Without the restaurant business, I’m not sure exactly how my life may have turned out.
My family’s restaurant helped shape my work ethic, starting at a young age, and instilled the concept of a labor of love. When I graduated high school, I graduated to the big time and left behind the dishrack for tending bar (“mahogany ridge,” as my father in law would call it) and front of the house management.
It was a sweet gig, and I was proud to do it. With all due respect to the sales jobs that have provided my living for the last couple of decades, restaurant involvement was the most fulfilling, maddening, hysterically fun line of work I could have ever found.
Life Gets Transformed
Without the restaurant, I’m not sure if my relationships with my grandmother and grandfather would have been as deep as they were. I got the chance to work with them every day there, drive them home (neither had a license), and assist them perform the minutiae of a service life. Nonna loved the fact that I would peel and devein shrimp, without complaint.
Without it, I wouldn’t have met my wife. Although we had several opportunities to meet previously, I captured lightning in a bottle one night when I left the restaurant a little too late, and went home a little too late.
Without that restaurant, do I meet my best friend, who was a food service guy himself? We formed a strong bond that lasted three decades, until his passing several years ago. I’m not sure if we even cross paths without the serendipity of late night haunts and a shared love for all things Sinatra.
Having been a restaurant mainstay for as long as I was, I hold tremendous respect for the individuals that operate them, staff them, and keep them afloat; and that was my pre-pandemic opinion.
I once wrote, when I was trying to climb out of debt, that restaurant meals were a luxury that bordered on the frivolous and unnecessary – even though restaurants were a part of me for so many years.
I have since changed my tune; these meals can be a welcome social distraction, and here in the grips of 2020, a contribution to your community at large. When it’s financially feasible, do it.
Please support your local eateries as much as you can.
A Different World
Ideally for us, the way we’ve done this is to order takeout, also planning to show future support with the purchase of gift cards. My wife and I are like many others; only having been on the inside of a restaurant a handful of times since early March, and defaulting to curbside takeout the majority of the time.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, however. Take it from this former bartender; show some class and respect and do it the right way.
Tip accordingly and generously – before the pandemic my wife was also a hospitality worker, front of the house in a Greek diner. She was always astounded at the number of people who couldn’t calculate a gratuity, which is basically simple math.
Folks, that’s what that calculator on your iPhone is for; to help you through such difficult challenges. Adding 20% to a check should be well within everyone’s wheelhouse, calculator or no. So, just do it – at least that much, or greater if you really appreciated the service, and want to lend an even bigger helping hand.
Be polite – I had high hopes for humankind the last several months, since we’re all pretty much in the same outlandish bubble of a boat; that we would be kinder, less confrontational, and do our part(s) to help each other out.
Alas, we’ve been privy to stories that, in some cases, restaurant customers are more ornery and demanding than ever – even as restaurants scramble to pivot to another normal in their now topsy turvy world. Friends, hospitality workers have it hard enough. They, and we as a whole, don’t need the scattershot, mean spirited takes reflecting the American entitlement mentality that so many display.
Be nice, be polite, follow the state mandated rules. Keep your table clean if dining in, or pick up your package, say thank you, and get the hell out. Be human.
Praise quickly, criticize slowly – a couple of our favorite places make chicken wings so good they make you want to cry. In the case of the take out orders, we couldn’t wait to call, and offer our praise.
When we’ve sat in a restaurant before, we loved seeking out the chef to relay how fantastic our meal was. It’s my opinion they probably don’t hear this enough. The same goes for if you receive stellar service from the waitstaff. Let them know how good they are.
On the other hand, if your vegetables were a tad undercooked, or your toast “not dark enough” (this is an inside joke I share with my wife, with a backstory you wouldn’t believe if I told you), please don’t run home and bad mouth the establishment on social media; or, worse yet, yelp yourself into a ten page online diatribe about how the salmon sucked and you’ll never darken their door again.
If that’s what you’re doing, you need to reflect on your own life.
Remember we’re all going through our own struggles, and that second chances are at times the right thing to do.
Do your part to protect – please spare me the nonsense about rights being violated and freedoms being taken away; restaurant staff, if they’re fortunate, come into contact with dozens, even hundreds, of individuals every day. Additional assists to jeopardize their health and well being are not required.
Distance as necessary, wear a mask, and make these people feel as comfortable as possible that you are in their place of business, acting like a mature adult and responsible citizen. Don’t add another challenge to an already incomprehensible list.
Display patience – restaurant staff are there to serve, but they are not your servants. When busy or overwhelmed, waitstaff may take an extra five minutes to get to your table. The kitchen can get backed up to the point where dishes may not appear as quickly as you’re accustomed to. Freshly prepared food or cocktails are, at their best, an art form that take time to create.
Experience working in a restaurant setting, which I had for so long, makes you acutely aware of the complication and time sensitivity of just about every task. If you don’t have such experience, just remember this; we’re all human, with the same flaws. We all now have the same short attention spans, for better or worse. But, our community partners that specialize in service will do their best to help you navigate the hazards and hiccups of pandemic era dining, all with a smile and warm greeting.
Reason enough to show all the support that you can.
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