.

                        1. Years ago, I went to 2 different KFCs in 2 different states that had run out of chicken! It was pretty much the only time I've gone since I was a kid, and yeah, it was pretty disappointing!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: tracylee

                            In their defense, I don't think KFC has served chicken in years.

                              1. re: raleighboy

                                LOL, well it was (OK, had to look up OJ Simpson for the year) 1995, so yeah, they may have stopped serving it by then!

                              2. There's a really popular place in Seattle that is absolutely infuriating in that it runs out of stuff, including the bread necessary for its awesome sandwiches, almost every day. This place has no parking, no sign, takes only cash, has only two tiny tables inside and a line out the door and onto the sidewalk. After you go to the bank for cash, hunt for and find parking, locate the restaurant and wait in the long line to actually get inside the door you will often notice a little handwritten sign taped to the menu by the register saying "No bread." AARRRGG! Obs the food is spectacular and I have a non-sandwich fav that I order otherwise...

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: akq

                                  Paseo? not from SEA, but that sounds like the place you're talking about....those sandwiches are fanEFFINGtastic!

                                    1. re: jlbwendt

                                      No, Paseo is definitely the place that's legendary for running out of bread. I think they just do it so that you'll have to order one of the more expensive items during dinnertime.

                                      1. re: lavaca

                                        yup. I love them anyway...and even their non-sandwich dishes are excellent so it work out...unless they run out of chicken thighs, too. Then we have problems.

                                2. I know that some BBQ places close when they sell out for the day.... it's not like you can just throw on more brisket when they have to smoke them for 6 hours.

                                  I do like to know when I order if the resto runs out of something.... don't take my order, bring me my soup or salad and then tell me you're out.

                                  1. Showed up once to a restaurant in a village in the south of France at about 8PM, only to be turned away because they had NO food left! But to be fair it was a popular stop along the Canal du Midi and too many other boaters had gotten there before us that day.

                                    1. One of my favorite local restaurants, a small place that probably serves 70-75 people on a really busy night, only has specials on weekends and do maybe a dozen plates of it. Often I have arrived and when being seated, before we even have menus, the server (they don't have a separate maitre'd) will tell us what it is and that it is running low and if we would like it he will put in 'on hold' in the kitchen. Becomes a bit of problem if it is the last one and more than one person in our party wants it!

                                      1. This happens with specials all the time and well run restaurants are very quick to erase them from the specials board and to notify their waiters. I was told a story the other day where someone grabbed a table to help out during a busy shift and took an order (it was after 10pm and the place was still mobbed). She came back to tell them that three of the four specials they ordered were gone. The guys took it in stride and ordered from the regular menu and got a round of drinks out of the deal.

                                        The only time I have a problem with this is when an item is on the regular menu, and you're eating at a regular hour. It just shouldn't happen.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: jhopp217

                                          Better that than be served something that was fresh last week.

                                        2. I went to a Greek restaurant that had run out of lamb. Since that's the mainstay of Greek food it was odd.

                                          1. Doesn't this thread belong on the board for Moscow?

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                              I'm with Graydoncarter on this. Nice to know there is good turnover in a restaurant's food; better "no special" than some roasting pan full of whatever, that has been in and out of the freezer several times.

                                            2. Next time you go to a restaurant first thing to ask the server is what's "86" (what they're out of).

                                              The title of your post "Restaurants Running Out of Food" made me laugh.

                                              There's a restaurant I go to in Los Angeles Chinatown and if you order certain items on their menu (but they don't make those items), they have someone "Runing Out For Food".....they send someone scurrying to another restaurant or place, pick it up and serve it to you. Stuff you'd think a Chinese restaurant would make like roast duck, soy sauce chicken, Chinese fried chicken.

                                              1. A pizza place I like once ran out of pepperoni. How does that happen?

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: BillyZoom

                                                  Someone didn't make the right order that week, someone messed up on the delivery, it was the end of the week and much more pepperoni was sold that week than what was normal, there are endless reasons to why a pizza restaurant would run out of an ingredient.

                                                  1. re: BillyZoom

                                                    Delivery never showed up....................................

                                                    1. re: BillyZoom

                                                      I often see an aproned restaurant employee, like a dishwasher, at the corner bodega buying just one ingredient, but it's never something fresh, like veggies or meats or milk; it's always an odd ingredient - not necessarily a staple.

                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                        Amen, when i was in the kitchen, inevitably I got sent to the local grocery store for split peas. The soup was a small batch and the chef couldn't get them to deliver small amounts.

                                                        1. re: Nocturnalbill

                                                          How in the world did the chef make a batch of split pea soup TO ORDER? Didn't take forever??

                                                          1. re: ricepad

                                                            I got the impression that this was not a "get this for a current order while the customer waits" errand, it was a "go to the store and get this because I can't get it from my usual wholesaler and I'm not buying enough for the local grocery to deliver it to me" errand.

                                                            1. re: BobB

                                                              Ah, I get it now...thank you. I guess I did make an assumption there, didn't I?

                                                    2. I still have fond memories of Tako Truk, a pop-up restaurant in Seattle that would start serving around 6 PM and just keep going until 1 AM or they ran out of food. Their popularity steadily increased to the point where they were usually 86'ing the entire menu by 9 PM.

                                                      A less-amusing example is The Bridge restaurant in Anchorage. I used to work nearby and would occasionally visit for lunch. Every time, the server would have to point out 1-2 items that were out or had been changed or discontinued (and it was always a common item, not something particularly seasonal or fresh). The matter was made even sillier by the fact that the menus were printed on regular paper and were thus trivial to replace.

                                                      1. I remember going to Sonny Bryan's in Dallas a decade ago. The sign out front read "Open from 11(?? not sure) AM till the food runs out". I asked the guy who was serving up the meat if they often ran out of meat, and he just smiled and said "Ever' day, son, ever' day".

                                                        1. It's the sign of a good, small restaurant. They don't over-order food because of fear it won't be fresh, so they sometimes run out.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: visciole

                                                            My thoughts exactly. While it may initially be disappointing (especially if I was looking to try something unusual for the first time) I really don't think of it as a big deal at all and agree that if anything, it's usually a good sign.
                                                            I just pick something else.

                                                          2. I understand this for specials, and smaller places where everything's made to order / takes a long time to cook etc...... but it always baffles me when a restaurant runs out of something very basic like lettuce or potatoes or the like.

                                                            What really bugs me is when they're out of something, they don't tell you, and then go ahead and substitute it on your plate anyway with an "oh yeah, we were out of XX"

                                                            1. I just returned from Italy and my first two nights in Rome the restaurants were out of what I ordered. I see it as a sign that the chef is using ingrediants that are fresh. It probably happened 7 or 8 times over the two weeks I was in Italy.

                                                              1. I just ate at a place near my work last week - small, tapas-style plates in a wine bar. 6:30pm on a Wednesday and they had run out of crab cakes for an appetizer (reasonably priced app). They're open until 10pm for food on Wednesday. I didn't really want anything else, but went with the scallops small plate. Two scallops for $16.00. Boston prices in a non-Boston restaurant. Ouch.