Recognize this picture? This is the restaurant that I co-own on the Lower East Side in Manhattan (Alias Restaurant).
For those of you who haven't been there it may still look familiar especially if you are fans of "Flight of the Conchords" (HBO - Flight of the Conchords Season 2 Episode 7) or the UK version of "Skins" (Skins Season 2 Episode 9 & 10 - Cassie in New York) - both used Alias as a filming location.
As the economic turmoil swishes around us, quality will often be sacrificed for price stability! Suddenly things don't work as well as they used to, paper is thinner, soap is less soapy, restaurants are using different cuts of meat etc..
Sometimes this is not a bad thing. Take cheaper cuts of meat for example - A talented chef, as long as she/he is prepared to put in the time can produce great food from these.
Sometimes it sucks! Our first encounter with this came in the summer - admitedly before the current fiasco but remember those days when gas prices were spiralling out of control? - it was our candles!
Candles are a petroleum based product and as the cost of crude went up, so the quality of our 10 hr tealights went down. So much so that we were relighting candles at tables every 10 minutes, every time a customer breathed, their hopes of a romantic candlelit dinner would be blown.
On top of this our supplier, in line with everyone else started charging a fuel surcharge on deliveries. I know what you're thinking. Now that fuel prices are low, this problem at least should be solved. But things are even tighter now, it's unlikely that anyone will take that fuel charge off or upgrade to a more expensive product at the same price - perhaps they should though, to give them that edge over the competition that is so necessary in this economy!
Anyway to cut a long ramble short we finally gave in and ordered up rechargeable fake candles - the horror - how tacky would they look and what would our customers say?
They came the next day. We'd selected the votive holders made of carved out wax to make it look more real and believe it or not, we haven't looked back since. Our customers love them because they can use them to read menus without spilling hot wax down their wrist, our crew love them because there's no more having to risk life and limb digging wax out of glass votive holders with a knife waiting either for the holder to break or the knife to slip and I love them because in 10 months time I will start saving money.
We've also decreased our carbon footprint.
So everyone's happy - except of course the candle maker and distributor!
Looking for a good cause to support? There are a couple linked to the restaurant industry coming up in March.
Check out the Time Out For Hunger on Sunday March 8th when 10% of participating restaurant proceeds will go to the Food Bank of New York City to help New Yorkers at risk of hunger.
Many restaurants already offer great deals on Sundays anyway (see 2009 Recession article below) so here's another reason to frequent them on the 8th March - just make sure they're still offering the deals on that day!
Also watch out for world water week coming up March 22nd to 28th. During this week UICEF organises a nationwide Tap Water Project whereby diners in participating restaurants are asked to donate a $1 for their tap-water. Click here to view participating restaurants and to find out more about this great project.
Click on this picture for some cool suggestions on where to get some great deals. This one is doing the rounds and causing quite a stir - not quite sure who Kelli and Eleanor are but they've obviously put a lot of work in to this.
Yesterday we did a cooking demo at the New York Times Travel show to highlight a trip we're doing to Italy with our travel partners, Context Trips.
The trick behind these demos seems to be to:
1) Have as much as possible prepared before hand as the facilities are minimal - Filling a pot with water to boil gnocchi-bound potatoes cost $15!! We had to buy bottled water as there were no faucets!
2) Get a good night's sleep before hand. The real world doesn't operate on restaurant/bar time, speed or logic!
What you can't be prepared for is the reaction of the crowd.
Who knew that we would be feeding an Octopus that was just coming off a hunger strike?
As we brought the trays of tasting plates out, arms attacked us from all angles, over the shoulders, around the waist, from behind, from the side and from the front! It was feeding time!
Trying to keep the trays balanced, we kept up the pretence that we thought everyone was fascinated by our erudite and delicious tasting highlighting the cuisines of Rome and Naples. We weaved and dodged the flaying tentacles, wishing everyone a 'buonApetito' which more often than not was greeted with a totally blank expression, soothed only by the introduction of food!
As the feeding frenzy progressed, chef Maryann demonstrated how to make gnocchi (they were great !) and travel expert Katie Parla introduced the program. All this against the frantic masticating of a breakfast-deprived crowd.
At one point we seemed to be hallucinating as gnome-like figures in red headdresses kept pulling at our legs, talking in tongues and asking for food!
Before you knew it it was all over - you only get 30 minutes for these presentations - thank God!
While we had been risking our lives in the piranha infested waters, our colleagues had been identifying the individuals who were actually genuinely interested in the trips to Italy. It turned out that there were quite a few so all was not in vain!
As we made our rapid escape from the scene, the next presentation started on the stage behind us - Two small kids (twins) dressed in national red Ukraine costumes, singing what sounded disturbingly like odes to food or the God of harvest!