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Jun 5, 2013 02:11 PM

Has any good restaurant ever improved after being acquired by a mega-corporation such as Landry's or Darden?

I have just read that one of my favorite steakhouses Mastro's, has been acquired by Landry's. I can't help thinking that this is bad news for those of us who have enjoyed Mastro's. McCormick & Schmick was pretty decent until taken over by Landry's, but now has seriously declined. I can think f other decent restaurants that have gone the same route after being acquired by Darden's (Eddie V's in La Jolla for one). Is there any reasonable hope that a good restaurant such as Mastro's could actually improve, or even stay the same, or is it inevitable that once acquired by one of these mega-corps it's all downhill?

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  1. "Has any good restaurant ever improved after being acquired by a mega-corporation such as Landry's or Darden?"


    1. On CH, I think everyone will say NO.

      However, if we could be objective, there are things that will improve-

      - "sourcing" will become standardized;
      - employee relations will be codified;
      - the restaurant itself will have a larger financial cushion, particularly for the slow season[s];
      - sales data will probably be used to tweak the menu;
      - and advertising should have a larger budget.

      In aggregate, if the recipe ingredients are more consistent, and the employees are both happier and more secure, then the restaurant itself should then be "better" overall.

      Of course, many will disagree with my basic tenets.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Kris in Beijing

        Although your 5 points are all true, I'm not sure that any is necessarily an improvement.
        1. I'm pretty sure that for many menu items (produce, fish, dairy, even meat), local sourcing may be preferable to sourcing from large, national sources.
        2. Well run independent restaurants have manuals and rules which guide their employee relations. Good, well run, busy independent restaurants tend to have happy employees.
        3. True that the Landry's, etc. have larger financial cushions, but good, well-run indy's usually have established customer bases and weather downturns pretty well.
        4. All well managed restaurants tweak their menus using sales data.
        5. A larger advertising budget may increase restaurant profitably, but will not necessarily improve either employee benefits or the patron experience (food).

        To my mind, the very best restaurants are usually privately owned (sometimes with some investor backing), where at least some in-house staff (diningroom and/or kitchen) have significant ownership, and local sourcing is used when it's better than that otherwise available (no one will complain if an LA restaurant gets its meat from Lobel's in NYC!).

        1. re: josephnl

          I can't speak to restaurants - but coming from the coffee world, as an employee I would far rather work for Starbucks than the vast majority of independent coffee shops. Whether or not independent establishments have manuals and rules for employee relations - large corporations are typically better positioned to offer benefits and sick/vacation days.

          1. re: josephnl

            The "well run" is the crux here.

            Also, as you probably noticed, most of my comments were more BoH and not food per se-- so not exclusively about the customer experience.

            I'll maintain that "economy of size" -- particularly with employee benefits and management -- is a benefit.
            Seen too many 2nd Gen owners kill both restaurants and reputations [that's not just true for the culinary world, either].

          2. re: Kris in Beijing

            having room mates that were working for Olive Garden (at different times), a Darden chain, i can tell you for sure that their employees are NOT <<happier and more secure>>.
            having EVERY server be part time with no benefits and no ability to get enough hours of work to survive doesn't make ANYBODY happy. it just allows the corporation to get away without paying any benefits at all.

            also, even though << employee relations will be codified;>> the managers will easily be able to arbitrarily threaten, mistreat, and exploit their employees (codified or not).

            both of the room mates ended up finding jobs in more upscale restaurants that gave them more hours of work, more support from runners and bussers, uniforms that looked better, had nicer and more reasonable managers, and also had patrons that were much better tippers.

            i don't know whether to call the more upscale restaurants that they went to "chains" or not because they were owned by companies that operated 3 or 4 restaurants, not hundreds of restaurants.

            1. re: westsidegal

              Agree with you completely. With exceptions (such as the aforementioned Starbucks), the mega restaurant corporations are notorious for hiring part time employees and thus avoiding the need to provide any benefits.

              No...I don't consider a group of 3 or 4 restaurants under the same ownership in the same category as the Darden or Landry's groups each of which owns many chains of goodness knows how many restaurants.

              1. re: josephnl

                This is an important piece of the puzzle. My time in food service was limited to my teens and coffee shops - so I'm hardly an expert. So it's good to know that Starbucks is essentially the exception to the rule. In theory, the corporate model would appear to give that kind of security to staff but clearly too many still take advantage of their employees.

                Don't know this at all from personal experience of how the bulk of their employees are treated - but when Nate Appleman talks about his job with Chipotle, he's mentioned the amazing benefits/quality of life that the job there affords him compared to more prestigious cheffing positions. But again, I don't know how this related to the average Chipotle employee.

                1. re: cresyd

                  I don't know anything about Chipotle, but clearly there are exceptions to all rules. In my op however, I'm not talking about chains...some of which are quite good, and others serve an important need. My op is talking about a well established very good restaurant being taken over be a mega such as Darden which owns many, many chains!

          3. So it’s clear, I come at this from a thought out, educated, experienced, and fought for point of view. Dartmouth v. Woodward caused enough problems. Citizen’s United will destroy the Nation if not modified. The concept of lettin’ an entity have the rights of a soul with a heartbeat yet hide behind the curtain simply can’t end well.

            I want my dinner cooked by a guy who has an interest in the ultimate return. I want some soul on the plate. I have no faith in a meal cooked by someone denied a fair wage, offered no health insurance (especially when the corporation intentionally reduces his/her hours to avoid having to pay for it – REALLY? Grow some balls and do the right thing!), and forced to stick to some LCD formula even though the ingredients change every day. I mean, you guys are ‘hounds, do you treat January tomatoes the way you do August tomatoes?

            I assure you the restaurant’s quality will decline and your local economy will eventually suffer. Even if the place makes a ton of money. The money gets shipped out and the lousy food still gets served.

            Be a ‘hound and respect the Chow. Let us know how those frozen potato skins taste in a few months?

            1 Reply
            1. re: MGZ

              And then you have the other side of the coin. Two regional chains that have gone private. Both located side by side in front of our mall.

              Smokey Bones, formerly a Darden attempt at cheap booze and lousy BBQ with lots of flat screen TVs. Management took it over and it has not bad mild Que with an improvement in the well liquor.

              Shells Seafood. One sauce covered all pasta and seafood. Would only order oysters on the half shell. Chain folded, management bought signage and location. Multiple sauces, fresher seafood, specials based on availability. My go to for visitors looking for "safe" seafood. Like retirees from the Midwest.

              I cannot attest to how management treats their employees versus corporate. But one former tenant who was a waiter at Smokey Bones liked the change.