I guess, as it has been just over a year now since the “novel coronovirus” terrorized the world and instigated an immediate and total reversal of all we ever knew to be real, it is kind of incumbent that I start my first blog there.
Mind you, I am, as is almost everyone else who is of sane mind, sick to death of talking, thinking, wondering, agonizing, living this nightmare, but who am I to buck the status quo? We’re all reflecting now. What have we learned? What are the bright spots, the things for which we can be thankful? Where do our lives and (for those of us in this business) our industry go from here?
Let me make this really clear from the get go.
Since March 14, 2020 my restaurant has been closed for indoor dining for 320 days. Three hundred and twenty days. I have a patio. A nice one that I spent $19,000 fixing up to be winter friendly by the way, and that has been open. For 115 days.
And that is the entirety of my experience as a restaurateur. One hundred and fifteen days of mostly al fresco service. That’s right. I bought the Farmhouse Tavern in 2020, during a global pandemic and having painfully little (ok, no) idea of what I was getting into, until then never having done anything in the food industry other than wait a few tables now and then. But I had a lofty dream involving changing the world through food and lifting the yolk of poverty. But, more on that in future blogs. Let’s stick with the pandemic for now.
So what have I learned?
The first thing I learned was that I can climb a 90 degree learning curve and actually summit it. Not entirely free solo. But close.
The second thing I learned was a new vocabulary. Until now I thought pivoting was something ballerinas and maybe Michael Jackson did. It never occurred to me that it could refer to a head spinning business model. That model largely being “take whatever is thrown at you and roll ( sorry, pivot) with it”. And then there is “margins”. Which, who knew, are not the things at the beginning and end of this line of type. Oh no. They describe a twilight reality where one exists in breathless hope that the next day will dawn a little bit wider only to find the opposite has happened and they have squeezed tighter until one day you wake up and find yourself in the alternate reality of “negative margins”. It is a creepy place.
The third thing I learned (and this applies to the bright spot reflection too) is that there are people who really exist and really do make the rockin’ world go round. They are the people who have faith in dreams and believe in your vision of a better world (and send the occasional international wire transfer, you know who you are). They are the people who stand by you each day no matter how hot the kitchen and how thick the battle and make the most magical of things happen. They are the people who sit at your table, who call you, walk with you, move your furniture, smile and hug and pour you a stiff drink now and then. Those everyday events, the most ordinary of things, become extraordinary when viewed through the veil of a crisis.
Where do we go from here?
I’ve read a lot about that from the big boys in my industry. They all call for more equitable pay, for better working conditions, for for better safeguards for hourly wage earners. All well and good. Not industry specific though.
How ‘bout we feed people? How ‘bout that? It’s what we do, after all. We prep, we cook, we serve, we pour, we clear, we engage, we feed. At my restaurant we do that for the select few who can pay $23 for a hamburger. So why not flip that model. Take that ordinary experience and make it extraordinary? I mean, let’s feed people who can’t afford $23 for a burger. But let’s prep, cook, serve, pour clear and engage with them. Is it possible to feed everyone, not just a few? Maybe. Maybe not. But we can start. We can promote the restaurant experience as something not just for the entitled few.
I read an article in the Toronto Star recently. I can’t remember who wrote it. But it really pissed me off. The author was contemplating the question of what life will be like after COVID. Anything but our 21st century idea of normal, he said. Along with other throwbacks, he suggested that going to restaurants would become the thing it used to be when only the privileged few would enjoy such an extravagance. Or for the couple or family who, once or twice a year, on really special occasions, would treat themselves to a dinner out. And he thought this a good thing. That guy’s vision of the return to normal seems to mean a renewed classist reality. Rather than learn how we can make the world more of a charitable place he seemed to suggest, we just have to accept that in the post pandemic world the haves will have and the (more numerous) have nots won’t.
I DISAGREE. Everyone, not just the few, has the right to have enough to eat. Not only that, everyone has the right to sit at a table, have a choice of delightful food, lusciously prepared and served to them by someone who is happy they are there.
So along with all that other stuff that the big boys suggest, I add inclusivity. Invite people to your restaurant who can’t pay $23 for a burger and give it to them for free. That’s what I’m going to do.