Patrick (patrickwonders) wrote,

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At the dinner party which Hannah and I hosted this past weekend, one of the guests asked (probably just dinner-guest-flattery) if I had plans to open my own restaurant. Working in a restaurant kitchen is not my kind of thing. But, it did get me thinking about what sort of role I could actually play in opening a restaurant and what I would want such a restaurant to be.

My role

I wouldn't want to be a chef. I love to cook, but I'd go bonkers if I had to make the same dish too often. And, the last-minute-crunch to get a meal on the table for a big group once a week is just about the right frequency for me. Most viable restaurants have 10 people in the restaurant more than one time per week.

I might be able to deal with being the maitre d' or even just the affable owner who wanders around the dining room making sure the guests feel all cozy and special. But, I wouldn't want to do it seven days a week or from avant-lunch to apres-dinner.

I would love to be the sort of executive chef who creates most of the recipes and teaches them to the chefs and who can play in the kitchen from time to time.

I would find the accountant stuff interesting if weren't for things like payroll taxes, liability insurance, sales tax, etc.

The restaurant itself

Maybe it's just that I like things to be challenging (for the aesthetics of it), but I think that one can be a "Top Restaurant which happens to only serve vegetarian dishes" instead of a "Top Vegetarian Restaurant". Most all-vegetarian restaurants are somewhat in your face about being vegetarian. I think there is room for some really good restaurants where most of the guests would come, have a meal, and go home---all the while blissfully unaware that every dish on the menu was vegetarian.

Last night, as I was reading Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning...Was the Command Line (not worth tracking down), I was bemusedly remember Al Gore's "Open Source Campaign"---whatever that means. But, I was thinking that it could have a meaning for an Open Source Restaurant (an OSR). If, along with your meal, your waiter also brought you a recipe card with the recipe printed on it, you could come pretty close to realizing the Open Source movement in something non-electronic.

The risk, of course, is that your patrons will frequent your restaurant less often if you provide them with the means to reproduce your food at home. I don't consider this much of a risk. The taste of a particular dish is only one of a whole litany of reasons that people patronize the restaurants they do. Some attend simply to not have to prepare a meal themselves. Others attend simply to not have to clean up after the meal. Others attend to pamper themselves. Others attend to pamper their guests. Others attend for the enjoyable atmosphere. I think you'd lose very few customers by telling them how they could make the food themselves.

Beyond that, what works about the Open Source Software movement? To me, the best feature is that you have hundreds of unpaid minds helping you hone the code. With a properly organized "bug tracking" system, one could have lots of at-home-chefs testing, tweaking, and improving the recipes for free. Did I mention that the recipes would be under revision control?

The biggest risk, that I can see, would be that someone would collect your recipes and open their own restaurant, squeezing you out. It is possible, I suppose. But, famous restaurants often put out cookbooks of their recipes. The Moosewood Restaurant has released a multitude of cookbooks, but they've had no serious competitors. The only question is whether they could have published the cookbooks before they became famous and still survived. I think the answer is "yes". But, I'd consider hedging that bet making a license agreement for the recipes that keeps one from using that recipe commercially within an x-mile radius of my OSR.

It'd be an interesting thing to claim that recipes and software could be on the same legal footing. It would do one of two things. It could make people realize how inane shrink-wrap licenses are. Or, it could make people shrink-wrap cookbooks, self-help books, do-it-yourself manuals, etc. I'm hoping for the former.


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