“The challenge is inflation”

Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the recovery of the restaurant industry in the face of inflation and supply chain challenges.

Video transcript

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Welcome to Yahoo Finance. Well, culinary accolades never fail for a fine dining restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, consistently ranking # 1 for restaurants in the country. But the past year and a half has not been without challenges. Here to discuss Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin. Sir, I think I should call you maestro. First of all, congratulations on being ranked best restaurant in the United States and second best in the world by the prestigious The List of the 1000 best restaurants in the world, fourth year number one in the United States. How do you maintain that level of excellence, especially in today’s environment where the hospitality industry has been so challenged by COVID over the past 20 months?

ÉRIC RIPERT: You are right that it has been very difficult for our industry. However, we have a very good team, a loyal team. And I think that’s the secret to being able to have consistency and offer a great experience to our customers.

When we reopened Le Bernardin, all the dining room staff came back and we have most of our team in the kitchen – all the sous chefs, who are basically chefs, and so on, the pastry chefs. and my boss and so on came back. This team is therefore very loyal and that makes us very strong. And, of course, work hard and be very vigilant about the quality of the products and so on. This is also part of the success.

And, Chief, I want to get your take on the ingredients, because we talk to business owners here quite often and what supply chain issues people are having. I had the chance to browse your menu, it is magnificent. I wish I had had lunch before doing this. But I’m looking at ingredients like black truffles, golden imperial caviar. Do you find it difficult to get some of these more exotic ingredients? And it looks like you are using quite a few of them.

ÉRIC RIPERT: Yes, we have a very large menu with a lot of choice. In terms of getting the products, it’s not that difficult. We get everything we need. Now it’s– the challenge is inflation. The products are more expensive because, I believe, of the difficulties of bringing them into the country, and also because it is less people who work, and it is a lot of increase in wages that creates a big inflation. And that is where the challenges are. But in terms of finding whatever we want, it’s very easy.

And, you know, so you can get those ingredients and the shipping costs have gone up. Do you then have to adjust your menu in any way to compensate or do you have to increase the prices of the meals you serve and pass that on to the customer?

So what we decided to do is increase the prices and pass them on to the customer. Of course we are absorbing a little of the inflation because it will be too big an increase on the menu and we don’t want to do that. It is therefore shared between our clients and ourselves. And we can basically survive this inflation pretty well.

And, chef, I have to ask you a question about the street side restaurants here in New York City. This has been a very, I would say, controversial issue. If you go to the Village the streets are pretty much full of restaurants – I guess they are overcrowded. Is this something that you support, especially in the long term, as companies are pressuring many of them to make it more permanent?

ÉRIC RIPERT: So, first of all, Le Bernardin has never done that because we are a luxurious restaurant and I believe that the experience is within our walls and not outside. I know a lot of restaurants did this because it was about survival for them and it was OK during the pandemic.

Now we’re getting by and I think these [INAUDIBLE] must stop because, first of all, it is not very convenient for customers. Even with the heaters in the winter it is very, very cold. When it is windy and so on, the food cools down very quickly. And so the experience is not really that great. And also the problem of those [INAUDIBLE] it’s that it has an impact on traffic, it also brings our rodents into the streets, it’s … it must disappear.

I agree with you. They have to go. But, chef, I also want to ask you – so many high end restaurants closed for part of the period during COVID and you say most of your staff have returned so this is a great testament to you that you have obviously loyal staff. Did you have to pay them more to come back? And then I also want to ask you really quickly, you know, when you got back I’m sure it took a while for business to pick up, but now you’re saying energy lunches are back on the Bernardin’s menu.

ÉRIC RIPERT: Yes. When we reopened, we were at 25% of our capacity and that was a mandate from the government. Then we went to 50%, 75%, and now we’re at full capacity. What is very interesting is that the power lunch is back. The dining room is packed every lunchtime of the week. And we are packed at night. And also we have a lot of private events. And there are a lot of companies that have decided to celebrate or have events with us and they are not canceling those events. So this is very good news for us.

Now, our employees on their return we have adjusted their salaries because it is an inflation and therefore, they also feel it and we want them to have a good salary that allows them to live comfortably. So we did it immediately. From the tiny salaries to the big ones, we’ve increased everyone.

Very well. Chef Eric Ripert, we’ll have to stop there – Le Bernardin, chef and co-owner. Congratulations on all your accolades and good luck for the holiday season. I know this is a busy time for you.


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Cecil N. Messick