One local restaurateur describes business like this: “Mounting a Broadway production every night with a cast of amateurs.”
That’s fairly apt. Any number of calamities can occur in the back of a restaurant or out front and, for the most part, people are to blame.
Any number of people: The chefs, the servers, the bartenders, the host or hostess, or some combination thereof. And, for the most part, it’s Finagle’s Law that governs, not Murphy’s. Finagle’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong—at the worst possible moment. Dozens and dozens of diners have shelled out a goodly sum to reserve a table for a grand holiday feast requiring significant prep time and skill that will be served in less than 24 hours. That’s when the chef throws down his or her apron in disgust, flings toque to the winds and stomps from the premises. When do the leaky pipes burst? Peak time on Saturday night, natch. Not to mention the lousy landlord or that the mold in the tortellini is discovered only when several customers hunger for it above all other pastas. It’s not some chintzy brand of pasta or the carelessness of some fly-by-night distributor. It’s just an accident on the loading dock. The container is overlooked, thaws out and then is rediscovered and refrozen. Stuff happens. But this particular evening, it’s the third crisis du jour following on the heels of the bread supply being reduced to same and the bartender’s gun shooting fizzles blanks.
Look, here comes the health inspector! What a bloodcurdling surprise—another routine day at the office.
Perils aren’t restricted to the premises. Appreciation of the arduous nature of running an eatery requires a pilgrimage to Restaurant Depot, the Costco of the restaurant owner/chef. There are shelves that climb to the ceiling laden with potables and comestibles in sizes that even the Coneheads would consider to be well north of “mass quantities.” Lest a shopper end up like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, cold-weather gear hangs on pegs next to the glass doors of the Depot’s refrigerated section. Even with the garb and multiple layers beneath, entering the refrigerated section is the equivalent of skipping across Antarctica naked. This makes the cold Jack London writes about seem balmy. And while the profound chill produces confidence in the edibility of the food, that doesn’t do Bo Diddley to bring hands and face back from the brink of hypothermia. Nor does it ease manhandling a side of prime rib into the dolly. Visualize warm digits sticking to frosty plastic. Without eternal vigilance, that slab can easily slip and crush a foot, an effect similar to that created by losing a grip on one of the bags of flour that appear sufficient to create enough biscuits for the Third Army. While buying in bulk must lower prices some, it takes a fair amount of out-of-pocket investment to stock the kitchen of a medium-sized restaurant, adding credibility to the repeated assertions by the California Restaurant Association that the profit margin for many of its members is wafer thin.
This is a windy way of saying a whole lotta love—and effort and expense—goes into every plate appearing on every table at every eatery. On the whole, it’s an amazing achievement, proving that those putting the plates in front of us are delusional, devoted and driven by some higher purpose. So to Gayle, Ami, Simone and Sue, Georgina, Gabriel, Angelo, Khristina and Guido, Mai, Gonul, a battery of banh mi makers, Jason, Christian, Debbie, Adam, Mike, Yvette, and, of course, Jane and Jim, and the dozens of others who brightened 2011, a hearty thanks for the hospitality and for keeping the adventure exciting.
Here’s to a prosperous 2012 and never forgetting the ski gloves when shopping at Restaurant Depot.