Manuel’s Tavern: Where Political Concepts Meet Reality

Those of us here (contributors and commenters alike) are an inside baseball crowd.  We can debate the daily talking points with the best of them.  We can talk policy nuance to hypothetical logical extremes.  And we, consciously or not, usually invoke the concept of ceteris peribus – “all other things being equal or constant” – to show how our little suggested policy changes will make the world more perfect, and given the concept of ceteris paribus, we can chose to willfully ignore all the unintended consequences of our grand plans.

Small business owners and consumers are on the front lines of our policy changes when they are enacted.  They don’t have the benefit of holding all other things equal.  Actions have a cascade of reactions.  Employers and consumers adjust.  And those adjustments cause other adjustments.  Eventually, there is a new normal, just as new “policy fixes” are handed down, and the cycle begins again.

Many of us have those discussions about how to fix the world at places like Manuel’s Tavern, a place where many a politico has tipped a pint or three.  As such, they’re the perfect people to drive the point home that business and consumers have to deal with the real world around them.  They aren’t just wealthy business people that can eat the increased costs of regulation, rising prices, and the ability to hire people, provide benefits, and have them get to and from work.

I hope as you read the comments below (that are incredibly well presented to show a multitude of impacts on the businesses bottom line) that you remember that all of our grand fixes are eventually paid by someone.  Businesses, employees, and their customers all share these burdens in some way.  With that, I leave you a word from Manuel’s Tavern:

Friends of Manuel’s Tavern,

You are not nameless and faceless. You are not just customers.  You are family, and as owner of Manuel’s I want to share some difficult, upcoming changes.  It is my hope that, after explanation, these necessary changes will be more understandable to you, and that Manuel’s will continue to receive your support.

Without you, Manuel’s would not be in business, and because of our established relationship we consider the impact of decisions on you.  Nevertheless, uncomfortable and unwanted decisions have to be made. The changes below are being forced by financial need.

Every year management forecasts and surveys the business landscape and looks at any necessary adjustments to our business model. Most of the time, these adjustments are very small.

However, because of many circumstances beyond of our control, Manuel’s is facing some big business hurdles. As a result, small changes are not in our current forecast.

The Dilemma:

Manuel himself did everything he could possibly do to keep our prices as low as possible. A price increase was always a last resort. That same price mentality is true with me today.

Recently, however, Manuel’s has experienced the largest increases ever in our cost of goods. For a large percentage of menu items we now pay twice as much as we did a year ago. I cannot think of a single item we buy that has gone down in price.

The cost of regulatory compliance has risen significantly as well. What used to be free from the city now comes with cost. In addition to compliance costs, our property taxes have risen a large percentage.

As the building gets older, more frequent repairs and maintenance are required. The charges for these services have almost doubled.

Manuel’s hope is to soon provide health insurance for all of our employees again. We want to be ahead of the upcoming federal mandates. For decades we proudly provided it, but like so many small businesses trying to stay competitive, we were forced to drop it when we confronted years of nearly 30% premium increases and of competing against businesses that did not provide it.

I never liked dropping this commitment to our staff and wished it had been otherwise.  Now that the competitive field will be level, we will begin to provide this benefit again. However, it will still require a heavy investment, 40 to 60 thousand dollars a year in early estimates.

I have rushed through the items with you, but here every day the fight against price increases is a tedious daily grind and battle. Everything we normally do to keep costs and prices low is now exhausted, and we are left with no choice but to implement some changes.

The Changes:

Menu price increases will be in effect very soon, always an absolute last resort for Manuel’s.

In the past we have favored targeted price increases, focusing only on items with major cost increases. But after running the numbers, this unfortunately is impossible this time.  Instead we are looking at mostly modest price increases across the board, which spreads the burden and meets our needs.

However, a few items like our tuna will go up by as much as $1.25 per item. FYI: tuna before the Japan tsunami was around $5.50 a pound, and now I am happy to get it at $11.25 a pound.

In addition to the menu increase, our hours will be changing soon.

We will open Monday – Friday at 11 am, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am. Brunch will be served from 9:30 am – 2 pm Saturday and Sunday. We will close at 1 am Tuesday – Saturday and midnight on Sunday and Monday.  The kitchen will continue to close one hour before the tavern closes.

The changing of hours helps our employees and helps Manuel’s as well. Marta has cut some service routes and reduced hours. This reduction in public transportation has made staffing at night very hard. Reducing our late hours gets people home, increases security and cuts cost.

A plan is underway to be completely smoke free by January 2014. Customer request and event coordinators continue to mention smoking as a problem here. Within a month the only smoking area available at Manuel’s will be in the main bar and that will end in January 2014.

If we are truly the business I think we are, and you are truly the customer I know you to be, then I know you will understand and continue to support us.

If you value honesty, please know I have been honest with you about our dilemma. It is scary and keeps me awake some nights. These changes are the best answers I have at the moment. They were conceived through lots of thought and meditation. I have not seen an alternative.

I pray you understand and continue to love and support Manuel’s.

Brian Maloof
Owner and General Manager
Manuel’s Tavern


  1. griftdrift says:

    We talk a lot about regulations and many times it gets too meta. This drives home the point that it is local regulations that have the greatest effect on business. Brian is not alone, but infinitely more gracious, among local saloon owners in dealing with the absurdities of the city.

  2. Spacey G says:

    Legalizing gambling in Georgia would solve all of these problems. Horse racing would provide more horse meat. Stuff’s cheap. And everywhere. Just ask the Europeans!

  3. Harry says:

    A Democratic establishment meets the facts of life. Let’s see here: inflation of food costs, of employee health costs, of security costs, of transportation costs. I wonder where the buck stops with what doofus president with all that inflation?

  4. Trevor Southerland says:

    As a patron of Manuel’s Tavern, I have absolutely no problem paying the prices they need me to pay to stay in business and it’s also very wonderful that all of their staff will have health insurance back once again.

    I worked in the food service industry for several years… the fact that so many people are allowed to be exploited was sickening (Average server pay is $2.13 an hour, with no benefits) so I’m very happy to see at least the health insurance part of that coming back for the great folks at Manuel’s.

    Looking forward to many more decades of eavesdropping on others conversations at Manuel’s! 🙂

    • Ed says:

      ” the fact that so many people are allowed to be exploited was sickening (Average server pay is $2.13 an hour, with no benefits)”


    • Baker says:

      I’ll also pay more to continue dining at Manuel’s to support an Atlanta icon, but I’m not going to not know why they are having to do what they are doing (how wonderfully well-written is that little clause, lordy).

      The health insurance/ benefits is one thing, all those other things, food prices, transportation costs, those are things that can definitely be worked on and improved. And not to mention that I’m happy the employees get the health insurance, but the reasons behind the outrageous costs of that are also worth noting.

  5. Eastbound and down says:

    More proof that Bernanke’s endless expansion of the U.S.’ balances sheet is taking a larger toll on our lives than most realize. Food and energy costs are rising at a disturbing pace and taking a larger and larger portion of a typical family’s budget and leaving less to spend on discretionary spending. Despite the Fed’s redefining of inflation for plausible deniability, most people are acutely aware of the pace of inflation. What is just as concerning is that, while the money pumping has driven stock prices upward, it has only had a mild effect on turning around the housing prices. Despite the modest recovery occurring is the housing market, the prices are not rising proportionally to the rate that the dollar is declining.

    I feel for these restaurants and bars because more and more people will be forced to eat at home just to make ends meet, leaving many restaurants to wither on the vine.

    • Rick Day says:

      unless you are a place like mine, who forecast such issues, and worked to keep prices and overhead as low as possible. We may only get $10-15 out of each patron in the winter months, but we often get 2000+ patrons per week.

      It’s all in how you approach the market. People still want to escape. The trick is making them think they are getting the best value for their buck.

  6. Rick Day says:

    BTW: the price of liquor and beer has not increased since early 2012, at least for us and we are a restaurant as well.

    Otherwise, everything was ‘spot-on’. I am seriously looking at outsourcing event staff because we can’t give the benefits we would like to. Also, workman’s comp tax has doubled this year for certain positions. It is impossible to have you own in-house security, due to liability insurance restrictions and extra employee related costs.

    I was interviewed this week by a documentary producer who asked what type of positive financial impact did my business have on the city and state? Without blinking I stated “about a half-million”, plus wages and salaries for 30 people.

    So, with all this REAL burden of regulation and taxation (unlike 99% of you working apologists for the wealthy to chest beat over ‘free markets’), why am I not one of you? Why am I not in lockstep crying about OSHA, FICA, DOR, IRS, XYZ, ETC, regulations and taxes?

    Because I understand. There is a price to pay. Otherwise, everyone would own a business. There is a System™. It has costs. It is what it is.

    The current business regulation environment is the result of businesses cheating, cutting corners, or other nefarious activity, not to drain business of fair revenue to feed welfare queens. Regulation is reaction to bad behavior. Business brings regulation upon itself, as a child brings punishment upon itself for transgressions well warned.
    If you do not like to pay taxes or tango with bureaucracy, by all means continue to turn in your time sheets according to corporate *ahem* regulations.

    Manuel’s is going about this right. However, it is up to the GOP in power, and has been for a decade now, to fix such things. You know…real issues?

    • Ed says:

      “BTW: the price of liquor and beer has not increased since early 2012, at least for us and we are a restaurant as well.”

      This surprises me considering alcohol is all grain (except for wines). Wonder why that is.

      • Rick Day says:

        Good question: probably because of competition within the distillers with new brands and global competition. There is a lot of fruit/flavor infused (UV makes a Chocolate Cake flavored vodka) spirits that are competing for the young adult crowd. But Skyy and UV reps are so aggressive with discounting, I just carry one brand at one location and another one at the other.

        There are significant discounts “free bottles, dollar(s) off well prices, etc” programs if one buys smart, in volume. Newcomer Firefly Cinnamon Whiskey is kicking both Jack’s and Jager’s ass. The 21-25’s love that sweet stuff, but vodka rules inside the perimeter (tequila o.t.p., go figure!)

        Still our biggest seller is bottled water, followed by well vodka and whichever 16 oz can beer we special out of inventory. We buy a skid of bottled water each week; more in hot weather.

        Supply and demand? I’m not sure which direction the general spirits industry is, but the worse times are, the more people want to get away from their realities for an evening of entertainment. High volume discounters like us apparently do well in weak economies.

  7. WesleyC says:

    I think the underlying thrust of this article that liberal policies are ironically causing problems for a liberal establishment, thus making “concepts meet reality,” is an unfair reading of what they actually said.

    The primary problems he cites, other than local regulation which is a point I’ll cede, are (a) the costs of food inputs (a function of rising food costs worldwide, not Obama), (b) inability of his employees to ride MARTA (due to budget cuts brought on by lack of revenue, which in turn is due to low taxes), and (c) healthcare costs, which he clearly states are something he was dealing with long before Obamacare entered the picture. Here: “For decades we proudly provided it, but like so many small businesses trying to stay competitive, we were forced to drop it when we confronted years of nearly 30% premium increases and of competing against businesses that did not provide it.” Translation: for years Manuels did the right thing but eventually got undercut by businesses willing to pay poverty wages with no benefits, plus insurance companies that had free reign to fleece them. Now that the playing field’s getting leveled, they’ll face an initial hit but will be competitive after that.

    • Charlie says:

      “I think the underlying thrust of this article that liberal policies are ironically causing problems for a liberal establishment, thus making “concepts meet reality,” is an unfair reading of what they actually said.”

      I think people that have to project debates into the framework of their worldview is what keeps our political class talking past each other and missing the clear messages from real world folks facing real world probelms that transcend partisanship.

  8. Thadius says:

    Wow, I actually agree with Rick Day for once…

    The fact is, businessmen have been greedy. Their greed has hurt people and created a demand for govt intervention. We have big govt -not because the poor masses demanded it, but because greedy people who were willing to “legally take advantage of the system” to get rich demanded it.

    This brings me back to a central point…

    If… If the role of govt is to create a mutually agreeable set of laws and enforce them, we are seeing its unsustainable, impotent attempts unfold before our eyes.

    I recommend that govt’s job is to protect those who are acting fairly (the righteous, to use a term not often used anymore) and to punish offenders who would put their own interest above what is right and fair to do (the wicked).

    Problem is… we live in a society -governed by post-modern legalism- in which anything which is technically legal is considered judgement-proof. The hands of the magistrate are bound and he cannot punish the wicked if they have acted in a technically legal manner. He can only create another law, and another law in an attempt to illegalize(is that a word) specific actions/transactions. All the while greedy people are finding new ways to legally screw people and be judgement-proof…

    Thinking about this is discouraging, and… “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

    • Baker says:

      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”
      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”
      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”
      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”

      “I got bronchitis”

      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”
      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”
      “Ain’t nobody got time for dat”

      (The Remix)

  9. candlerpark says:

    Best news here is that they are now opening at 9:30am for brunch on weekends. Mannys is one of the only places to get some bacon and eggs on the weekends without having to wait for a half hour or more (because they can seat so many at a time) The only catch was that they opened late- glad to see that is being fixed. Even after raising prices they will still be one of the least expensive and best places in town!

  10. greencracker says:

    To have a piece of fish brought to me from thousands of miles away, I think that _should_ cost a good bit of money.

    Catch a fish, refrigerate it and move it thousands of miles, have somebody cook it and serve it to me?

    And that the person getting those things done for me, many who have worked there for years and a few that I know by name, should be able to see a doctor, should be able to take the bus at all hours? FINE!!

    I am not angry about paying good money for that.

    It is by a mix of accidents, luck and work that I can drive a dependable car to pay $20 for a meal. I ain’t angry to pay $21 or $22.

    Also, their beer selection ain’t shabby.

    • Ed says:

      So were you like me reading the note, unconcerned about the part where they were like “we’re raising prices”? I was like, I’m going to go regardless, I’ll only be upset if you say “we’re closing” or “we’re not letting in anyone named ‘Ed.'”

      Although the latter might improve things a whole bunch, IRDK.

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