3 Reasons Why Kosher Restaurants Fail

I stumbled upon this great post by the blog, THE REBBETZIN’S HUSBAND (see below), that truly epitomizes the Kosher marketplace, which points out that consumers and owners of Kosher restaurants have a lot to work on.

The reason I am posting this is because I truly believe that as Kosher consumers, we need to do a bit of self reflection on how we act to each other in the restaurants, and how we act to the waitstaff and restaurant owners. As observant Jews we should set an example by having proper manners and midot, and not be nasty or pushy.

Restaurant owners and managers too have a lot to learn and work on. As a frequent Kosher restaurant consumer, I have to say that we often feel as if the restaurant doesn’t want us there. Poor design aesthetics, poor/unfriendly service, uncomfortable seating arrangements (too hot or too cramped), foul odors, and general uncleanliness are all aspects of the Kosher restaurant industry I’ve seen personally, and heard from many if you.

While the following post’s author makes some exaggerated statements, he does make good points:

The percentage of general restaurants that fail is very high; the percentage of kosher restaurants that fail is so close to 100% that you couldn’t squeeze a limp Burger Nosh french fry through that gap.

Why do so many Kosher restaurants fail? I see three reasons: The owners, the customers, and the food.

The owners:
In my experience, many kosher restaurants, especially those outside of New York, are started by people who have already struggled in other businesses and who figure that this niche should be an easy hit.

I heard this from a would-be entrepreneur once: “Look, they love food. And they for sure want to eat out, who wants to cook every night? And there are no options locally, people have to drive XX minutes to get to the nearest kosher place. I could even do catering. I’ll have them eating out of my hand!”

The result is that quite a few of these restaurants are run by people with little business acumen, with a weak business plan, and without an inkling of just how much work they are going to have to put into the place. They often find themselves compelled to overlook aesthetics, and even basic cleanliness (that “eating out of my hand” reference above is pretty literal). Fresh vegetables? Fresh out of the freezer, maybe. Service with a smile? With a snarl, more like.

The customers:
Now we’re really talking the stuff of nightmares.

Actual conversation in a kosher deli:
Customer: There isn’t enough pastrami on this sandwich.
Waiter: It’s a turkey sandwich.
Customer: What, you ain’t never hoid of putting pastrami on a turkey sandwich? They always used to do that in the old kosher delis.
Waiter: You ordered a plain turkey sandwich, and we don’t put pastrami on a plain turkey sandwich.
Customer: Hey, don’t you know the rule, the customer is always right?

Okay, so maybe that’s exaggerated, but not by much. Line-cutting, rudeness to the wait staff (you know, it’s not the waiter’s fault that it takes them forever to prepare your food), kids racing around under the tables, complaints galore…

And, of course, the food.

There’s only so much you can do to kosher food when you are trying to prepare it in large enough bulk to feed a large crowd but not in such a large bulk that you throw 75% of it into the trash.
Cold deli sandwiches are easy, and certain standbys freeze well, but how fancy can you get when you’re expecting five to fifteen people to order a given dish on a given night? In New York you’ll have larger volume, but outside of New York, forget it.

Often, the restaurateurs think they’ll make it by appealing to a non-Jewish clientele as well. “Everyone loves pizza,” they say, neglecting the fact that the sentence really goes, “Everyone loves pizza with treif cheese and an assortment of treif toppings.” Ditto for Middle Eastern, Chinese, TexMex and every other kosher crossover they dream up.

It’s a simple matter of variety, as well as profit margin and economies of scale. Memo to these owners: You. Can’t. Compete. With. Treif.

So there you have it, folks: The Owners, the Customers, and the Food. All of it adds up to lots of failed restaurants, and lots of wannabes in hock up to their eyeballs to pay for their dead ventures.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, we could apply the same principles to why synagogues struggle/fail: The Board/Rabbi, the Congregation, the Davening… something to think about there…

What do you think? Add your comments below.

About the author

Dani Klein

Dani Klein is the founder of YeahThatsKosher, is passionate about global travel, good kosher food / restaurants, social media & the web, technology, digital marketing, and spending time with his friends & family.

Dani has an MBA in Marketing and works in the Social Media Marketing field for a large media agency.

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