Happy New Year! I know it’s a holiday and I don’t typically post on these days, but hey, it’s Friday. What’s Friday without a Foodie Friday post? This post, written right after what I think was our last visit to a restaurant for a long time in mid-March, talks about what businesses need to think about when the s%$t hits the fan. If anything, I underestimated how much of that was about to go down, but the lesson remains the same. Originally called “Last Night’s Lesson,” it’s a great way to end/start the year.
It’s Foodie Friday. We went out for a bite last night to one of the places that’s in the usual rotation. On most Thursday nights the bar is crowded and there’s often a wait to grab a table. Last night we pretty much had the bar to ourselves and there were tables available without any delay.
My buddy Tina the bartender said that business wasn’t great and I think we all know it’s due to the fear of the coronavirus. It’s hard to keep a safe distance from folks in a crowded bar or when tables are close together. While you expect your servers and cooks to have clean hands, it’s not a great time to find out otherwise. Apparently, my little microcosm isn’t much different from what’s been going on around the country and, I suspect, around the world.
What a number of food businesses (this one included) are doing is a great lesson for those of us in other businesses with respect to how to behave when the proverbial pandemic hits the fan. I’ve seen Facebook posts and received several emails from places I patronize and most of them have the same message. First, they aren’t minimizing the situation with any kind of casual joking (“Hey! Come on out and play! It’s just a little flu!”). Second, they all talk about both their normal cleaning process as well as the enhanced measures they’re taking during the crisis. This includes more frequent cleaning using higher-strength disinfectants and retraining of staff.
It’s the big guys too. Starbucks, which markets itself as a gathering spot (not something we’re being encouraged to do these days) has actually taken to limiting seating, spacing seats further apart, and even closed a store temporarily after a worker fell ill. The message is loud and clear: we place our customers and their health above the short-term profit hit we’ll take. Well, duh, people. Dead customers don’t buy things, so helping to prevent the spread of this virus is smart business no matter the cost.
Some places have amped up their delivery service. I’ve heard of other places that will bring your food to the curb so you don’t have to get out of your car if they don’t deliver. Who knows – maybe those services will become a normal part of their business going forward – we all know how delivery services’ menu of menus has grown over the last year or so. Acknowledging that not everyone is comfortable or able to go out for dinner at this time and not attempting to persuade them otherwise is being supportive and adult. That’s what any of our businesses need to be.
We overtipped last night (50%). Why? These are our friends and they might be hurting for the next month or so. If you get out, do the same. Buy a gift card at your favorite place, restaurant or otherwise, and use it down the road when you go back. We’re all in this together, right?
I’m sad, this Foodie Friday. If you’ve hung around the screed for a while, you know that Friday used to be the day when I’d traipse down to my local and quaff an adult beverage or two to celebrate the end of the week. I’ve written about the place before, and while I still patronize it via takeout food, sitting at the bar with the other regulars is not an option for the foreseeable future. Thanks, COVID.
You are probably aware that pubs take their name from the public houses that first appeared in the late 17th century, and was used to differentiate private houses from those which were, quite literally, open to the public as ‘alehouses’, ‘taverns’, and ‘inns’. Much earlier, the Romans established tabernae in Britain, alehouses along their network of roads. Yes, that’s where the word “tavern” comes from.
Here’s the thing. Those alehouses weren’t just places where people went to get drunk. They were meeting places where people could socially congregate, share gossip, and arrange mutual help within their communities. Until last March, that’s exactly the role that my local served as well.
Now before you ask me if I’ve ever heard of Facebook or Next Door, hear me out. I want to make a point that applies to the business world as well. Ask yourself if your social media interactions with your friends and family are as satisfying as Facetiming or Zooming. Probably not. Then ask yourself if those video-based interactions are as good as sitting in the same room or on the next bar stool with a friend. I highly doubt it.
What’s been lost during this pandemic, an economic crisis that has decimated the restaurant industry, is not just jobs. It’s our ability to do what pubs, and by extension, restaurants, were in part created to do: socially congregate, meet new people, have a laugh or a cry with a friend who you can hug. Every business has suffered that loss to a certain extent. Whether it’s customers, suppliers, or staff, I’m pretty sure none of them are coming to an in-person holiday party this year (at least I hope not).
So the real question isn’t how will the bars and restaurants that survive this get back to that happy in-person social place once this is over. The real question is how will your business?
Let’s think about fritters this Foodie Friday. If you’re an American, fritters are usually apple or corn. The former type is sold in donut shops while the latter might be on a menu as an appetizer or side dish. Occasionally you find other types of fritters. Conch comes to mind as do other sea creatures as being sometimes seen in the fritter manifestation.
Of course, that raises the question of what exactly IS a fritter? Is it a puffy, round doughnut-like thing covered in icing and filled with apple? Is it a ping-pong ball-sized lump of batter? Technically, it’s any form of battered meat, seafood, vegetable, or fruit which is then fried. There are sweet fritters and there are savory fritters, and that definition opens up a lot of other foods to fall into the fritter category. Tempura is a fritter. They serve fritters of peas or pineapple or potato with fish and chips in England. Were the potato latkes folks had for Hanukah fritters? They might be, actually.
Why do I bring this up? Because depending on where you are in the world, a fritter can be very different. It raises the issue of YOU knowing what you mean when you say something but your listener just might not be understanding your words in the way you intend. I think we’ve all had the experience of telling a friend or family member or coworker something only to later find that he or she completely misunderstood you—or never heard you at all. There are a lot of reasons why this happens and one of them is that the meaning of any of the words is unclear.
We’ve all played “telephone”, the game where one person says a longish (12+words) sentence to someone who then repeats it to the next person and so on. How often does the original sentence come back intact? Rarely, in my experience, and the likelihood decreases when we use words like fritter that can have many meanings (and that’s just in its noun form!).
What you think you are saying may mean something quite different to someone else—particularly if you start in the middle of a thought, choose a wrong word or speak too quickly. You might order an apple fritter expecting something you’d get in a donut shop and end up with a dough ball that looks like a hushpuppy containing some apple. Remember that we don’t speak to hear ourselves talk (at least I hope not). We speak to communicate with others and making sure that they understand what we’re saying is just as important as what it is we’re saying. Otherwise, we’re just frittering our ability to communicate away. You with me?