Traci Des Jardins: San Francisco restaurateurs feeling the pinch

Earlier this evening I chatted on the phone briefly with Traci Des Jardins about the the challenges of being a restaurateur in San Francisco these days.  Jardiniere, the eleven-year-old restaurant where Des Jardins is co-owner and head chef, is something of an institution for the ballet and opera-going crowd and grosses around $7 million annually.

She says that while it has been business as usual for the most part, the front of the house noticed that diners were cutting back on spending slightly; diners who would ordinarily order a $200 bottle of wine were opting for the $150 bottle instead.

Des Jardins also talked at length about the new bane of most local, budget-minded business owners: Healthy San Francisco, a program which requires employers to help pay for their employees’s health care.  She did what many other restaurants did: added a 4% surcharge onto the bill to recoup expenses.  “I don’t see how a restaurant can survive without either raising prices or doing the service charge,” she said, adding that food costs and wine delivery expenses were already up, no thanks to the weak of dollar and rising gas prices.

Indeed, some restaurants haven’t survived: Des Jardins pointed out that Rubicon, also on the short list of respected SF fine dining establishments, shut its doors last week, citing rising expenses like rent and mandatory insurance payments.  “San Francisco’s health insurance requirements were killing us,” owner Drew Nieporent is quoted as saying. “The restaurant was doing well, but we just couldn’t make money.”

Des Jardins is keeping a cool head about it all, as it’s still the off season. “I’m not terribly worried…If we see a big drop in business in the fall, then I’ll be really concerned.”

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