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Old 01.02.2006, 20:53
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restaurant prices...

I decided to begin a new thread about food, and place it in the general category, which is perhaps a bit more appropriate...

I was a bit surprised to read the comments in the previous thread, and I must admit, I was happy to discover that people are still passionate about their food. Perhaps the global food giants of the world (Nestle, McDonalds, Starbucks..) won’t succeed in controlling and dominating our dietary instincts in spite of their best efforts....hmm...

Before tackling that issue, I would like to make an attempt at sharing a bit of knowledge I have picked up from my experiences within the Swiss world of gastronomy – or more directly how restaurants function here, and what their economic climate is like.

I am often confronted with comments regarding restaurant prices in Switzerland – almost always from the Expat community. Mostly, the comments begin on a negative note regarding prices, and then deteriorate from there. Quite frankly, most Expats believe restaurant prices in Switzerland are way too high. As for me...well...I...

One way to begin looking at the situation is to view the economics of a restaurant in Switzerland, which is surprisingly similar to restaurant operations in the US, UK, Australia, Germany, etc. (I haven’t looked into the Asian world).

As a first step, I only looked at average percentages. Another clarification I need to make is with the term ‘economics.’ I am only looking at average income statements, and not balance sheets and cash flow. From this point and perspective, it becomes easier to discuss how the numbers get managed...and that will be by far the more interesting discussion...

Ok...before I ramble too much, here is the typical breakdown of a restaurant in Switzerland (restaurant is defined as 20+ seats, with table service...the numbers do not include take-away, fast food, street food, etc.). All averages are based on results up to and including 2004.

Revenue
Food Revenue 57%
Beverage Revenue 43%
Total Sales 100%

Cost of Sales
Cost of Food 30%
Cost of Beverages 25.5%
Total Cost of Sales 28%

Gross Profit 72%

Operating Expenses
Labor & Benefits 44.1%
Direct Operating Expenses 11.7%
Occupancy and Finance 14.6%

Profit (Loss) Before Taxes 1.6%

I will go into a bit more detail in future posts regarding the details of each category, and how the different revenue and cost sides are managed. But for now, I think it is easy to say...there ain’t a lot of play room in these numbers! The other point I want to make is that when compared to other countries, the percentages are quite similar....Gross Profit is almost always between 65% and 72%...Operating Expenses are almost always around 65%...Before Tax profits are usually between 2% and 3%.

With these numbers, it is simple to figure out menu prices... The chef is usually tasked with this responsibility, and in fact his/her pay is tied to actual performance. In other words, the chef will have a performance objective of say 28% food cost (this leaves a bit of play room), which is tied to an end of year bonus. Thus, when making out a menu, the chef will look at the cost of producing a particular plate... Typically, the protein item represents the highest cost (and in most cases the only part that is managed). So, let’s say that protein cost is CHF 8. The chef will now add an amount (typically CHF 3) for the vegetable, starch and sauce. That means the plate cost is CHF 11. To achieve the 28% objective, the chef divides the CHF 11 by a lesser percentage...say 25% (that’s a bit of insurance), and the menu price for the dish is CHF 44... At the end of the day, other factors like waste and theft, go into the figure and the final food cost usually ends up around 30% (and no one gets a bonus). Clearly, the major factor in figuring a menu price in this manner rests on the cost of protein...and in Switzerland, that is high (about 78% higher than EU countries the last time I looked).

The beverages are also interesting in how they are managed, as are the general operating expenses...but I will go into that in a future posting...

(hmmmm...I guess a vegetarian restaurant with equally high prices, would mean higher margins ) ...

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Old 02.02.2006, 08:52
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Re: restaurant prices...

Thank you for that insight. I realised a while ago that it is not the restuarants who are so expensive but the actual food. Even the meals we prepare at home can quickly work out to only be a few franks cheaper than in a restaurant. On average if I buy a steak I end up spending around SFR 10 for 1 person. Ontop of that, as you said, is the cost of vegetables (also not always cheap) and all the other ingredients. The question really is why is food so expensive here??? As I student I often just lived off spaghetti and butter... Hardly a well balanced diet but most of my fellow students did the same as we could not always afford more here in Zurich (as for going out... the less said the better!)
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Old 02.02.2006, 12:46
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Re: restaurant prices...

Nice post Jack.

The one thing I do find interesting is that by using your calculation method you directly tie the purchase cost of the food to the labour costs. I personally do not see that link and although I do not indeed cannot dispute your figures find it amazing that Labour costs are so high. Now that I know that CHF 20 of my steak is going to the people preparing and serving it tips are out of the window...

Richard
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Old 02.02.2006, 12:55
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Re: restaurant prices...

Jack another question...

In many EU countries the food is priced at break even and sometimes a "loss" and the profit made on the drinks sold. Given that the price of drinks here is so high are they not on a double whammy?!
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Old 02.02.2006, 13:24
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
Jack another question...

In many EU countries the food is priced at break even and sometimes a "loss" and the profit made on the drinks sold. Given that the price of drinks here is so high are they not on a double whammy?!
Richard,

I think that really depends on the establishment. There are also places here that sell food at, or near breakeven, and try to make it up on an increased quantity of beverage sales (Iroquois, eg.). I think this also applies to the restaurants you may be referring to in your post....As a general rule, however, the percentages are really quite similar for the restaurant industry (I have even found references to food cost percentages in some of the first restaurants that appeared in France, and they were also 25% - 30%).

Clearly, there is a problem with food costs in Switzerland for restaurants (primarily a result of limited distribution, cartels, protected markets), and I will go into more detail as my time permits. There are also some additional challenges for restaurants on the cost side - real estate and labor being two of the primary factors. The squeeze really begins to show up when people begin spending less of their disposable income on going out...

Jack
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Old 02.02.2006, 15:06
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
The squeeze really begins to show up when people begin spending less of their disposable income on going out...

Jack
But then are you not in the classic supply and demand model whereby if the price is too high the demand will fall until the price adjusts? And in the interim the restaurateur has to earn less or go bust thereby reducing supply and making those who are still left profitable and able to charge higher prices... If everyone keeps their wallets shut it will not be long before the restaurants change their pricing. I do find it interesting that there are enough restaurants who surely buy their produce from the same suppliers but are not in Zurich city and charge a fraction of the price.

Again while I do not dispute your model I have seen a similar argument for the price of champagne whereby the growers actually only make 5% but do charge 5-10x+ the price of German sekt... So what to the Germans earn!
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Old 03.02.2006, 19:02
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Re: restaurant prices...

When I lived in Canada I used to eat out a lot. But living in Switzerland I just refuse to pay such prices, and end up going out to restaurants very very rarely ... I usually attempt to cook *cough cough* (why yes, I am a candidate for one of your cooking courses Jack!) or the healthy spagetti or bread & cheese dinner option.

And it's not even that I can't afford to pay the prices, I just don't feel it justified. (6 pieces of ravioli for 25 bucks with some tomato sauce on it ?? who are we kidding?! )
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Old 03.02.2006, 19:37
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Re: restaurant prices...

Hi Jack,

Interesting post - well thought out and a very provocative thing to throw in to the expat community. I must say that I completely agree with you. I do find restaurants in CH expensive, but I don't blame the restaurants for that. Even though I have been known to complain on a wide range of subjects, I don't tend to complain about paying 90 francs for a massage, or 20 francs for a pizza. As you rightly point out the cost of living and doing business is very high, therefore prices must be higher. What I do object to however is being ripped off, and when there is no justification for the high prices, then I get angry. I'm also inclined to import something if it makes financial sense - many Swiss get upset about this but when they do I think they need to think about their policies and use a more convincing argument other that patriotism to convince me....

So to sumarise, I don't find the cost of eating out high (when you look at it in the bigger picture), but like destiny, I too just don't eat out whenever I am in Switzerland. If I spend money on something I want to feel good about it. Unfortunately almost all of my eating out experiences in CH have been pretty unexciting. I usually leave thinking: food - average, service - average to below average, menu choices - boring and predictable, atmosphere - smoky, crowded, value for money - poor. Maybe I'm just a fussy bastard but I want to see things on a menu that are different and exciting, and I want it to taste fresh, and be presented in a way that makes me excited to eat it. Well not everyone will understand what I mean here. Destiny - I've never been to Canada, but from what I hear your situation was probably similiar to mine in Sydney in that I almost never ate at home, and neither did my friends - there was simply no need to! When I arrived here that changed pretty quickly and I settled for home cooked meals. Whenever I travel I love to go and try out nice restaurants, and depending on where I am I'm seldom disappointed.

Richard - your point about supply and demand is a fair one, but based on pure economic theory. In a vibrant, growing economy, where people have a spirit of risk taking and consumers a high standard about what they demand your theory would be correct. As we both know such rules of economics don't always apply here for a number of reasons! I think we'd both be happy if all our desires were satisified by the supply side of the equation springing up to meet our demands... but let's face reality...

Jack, your theory above sounds fine - a gross margin of 50% on food items sounds quite low to me, is this the case in other countries? In a country where the ingredients are cheap I would have thought to margin would be higher. The part I don't understand is when I go and buy and asian style soup (you know, noodles, big soup bowl, vegetables and something with protein). This is prepared VERY quickly meaning minimal work, and the cost of the ingredients is also very minimal. Now usually these types of soups sell at a 1/2 to a 1/3 of the price of the fancier dishes in a restaurant. Why then do I often pay 25 francs for one of these! Well, it doesn't happen often, but sometimes I just don't feel like anything else.

So I'd like to end this message on a positive note (since technically we aren't in the complaints corner). To demonstrate an example of someone trying to be a little bit different take a look at nooba. I hold regular get-togethers for divers there and often visit there with friends. Why? Free parking and a 100% smoke-free policy. The food is "asian", but the service is (usually) fast and (are you all sitting down) about 10 free parking spaces under the building. I mean, it's just so different to the others that I have to reward them with my business. I just wish that the food was of a higher standard
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Old 03.02.2006, 19:43
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
Thank you for that insight. I realised a while ago that it is not the restuarants who are so expensive but the actual food. Even the meals we prepare at home can quickly work out to only be a few franks cheaper than in a restaurant. On average if I buy a steak I end up spending around SFR 10 for 1 person. Ontop of that, as you said, is the cost of vegetables (also not always cheap) and all the other ingredients. The question really is why is food so expensive here??? As I student I often just lived off spaghetti and butter... Hardly a well balanced diet but most of my fellow students did the same as we could not always afford more here in Zurich (as for going out... the less said the better!)
Hi Lynn, not good to think that all of those students studying for degrees that they will probably never use in a productive way at the taxpayers' expense are also malnourished!

You mention the fact that your steaks are costing 10 francs, but it might interest you to know that they actually cost you 17 francs. The reason is that taxpayer money subsidises farming by an astonishing 70% - the highest rate in the world. Now if you are student and eating spaghetti you aren't paying tax, and since you aren't eating much then at least other people aren't subsidising the farmers on your behalf...

Technically I know it isn't correct to apply 70% to the retail price, and that it should really be applied to the wholesale price, but let me have my fun ok? The main point here is that despite the 70% subsidy, the prices are still high on Swiss produce. Why is that? Well I think if we really want to talk about that one we'd better start a whole new thread, and put that one in the complaints corner!!

Mark
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Old 04.02.2006, 16:35
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
I usually leave thinking: food - average, service - average to below average, menu choices - boring and predictable, atmosphere - smoky, crowded, value for money - poor. Maybe I'm just a fussy bastard but I want to see things on a menu that are different and exciting, and I want it to taste fresh, and be presented in a way that makes me excited to eat it.
I just wanted to say I was in a quite nice restaurant with a colleague and there were many people smoking. I asked for a non-smoking table and the waiter answered certainly sir - took me to a table in the middle of all the smokers and removed the ash tray.

I don't think I will ever understand Swiss mentality
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Old 06.02.2006, 19:57
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
I just wanted to say I was in a quite nice restaurant with a colleague and there were many people smoking. I asked for a non-smoking table and the waiter answered certainly sir - took me to a table in the middle of all the smokers and removed the ash tray.

I don't think I will ever understand Swiss mentality
Well I guess you told him that he was breaking the law, but I guess you've lived here long enough to know that he didn't care Then again, you might have been outside canton Zurich, so I don't know if non-smoking areas applied in the area where you were.

I once had a waiter in Zurich, after I asked him why his restaurant provided no non-smoking area (in contravention of the law), respond with "yes, but for buildings that are over a certain age, there is an exception". This is of course complete rubbish, but while the law isn't enforced, they'll keep ignoring it....

But if we want to talk about smoking in restaurants we should really do it on the thread designed for that purpose:

Smoking in restaurants
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Old 26.04.2006, 11:11
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Re: restaurant prices...

I was just about to start a new thread, but searched and came across this great one. I would say, that since being in Switzerland my cooking skills have improved. I enjoy the challenge of cooking something "average" than having to pay a fair chunk of cash for it

I agree with Marks's assessment below:

Quote:
I usually leave thinking: food - average, service - average to below average, menu choices - boring and predictable, atmosphere - smoky, crowded, value for money - poor.
The only thing I have noticed differently in my local area (Zurich Kreis 4) is that many of the restuarants are empty. Only those trendy or fashionable are busy, and this often has nothing to do with price or quality. I'm used to busy, low cost restuarants in Australia. This doesnt seem to be the case here, the usual supply and demand model is suspended by cartels who prefer to keep prices high, sacrificing volume. I put this to a friend who has studied hospitality here in Switzerland, "What if a restuarant lowered its prices with the intent of increasing volume?". Answer, "The other restuarants in the area would act to stop him."

OK whinge mode over
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Old 26.04.2006, 13:57
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Re: restaurant prices...

Quote:
The squeeze really begins to show up when people begin spending less of their disposable income on going out...
Actually, this is very evident here in the far ostschweiz. In my particular town there is an increasing percentage of low-income foreigners. It is my observation that these people only very rarely go out to restaurants. In fact, they choose to live with almost no luxuries or extravagant activities so that they can have large families. That is their right and I make no criticism, but it does affect businesses that rely on people spending some loose cash. Restaurants I think are one of the hardest hit.

Going back to the food, I find the best places to eat are modest, family run places with no special attractions (eg mountain/lake view) other than (relative) value for money eating.

I have no problem paying a lot for a meal, so long as the quality, quantity and service are up to scratch.
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Old 27.04.2006, 16:23
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Re: restaurant prices...

Maybe I've lost touch with Uk prices, but at the restaurant round the corner from us , I get a steak & chips with vegies, a side salad and a basket of bread for CHF 28 ( £12) . Now £12 seems a reasonable price to pay in a restaurant in the UK or have I really lost touch!
oh yes, a Carafe of red is CHF 20ish (£9) and a pint of beer (50cl) is CHF 6.50 (£2.75)

Gastromonique menus here in Fribourg run to about CHF 100-150 for 7 courses of haute cuisine, similar I'm sure to UK.
or just tell me it's time for a trip back home for a reality check!
Nick.
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Old 02.05.2006, 20:47
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Re: restaurant prices...

Great post Jack.

I was just thinking about this the other day. I compared Tiffins on Seefeldstrasse (Thai cafe, very quick service) to my favourite Thai Cafe in Melbourne (Chilli Cafe, cnr of Russell and Bourke Streets). The price difference is pretty much double for the same food. Sfr 16 vs $8 per meal eg: green chicken curry or chicken stir fry. I've not compared for beef or lamb - I guess it would be a lot more different. The other similarity to these two places is that they are pretty basic, maybe a little bit more with Chilli Cafe - but service in minimal.

Ok, ingredients are also different but I would say the quality is about the same. I find this fair. I'm probably earning about double what I would earn in Melbourne. So going out for me is about the same.

I wish I remembered what dishes at indian restaurants cost so I could compare but honestly though, I don't think it's that much more.

Naturally it's easier to find cheap food in Melbourne (eg) than here but cheap food is here. You just have to know where to look. Just like kebab places - they all cost about the same, but you just have to find the one that has good meat instead of the awful processed slab that they shave off.

Like groceries - taking a walk to the asian side of town (langstr, badenerstr) you just realise that there are other shops with normal veggies and fruits that are a lot cheaper. Many south indian grocery shops do good fish for less than what you'd pay in Coop/Migros. You just have to go further or live there. (My parents don't shop locally in Melbourne either)

I earn higher because my time and effort is worth more. I think it's the same case to pay for the services that I enjoy.


~ Nanda.
(who still eats out)
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Old 26.02.2008, 23:07
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Re: restaurant prices...

Hi,

Interesting thread; I'm glad Jack linked to it from another thread to bring it to the fore.

My problem with eating at restaurants is the quality of food and service is just so unpredictable I far prefer cooking at home. I really find it more and more difficult to justify paying for something that I can do better myself.

Cheers,

Nick
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Old 26.02.2008, 23:21
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Re: restaurant prices...

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Hi,

Interesting thread; I'm glad Jack linked to it from another thread to bring it to the fore.

My problem with eating at restaurants is the quality of food and service is just so unpredictable I far prefer cooking at home. I really find it more and more difficult to justify paying for something that I can do better myself.

Cheers,

Nick
Indeed, and many restaurants load their food full of MSG here in Switzerland, which just ends up making me feel awful after having gone out for a meal. The quality of the raw ingredients are good enough here not to have all of the MSG in it, but I think it's just the tradition.

I can't see paying all the money for a meal out, and then have to eat something that's tarted up with a bunch of MSG.
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Old 27.02.2008, 08:05
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Re: restaurant prices...

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Indeed, and many restaurants load their food full of MSG here in Switzerland, which just ends up making me feel awful after having gone out for a meal. The quality of the raw ingredients are good enough here not to have all of the MSG in it, but I think it's just the tradition.

I can't see paying all the money for a meal out, and then have to eat something that's tarted up with a bunch of MSG.
You only need to see the Aromat on canteen and restaurant tables to confirm the idea of it being tradition. I once spent a year in a country that didn't use MSG and on returning to the UK was surprised how many of those "home made" soups and other dishes were full of the stuff. When your tastebuds get used to having none, you really do notice it.

I think the worst expensive dish I have had here was steak tartare. The beef was beautiful but it was overwhelmed with a sweet tomato taste, which stayed as an aftertaste too. I asked one of my (Swiss) co-diners what it was and he told me that next time I ordered it I should ask for it "without ketchup"!

This was not a cheap restaurant, and the service and rest of the food were excellent. I had just picked the wrong dish.
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Old 27.02.2008, 10:44
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Re: restaurant prices...

Funny, I thought nothing of spending 1 percent of my nett income in Malaysia on a restaurant meal, but baulk at doing the same here -- until I realise the apartment rent here is 40 percent of my income while in M'sia it was merely 20 percent.

So, here, I cook as much as I can all the things my other half and I love to eat. And will only eat out on special occasions and, once in a while, pay for cuisine that is difficult or impossible to make at home.
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Old 27.02.2008, 12:56
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Re: restaurant prices...

I noticed the high cost of food when I first moved to Switzerland, but quickly learnt that it was something I had to accept here. After all, the salaries in Switzerland generally take into account the high cost of living here.

I had a friend visiting from the UK recently, and after a few days, she politely asked if we could perhaps eat at cheaper restaurants as she felt we were being extravagant by taking her to places where a meal would cost between CHF 25 to CHF 40 per person. Only then did I realise that I had just become accustomed to paying these prices each time I went out. I don't think I've ever had a meal less for less than CHF 25! (whether the meals are good value for money or quality is another issue)

Needless to say, we ended up eating at home for the rest of her stay in Zurich. So my friend saved money on eating out, but she didn't realise that the cost of food is generally high in Switzerland, and that cooking at home is only marginally cheaper than eating out. So I, as host, ended up paying for her meals ...

I wonder if she has ever eaten out in London because surely it can't be much cheaper than Zurich?
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