Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introduction to Beverage Management

The day kicked off with a long missing in the news segment. According to daily freebie AMNY, food stylists actually take pictures of inedible things that look edible! Shocker! Down where the old Fulton fish market used to live on the old southern tip of Manhattan, a new foodie market is emerging. After seeing the new fish market up in Hunts Point, which is literally the middle of nowhere, it's nice to see a real market pop up where the people are.

Richard covered the history of the beverage -- from the dawn of man to its presence on today's college campuses -- in a few hours with enough time to spare to show a documentary about the U.S.'s 13 years of Prohibition. In the beginning, there was water, and it was good. Juice from fruit and extracts, too. About six to eight thousand years ago, alcohol was not so much discovered so much as stumbled upon. When a sugar or starch is introduced to yeast in a properly moist environment, fermentation occurs. Yeast eats the food and produces CO2, heat, and alcohol. The first naturally occurring alcohols to be consumed by man were most likely fruit-based, as the grain-based fermentation take a bit of processing of the grain.

In early history, alcoholic beverages became the go-to daily drinks for health and hydration because it was safer. No one knew why relieving one's self in the same river from which you drink was a bad idea, and they didn't know why that water made you sick (while the beer and mead made from the water did not). It was a short step to steeping healing herbs and berries in alcohol to create tonics and elixirs that also happened to get you messed up. Gin, that's simply distilled alcohol steeped with juniper berries.

Distillation was introduced by the Moors, most likely for the purpose of making perfume, not drinkin'. Distillation is simply cooking the fermented beverage, collecting the evaporated alcohol, and re-condensing it. This process lead to stronger, condensed alcoholic beverages that could travel longer than an unpasteurized beer. Ahoy, pirates and brandy! Colonists ditched the boats at Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer. There was nothing else safe to drink unless they went inland.

All major religions at one point or another embraced alcohol in ceremonies, as alcohol was revered for its safety and pleasure-giving qualities before the establishment of religion as we know it. That said, due to alcohol's ability to be transcendental and give relief, it was also in conflict with certain aspects of religious practice, and has been suppressed by all sorts ever since.

The young United States found that towns tended to have two social centers: the church and the saloon. In the Church, you sat there and got spoken to. In the saloon, you socialized, you pleasured yourself, and the business of the day got done. Politics were at the bar. The problem with this formula was that saloons were all male (unless you were a certain kind of lady); it was this imbalance of power that lead to the original women's movement being focused on temperance.

We watched a documentary on Prohibition, during which the United States basically destroyed all the foodways that anchored society to a healthy perspective on alcohol. The ban served to do exactly the opposite of what the banners hoped: alcohol consumption rose, a large criminal underground swelled, people drank more for the pleasure of being naughty, respect for law and government was eroded, and in the end one group emerged as drinkers where they never drank before: women.

To this day, the United States is under the yoke of the aftershocks of Prohibition. When Prohibition was lifted, a lot of the controls on booze that were introduced remain n effect today. Why? Because the government can closely track -- and tax -- all alcohol being produced. Food consumption is easy to fudge; not so with booze, from a restaurant's liquor license down to a distributor's tight controls on inventory. It's just too profitable for the government to let go of. Now imagine if the government did to marijuana and prostitution what it does to booze and ciggies! We'd fuck and bong our way out of the recession...

There is a mini-Prohibition going on in college campuses today. It's a weird situation in which part of the social community is under 21, another over, and they both hang out. Underage drinking is the standard, and lately college presidents have called for a review of the drinking laws....after which they were mercilessly attacked by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (among other naysayers) who don't appreciate that history repeats itself: ban booze, and people flout the law, drink more, and do more damage than if it was not banned. -sigh-

It's nice not to fall asleep in class!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


After the last few days I've had (with my wife going into false labor), the subject of the class gave me a sore giggle. The food cost of a hamburger is pretty straight ahead: add up what the meat patty cost, what the bun cost, what the bits of topping costs, add 'em up, and you got your food cost. But adding up the labor cost isn't that easy: if a cook is earning $8 an hour and turns out one burger a minute, it's $1/burger, but what if he's cooking up 1 burger at a time when it's slow, and 20 at a time when it's slamming? And what about what it costs for the server to bring it from kitchen to table?

The rest of class was dedicated to discussing the pros and cons of fixed pay (salaries) versus variable pay (hourly wages), and a lot of different formulas to figure out ratios and percentages which which I doubt any restaurant with less than 100 seats ever really concern themselves. I'd go into it more in detail here, but to be honest, I'm suffering a bit from baby fever, and the baby that is soon to be upon us....

But one formula did catch my eye, because I wish I could plug in the numbers and show it to my current boss. Turnover rate = # employees separated / work force. If a place has 50 employees and loses 50 employees over one year, that's a turnover rate of 100 percent. Some places, particularly fast food joints, are notorious for having turnover rates of 200 to 300 percent (i.e., the whole staff turns over 2 to 3 times a year). The cost of turnover is in expending the resources to find new employees, train them, and all the mistakes they're going to make by being new. The main ways to reduce turnover rates: TREAT YOUR EMPLOYEES WELL, pay them fairly, schedule to their needs, benefits, etc. -sigh-