Bottomless french fries? In this economy????
This is a post about one line in a Netflix show.
This is the diner from the film Road to Perdition. The diner that is discussed in this post looks like it.
There is a new Netflix show out this weekend called The Night Agent.
It is awful. There are reviews that say it is good, but those reviews are wrong. You should not watch it. But this is not a review of the show. It is a post about one thing that happens in one throwaway scene.
In one of the first few episodes, a character goes to a small diner. The diner is one of those old-fashioned diners that has one cook and one waitress. The diner is not packed but it’s not empty. The character sits at a table and opens their laptop.
The waitress says, “working on a deadline?”
“I’ll bring some fresh coffee.”
“And maybe a double order of fries?”
The waitress smiles and says, “they’re bottomless.”
This small diner offers bottomless fries? Bullshit.
It is true that there are some restaurants in America that offer bottomless (aka unlimited) fries. Famously, Red Robin offers unlimited fries with their burgers. But there is a reason why most restaurants do not offer this: it only makes economic sense in certain situations.
Potatoes are cheap and restaurants buy them in bulk which makes fries especially profitable. A restaurant that offers bottomless fries is choosing to give away some of their fry margins to drum up more orders of other things. And in those situations, you would have to order quite a few orders of fries for it to actually not turn a profit. Meanwhile, french fries make you thirsty and if you are one of the rare people who order four or five orders of fries at Red Robin, you’re probably going to order drinks—perhaps alcoholic drinks—that more than compensate for whatever minor loss the restaurant is taking on just the french fries. Moreover, that loss will also be considered part of the restaurant’s broader marketing budget. Bottomless fries are a thing to get people in the door and most people will not avail themselves of enough fries to cause a problem, but when on rare occasions, someone does order too many, it’s a marketing expense.
But this is only true if the french fries are not adding to your overhead cost. In a fast-casual chain restaurant, this is almost certainly the case. You can order as many fries as you want, but they are not calling in more cooks to make you fries. They are not having people work overtime to make you more fries. They have lots of people working in the kitchen and having one line cook add some fries to a fryer and then retrieve them 4 minutes later, is not a real drain on the staff.
It is important to note, however, that just because Red Robin has a business plan that makes bottomless fries profitable, the bottomless fries are not without headaches.
In particular, the waitstaff at Red Robin hates them.
As one Red Robin employee wrote on Quora, the fries are the worst part of their jobs.
Fries are by far the most annoying thing in the restaurant. Imagine every person that comes in and you’re the server. Now imagine that those people when they come in are extremely rude and needy and immediately ask you for fries. Now imagine that this is an entire 5-hour morning shift on Sunday, which is the busiest time during the day on Sunday. Now think that you are the to-go specialist and you also have to provide fries to people while your servers are trying to get fries. People are constantly complaining that they don't get fries, and that while you’re walking around, every person asks you “Can we get some more fries?”
Red Robin is a big chain. The bottomless fries are a corporate element that the entire business plan has been optimized for. They do not care that the waitstaff hates doing them.
But in a small diner, there are no levels of corporate management to insulate the decision-makers from the grievances of the staff.
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