From Iceland — “Why should I return for a soggy potluck and some frozen fries?”

“Why should I return for a soggy potluck and some frozen fries?”

Published June 10, 2011

“Why should I return for a soggy potluck and some frozen fries?”

Since opening, I was apprehensive to do more than peek into the window of a downtown restaurant reduced to the lowest common denominator, which might be expected if it were attached to a petrol station and 200 km from the next watering hole, but this is Laugavegur, Iceland’s main shopping street and there is nothing to entice me to walk through the front door except a sign that reads “Tasty: smakkast betur”.  I was not even certain that food was actually being served yet, since the place was dark and empty, but to my chagrin, a tug on the door revealed that Tasty was open for business.  Now, I was going to let this experience simmer until the next issue, but I have a feeling that Tasty may not be around that long.  This place is in serious trouble.  I hope the two employees have a back up plan, or maybe a plot involving mutiny.  
Opening its doors just months ago, the owner solicited us insisting that Tasty was ready for review.  Seriously?  Then this place is in deeper water than I thought; a kitchen nightmare desperately in need of a Gordon Ramsay fix.  Listen, I will save you the humiliation and address the obvious.  Heed my advice:  a restaurant is a labour of love.  Owners just starting out should be involved with every detail of the operation.  Wake up, break a sweat, or give up and stay at home.
First, reconsider the name and slogan “smakkast betur” (“tastes better”).  Better?  Better than what?
Second:  Know the business you are really in:  Food + Ambiance + Service = Experience.
I walk into a lifeless dungeon of dismal music, sit at a sticky plastic table and feel compelled to order a beer.  The server says the alcohol order did not come this weekend.  You are located downtown and have no excuse for three days of an unstocked bar.  Change the menu, or send someone to the shop.  Next, I order the marinated leg of lamb served with ciabatta, mushrooms, grand salad, and a side of fries (1.800 ISK).  I am served what appears to be a burger on a burnt Bónus bun and a bowl of fries.  The photograph is a bit too generous.  Perhaps it should have shown the gristled excuses of lamb bits inside or soggy sponge of the bun below.  At least the mushrooms were good.  The server never saw or heard of ciabatta bread.  When confronted with the piece of burger lettuce I was served, the cook made good on the grand salad.
Apparently this business venture was approached without any industry experience.  Enrol in a course or do some research.  Go dine at other restaurants!  Why is their formula working?  Obviously you are not interested in upscale dining, and that is fine, but you can afford a bit of charm and still keep the prices low.  Look around at the fast casual market and ask what differentiates your burger experience from your neighbours’?  I can walk three blocks and have one of the finest burgers in town for the same price.  Why should I return for a soggy potluck and some frozen fries?  Cutting a fresh potato into chips is cheap and easy and could be a starting point.  You also have location to your advantage, now follow up with ambiance.
I am so bored with this opportunist mentality of seeking a harvest without ploughing.  If you want to make money, then import the next portable sauna or trampoline craze to Iceland and stay out of the kitchen.  A restaurant should be opened out of passion and not profit.  As the old joke goes: the quickest way to get a million krónur in the restaurant business is to start with two million.

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