‘May I take your coat?’ Why are restaurant robes extinct?
It was once an unsigned treaty that underpins the restaurant business, in return, according to your custom, to be well fed and perhaps with a smile on your face. During your meal, the restaurant will take care of your coat, umbrella, and any shopping items or briefcases.
However, while the first part of this bargain survived, the second part dwindled. Fewer and fewer restaurants operate with full-time front desk staff, let alone full-time robed waiters. Pressure is growing on the “back of the house” space, as restaurants spring up in smaller units that once housed shops, warehouses and even coal depots. More and more restaurants are adopting a more casual dining approach, however, the final bill can be expensive. Increasingly, customers are being asked to hang their own coats or even leave them on the backs of their chairs.
This shift has been driven by numbers. In terms of space, high-end restaurants previously accounted for 40% behind the house, 60% in front of the house. In the past, there was room for a decent restroom, a staff changing room, an elaborate kitchen, a wine cellar and, of course, a bedroom near the front desk. In a few years, however, the ratio dropped to 30:70, as restaurant owners, facing higher rents, sought to maximize the number of leads by everything else.
As Richard Coraine, Danny Meyer’s special counsel for USHG restaurants in New York, told me in November, “Our plans for the cloakrooms have certainly changed due to the demand for airspace. time over time and the normal population kept their coats. I also think it can be a matter of timing, where people don’t want to wait to get their coats and just hit the road ASAP. I’ve seen the space function as a ‘management office’ and then be used as a coat during the colder months. The need for storage, wine and merchandising space has made jackets a secondary proposition.”
Rents in New York are very high, and restaurant owners must balance the tough act of delivering what customers want with the ability to pay. At the very least, they must provide a suitable kitchen and a place to store precious bottles of wine behind the house.
Rising wages also play a role. A staff member in robes is busy for 30 minutes at the start of serving lunch, slightly longer in the evening, and then hastily leaves their feet at the end. In between, they are always occupied lower. The payment usually comes in the form of wages accrued with very generous tips during the winter months, especially around Christmas, but negligible in the summer. Tipping has disappeared in many places, while the need to make front desk staff more productive has become an imperative. As a result, many new restaurants don’t have dedicated receptionists or greeters. Instead, the job of greetings tends to fall into the hands of the waiter, who is closest at the time.
When I spoke with Matt Ashman, head of entertainment and restaurants at estate agent Cushman & Wakefield, he agreed that this is a trend that is likely to continue. “Since closing, restaurant owners are rethinking properties but with two key priorities. The first is that the space must have outdoor seating and the second is to be able to accommodate takeout. I just don’t believe that any new restaurant offering to take care of my coat, bag or even my Brompton bike should be a priority for the owner.”
Disposing of the cloakroom can also be legally beneficial. According to Marcus Barclay, a partner at law firm CMS, if a ”restaurant” has received something from a customer, that restaurant has actively assumed responsibility for taking care of the things the customer has delivered. entrusted with that care.” However, if a customer hangs a coat over their entire dining table and it is then stolen, the restaurant is not liable.
The movement towards a more laid-back style of dining in buildings with no space for robed rooms or their waiters, seems unstoppable. So you’re better off keeping your Burberry raincoat at home and wearing a second-best jacket instead.