What is something that will not only universally bring people together, but also explicitly express a wide array of emotions? Insanely good food and drink, of course. For birthdays, anniversaries and other milestone events, we celebrate with delicious indulgences. During holidays, we observe and perpetuate traditions with food. When a friend or family member passes away, we show our condolences by providing food to those who are grieving. When someone new moves into the neighborhood, we drop off a little something to welcome them. If we haven’t seen a friend in a while, we invite them out for a bite to eat. The need for comfort sends us to the recipe book so we can make Mom’s chili and wrap ourselves in beloved memories. Many people give thanks for the food on the table as they prepare to enjoy it.
The hospitality industry strives to replicate the complete range of those emotions in a highly curated setting, designed by those at the very pinnacle of their profession. The ambassadors of those restaurants, bars, hotels, and event spaces put on this show for us every day of every month of every year. They do it by marking their professional existence 15 minutes at a time in order to give us the best experience possible. At their very best, they are able to match our emotions, if not on the highest level, at least with their energy and professionalism. After all, opening the doors to a restaurant every day is quite similar to raising the curtain on a theatrical performance.
Something dawned on me the other day as we brought home take-out food from one of our favorite restaurants. On the outside of the folded, brown paper bag filled with napkins and condiments was written, “Andrew P., Thanks So Much!” It was written with a black Sharpie — an indispensable tool of the trade. I felt genuine joy when I read the words. I felt appreciated, and I believe that the restaurant, it’s owner and the employees truly shared gratitude for not only my order, but for each order they prepared that day.
As we contemplate the ability to “get back to normal” or figure out what the new normal is; I would implore us rather to look forward. There is a time to leave things behind, and we have the very best opportunity to do that right now. Let’s forget about the host that stares at you coldly, with no words to share when you walk in, as though you have just entered a live chess match. Let’s divest ourselves of the server who couldn’t be less interested in providing genuinely outstanding service. Be gone with the floor manager who is more concerned with getting a head start on bar inventory than the quality of your experience. What do we want our restaurants to look like when they re-open for full service? I, for one, would like them to look like the establishment that shows me gratitude and appreciation for being their patron. In order to do this our restaurateurs must provide their staff with the best possible educational opportunities and work environments. They must provide themselves and their leaders with the most intimate knowledge of their business operations, and they must never feel it is ok to delegate that knowledge away. If we are going to get back to something, let’s get back to the basics, the foundation upon which the hospitality industry was built upon, and immersing ourselves in the gratitude we feel for providing such a service to our communities.