Restaurant Culture, Resilience, and Passion ...Growing with the Flow
More than ever before, passion is the driving force that keeps Chefs and independent restaurants pushing forward with determination and innovation. The survival of their dream, and means of making a living, kept their wits and pencils sharp during the last two years. Yet, the deeply rooted love of food and hospitality kept many of them striving to thrive; to evolve and endure, finding new ways to delight and comfort their guests. This shared experience of a global pandemic has created bonds, strengthened bonds, and broken a great number of them as well. There is a new social contract. We are all together on the edge of a new frontier.
There is no debate that the restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit from the Covid pandemic. Challenges and issues continue to fluctuate. As much as we would like things to return to pre-Covid times, we are not clear from the wake of repercussions still in play. Staffing shortages, variant surges, supply-chain issues, and new consumer behavior patterns are realities not to be ignored. Service staff have been unwillingly thrust to the front lines of a Culture War. As if being at a higher risk of illness with a public-facing job wasn't enough stress.
Yet, one is hard-pressed to find another group of professionals more resilient, hardworking, and creative on a daily basis. Restaurant people are diverse yet know how to work together for a common goal. Dealing with the unexpected, being prepared for a crisis, and managing circumstances beyond one’s control with grace, are demanded by the job under normal circumstances. There is a rawness to the work, an immediacy that requires an ability to find opportunities within challenges, that is rare. It is an ability that has served the most innovative and resilient chefs and restaurateurs. The combination of consistently working grueling yet extremely rewarding hours together builds resilience for the individual and for a team when values are shared for a common purpose.
The diversity of people found working in restaurants is profound and unique. This adds another element to the long list of reasons restaurants are critical centers of community and culture. Every place, every Chef, and every staff are different. Yet, they all put Team before Self in service of their Mission, and practice that every service, every day, regardless of differences. Within a successful Work Culture is an unshakeable unifying focus on Purpose and Mission. Business giants know what many small business owners have discovered during the pandemic, that Culture beats Strategy. Leadership that understands that their people are their most valuable asset are the ones that prevail. Restaurant Culture, especially those places with a strong Growth Mindset have created an impressive host of excellent innovations and adaptations in response to the new (ab)normal on the Covid Frontier.
Charlottesville, Virginia is an outstanding ‘food town’ with a bounty of wonderful restaurants that celebrate the many gifts of food, wine, and spirits from the region. But beyond that cornucopia there is a unique bond, a solidarity, within the local food community that is a reflection of deep passion. A passion for food, for relentless creativity, and for genuine hospitality - Southern or otherwise. A decade or so ago Simon Davidson started writing about food in Charlottesville, but he goes beyond writing about chefs and restaurants to being a bonafide supporter of the local restaurant community. He has personally stepped up during the pandemic to use his platform (and his dollars) in meaningful ways to help. Davidson wrote a hopeful lament in May 2020 during our first wave of shock called “The Timeless Passion for Service: Why Restaurants Will Be Back”. In his essay he shares “The Davidson Rule of Restaurants: There are only two kinds of restaurants in the world: those with love, and all the rest.” “Usually, it is easy to tell the difference. If the people who run a restaurant have a genuine love of hospitality – of taking care of people – you will know it from the food, the service, the entire experience.” I agree with Simon.
As we move forward and begin to seriously address the “New World of Work”, I am finding a growing passion to see restaurants recalibrate, evolve, and thrive. Restaurants are critical community centers of creativity, culture, and joy. They are integral to local economies and supporting local farmers. All human culture is based on celebration and rites of passage. Restaurants are symbols of celebration and immersive expressions of culture. They must thrive economically so that the creativity can flow, bringing joy to guests through memorable hospitality experiences. Learning from one another we can build the skills and smarts to continue strengthening communities through food. Dig in!