We often presume to understand restaurant economics because we know what a chicken breast costs at the supermarket. “I could make this dish at home for $5,” goes the refrain. Could we? Here, Eater looks at all the costs in a popular restaurant dish to see what goes into it, and how much profit comes out.
To Patricia Howard and Ed Szymanski (2021 Eater New Guard), closing their Manhattan restaurant for the weekend makes total sense. During the week, Szymanski regularly enjoys the incredulous look on diners’ faces when he tells them, while Howard spends Saturdays replying to texts, explaining that there are no tables to be had on the weekend. Customers just can’t seem to believe that a busy hotspot like Dame can stay in business quite well without being open on Saturday nights.
It’s certainly unusual. Working in a restaurant typically means being on duty every Friday and Saturday night. Laboring while the 9-to-5 world is playing excludes being available for birthday parties or dinners with friends who don’t work in the industry. By doing the unthinkable — only opening Monday to Friday — Howard and Szymanski have been able to offer employees something like a normal life. Employees work four days a week, and even the owners only work five — and for a restaurant under a year old, it seems utterly radical.
But beyond being radical, it’s also more profitable for Dame to operate on Monday rather than Saturday.
Mondays in the restaurant business are typically thought of as quiet, while busier nights like Saturday bring in more revenue. With only 22 seats and a strong reputation (built over a series of pop-ups and collaborations, with profits funneled to charities), Dame is popular enough to be booked solid every night. There are currently hundreds on the waitlist, so filling the dining room on a Monday isn’t the challenge. Also, before eliminating weekend service, Howard and Szymanski noticed a smaller average check size on Saturdays. Weekends attract the non-repeat customers; the scavenger hunt diner who wants to visit every buzzy spot to take a picture for the gram, or the couple splitting an entrée because they’re rushing to a show or bar after. While not the main reason for the change, belligerent “Why can’t I get a table?” diners were also more frequent. One of the last straws, before the owners decided to close on Saturdays, was a guest who had no reservation, who aggressively demanded a table in the packed room, while trying to bring in a cosmopolitan from another restaurant (he had to be physically removed).
“The weekend crowd is not as fun to work for as the weekday crowd,” says Szymanski. Monday diners at Dame tend to be more industry veterans who order the whole menu and full bottles of wine. So with every seat filled, opening on Monday is more profitable than Saturday, while also affording staff and owners weekends off.