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I Found the Best Burger Place in America, Then I Killed It (thrillist.com)
613 points by wallflower 62 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 387 comments



It's a "dead dove do not eat" feeling, but I kind of hoped I'd open the HN comments on this one and _not_ see a bunch of engineering solutions.

They all miss the point of the story, which is crushingly relevant to startups:

If you build a company with people you like and love, and circumstances outside of your control force it to scale in a hurry, those people you like and love are going to get hurt in the process.

That's not an engineering problem to fix. Stanich's didn't need an algorithmic order filling solution, it needed to lose the people that made it Stanich's. It was doomed no matter what. It was unscalable; it's unscalability is what imbued it with what Alexander liked about it.

The story begins and ends with Stanich's parents and the reason why they started the business in the first place for a _massive_ reason, one that seems to have gone over the heads of most HN commenters (and I'll bet also most people reading it via HN), and that's at least as depressing as the story itself.


Yup. I have a startup that was full of people who expected it to stay the way it always was before it grew to millions of annual revenue, and that ended up hurting them when it turned out that I was running a business.

It bothered me some, but I always knew this was potentially in my future. They didn't. This will happen to everyone who runs a startup that has family or close friends involved, especially if they are your customers. Such is life.


i heared this phrase:

"make friends in business, don't make business with friends"

that seems to apply here. in the face it sounds like dry advice, but it hints that the changes in business can hurt friendships. it's a sad reality for those that face it unprepared.

greetings, eMBee.


Bang on. Right chord.

I think this article is a great advise to people running startups. The review is akin to raising outside money.


Couldn’t agree more. It’s a weird world where we want founders to be artisans and inventors, but the money can only think “scale now or die.” There are other ways to build a sustainable large-scale business, methodically over time with profitability and a reputation of care for one’s customers. But venture capital isn’t aligned with this type of approach.


Yeah. No citation handy, but I came across an essay describing startups as essentially performing cheap R&D for VCs.


cord (rope) -> chord (musical reference, as in "to strike a chord", ie to resonate)

Not nit-picking, just hoping to clarify for non-native English speakers.


Meant chord. Didn't realize. Thanks for pointing it out. Will make the correction.


Except startups solicit the money. It isn't foisted on them like this review.


Let's hear from a local about what really happened to Stanich's:

https://www.metafilter.com/177718/Sometimes-its-better-not-t...

"Anecdotally, I went to Stanich's a few weeks before the shutdown. They certainly weren't getting overrun with customers at that point. The place was maybe a quarter full on a Friday night, and it was filthy. Dust everywhere, dishes left on tables, stains on the floor, the crust on the ketchup bottles indicating it had been at least a week since anyone bothered wiping them. We watched our food sit at the pass for five minutes before a waitress could be bothered to serve us. The place had all of the hallmark signs of a restaurant going under."

"Did Kevin Alexander hurt Stanich's business by giving them the press? Maybe. But Kevin Alexander isn't responsible for running the restaurant. It isn't Kevin Alexander's job to clean the tables or the floor or the dishes or the ketchup bottles. Stanich killed Stanich's."


Nobody thinks too much business is what hurt Stanich's. Rather, it was too much attention. The pressure of a small-town short order cook all of a sudden having to live up to what Stanich's "could" and "should" be.

One day, he's making the same burgers his dad was 70 years ago. The next, he's getting franchise offers and vitriolic reviews and personal issues. It seems he started cleaning and renovations, and just couldn't bring himself to reopen... much like how many of us here fail to launch startups.


Oh man, the renovations I’m making without having any customers are damn awesome...


Ouch.


Portland native. Had my first Stanich's burger around 1980.

All I can say is the food reviewer romanticized the place.

The burgers were good, but messy. Like the atmosphere.

Once Perry's opened down the road (now also closed) we kind of stopped going to Stanich's.


Until earlier this year, I used to live in that neighborhood. I've been to Stanich's -- we could walk there from our house.

This whole episode is bizarre. The food really was not that good. Not by a long shot. Which makes what happened to them all the more sad.


Yea _reading_ the linked article goes into all of this.


Not really, the author is pretty convinced that he killed the restaurant, despite Stanich mentioning family problems.


Did you actually try to read it? It says so right there:

Apparently, after my story came out, crowds of people started coming in the restaurant, people in from out of town, or from the suburbs, basically just non-regulars. And as the lines started to build up, his employees -- who were mainly family members -- got stressed out, and the stress would cause them to not be as friendly as they should be, or to shout out crazy long wait times for burgers in an attempt to maybe convince people to leave, and as this started happening, things fell by the wayside. Dishes weren’t cleared quickly, and these new people weren’t having the proper Stanich’s experience, and Steve would spend his entire day going around apologizing and trying to fix things.


It seems you and the author have something in common: refusing to believe the man at the center when he says that it wasn't the author's fault. Which he says repeatedly. And he hints at the actual reason, which you and the author just refuse to believe, I guess.

And then, in a quieter voice, he started to explain why it wasn’t just two weeks. He asked me not to reveal the details of that story, but I can say that there were personal problems, the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was, and that real life is always more complicated and messier than we want it to be.


It appears to have been a perfect storm of events. A family problem in a family business can be very stressful, been there, got the tee shirt. Then add on top of that an explosion in business you never really wanted and as a result of the overload, a decline in customer service. That then turned into vitriolic reviews and nasty/hateful answering machine messages. Imagine all of that happening in just a few months. What an awful out of control ride that must have been. No wonder Stanich pulled the plug.

And if people were paying attention, they would have noticed a lot of drug talk from Stanich. Why was Stanich so fixated on talking about drug problems? That usually happens when stuff hits close to home. All speculation on my part but I found it an odd topic for a burger restaurateur.


> It seems you and the author have something in common: refusing to believe the man at the center when he says that it wasn't the author's fault. Which he says repeatedly.

It’s weird you don’t think the author understands this, given the only reason you know any of that is because the author themselves told you. If he didn’t think it was important, he wouldn’t have included it.


Portlander here and experienced very similar circumstances to what is described in that post just before Stanich's closed.


I was there just over a year ago, and it was pretty bad then too. We waited probably 90 minutes for burgers at lunchtime the last time we went.


Do they really call the place where the orders are picked up "the pass"? :)


Yeah, it's short for "the pass thru". Older restaurants and diners used to cut a hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining area to pass food through. So yes it became known as "the pass". This is where your food sits and collects before it comes out to your table.

It's also where waitstaff pass tickets through to the kitchen. Lots of passing going on back and forth. Hence "the pass".



It's hard to blame Kevin Alexander for this, because Steve Stanich played ball with the review, like most restaurants would. If he wanted to, he could have asked not to be featured in the list, and Alexander probably would have complied; otherwise, he could have done other things to make it clear to his customers that he wasn't interested in fulfilling the role the ranking carved out for him.

We see this effect in Chicago regularly, as I'm sure people in NY and LA do as well; there's a biennial ritual of naming the new "best burger" in the city (it's Kuma's! no, now it's Au Cheval! no, Au Cheval is franchising, time for something fancier --- Mott Street! no wait, the Loyalist†). It definitely "ruins" the restaurant, in the sense that it becomes basically impossible to eat there anymore. But it's hard to fault the businesses for going along! They're there to make a living for themselves.

To the commenters saying Stanich should simply raise its prices: there's a price ceiling for that burger. It's not a fancy chef burger; it's a standard burger shop burger executed well. It seems like the only real scaling option Steve Stanich has, if he's not willing to piss off part of his clientele (a reasonable option!) is to partner and franchise.

I'm particularly irritated about Loyalist because their bar has one of the best amaro collections in Chicago


> To the commenters saying Stanich should simply raise its prices: there's a price ceiling for that burger. It's not a fancy chef burger;

If you have a five hour lineup for a burger, you need to raise your prices at least a little bit. You'll make more money overall, and your customers will be happy.


You can do that to a point, but if what you're serving is simply a well-executed diner burger, then, like I said, there's a ceiling. You can't charge $30 for that. Or, you can, but you'll create more problems than you'll solve.

This guy ate at 330 different burger restaurants. He has a finely-tuned metric for what a good burger is (his #3 is also a neighborhood place he grew up with). He's set up to appreciate what Stanich is actually accomplishing with his burger. The average foodie tourist is unlikely to arrive armed with that context; they'll pay $30 for the burger, expect a revelation, and leave unhappy.


I think this is the In-n-out effect - people who grew up on it see it as a vastly superior version of McDs, Wendy's etc for the same price, and are understandably effusive about this. But visitors expect something profound instead of a well executed fast food style burger.


That's exactly what it is, a very well executed fast food burger. I mean, I'm not going to trade it for a real good local burger joint burger (Superburger in my area), but that joint burger is 2x times the size plus fixings (depending on what's ordered) and costs 3x the In-n-out burger, and doesn't have a drive through. When you start adding all the variables in, the picture becomes clear.

Oh, and as someone that gets fast food burgers once every week or two, Wendy's has always been particularly high on my list, and McDonald's recent switch to non-frozen patties for quarter pounders has also significantly raised the quality of that product. Even so, In-n-out is still better overall than either in my opinion.


As crazy as it sounds, there are people who are adamant that In & Out is not just good relative to fast food, but in fact one of the finest places you can eat, at any price.

Source: I've spoken with a few.


In the city I live in, a proposal for an In & Out came up. It split down the city in half for reasons; traffic, "In & Out is great", "In & Out is awful", and so forth. Nothing's come of it and as far as I know the lot remains defunct.

Elsewise I too encounter people who hold In & Out on a pedestal simply because of their food. Personally, I've tried and honestly but I just can't. McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Jack In The Box all have better burgers and fries than In & Out for me, but say that to the devout and you'll be shown the door faster than they'll tell you to go to Hell. It's amazing.



In n out is good, but it’s still fast food. That is true. Also, people act it’s Exclaburger instead of a good meal.


Why would you ever expect more than a well executed fast food style burger from, well, a burger. That’s literally what burger means as far as I’m concerned.


There are certainly non-fast-food restaurants that sell burgers.

To give a random example that comes to mind: the burger is one of the most iconic/famous things on the menu at the Spotted Pig, which has a Michelin star. You can't really compare it to McDonald's any more than you could compare any other dish to the fast food version.


There may indeed be a ceiling. It's not even near whatever he's charging that leads to a 5 hour lineup.

Similar situation, my mother is a lawyer mostly handling wills/estates and real estate deals. Small town law firm, sole practitioner. She's got too many clients, too much work, and she hates turning people away. She's got a small army of secretaries working their asses off. It's good business, but she wants to do less so that eventually she can retire.

She's trying a new strategy: raising prices every 3 months until there's exactly as much work as she wants to do. If things get a bit dry, she can lower prices a bit again. But by fluctuating ever so slightly, she can choose how much work she wants to do.


I feel like this should be fairly obvious business economics. If there is too much demand for your product for you to service, you should raise your prices until the demand matches what you can produce. It's basic supply and demand.

The opposite applies as well. If you have excess capacity that's going unused, you should lower your prices (down to the marginal cost anyway).


Of course there's a ceiling, but you're assuming the ceiling is based on the burger. It's not. It's based on the demand for the burger, and that demand is way, way higher than the supply, so the ceiling is higher than the current price. Pretty simple.

And yes, you can only raise it to a certain point, but you only need to raise it to a certain point: that certain point is the ceiling.

And you don't need to jump from $10 to $30 all at once. You just need to keep raising the price until you find the ceiling where your demand is more reasonable. It's probably more like 30-50% more, rather than 200% more, but who knows. Or better yet, charge more for peak times (like by offering a killer happy hour special during the slow times) to smooth out demand and also serve people who don't want to pay $30 for a burger.

Pricing that is based on cost plus some margin for overhead is so dumb. Price based on demand!


This is a terrible term but I'll use it because it works here: the genre of burger we are talking about here is "cheap burger" (I mean that as a quality/experience descriptor, not price). It's a relatively thin, wide ground chuck patty on a good-but-standard bun; the only "interesting" ingredient they use is hamburger relish.

So, yeah I am explicitly saying that the price ceiling and the demand for the burger aren't as neatly related as it looks, because the substitutes for this particular burger are going to be very close to it in quality (it's possible that for something close to 50% of patrons, this burger will be perceived as "worse" than other cheap burgers they've had, because opinions vary).

If this was that Raoul's burger, where it's ground short rib and brisket with a triple cream brie and a cognac cream dipping sauce, I'd be right there with you. But Stanich is apparently just a cheap diner burger very well executed (in Alexander's estimation, but I have no reason to doubt him). If you charge $30 for that, people will pay (once), and then feel ripped off. For a little while. Then word will get out.

It probably is the best cheap diner burger in America! The dude did the research! I'm just saying, you probably can't charge $30 for a cheap burger, sustainably. You'll do OK in the short term, and then irreversibly harm the business.

Scaling out makes a lot more sense. He probably should franchise.


Again, you're just comparing burgers in isolation, but that's not how it works. This isn't delivery. People pay extra for ambiance, for service, for exclusivity, for visuals, etc. The fact that people are standing in line for 5 hours means that they don't view it as just another cheap burger. They're willing to pay more. I'm half convinced that people in NYC will pay more BECAUSE they stood in line. How else would you know if it's good if there's not a bunch of New Yorkers validating your choices by waiting in the freezing cold too?? :)

And you don't need to charge $30. Charging a few extra bucks probably solves this problem without the downsides you're talking about.

Finally, I'm also not convinced those problems you suggest would be caused by charging $30 are actually problems. Maybe people feel like it wasn't worth it, but so what? Word gets out that the $30 burgers are overpriced...does that mean people will stop coming? There's an entire class of overpriced crappy restaurants that stay busy because of former glory, or location, or whatever. Like almost every big restaurant in a tourist zone of major world cities.

And if they DO stop coming, then doesn't that solve the original problem? Crowds dry up, you drop the prices back down, life goes on.

Just seems like almost anything would be better than throwing your hands up and shutting down the restaurant. Which ironically isn't even what happened here!


The subtext of my argument is that they are standing in line not knowing what they're going to get, expecting (or at least hoping for) a revelation that is not going to come. I agree with Alexander that these burgers are the best burgers (I haven't had this one but am familiar with the genre! The best Chicago burgers from the same genre!), but I think Alexander has, ironically, a more sophisticated take on these things than his readers do.

Remember, the 2nd place burger on his list is an absurd chef burger, even by the standards of chef burgers.

My favorite Chicago food writer has a bit about NYC pizza (he's a former NY-er) that I think captures the spirit of where I'm coming from, which is that the food tourists that seek out the best NYC slice have missed the point entirely, and that the best NYC slice is always within 1-2 blocks of where you're standing.

There's a distinction between being "great" and being "destination food" that this whole article is lamenting people --- I'd include this thread among those people --- not understanding. It's funny to see that misunderstanding expressed on HN in the language of HN --- product pricing and product/market fit.


You have to acknowledge the point he is making, he said you don't have to get to $30 to find the right spot, moreover making it a franchise will definitely take away the lore of the place and quality control. Better to raise the price but have a reward system that keeps the price lower for those who have supported the restaurant for years.


> He probably should franchise.

That assumes that whatever it is that he was doing before things blew up can be scaled. I think it's quite possible that it can't. Particularly as, according to Alexander, the things that pushed the place over the top were intangibles about atmosphere, which isn't reproducible.

Also, "scaling" assumes that the owner wants to scale. If he's only interested in operating a neighborhood burger diner, he probably doesn't.


The article talks about him actively considering franchising. And: I doubt there's really anything to the burger here that can't be replicated. Further: he doesn't have to replicate it perfectly, just enough to serve the local customers he wants to serve while the foodies queue up at the original shop.


> If you charge $30 for that, people will pay (once), and then feel ripped off. For a little while. Then word will get out.

This sounds like exactly what Stanich would have wanted.


> If you charge $30 for that, people will pay (once), and then feel ripped off.

Waiting 5h has EXACTLY the same effect. The difference is that in one situation, he will make 10x more profit out of it and will be able to ride the hard months later on.


The key isn't just higher prices. It is long term revenue from people who are liekly to buy repeatedly.

My solution would be $30 for tourists, $6 for anyone with a Portland ID and a loyalty card that you get in three seconds. That solves both issues mentioned (one-off, buckelist tickers and loyalty to locals).


> He has a finely-tuned metric for what a good burger is

This is one way to put it. Lets pretend that every burger isn't different, every cook isn't different, ingredients aren't the same from day to day, etc... Then it all becomes having the right combination on the day you get there. And this ignores how the reviewer is feeling, and what they ate and drank already that day and the day before.


You raise some very relevant biases of critics, I wonder how this is accounted for?


Normally critics will visit a restaurant three times before writing a review. Obviously tough to do in this situation, though.


> This guy ate at 330 different burger restaurants. He has a finely-tuned metric for what a good burger is (his #3 is also a neighborhood place he grew up with). He's set up to appreciate what Stanich is actually accomplishing with his burger. The average foodie tourist is unlikely to arrive armed with that context; they'll pay $30 for the burger, expect a revelation, and leave unhappy.

Rubbish. Here's 2006 list of burgers that you must have before you die from GQ:

https://www.gq.com/story/hamburger-death-eat

By Alan Richman who "traveled 23,750 miles and consumed more than 150,000 calories while taking the measure of 162 burgers across the country—with one goal: To find you the best damned assemblage of ground beef and buns this country serves up" -- the boss of a Thrillist writer probably did not even know about that infamous GQ list.

* Number 1 in NYC : Peter Luger. Still there. Accolades did not kill it.

* Number 1 in Philadelphia : Rouge. Rouge burger - still there. Restaurant is going downhill but it has changed owners multiple times -- Neil, who opened it, died a couple of weeks ago.

* Number 1 in Philadelphia (small sliders) : Barclay's Prime - of course it is also still there.

Oh, and yes Rouge raised its prices to handle the load that article generated - the place maybe sat 50, including the bar. And now since it is not as popular as it once was, the prices are lower.

> This guy ate at 330 different burger restaurants. He has a finely-tuned metric for what a good burger is (his #3 is also a neighborhood place he grew up with).

He was just not very good as the closure of his favorite burger places demonstrated.


> He was just not very good as the closure of his favorite burger places demonstrated.

Is that supposed to imply that as long as the food is good the restaurant will succeed? I've always viewed the food as being good as an almost essential, but by no means sufficient component to a restaurant's success. I've seen plenty of places with good food close.


The Rouge burger was a custom meat blend on challah with gruyere. It's a chef burger. What we're talking about is a ground chuck diner burger on a sesame bun. If this was the Raoul burger, 12 served a day, ground short rib and brisket, I'd be right there with you.


Rouge burger was not a custom meat blend. It was a rouge steak ground from steak into ground meat for the burger as the burger was ordered because there was no space in the kitchen - it was that small.

But that's not the point - the list was of burgers: roll, meat patty, cheese, maybe some other stuff. The one that he raved about had gooish cheese etc. Were there also caramelized onions? It was the "we too can make a burger like those fancy places and not a greasy spoon diner next door".

Burger is a burger. The better the burger the higher its price could be if there are people willing to wait for it.

Chef's burger or no chef's burger - i mean hell, NY Burger Co's burgers beat some of the chef's burgers.


That's simply not true. Chef burgers and diner burgers are not the same product, which you can verify for yourself by reading Yelp reviews of the restaurant we're talking about and seeing the shocked comments from people who expected a transcendent chef burger experience from this place which only ever served diner burgers.

I'd rather have a good diner burger than a chef burger, but the whole point of the story is that the author of this ranking had one intention, his readers took away another, and the result was problematic for the restaurant.


Of course they are the same product. The product is a burger. Which is why the burger from Le Bec Fin was a flop while NY Burger Company's burgers are success. On the other hand Peter Luger burger or Rouge Burger or Parc Burger are successes.

It is unquestionable that the reviewer had no clue about a good burger - he picked OK burgers in OK places that were barely hanging on which is why his review targets did poorly. Compare that to burgers ( or restaurants ) picked by the Guy on DDD - in Philly that would be Good Dog, with its Good Dog burger - nothing special except that the cheese is injected into the patty, while it was cooked well enough by people who aren't that skilled at cooking. The wait went from 10-20 minutes to 1.5-2 hours. The place continued to sling the burgers ( and other stuff ) and continued to be popular year after year because unlike the clueless reviewer at Thrillist Guy ( who has a boatload of other problems ) at least can identify a good burger in a place that won't go out of business if its business increases by 400% ( not to mention 10% that his review did -- all of those numbers are well known - Food Network has all the numbers because they do hundreds of shows based on that. The so called magnificent changes in the fortunes of restaurants after Ramsay/Mission Impossible/etc mean 15-30% of receipt increases ) Good Dog was an anomaly in that because they did 3x in business based on the show airing for nearly a year ( DDD shows do ~30%-45% boost on average boost)


Exactly. There's a fine line between a reasonable price with a long line... and raising it where people say "they're price gouging, ugh!" and lose your customers forever because you're no longer someone with a passion for the best burger, you're a sellout for the money.

Supply and demand doesn't work as smoothly as you think. It's the same reason why huge TicketMaster fees exist -- so artists can sell tickets at a "fair" price (any higher would piss off fans) and TM takes the flak for all the "fees", many of which go to the artist/management in the end anyways. Or why shows sell out instead of raising prices -- people simply revolt at pricing they perceive as "unfair". And once they do, it's hard to get the good will back.


That's actually really interesting about TicketMaster. I can't find any info about it online; but if that's actually what's happening, it's genius—I never thought about that possibility.


This Freakonomics podcast was where it originated, I believe: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/live-event-ticket-market-scr...

There was also a good discussion about it here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18025209


A simple fix for that is to put up a big sign that says "Tourist tax in effect" and make a $25 rebate for any regular customer or person that can prove a local address; or simply assert with a straight face to the staff they live on this and this street. It's a bit of a hassle for the locals but the place is saved.

Sure, the tourists will attack you on Yelp and Instagram and accuse you of price gouging. But to hell with them and their opinion, on the long run only the opinion of the locals matters.


> put up a big sign that says "Tourist tax in effect"

No need to be that adversarial. Put up a high price and advertise a discount for anyone who can show ID with a local address.


This is already very common in places with lots of rich tourists but low local incomes. Hawaii, for example.


That's how it works where I live. You show your driver's license, you get the local discount.


Vegas?


No, but I have a very good friend in Vegas who says it's similar there.


> No, but I have a very good friend in Vegas who says it's similar there.

Also the strip is where the tourists are, and isn't technically the city of Las Vegas.

A lot of the behaviors people engage in on the strip would get you thrown out of a place that's more locals oriented. They don't take shit off strip.


Pedant> Yes it is technically the city of Las Vegas. The strip has a Las Vegas, NV address.


USPS addresses do not exactly map onto local jurisdictions.


Who says TicketMaster didn't raise ticket prices?

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/ticketmaster-c...


Sure, but raising prices by 20% might not do that, but cut the line by 60% without eliminating it.


Thanks for this comment thread, I found it really insightful. Nuance on HN?!


> Nuance on HN?!

Where else‽


OMG an interrobang, my eyes can hardly believe it. Haha. I love the idea (I constantly use '?!' in online chat) but they don't look so great. Also, in chess, !? and ?! have different meanings..


¿¡


This page (in the comments at the bottom of the page) has spanish-speakers using both that and the reversed version, and even the 'gnaborretni' (inverted interrobang) :

https://spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/137/origin-and-u...


He would, in all likelihood, lose his regulars that had come in for years. For people who just want to make a living, and enjoy life doing it, that might be like losing all your friends.


The article explicitly goes into this, and in my reading at least is the entire point of the story.


I wonder how price-insensitive people pursuing the 'best burger' are.

They've probably made a trip to go eat it, what's another $5 or $10?


That's exactly the problem! All the viable price increases won't deter the tourists.


Nor your regulars. And that is what they care about, not the fad of people coming in from a list.


Solution may have been to charge very high prices, with discounts if you show drivers license with local address. Then share part of the extra revenue with employees


That's introducing complexity and ability to game the rules for no reason. The solution will come about naturally, either people realize the time waiting for "top ranked" places are not worth it, or other restauranteurs will figure out there is profit to be made and open more restaurants.


I made a similar comment further down, but if Stanich's took reservations and just held tables for walk ins (and treated regulars/locals preferentially) they would probably have been fine. Takes more front of house effort though, and he probably still should've raised his prices a bit.


If "Raoul's only makes 12 burgers a night." can fly, it seems like _something_ can be done here too. That said, it sounds like the guy has some complicating life circumstances, and maybe we should just all get out of his way and let him take a few months or a few years to straighten things out before he parlays this enormous PR win into a new venture.


In an episode of the anime series "Food Wars", the main character basically does this at the restaurant he is assigned to internship at.

He and another chef student are assigned a local restaurant which is regularly and completely swamped by commuters; commuters flood the restaurant, everything is crowded, kitchen is over crazy, and then everyone evaporates to catch the next train home. Every day. Local eaters be damned. On the surface business is booming [daily rush of commuters!] but in reality there's a struggle.

Main character figures to go "reservation only". Walk-in commuters not allowed unless they have a reservation; no walk-by "I'll grab some sushi". Owners freak but are desperate... and things work out. A local comes in for his reservation and comments how he hasn't been able to come by for months because it's always so crowded, but he's oh so happy that the waitress remembers his regular order. Restaurant survives and within sanity.


> It definitely "ruins" the restaurant, in the sense that it becomes basically impossible to eat there anymore

Worse. The people who eat there change from those who enjoy food to those who enjoy the idea. That takes the right kind of pressure off the chef and owners and substitutes it with the wrong kind, e.g. Instagrammability.


I was just going to say - if you get some viral exposure as a business, you get customers who only want to be associated with something popular. It's probably an odd feeling; sure you're successful, but it's not because of your hard work, it's because of the journalist's.


Au Cheval is easily the most overrated burger (and perhaps restaurant) in Chicago. Hey guess what, if you make a 12oz burger, put three slices of cheese on it, place it on a buttered roll, then put pork belly, a fried egg, and mayo on it, it will taste good. And it will also make you want to freakin die the moment you're done because you just consumed 25,000 calories. But people will wait literally 2.5 hours for this anyway because hey that's where Grant Achatz goes to eat burgers.


Grant Achatz is famously a fiend for Potbelly (a cheap chain that is like a notch up from Quiznos). I don't know that it's fair to ding him with Au Cheval.

I hear good things about the rest of Au Cheval's menu!


Yeah, would be nice to try it but the wait make Hot Doug's look brief.


I once waited in line at Hot Doug's and when I reached the front, a dude in a limo pulled up and offered to buy my place in line for $100. I didn't take him up on it, but one of the dudes I was there with did!

It turns out though that there was a secret to Hot Doug's, which is that you could just fax an order in and then skip the line to pick it up. I always worried that the line would murder me when I did that.


You didn't even need to fax, you could call. That was literally the only way I would go after my first trip when I stood in that miserable line. Originally you could call in a takeout order anytime. Then he limited it to weekdays. Then he cut Friday's. Sometime in the last year of operation he stopped phone-in orders altogether. There was nothing better than saying, "Excuse me" 20 times as I bypassed the line to pickup an order, as the people standing in line had emotions ranging from bewilderment to rage. Then I would walk out with a bag of food and a smile on my face and everyone was in shock. In summer I would just plop down on that picnic table next door. Good times.


Hey now. Potbelly's a solid two or three steps up from Quiznos. I'll house a Potbelly sandwich anytime--you won't catch me dead in a Quiznos.


I completely disagree with your opinion, but to each their own. Also, people are comfortable with the 2.5 hour wait (or more!) because they can just go hang in one of the many bars in the area during that time.


You can now get the Au Cheval burger at lots of places easily. I do 3 greens regularly. It’s a fine burger.

The real shame is that Au Cheval used to be a nice spot for a beer & burger on a street that was expensive.

Still hard to find good priced, good food on Randolph.


Bonci? (Not a sit down place though...)


Go to lockdown and get the arson burger with the whole slice of habanero on it.


> I'm sure people in NY and LA do as well

In NYC we see this for pizza and ramen and maybe dim sum, but not burgers for whatever reason. If you look at the top 10 burger places in NYC, some are ridiculously crowded and some aren't, but the ones that are crowded (e.g. The NoMad bar) aren't crowded because of the burgers. They're probably at capacity during peak hours at night, but you don't see hour long lines at 10am on a weekday like you do with some other food types.


> To the commenters saying Stanich should simply raise its prices: there's a price ceiling for that burger. It's not a fancy chef burger; it's a standard burger shop burger executed well.

That's incorrect. Chef driven burgers are no different from the other burgers - the prices are raised until the price no longer can be raised. As long as Suzi from Chicago is willing to make a trip to Portland and she does not balk at $14 burger, the burger should go up from $13 to $14.


I don't think that's true, but it's being discussed ad nauseam upthread if you're interested.


It is discussed by people who believe the restaurant business is special, which is demonstrated time and time again not to be the case.

It is a standard supply and demand issue. It is studied ad nauseam in business schools. Raising prices is a standard way to drop the demand. It works for restaurants because they are one of the simplest businesses.


It's not complicated. The Stanich burger probably isn't even 50% better than locally available substitutes, let alone 500%. There's a bubble in interest in the restaurant due to the ranking. Most of the people willing to pay bubble premiums (in fact, probably all of them) have never used the product before, but have used substitutes. If you price to capture the premium from the bubble, you'll make more money in the short term, and alienate the customers that are going to keep you afloat after the bubble bursts.


> It definitely "ruins" the restaurant, in the sense that it becomes basically impossible to eat there anymore.

This just happened for me with a tiny little southern restaurant down the street from me. For about a year, I would go there occasionally and have a great meal with my SO. Never needed a reservation. Then it got a three star review from the new york times and it won the James Beard Best New Restaurant award, one of two won by the chef that night. I've basically written it off, as I'll never be able to compete with every seattlite and food tourist breaking down the doors to get in. It's sad for me, but I'm glad he's gotten the recognition he deserves.


Sounds exactly like the Country Cat in Portland.


> because Steve Stanich played ball with the review, like most restaurants would

Is he the person to understand what will happen? Or is it more the writer who would understand that?


Right now I would say that Bad Apple is about the best burger place. Kumas stretched themselves too thin with expansion and ignoring service quality in their original restaurant.


Bad Apple has been the best burger in Chicago for awhile. Amen.


tldr; Eternal September: Restaurant Edition


Or, How to DDOS a Restaurant


It's umami. Au cheval is overrated with the pretentious staff.


I'm not a fan of Small Chauval (too expensive for what you get), and I'm not going to wait 2-3hrs for a burger.


Honestly I'm not sure I'm sold on any destination burger. Google Kenji Alt's ultra-smash burger, and just make them at home.

I'm unhappy about Au Cheval because the rest of the menu is relevant to my interests, but I can't eat there because it's a destination burger restaurant now.

But, back to the point of this article: my problems != Hogsalt Restaurants problems!


Oh please, the Au Cheval wait has been ridiculous for at least 5 years now. If you have friends and you drink, it’s very easy to plan to hang at one of the bars that’re close by for a couple of hours.


I'm pretty sure that's the only reason that the Lonewolf exists. I've never heard of a time where you can get into Au Chavel without a wait for the time that I've lived here. (About 5+ish years)


If you're going to Au Cheval during the middle of the day, Lonewolf isn't an option. If you're going at peak hours, Lonewolf is likely to be as packeed as anywhere else. I like Lonewolf as much as anyone else does, but if I'm going to make a multi-hour project out of going to a restaurant, it's not going to be Au Cheval.


I have gone there when the place was half empty and told there would be a 20 minute wait, which turned into 40. The hostess told me I needed to download an app to check in for a table. I can go further but I am surprised that place is actually still in business, it has terrible customer service and mediocre over salted food.


Lone wolf is great, but sometimes haymarket has more space. If you go right when it opens at night, you can usually get in pretty quick (I’ve been seated in 15 minutes)


There's an easy solution to having too much business : raise prices. I think this is one of A16Z's big insights into most businesses[1]: they don't charge enough.

If you look at the best restaurants in America like the French Laundry in Napa, they charge astronomical ridiculous prices and they still have reservations for months ahead of time. The oldest restaurant in Paris requires you put down a 400 euro deposit just to make a reservation! That these burger joint owners shut down instead of raising prices seems like a huge business mistake. They could have put 50% off coupons in the local newspaper or something if they wanted to make the place available to locals at reasonable prices.

[1] https://a16z.com/2016/08/13/pricing/


This is a classic humans are rational actors and spherical volumes in empty space economic answer, which entirely misses the point.

The restaurants we love, we love for the entire experience, and price is part of that experience. Even for people who can happily afford the higher price, it still results in a different experience. The people around you in the restaurant will be different. Your perception of the value of the meal will be different. Your willingness to try more adventurous items on the menu will be different. The whole thing is not just quantitatively different, but qualitatively different.

A $20 burger is not a $10 burger, regardless of how the two are prepared. If the former is not the experience the chef wants to create for their customers then, no, just raising prices doesn't "solve" the problem.


The customers you made money from when you're starting out don't have to be the same customers you make money from when your restaurant hits the big time.


What if you don't want the new customers, you want the original ones


some people start a business for reasons more complicated than making the maximum amount of dollars.


At this point it's not about earning money, it's about not getting overworked to death.

Raising prices sounds like the best strategy. You keep raising until the workload returns to normal. If you feel you're serving the wrong customers, you now have time to figure out how to fix that. Otherwise, if people eventually get turned off by the price and your workload goes down, you drop the price, and keep dropping it until you reach a stable point with just the right amount of orders.


There's risk associated in shunning your existing clientele in hopes of attracting a newer, more premium clientele.


If clients have to wait hours for a burger, the existing clientele is gone either way. If you end up folding, the existing clientele is hosed anyway.

And as the original commenter noted, you could put coupons in the local newspaper and the library and whatever else, so the locals have access to burgers at the old price.


Or you have someone whose job it is to stand outside and memorize the names and faces of local patrons and turn away any newcomer who can't present an ID with a local address. You can have a second entrance for everyone else, takeout-only, with an hours-long wait, which plenty of food tourists will happily endure.


I see you are familiar with Berlin nightclubs!


Lots of bars have "regulars" that they give unadvertised discounts too. This isn't an unsolved problem, you don't even need to go as far as coupons.


I think this is the point many people are seemingly missing.

Ask any family restaurant/bar owner in a seasonal tourist destination and they’ll explain why locals must be one of the first considerations before you make drastic changes. Particularly if an important reason for opening was a personal preference to serve locals over tourists in the first place.

It’s incredibly interesting to see how few people understand that someone may open a business with priorities other than massive growth potential.


>It’s incredibly interesting to see how few people understand that someone may open a business with priorities other than massive growth potential.

It really is interesting, but hardly surprising, given the demographics of this forum. :)


Certainly less risk than just closing up shop.


If there's enough demand, then it should be possible to increase capacity.


Raising prices would reduce the volume of customers, so the restaurant could maintain its quality standard, but Stanich felt his mission was to give back to the local community of regular diners. He didn't want to price out regular, repeat customers from the neighborhood and have only tourists eating there.


Others in this thread have suggested that the restaurant give locals a 'locals card', which would allow them to purchase food at a more reasonable price.


Burger pass. $30 for a burger pass. Gets you burgers for $4 for the rest of the year. or pay $20 for a burger now. You can secretly give out burger passes to locals when the tourists aren't looking.


I live in a touristy area with lots of great, but high demand and correspondingly high priced, restaurants.

Several of the local places do "frequent diner/visitor" loyalty cards, where the 5th or 9th meal (for restaurants), coffee (coffee shops), etc are free. This offsets the otherwise high prices charged on menu items.

Also, once a year (during the off season, of course), the local high school sells a booster card that gets a percent discount off for the entire year at numerous local places.

This is of course not unique to a touristy area, but I find myself using them far more often than in other places I've lived.


Smashburger actually had something close to this for a while. SmashPasss, it was like $100 bucks for the right to get a burger a day for 100 days.

https://smashburger.com/smashpass/


This sounds like a super good idea to me, I really love it. Seems pretty simple but just makes a lot of sense.

Any person travelling just coming by for the "best burger" probably would not want to spend $34 and not use that card anymore so $20 sounds great. Any regular would probably be super cool with paying that extra $30 knowing they can get a burger once a week or whatever for $4. This works out for the restaurant and the regulars, and like you said they can just hand out those cards to anyone for any reason.


Why not just look at driver's licenses and student ids instead? Disney parks do the same thing - cheaper prices for locals


Well, sure, but having the customer flash a card to the employee would save more time than having the customer hand over the card for inspection by an employee.


...but it would invite a secondary market for these cards. The logistics of fabricating them would suck, and you have to look at an ID to judge if a card should offered anyway.

Plus having special cards feels corporate, not homey. Looking at an ID for locals discount is pretty well trodden ground.


> but it would invite a secondary market for these cards

There are already markets for fake IDs, so unless you're suggesting that small local restaurants purchase scanners to confirm the authenticity of each ID, it would be relatively easy to circumvent this check too. (Some states require IDs to be scanned for selling alcohol, but many, e.g. in Oregon, do not, and the only check is some employee looking at a card in their hands for a couple of seconds)

> Plus having special cards feels corporate

Not at all. Plenty of local restaurants in my are (Portland, OR) have rewards cards, where you get stamps and a free meal after some amount of stamps.


The high prices would be to ward off these one-time customers who are only there for the single instagram photo. If someone is invested enough to make a fake ID just for cheaper burgers, presumably they're going to be repeat customers that develop a relationship with the restaurant, which is what he wants.


Isn't the mere possession of a fake ID illegal where the restaurant was operating? Whereas buying a coupon from someone isn't.


Wouldn't checking an already existing ID card be easier vs printing up and distributing specialized cards?


The point is, there are ways to distinguish between locals and non-locals. There are merits and drawbacks to having your own ID card vs. using a state ID card.


Also... he was just burned out. An experience many here may identify with. That's why the place is still closed.

It's possible there was something he could have done to make things good again... if he wasn't too burned out by the experience to figure it out and carry it out.


What about raising prices (at the exclusion of the locals), and then using the increased revenue to philanthropically give back to the community in a meaningful way?


Seems like the way he had before was pretty meaningful to the community, given how bummed people sound about the closure.


There are some things in a capitalist society that are the domain of philanthropy, and some things that are not. A school or library might be a suitable target of philanthropy, but a burger place or pub or barber shop isn't; there's no way to fund it and have it end up the same sort of place it would be on its own.

At best, it can be a target of a GoFundMe or something - but that's just to pay operating costs. The store itself has to operate like a normal capitalist store for the concept to work, accepting customers, charging money, etc. There is no concept in our society of a non-profit burger joint.


I think daveslash was suggesting the burger joint runs as the for-profit entity that it already is and that it is the source of the philanthropy, not the target.

To give an example, charge exorbitant prices for burgers knowing there are still people desperate enough to try the burger that paying $30 is fine and then use the extra revenue to give back to the community, possibly by paying for the local soccer club to get a new clubhouse, or possibly by providing free/subsidized burgers at local events where the crowd will be local. In this way the business stays open and isn't overwhelmed by the demand, while not completely isolating itself from the local community that the owner wants to give back to.


Yes, that is how I understood 'daveslash. My claim is that this fails to accomplish any of the goals of the burger joint's owner: he wants to provide a burger joint for the community, not a soccer club for the community. Saying "Why don't you run a fancy burger place and help the community in other ways than you wanted" isn't actually a solution to anything.


Thank you Haegin for clarifying what I was trying to say.


Can't you buy a burger place, reduce the price to give zero profit, adjust the price on the fly to ensure zero profit.

Sure you won't necessarily meet demand, but there's no inherent reason quality need suffer(?).

Or, have a coop where staff wages soak up all excess revenue, giving zero profit.

You'd want a contingency, and a savings account if you seek to expand the business, but they're not profit.

We could do that with all businesses I think.


I love this idea: zero profit capitalism. Sure some people would abuse savings accounts more than others, but taxing standing profits on a gradually increasing scale the longer they stand (sure the market already does this at a minute level, but it's not enough to deter wealth hoarding) seems like an effective way to solve the wealth extraction problem corporations introduce.


Brings to mind Paul Newman: https://newmansown.com/


Zero-profit capitalism has another name: hobby.


If it pays for your living it's not a hobby.


GP is suggesting the burger place become a source (or maybe a conduit) of philanthropy, not a target.


And how did that work out?

Maybe a better approach would be to jack prices up sky high for tourists and open another burger joint with a different name for locals.


They live in a community. If they raise prices such that their friends and neighbors can not afford to eat there, they will become social pariahs. It would be very difficult to do, and it would alienate the very people they probably wanted to be serving.

If you’re a restaurateur, you probably don’t even live near that restaurant. But this advice is tantamount to: tell your friends and everyone who helped you get where you are that they’re too poor for you, now.


It’s called supply and demand. If there is a 5 hour wait, there’s a problem: no local will wait 5 hours for a burger so you exclude them anyway. Price is the best mechanism to address supply and demand.


Thats not a solution for the problem though, if your goal is to keep your old customer base. It is only a solution if you view your restaurant as an investment instead of a passion. The counter example from the article is Paiche.

edit: To give another example, I have a kebab shop in my neighborhood who will not take any orders by phone let alone online. They dont have flyers or a web presence. Its a small street faced window run by an immigrant family who keeps the booth open throughout the day, from 11 to 11 longer or shorter depending on when they are out for the day. Most of the time the place is empty but during mealtimes there is regularly a line for half an hour. For the area, this is extremely well. And they sit right next to two other kebab shops, a pizza place and two asian places with mostly no line, literally the street down in 3 minute walking distance.

The reasonable thing would be to close the shop in the afternoon and take orders in advance, but thats not what they want for their shop. They want to talk and be a place where people meet, despite them not having any tables and not serving any drinks except a tea on the house from time to time.

And their food is absolutely amazing. Home made sauce and bread, it is worth the wait or to eat at 4pm in the afternoon. They dont let them self get rushed and it is always an amazing meal.


All the successful restaurants I've experienced chose to give preferential treatment to locals and regulars. That's because they often give the place the charme that makes it special in the first place. And that the business is rather cyclical, and you don't want to end up without tourists AND local all hating you.

At the point where you're running 20 tables or more for three rounds every night (plus mabybe 2x lunch) you stop caring about making more money. Because if money were that important, you would have gone into investment banker, not chef.

Plus restaurants tend to get into and out of favour. IT'

And everyone hates tourist. Seriously: if you work anywhere close to tourists, you will hate work because it's full of tourists. Then you take a vacation and start hating yourself.


Provide a locals only card that gives reduced pricing, could even have a locals only day once a week.


Ten minutes later a "locals only" card goes on eBay.


To what end?

The whole idea is that non-locals are probably going to buy 1 burger per year or perhaps lifetime.

These kind of people don't fiddle with ebay and paying a random guy just to get 25% off of a burger that they will use once.


Doesn’t matter. It’s still rate limited.


To who?

Someone that is only going to go there once or twice? Then it won't cause a problem.

Someone that isn't a local, but goes to the place over and over anyway? Consider them an honorary local.


Check ID address, ban people caught reselling, etc.

Get creative you're now a destination restaurant and can charge $50+ a burger. Or go out of business I guess.


I wonder if you could switch the 'locals only' card for just requiring proof of address on a driving license or utility bill. Might still be a problem with locals offering 'burger tours' - you pay me $10, I buy the burgers for $5 because they'd charge you $20, everyone is happy (except the restaurant).


There's no need to go that deep.

Imagine you were taking a trip to Dallas. You're taking PTO, paying for flight/hotel, and so on.

Are you really going to waste time buying a local's 30% off card on ebay that you will use once a year? Maybe once in your life? No way.

Even if you did, what is the result? A handful of people hustled you for a few bucks, but still generated profit for your restaurant.


But then the local doesn't get the discount burger, and the out of towner gets to use it once.

Presumably it would also expire, so it would be that locals loss rather than the restaurants.


Years ago I worked at a place downtown that was blocks away from a Thai restaurant that had a line out the door every day. The place was frenetic, like a zoo. The staff in the kitchen were running around like maniacs, making food as fast as they possibly could. The pictures on the menu above the register were all faded with age.

The food was merely okay. The story was that it was cheap and decent, not good. But as I stood looking at the staff I couldn't help thinking that it would be better for everyone if they raised their prices $2 a plate and just slowed down.


$2 a plate can be enough to price it out of being a reasonable regular option for people. A food cart in a pod near my work moved into a just-as-close physical restaurant and raised their prices by about $2 plate and I went from eating there once every week or two, to maybe once a year.


In a similar vein we have a lot of bakeries here run by a local Vietnamese population. They do these amazing pork rolls for $5, which is very cheap for food in Australia (A big Mac meal is around $12 for perspective). They are popular because of the price and if they were $7 they would sell far far less.


You're making the point for them...adding even $1 to the price will ratchet the demand down to reasonable levels, and you'll end up making a little more money with lower stress levels.


Especially if it is at a threshold amount, there even a small hike will scare away customers. While not reasonable, it is a psychological effect. Take the jump from 5€ to 6€. I witnessed the same on myself with a normal dish of fried rice from a take away place. 4,5€ is cheap, 5€ expected, 5,5€ makes no difference, but 6€??

No matter how stupid, the jump by 50cent to 6€ gets me every time. It makes no sense, but I start to calculate what I could get instead on the cheap end. Breakfast to go is the same with 3€ to 3,5€ to 4€. I mean could get a portion of fried rice for 4€! Same goes for pizza or any number of take away items.

It doesnt help that most shop owners arent stupid and optimized for those thresholds.


Yes, but if you read the article that wasn't the problem:

And then, in a quieter voice, he started to explain why it wasn’t just two weeks. He asked me not to reveal the details of that story, but I can say that there were personal problems, the type of serious things that can happen with any family, and would’ve happened regardless of how crowded Stanich’s was


Yes, this is the classic gentrification problem. Now you've turned a restaurant that locals can visit into a purely tourist attract that only the upper class can enjoy. This solves the problem of the restaurant owners having to close down, but for all the locals the restaurant might as well be gone.

P.S. And then when the next "top N burger joints in America" list comes out that everyone goes crazy for and all the burger-tourists start going somewhere else now you've lost your local customer base and you might go out of business regardless. Raising prices works well if you're a fine dining establishment in a dense metro area and that's the kind of business you expect to run. It doesn't work so well for burger joints or BBQ shacks elevated to a bizarre level of temporary fame.


> And then when the next "top N burger joints in America" list comes out that everyone goes crazy for and all the burger-tourists start going somewhere else now you've lost your local customer base and you might go out of business regardless.

Then lower your prices again to match demand. It's almost as if prices aren't set in stone.


You're missing the important detail here: you've destroyed the relationship with your local regulars. They aren't going to return just because prices are affordable, they're going to find other places to be their regular burger shop.


> They aren't going to return just because prices are affordable

I seriously doubt it. Do you have any empirical evidence for this?


I would do it like this: I would create a yearly --- no, make that lifetime membership pass which can be obtained for $30 or whatever. The locals would get this for free. With the membership pass, you would go to a separate lineup which has priority over the regular line up. Then I would work the the same relaxed pace as before, not caring whether 3 people are waiting or 300. The membership pass could make users and their guests eligible for a discount, like 15-25% off. Nothing too drastic.


> not caring whether 3 people are waiting or 300.

Maybe you truly can do that, but it is not easy.


Then this prices out the neighborhood locals who made the place successful in the first place. These are people that the owner and workers know and care about. I think he could care less about the tourists that come in once just to Instagram their "best burger in America".


It's okay to temporarily price out the locals until the inundation goes away.


Sure, but then the inundation goes away and the locals won't come back because they got burned already by the long lines and then the price hike. There's no guarantee that plan works.


>>Then this prices out the neighborhood locals who made the place successful in the first place.

Did they really make the place successful though? I don't see what exactly they contributed to the business. Had the locals not liked the food they probably would never have returned and would have also told all their friends never to go there.


That poses a substential risk to the business. You are changing your entire customer base over night. If you are a small restaurant like the one in the article, it is unlikely, that your earlier customers will book month in advance, even at half price.

Your old customer base was hopefully working, but your new customers expect the words greatest burger. Can you deliver on that hype?

The owner above payed month of utilities for an empty restaurant and has to make a sizeable investment to cater to that new customerbase.

Unless you didnt have a functioning business model beforehand, this is a real curse and puts your livelihood at stakes.


It seems to me that Steve was serving a ton of one-time customers and if he did that he would turn off the regulars that helped him get to where he was. You're right in that the technically correct solution would be to raise prices but I can empathize with the owner about how he would probably feel about that.


In this case, Stanich wanted to serve his community, and if he raised the prices, he would drive away his own community.

If I were Stanich, I would raise the prices but also offer reusable vouchers/coupons to all past customers, friends, and family so they can pay the original prices.


They could also make it reservations only, and control their price and speed.


Making a burger joint reservations-only changes the character of the service significantly. Imagine Twitter saying "We're scaling too fast for our backend to keep up, so we're going to require reservations a day in advance before you tweet so we can throttle the number of requests."


Not necessarily. I live in a heavily touristed neighborhood in Brooklyn. But I also know the managers at the restaurants I like in the neighborhood. The secret is that these managers hold some tables for walk-ins every night, and that they mostly give them to locals.

I can guarantee you there are famous NYC restaurants in my neighborhood where I can get a table even if there are lines out the door or reservations are completely full.

You just have to live in the neighborhood and actually put some effort forth to introduce yourself to staff and maybe go occasionally when you know it will be slow (like during a snowstorm or holiday). It does require a good manager/host though.


One of the sad things about this sort of list is that it's literally just one guy's opinion. Sure, he tried all the burgers. I'm sure all the burgers in the top 100 are good burgers, but there's probably very little separating them except some personal preference. For example, I probably wouldn't have rated this place as high because I don't care for grilled onions on burgers; I would much rather have raw onions.

The only reason anybody cares about that reviewer's opinions are because he has a platform and people are desperate to belong to something, anything.


His opinion about what's best probably could be argued with.

However, there are lots of definitely mediocre restaurants out there that would not make it to anyone's top ten list. So I'd have every reason to visit a restaurant on this sort of list as opposed to visiting a restaurant at random.

Personally, I'm OK with either grilled or raw onions (though I prefer raw). But there are lots of characteristics with few if any fans - soggy, overdone, cooked lettuce, etc.

The big thing is most restaurants don't have any reason to work at being good not to mention great. Most restaurants just soak up whoever happens to be in the area and has a preference for their type of food and so mediocrity not pretending to be anything else rules. Good-enough food at a good-enough price to make the owner a good-enough profit is it.


> The only reason anybody cares about that reviewer's opinions are because he has a platform and people are desperate to belong to something, anything.

I disagree. It's not about "belonging to something". I agree with what the author wrote in the article. The problem is with the paradox of choice (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice). Decisions are paralyzing when people are faced with a myriad of choices. "Best of lists" fix this problem for many people, which is why they are so universally popular across industries. Now instead of picking from a 1000 choices, you have 10.


I think it's both. Lists do practically help us navigate the overwhelming number of options we're presented with, but there is also a large social signaling factor to them. Knowing what restaurants are popular or new or exciting is a way for someone to communicate to other people that food is an important part of who they are. But in order for that signal to work, it sometimes helps to have "canonical" definitions of which restaurants are "in" and lists and critics enable that.

What I find really sad about all this, though, is that it sacrifices the value of our own personal narrative and preferences. The idea that there is a "best" restaurant implies that my experience at it is irrelevant since "best" is apparently a customer-independent property.

That in turn implies that my own stories around which meals I loved are not worth telling to others. I think that's a terrible perspective. I'd much rather read an article about the top ten meals someone had — a narrative about them experiencing the food and not about the food itself — because it's ultimately people that matter.


> For example, I probably wouldn't have rated this place as high because I don't care for grilled onions on burgers; I would much rather have raw onions.

Blasphemy! The one true greatest burger has both kinds.

Also, the grilled onions are between the meat and cheese so that the latter holds them in place.


Even sadder is that it probably depends on a lot on the day and time you go. Its not like you get the same experience every time you go to that restaurant.


Also on the person who cooked it, the ingredients they got that day, how busy they were, whether they got a call during the cooking process, what you ate that day and the day before, as well as what you drank, and even how you go there.

There are so many variables.


> I would much rather have raw onions.

Really? Yes, people are different, but this automatically invalidates you from any lists at all. Raw onions. Wow. Why not just eat an onion


There are several types of onions. Some are sweeter and can be eaten raw, reds are ofter smaller and closer to the wild type and not so accurate for that, but some people would prefer its more complex taste and are better adapted to survive in cold areas. The same variety can taste also different if cultured in winter or summer and if you use vinager or not.


Yeah, strangely enough, food and its accompanying culture is one of the most prevalent socially acceptable, encouraged biases. There's no objective, empirical stance you can take. Well, sure you can value food based on its nutritional content, but food and health science is continuously flipping back and forth on the facts and is overrun with pop-science, stirring confusing to no end. But most of all, your brain doesn't care about nutritional value once something is in your mouth.

"I don't like onions." "Oh, how can that be?" "Well, uh, they taste bad, I avoid them." "Well, I think they're great [because I like them]."

And yet these kinds of worthless opinions are given credence to no end in all levels of discourse from casual small talk to high-class cuisine.


“The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?”

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

:)


I think we're just in the age of "if you have an opinion on anything, no matter how shallow, you should share it and suggest it's self-evident, universal, and the only thing that matters."


Way back in the '80s, I worked in the kitchen at a little ice cream and lunch counter place called Great Midwestern. Ronald Reagan visited, and declared the blueberry ice cream "best ice cream in America" (to be fair, it was really excellent). This led to a big boom in business - and more importantly, mandatory visits by GOP presidential candidates in 1987 Iowa, with all the press circus that involved.

The owners took advantage of their good fortune and sold the business to someone else, who immediately started to "cut costs" by cheapening the ice cream. We went through two or three other owners, eventually landing on an out-of-state mega-dairy that just repackaged the cheap ice cream they sold in grocery stores - still sold as "best ice cream in America", the Ronald Reagan seal of approval.

Luckily, I could at least maintain standards in the kitchen, continuing to deliver all-vegetarian made from scratch soups daily and a nice selection of cold sandwiches made to order. But eventually, it died of neglect.


Which kid were you in the board cast?


You mean broadcast? Oh man, my manager wouldn't allow me out of the kitchen when the press was there, for fear of me shooting my mouth off at a candidate.

Luckily, the best takedown of a candidate was done by a customer - a PhD physics student who was a daily regular. At some point, GOP candidate Jack Kemp came in, with press in tow. He was touting his support for Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense program. When he found an actual physics doctoral student, he asked what the student thought of it. Without blinking - and on national television - he said "The only physicists who think it will work are the ones getting paid to say it will work". It was beautiful.


I'm a local. I've eaten a burger at Stanich's, way before any of this happened (apparently? I'm just now learning about it). It was fine, but calling it the best burger in America is extremely overselling it. Oregon has a law that you need to serve some kind of food if you sell hard liquor, and that's pretty much what their burgers felt like, an afterthought to fill OLCC regulations.

It was a place for old dudes to get a Budweiser and watch the basketball game, which perhaps made it one of the more authentic places in town (if that's all it takes, I know dozens of places in Minnesota you'll love), but definitely not the best place to get a burger.

If you want a much, much better burger in Portland, go to the Super Deluxe, or go to Yakuza and order theirs, or even Killer Burger, or really just about any other place. Portland is an extremely competitive food town that regularly has burger competitions (http://www.portlandburgerweek.com/), and there are dozens if not hundreds of places where you can get a burger that will be better.

I understand that the article isn't necessarily about this, but I'm having trouble walking away from what I know from direct experience is a ridiculous decision. To give a perspective on how ridiculous this is to me, if I was asked to name just Portland's 50 best burger places, I'm not sure Stanich's would be on it. It's not negligent because he unleashed the internet hordes on this place, it's negligent because the burgers there just weren't very good.


"Too much love will kill you, just as sure as none."

It's an interesting reflection on the effect of the internet hordes that can be called up by a careless article or tweet. A similar thing happens to restaurants that receive the Michelin stars and to single individuals that end up being in more popular demand than can be sustained (this happens to some consultants). Not all of the typical defenses are available all the time, such as raising your prices or other ways of limiting the influx. Besides that not being fair to your original customers.

Hard problem, the internet mob is like a bunch of locusts, they devour that which they visit and leave it devastated.


> they devour that which they visit and leave it devastated.

Not disagreeing but the "they" is "us". You're not in a traffic jam, you are the traffic jam.


Agree. Whilst I think that people, or rather popularity, ruins everything, and whilst I'm frustrated that rather explore and discover things for themselves people would rather be told what's good and descend in a mob, I have to admit that I'm part of the problem: sometimes it's just easier.


You don’t truly mean popularity literally ruins everything, correct? There are all kinds of things that are better because they’re popular, or at least could not have been as great without their popularity. Smart phones, for instance: if they didn’t get really popular, and there was not as much competition in the hardware and app space, the apps and hardware would not have gotten so much better so quickly.

Other ones off the top of my head: air travel (popularity has led to fairly low prices, even if the experience has suffered for those looking for bargain basement prices), computers, coffee, beer.


Yes & no; some of us are rubberneckers, some of us are not.


I think everyone is to some extent, but you can choose whether or not to recognise that there are consequences and learn to moderate your behaviour accordingly. Or not.


I'd rather not go see the great barrier reef.


It's not tourism that's killing the reef, it's runoff from mining and agriculture in the area, warming sea temperatures and ocean acidification...


It's even affecting non-business locations now as well, as a result of geotagging and instagram.

What happens when nature goes viral - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Itjc14Fm-gs


> Besides that not being fair to your original customers.

Speaking of not fair, I'm imagining a scenario where prices fluctuate by the hour or by the customer. Maybe it's not unfair, but just different.


Like, say...Uber?

Dynamic pricing is the right answer for this, but people don't like it and it's hard to execute technically.


Enjoyed the article. This reminds me a lot of what Groupon used to do to restaurants in the early days. They would just get slammed by hundreds of crabby people looking to one and done them for a half priced meal. Obviously as Groupon became more ubiquitous this lessened, but I do vividly remember going to a hot dog and burger place and finding the two owner-operators absolutely miserable as a line of 20 people formed out their door.

Back to the article: seems this is why Shake Shack succeeded and prospered with one store being inundated by customers. I'm sure this place has a lot of smart money wanting to use their name and recipe. Maybe not such a bad outcome?


As another child comment mentions, Shake Shack was designed in a lab to be a franchise monster. The founder of Shake Shack is Danny Meyer, who is quite possibly America's most celebrated restaurateur and the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. By the time Shake Shack opened, Meyer had been running restaurants for over 30 years.

The hot dog cart in Madison Park that originated Shake Shack was stocked by the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park (then a Meyer owned restaurant) which sits next to the park, has three Michelin stars and in 2017 was #1 on the World's 50 Best Restaurant's list.


Shake Shack began as a hot dog stand, but a hot dog stand created for a park being developed by a successful NYC restaurateur who owned a hospitality management company. If you're the sole developer of a new downtown park, and you own the only hotdog stand in that park, and you have lots of resources, it's going to be a success. When later there's the opportunity to develop the park further, you may pony up the cash to build a building to sell even more food. And later, when you see how successful it is, and you see the opportunity to branch out, you can do that, too.

Some restaurants become popular because people with money are in the right place at the right time, and not because it was an old-school authentic eatery discovered by a food writer and put on a top-foods-list.


Supply side economics dominates. There is no such thing as authentic demand.


Isn't the lesson here rather that monopolies, good management, and quality products are good for business?


Shake Shack is more about hyping just-ok products. There are better (and cheaper) burgers to be had without the megadosing of salt to compensate for a mediocre blend. They keep the seats filled because they worked the hype machine and the tourists flock there.


> I'm sure this place has a lot of smart money wanting to use their name and recipe. Maybe not such a bad outcome?

You have to understand and emphasize with someone's goals for starting and running a business. It's not always money and notoriety. Sometimes it's just that someone wants to do a certain thing with their waking hours.


Totally agree. More just meant at this point he doesn't have that option as easily, so maybe he sells out and then starts something small again. I know it's probably not too feasible given the emotional attachment he has to the business, just can't imagine some operator coming in there without ruining the charm of the place, which would be the main reason to keep things the same.


This reminds me of Anthony Bourdain's visit to Venice and a local restaurant that only accepted being filmed if he didn't tell anyone the name or location of the place. It can definitely kill the business.

Off-topic question: how does a submission gets front page with just 3 points?


He did this quite often!

"But on the other hand, that's kind of a destructive process because if I name the place - and I don't always when it's a place like that - I've changed it. The next time I go back, there's tourists. There's people who've seen it on the show. And then I might hear from the same person from that neighborhood say, you ruined my favorite bar, (laughter) you know? All the regular customers have run away and it's filled with, you know, tourists in ugly T-shirts and flip-flops. There are times that I have looked at the camera and said, look, I'm just not going to tell you where this place is. I don't want to change it. It should stay like this forever. I do do that now and again."

https://www.npr.org/2017/10/20/558792269/anthony-bourdain-on...


That can happen when the votes all occur in short succession.


And it won't last very long at all unless someone else boosts it.


Fascinating. Are you certain of this or is this conjecture? Feels like this could be exploited if true.

Maybe it's more sophisticated like votes must be from people with high karma points?


It can definitely be gamed. I always used to notice links to the nautilus science site would instantly get 6 or so upvotes. While pondering this was when I realised they were YC backed, and stopped wondering if they'd get called out on it....


There is a local barbershop I have been going to for the past 4 years or so. Recently, they wanted to increase some business, so they were asking customers to leave a review. Loving the place and wanting to give back, I left a good review on Google. Fast forward a few weeks, and received emails from google saying my review has been viewed 100s of times. I used to be able to call and get an appointment the same day, or same afternoon even, but now it's difficult to be seen the same day. It's a bit of a bummer, and I'm not really sure how to solve it. It hurt me as a long time customer, but the shop is doing a ton more business now. Now I'm hesitant to do this for any other business I enjoy, even knowing this is a selfish feeling.


That happened to me. Now I just scheduled my next appointment when I finish the current appointment. Every 5 weeks. And you get the same barber every time which is nice - you don't need to tell them what cut you want every single time. And it is good for the business because the have a somewhat predictable revenue source.


This problem exists with vacation rentals. Leaving a great review leads its to being fully booked next year, especially for a seasonal rental.


Ask to be put ahead of line for writing the review?

I'd have no shame about asking for some free haircuts as well. Your review is probably responsible for increasing their business 1.3-1.5x


Yep exactly or "this" as they say. The Market doesn't have to respond so slowly that prices stay the same even though demand went up. It doesn't have to charge a faithful customer more than an unfaithful one either.

It would be funny, although not culturally normal, to see companies start to review customers.


Your barber prefers reservations.


This reminds me of the first thing everyone asks when you tell them you just got back from Maui: "Did you go see the sunrise on Haleakalā?"

And, no I have not, because I don't want to wake up at 5:00am while on vacation and drive to a crowded parking lot to watch the sunrise in the cold with 80-100 strangers.

Why is it that we all have to have the same experiences?


This coupled with the articles I've seen on people on vacation all hoarding together to get the perfect picture of $insertMonumentOrSkylineHere. I remember one in particular that showed this gorgeous picture then showed what was behind the photographer and it was mob of people all taking the same picture. It honestly makes me sick. Those are the people that do thing to say they did them rather than for the experience IMHO.

If your life looks perfect on FB/Insta/Snap I just assume you are empty inside. Well "produce" our lives a little but some people go so far out of their way I just don't understand how people can follow that shit and not see how vapid/fake/BS it all is. Like serious this [0] fuck right off. I in no way endorse or support the backlash she got but it just all seems so stupid and wasteful to me.

[0] https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/blogge...


Yes. Similar to my child, who's interested in the process of the "art" she's scribbling rather than the result, and forgets about it soon after. But more self-conscious, as the process of taking common photos is a social act.

What if the mechanics of camera/social photo apps rewarded people for taking original photos?

https://www.wired.com/2015/09/camera-wont-let-take-photo-eve...


If you have a week there, and it's on the list of things to do, why wouldn't you go do it? Are you going to go all the way out there and not do the things? Then you'd be missing out!

We all want a magical experience in a drive-thru window, and we fear missing out. If you live on the east coast, you could go to the Caribbean cheaper and quicker, but it's not Hawaii!. The Caribbean is beautiful, but Hawaii is magical! At least, that's what we're told by the travel agencies. Then you arrive and realize it's basically the Caribbean with a Wal-Mart and better hiking (and more rain)


> If you have a week there, and it's on the list of things to do, why wouldn't you go do it?

Maybe one day. I guess I'd rather pack in as much surfing as I can.

I don't feel I've missed out on the Haleakalā sunrise thing, I just think it's funny that that is always the first thing people ask.

Some of them seem to almost discount my trip when they found out I didn't go.


Due to the weather, you can miss out even if you had gone.

I went to Haleakalā after being recommended to go after a visit to the big island. The early morning that I went via a local outfitter, it was raining cats and dogs, visibility nada, so it was wet and uncomfortable. I had opted for the ride down the mountain on bikes option which seemed adventurous at the time. Riding down fearfully slick roads and switchbacks with limited visibility and having the bike ride leaders joke about having to pull guests out of ravines with ropes did not help. But that was my personal Haleakalā experience.

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