- Daria Bishop
- The burger at Waterworks served by Maleek Pearson-Fitzpatrick
At first glance, a hamburger seems like a pretty simple thing. But the distance between burgers served at the average backyard barbecue and the mouthwatering double stack on a freshly baked bun at Waterworks Food + Drink in Winooski is light-years.
Of course, the former will cost you maybe a few bucks in ingredients. The latter — enjoyed at the high-ceilinged, 250-seat restaurant with a river view — will set you back $16.50 for half a pound of griddled beef sandwiched with thinly sliced red onion, American cheese, housemade pickles and Dijonnaise on a top-notch bun, served with a pile of crisp garlic fries with garlic aioli and ketchup for dipping.
News flash: You're paying for more than the ingredients.
The Burger at Waterworks
$16.50 for a double with fries
Total Food Costs
- Housemade bun $0.17
- 2 4-oz. beef patties $1.92
- Housemade pickles $0.50
- Dijonnaise $0.36
- Red onions $0.25
- Garlic fries $1.08
- Cooking fats and seasonings $0.15
- Ketchup $0.12
Includes rent, insurance, utilities, equipment and repairs, furniture and tableware, linen service, bar TVs and cable subscription, music licensing fees, point-of-sale and reservation software and equipment, horticulture service, and cleaning service
On a busy night includes 7 to 8 cooks, 3 dishwashers, 2 order expediters, 2 food runners, 3 hosts, 2 managers, 7 servers, 4 bussers, 3 bartenders and 1 barback
For the Seven Days Money & Retirement Issue, Waterworks owner David Abdoo and kitchen director Adam Raftery agreed to draw back the curtain on what it costs to get their best-selling entrée (offered in single- and double-patty versions) from the kitchen to customers' tables.
Restaurant operations have three main areas of costs: ingredients, labor and overhead. Industry guidelines for a full-service restaurant allocate roughly 30 percent of total sales to cover each, leaving about a 10 percent profit margin, which is considered a strong return in this sector. Abdoo declined to share dollar figures for individual labor and overhead expenses but explained what they include and said these percentage targets are his goal.
Food costs for a particular dish, such as what Waterworks pays for the beef or American cheese in its burgers, are precise, though they may fluctuate weekly. Since it's impossible to assign labor or overhead specifically to one menu item, those costs are estimated here, each as 30 percent of the burger's price.
Abdoo and Raftery did share that the burger requires more hands-on labor than one might expect. Long before a customer places an order, prep cooks make weekly batches of pickles, bake hamburger buns, whisk together housemade Dijonnaise, and roast and purée garlic for the garlic aioli.
They do it to build a better burger, Raftery said: "It's never cheaper to make your own stuff."
The burger has another, less obvious cost in a busy kitchen: It's the most customized item on the Waterworks menu. "No cheese, sauce on the side, sub salad for fries, no bun, [gluten-free] bun, no pickles," Raftery rattled off. "Anything modified throws a wrench in the [cooking] line."
To keep things running smoothly and to minimize employee burnout, the kitchen director said, "We overstaff. If you're in the weeds, I've got someone to help you out."
Another news flash: Over the past few years, "every cost is up," from ingredients to wages, Raftery said.
Like most restaurants, Waterworks does everything possible to avoid raising prices, including cutting costs, reducing waste and playing with the menu mix.
Over his six-year tenure with Waterworks, Raftery said the price of the burger has gone up by about 50 cents. "We probably should be charging a little bit more," he acknowledged.