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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.

  • What I am curious about is the latest craze in Groupon type deals that restaurants are using. Will this save the restaurant industry or perhaps have the opposite affect as trendy people start getting unused to the idea of paying retail.

  • As far as self reflection: One thing that I have always found to be distasteful as a consumer is being charged a gratuity against my will.

    I want the right to determine how I will reward the staff for their service. When it is taken from me it makes me less likely to come back.

    At the same time, I understand where the restaurants are coming from as this is to protect their staff from cheapskates who will totally stiff if they are not blown away. It’s a vicious circle between customers lacking the decency & menschlichkeit and the restaurants imposing “sanctions” to punish everyone. This is not good for the underserved general public or for the long term goals of the restaurant to stay in business and really connect with their fans.

    • Michael,
      I do agree that forced tipping is an issue and a pet peeve of mine as well. Tips should either be earned or make your prices higher and pay your waiters more.

      I recently tweeted about such an instance at Tea for Two Lite on Nostrand Ave in Brooklyn (on Purim night), the service was horrendous, and they had the audacity of adding gratuity to my bill. [it took them over an hour to bring sushi, and the waiter only explained to me that it would take even longer 30 mins after I ordered it].

  • I’m always hyper aware of how I behave in restaurants. I’ve seen too many people act so rudely to wait staff who are generally non-Jews. I hate that the image of a cheap Jerk is seared into their memories when they think of Jews.

    So many restaurants I’ve encountered that have closed had terrible business plans (like the DCJCC’s restaurant that thinks they can serve $40 lamb in the LOBBY of the JCC, with patrons walking by in gym clothes).

    This was spot on.

  • Shells Free

    I agree wholeheartedly with these three points in America at least. Here is a bit on the ‘customer’ reason from an experienced waitress at a K-joint. This is not fact, just opinion. I am an agnostic who ‘does not align myself spiritually or physically’ with Judaism. I have no problem with them, as long as they tip according to my level of service, just like any other customer in the hospitality industry, and are not nasty in their demeanor. I do feel that already when most of them see my half-breed face they get a bad taste in their mouths and begin to judge. I wonder why more Jews don’t make up wait-staffs? There are many young girls out there who seem to be taking on more than they can handle
    mentally and socially by birthing oodles of children beyond belief, unable to adequately care for each’s individual needs. Usually their kids are undisciplined and litter crunched up matzah all over the floor and seats of Kosher restaurants, with no apologies. Maybe the Kosher industry needs to open a specific chain for this, like an un-treif McDonald;s, where such behavior is somewhat more expected. Again, parents are like this only usually, not all of the time. Whatever it says in that book, discipline your kids, take a step back from the Torah for a milisecond and think of the Dalai Llama or Gandhi’s universally respected words, and teach your kids that everyone should be created equal. I’ve seen innocent children ignore and scowl at non-Jews merely because their parents, or Hebrew School teachers, or whomever, taught them something from the book that inhibits growth and instills prejudice. But until I become a non- extremist rabbi, which will likely never happen as I have lady parts, I will not be able to make any impact on the customer relations in Kosher restaurants. I am stuck to this blog comment.

  • eric dressler

    Dani , I’ve been ranting the same thing in my community for fifteen years that my family has been observant here in Aventura Fl. Coming from twenty years in the business from cooking, managing and finally to five years of being a waiter in fine dinning with a lot of table side service getting on average 30% tips! Those were the days. So you can imagine my shock and disbelief in the kosher restaurant seen. It took me years to control my blood from boiling from inept restaurants. UN clean, not cleaning daily, no ambiance, the gross lack of service , the kitchens poor timing that sends out appetizers after entrees or everything together. lack of training front and back of house. There are now a few restaurants that offer a tolerable dining experience. Although I would NEVER open a non kosher restaurant. I’ve finally been driven because of the lack of restaurants that really know what their doing and to start the process of opening a restaurant i already have a theme,design and menu and was looking on line for a business plan “which is obvious that most kosher restaurants don’t have”. And I found you. Thanks for your blog. Eric Dressler

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