Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Service of the Honor System

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Photo: uvamagazine.com

These days you’ll walk out of Drug Store in Tribeca in Manhattan with a pricey health drink without paying–though the drink isn’t free. You’re expected to send a text message to the drink manufacturer, Dirty Lemon, that owns Drug Store, after which you’ll receive a link in which to post your credit card number. That’s the same way customers order cases of the lemon-flavored drink-with-supplements for shipment home.

Dirty Lemon bottles Photo: tribecacitizen

But this isn’t just any old lemon drink. Whatever your inclination, it is purported to have beauty, sleep, anti-aging, detox or other benefits depending on additives of collagen, magnesium, rose water or charcoal for example. On the website, Daily Detox, one of the drinks, costs $45 for six bottles, shipping included, and $65 on Amazon.

Erin Griffith wrote about the store in The New York Times. Dirty Lemon founder Zak Normandin doesn’t anticipate much theft from his largely young female customers, and said he’d allocate losses to his sampling budget.

Dim sum. Photo: cnn.com

And while much of the competition is closing retail outlets and increasing a digital presence, he plans to do the opposite by opening four more stores. In addition, according to Griffith, Normandin “shifted almost all of its $4 million annual digital advertising budget into its retail stores.”

[An exception is Amazon which by 2021 expects to have 3,000 stores without registers. People will pay via their smartphones.]

Photo: retailwire.com

Buying on the honor system is nothing new. Order dim sum in some Chinese restaurants and the waiter will tally the empty little plates on the table when you’re done. Checking yourself out at grocery and other stores similarly counts on customer honesty. Scofflaws could easily hide a few dishes at plate-counting time at the restaurant and pay for every other item in the do-it-yourself checkout line–but most don’t cheat or the system would have already died.

In Vienna, years ago, we were guests of local friends and eight of us sat at a big table. When lunch was over, the host told the waiter what we’d ordered and only then did he write anything down. I wonder if that’s still a custom. In a Scotland Inn if you made yourself a drink or took a soda from an unlocked cabinet in the living room you jotted down your choices. And all over the U.S., especially in rural areas, customers fill cash boxes with money owed for fruits, veggies and flowers at farm stands where nobody is around.

Do you believe that the honor system works equally well in cities as in the country? Can you think of other examples? Will it increasingly be in our purchasing future?

 

Photo: myjournalcourier.com

Service of Goofy Things Kids Do: Overnight Challenges in Stores & Restaurants

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Photo: guff.com

We made silly phone calls and tossed paper bags filled with water out the window into a courtyard to make a crashing sound to scare the neighbors. One Christmas Eve, kids–I assume it was kids–broke windows on the sidewalk side of every car parked outside the Brooklyn Museum. Ours was one. Kids who have no financial constraints steal candy and small items from stores for sport.

Photo: flickr.com

Jennifer Levitz, in “Where’s Your Teen Sleeping?” wrote about what some kids are up to these days. According to the sub-head of her Wall Street Journal story, they are “Adventure seekers hiding overnight in stores for ‘24-hour challenge’—and are really, really bored.” They hide in fast-food restaurants and big-box stores that close at night or hang out for 24 hours or more in those that stay open.

She wrote about the adventures of a few teens at a McDonald’s: “After the initial thrill of escaping detection, they passed the time by going down the small slide, flipping water bottles and filming themselves whispering in the dark.” Sleeping was hard. One tried to do so in a toy car.

“Young people boast of holding the overnight challenges in trampoline parks, bowling alleys, home improvement stores and supermarkets, too. Companies mostly seem perplexed,” Levitz reported.

What nutty things did you do when you were a kid and what wacky things do your children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren do today?

Photo: tripadvisor.com

Service of Supper Clubs: Newark, N.J. Has a Winner

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Photo: socialventurepartners.org

I’ve heard about contrived ways to meet people in a city, none of which appeal to me. One resonated in such a way that I wished I lived or worked in Newark, N.J.  Liz Leyden described it in her New York Times article, “He Was Tired of Eating Alone. 400 People Came to Supper.”

She described a supper club with a welcoming vibe. The founder did such a great job with his Brick City Supper Club, started in Newark eight years ago, that it continues to live and thrive even though he’s long left town. Far from a new concept, it’s a joy to learn about a project that works so well for all concerned.

Photo: Brick City Supper Club

Founder Frank Martinez moved to Newark from the Midwest. As the title states, he longed for eating companions so he invited colleagues from his office to eat dinner with him at a restaurant and half a dozen showed the first time. According to Leyden, he based his club on the ones around his grandparents’ Wisconsin dairy farm. Word about the weekly dinners spread well beyond the Department of Economic and Housing Development where he worked.

The club, now almost 400 strong, has an executive committee and chairman, Rob Thomas. Thomas uses Twitter to send out smoke signals about upcoming events. The team chooses the restaurants for dinners that today take place twice a month. Leyden wrote that there were 50 who gathered one cold night this month. “They were young and old, new to Newark, and born-and-raised. They work as lawyers, municipal employees, accountants, graphic artists and at least one elevator saleswoman. Most live here, others commute in for jobs and stick around for dinner.”

Photo: pixabay.com

The club meets on Mondays, because restaurants appreciate business on a traditionally slow day. They travel the city to dine at old favorites and seek out new watering holes that can use the exposure. In addition to seeing old friends and meeting new people, the members are supporting their city’s eateries. Thomas told Leyden they’ve been to some 75 restaurants over the years. One member created a spreadsheet of restaurants “so she is ready when office mates complain that there is nowhere to eat in Newark.”

Leyden wrote: “Bridges have sometimes been built beyond supper. They have eaten in one another’s homes, joined an investment club run by one member, become neighbors who borrow sugar and meet for brunch and birthdays.” One couple marveled at how welcoming to newbies the members were.

Have you been a supper club member? Do you know of successful ones? What other relaxed ways are there to meet people where you work or live?

Photo: Pennsauken.net

Service of a Happy Ending: Coogan’s Stays Open in Washington Heights

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Photo: amazon.com

I’m a sucker for happy endings and a recent one that hit the spot is about a 33 year old Washington Heights, NY restaurant/bar, Coogan’s, that was being forced to close when its lease ran out in spring because of a $40,000 rent increase–to $60,000/month–according to harlemworldmag.com.

Photo: phillymag.com

In two days Coogan’s gathered 18,000 signatures on a petition to save the Broadway and 169th Street hangout. Under pressure the landlord, New York Presbyterian Hospital, agreed to lower the rent increase and the owners, Peter Walsh, Dave Hunt and Tess McDade, are staying put.

Before the agreement, according to cbslocal.com, Walsh told the landlord: “’There’s community here, don’t build walls. Don’t pull a plug so fast on a person when they’re still breathing.’”

Harlemworld.com reported: “During the neighborhood’s dark days of the 80s and 90s — which were plagued by drug-related violence — the restaurant remained open, owners told the Manhattan Times. ‘When we opened, we were one of the first integrated bars in New York, and maybe the country,’ Walsh told the Manhattan Times. ‘We were Dominican, African-American, Irish, Jewish, and everyone got along. We embraced the neighborhood. It worked. But thirty-three years ago, you didn’t see that kind of thing.’”

Photo: airbnb.com

“‘We have served a very, very big part of the Washington Heights community in supplying that big living room that these apartments just don’t have,’ co-owner Dave Hunt told WCBS 880’s Mike Sugerman.

“‘Now the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted out and said everybody should get onboard, that certainly helps,’ said Hunt.” WCBS also noted “‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda celebrated his birthdays there.”

It also doesn’t hurt when in addition to hefty neighborhood support your cause is picked up by local media such as The New York Times, harlemworldmag.com, nbcnewyork.com, cbslocal.com, manhattantimes.com and patch.com/new-york for starters.

The owners are good souls—another reason so many jumped on board their cause and why the story resonated with me. Before the agreement happened, Harlemworldmag.com quoted the New York Times that the “owners are using their connections to help the 40 restaurant employees find jobs.”

There’s a flagrant contrast between the approach of this small business and the big ones that in spite of their tax windfall from the December 2017 “reform” bill are nevertheless collectively laying off millions—AT&T, Wal*Mart, Comcast, Carrier Corp. and Pfizer, to name some. Maybe we should rename “trickle down”  “riches up.”

Might this David & Goliath story be a template for supporting other worthy small fries against the greedy big ‘uns? Can you point to  instances where an aggressive collaboration by concerned citizens, backed by a celebrity and media, helped achieve a happy ending for a beloved neighborhood business?

Photo: Coogans.com

Service of It’s New to Me: Sharing Luxury Watches & Eyewear & Clever WC Access

Monday, August 7th, 2017

I appreciate learning about fresh business practices and ideas. Here are three that were new to me.

Login

We were at a tea shop in the Village the other week and discovered a clever way to control WC access for customers only. The login number to open the door on a lock system similar to the one above was printed on our receipt! Another customer had to point this out to us.

Rent Luxury

Photo: bloomfieldrentals.com

The next two examples relate to rentals. Most know that you can rent art, jewelry for posh events, movies, furniture, housing, cars, gowns, tents, tableware, tables and chairs for parties. I didn’t realize that there are businesses that rent high-end watches and designer eyewear!

Oh and today, what for years was called renting is today often called “sharing.”

Tick Tock

I heard about Eleven James from an acquaintance who recently started a job at “your annual membership club for luxury timepieces.” Its fees range from $149 to $800/month. Founded by Randy Brandoff in 2014, reporters Dennis Green and Hollis Johnson said his inspiration for the concept came from his former employer’s clients. As a NetJets executive he observed that the wealthy clientele of that company–that sells part ownership or shares of private business jets–loved luxury watches. Brands in the collection, according to the businessinsider.com article, are new and vintage models of “Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, IWC, Tag Hueer, Tudor, Breitlig and more.” They are said to be worth “in the eight figures.”

On its website Eleven James promises to check, clean, resize and if necessary service every watch that members return. Members keep them from three to six months and collect points by treating them with care. The points allow them to upgrade their memberships and gain equity toward purchases.

Brandoff told the businessinsider.com reporters that his customers fall into the “try before you buy” category; millennials discovering watches–they depend on their phones to tell time—and want to test what they think about wearing one before spending $thousands as well as recipients of corporate gifts.

I Can See Clearly Now

Eyedesired.com sent me a press release in an email. On its Facebook page it describes itself as “a designer eyewear rental platform. You pay a monthly subscription and get unlimited pairs of sunglasses and optical wear [includes lenses & shipping].” According to their press release, members can “swap out pairs as desired and keep the ones they love for less than retail price.” Founded by Rida Khan, members have access to brands such as Tom Ford, Balmain, Jimmy Choo, Philip Lim and Versace.

According to the release, “Eyedesired offers both prescription glasses and sunglasses for men and women. The company carries frames from more than 100 fashion designers and brands in thousands of different styles. A basic subscription starts at $45*** per month and gives subscribers instant access to designer frames that retail from $200 to upwards of $1,000. Free single-vision lenses and shipping are included for optical rentals.” ***The website notes that unlimited sunglass rentals cost $29/month.

In addition to housing, what have you rented? If luxury watches and eyewear are your passions and money is no object, would you consider renting either or both?

Service of “I’ll Pay,” No “You’ll Pay”—Who’ll Pay?

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

 

 

Photo: groupon.com

Tinder is a popular app where singles meet, [it boasts a million subscribers], and it—and websites like it–has changed the dating landscape as people tend to have many more first dates than before. Khadeeja Safdar wrote about the new dynamic in “Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward–First dates multiply in era of Tinder, and those tabs add up. Some women are wary the fake ‘reach’ for the wallet won’t be turned down.”

Photo: zoosk.com

The title and subtitle of this Wall Street Journal article tell the story.

Safdar described some of the prickly endings timed around restaurant check arrival time.

  • Before the check came the date excused himself to visit the WC and said, “I’ll wait for you outside.”
  • A woman ordered two entrees, ate the pasta and asked the waiter to wrap up the grilled fish. When she was in the ladies’ room her date, a well healed physician who had planned to pay for dinner, asked for separate checks because he “didn’t like feeling used.”
  • Having met for drinks, the woman asked her date if they were planning to order food. The response: “Don’t you have food at home?”
  • When a college student got home from dinner initiated by her date who chose the restaurant, he sent her an “invoice via the mobile-payment app Vennio for her portion of the meal.” She didn’t pay and blocked him.
  • One date proposed splitting a burger and fries, cut the burger unevenly, taking the far larger half. When the check came, the woman “performed the ritual reach for her credit card, and he agreed to let her pay half without any hesitation. ‘Even the waitress looked at him, like, are you serious?’”
  • The date who forgot his wallet’s an oldie but still happens.

 “The rules aren’t complicated, according to etiquette experts,” wrote Safdar. “‘If you invite, you pay,’ said Diane Gottsman, author of ‘Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.’ ‘But the reality is that the other person may not know the rules or realize it’s a date.’”

Photo: meetville.com

This is what I think: To avoid uncomfortable moments establish who pays for what before the date takes place. Who wants to pay for one or two meals with a stranger the cost of which is five times your restaurant budget for the quarter when the other person chose the preposterously pricey venue? On the other hand, if you can afford to watch the scene play out and if you have a strong stomach for discomfort, the way a person acts in this situation tells a lot about them and whether or not you’ll want to see them ever again.

Can you share examples such as those above or ones that turned out nicely? What do you think the answer is for a seamless first date? Does age have anything to do with the outcome?

Photo: marketwatch.com

Service of Out to Lunch

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Photo: activepbx.com

Two headlines touting Wall Street Journal reporter Julie Jargon’s recent articles make a point: We’re being more careful with our time and money.

They were:

Going Out for Lunch Is a Dying Tradition: Restaurants suffer as people eat at their desks; no more three-martini sit-down meals” and

Diners Are Finding $13 Burgers Hard to Swallow: Number of outlets peddling gourmet toppings has nearly quadrupled since 2005, but sticker-shocked consumers opt for home grilling instead.”

I’ve always been statistically insignificant but both headlines ring true to me, with some adjustments.

The three-martini lunch may have lasted longer in some industries than in others but it hasn’t been in evidence for eons in my experience for health, budgetary and reasons of time constraints, to name a few in no particular order. And speaking of time, with deadlines that relentlessly hit a person’s handheld so as to spoil digestion as well as conversation, who can afford to make it a habit to leave their desk at midday?

Photo: bbc.com

In any case, a sit-down luncheon meal rarely includes time for three of any kind of drink, soft or hard.

I rarely even order out for lunch when once I did daily. The 11 under-30 tech people whose office is where I too roost do far less frequently. Instead our refrigerator is full of containers from home ready to be warmed in microwave or toaster oven and homemade sandwiches on rustic bread. On occasion they’ll order pizza as a group. Two years ago there was a constant stream of food deliveries from breakfast through afternoon snack.

Photo: baconhound.com

As for the deluxe burger’s fall from grace, in addition to people cutting down on lunches out it could be that the concept is past its prime given that it’s been around for a dozen years which is a stretch for any food trend in these parts. Perhaps the cool and hip have moved on leaving the smart to make delicious burgers at home for a fraction of the price.

Have your luncheon habits changed? Are we missing something by giving up business lunches? Do corporate cafeterias take a bite out of the restaurant business? Have you cut down on your burger consumption in general? Do you think you’re getting good value for $13+ burgers?

Photo: bloomberg.com

Service of Miserly Tips

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax reprimanded a couple who complained about their daughter and son-in-law. They meet for a meal once a month at a restaurant halfway between them and their son-in-law embarrassed them when they caught him giving an additional tip to their waiter and apologizing for the table.

The incident resonated when Erica Martell sent me the column because I’ve been there, though I was never caught; I didn’t apologize to the waiter and it didn’t involve my parents. Either my husband or I would slip our waiter extra money to adjust miserly tips left by a generations-old family friend.

Back to the mother who described to Hax her conversation with her daughter the next day: “She told me….[that] our restaurant habits are not very thoughtful. I demanded specifics, and she told me that we split an entree and order water only, so the bill is really low. She also said we are demanding of the wait staff, which is especially bad because we aren’t giving the establishment much money to make up for it.”

The mother said they normally tip 10 percent, 15 if the service is good “maybe 20 percent” [the amount her daughter recommended] “if they washed our car while we were eating or something.” She concluded that she didn’t feel like she was “dining incorrectly,” thought it was rude to “correct our behavior behind our backs” and no longer wanted to meet her kids for dinner.

Hax told the complainants that they were “bad restaurant guests,” noting that a 10 percent tip was decades outdated. “And, hereafter: Always be mindful of the price point and service level of a restaurant before making demands of the staff. You can send back an order that was somehow botched at any level, from Mickey D’s on up, but you don’t fuss over the garnish on a $7.99 entree.”

About the daughter and son-in-law, Hax also suggested that the mother “take a moment to appreciate their sensitivity both to the staff and to your feelings.”

Have you dined with others who leave stingy tips or in other ways embarrass you either by drilling waitstaff or by being far too picky and demanding, making the life of restaurant workers a misery? Do you side with the parents or the adult kids in this instance?

Service of Everything Old is New Again: Automat 2017-Style

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

 Eatsa back wall turned

Dashing down Third Avenue for a morning meeting I passed a business I couldn’t figure out at first glance. Was it a dry cleaner? No—no counter. Laundry? No. No washing machines–though I wondered what that wall of plastic bins were in the back [photo above]. Anyway, a laundry would be a nutty addition to a midtown neighborhood—43rd and Third Avenue–a block from Grand Central Terminal.

eatsa logo turnedI dropped in later to inquire. I gleaned food was the objective. I didn’t see the name, Eatsa, on the window—it’s on a wall inside. Right now pedestrians see only  a logo–a bowl of food with heat radiating from it [like the one on the white shopping bag, left].Eatsa has been open in NYC a few weeks.

Horn & HardartIn fact, Eatsa is a modern-day automat, an early 20th century concept. In the day, food was sold cafeteria-style from vending machines.

I returned at 1:00 and there was a short line that moved fast. Two young women guided people to iPads on stands [photo below, left]. I swiped my credit card, placed my order by tapping my choice and waited for my name to pop up on a screen on the wall. Soon it did and soon again a number popped up, much like the arrival time of a subway, telling me to go to cubby 19. There, in a cubby with my name on it [photo below, center], was my “No Worry Curry”—stir fried quinoa [pronounced KeyNois if you say the nois part like “nut” in French]; egg, arugula, roasted potato, spaghetti squash, pickled onions, red Thai curry, apple cabbage slaw and curried wonton strips. For $6.95 there was plenty for two. My mouth glowed for a while after lunch…the no-nonsense curry. The wonton strips were a wonderfully crunchy addition.

Eatsa ordering on iPadsThe concept was born in San Francisco. Founder, Dave Friedberg, made his money selling a weather data startup to Monsanto. According to Beth Kowitt in her New York Times article, “the tech-driven approach is a means to support a bigger mission: selling nutritious and sustainable food at a reasonable price.” I predict that eventually, the business won’t even need the ushers—everyone will know how to get their food from systems like this as they do their money in ATM machines.

Kowitt reported that automated ordering means he charges 30-40 percent less than Chipotle, his “fast-casual rival.” Because meat has what Friedberg calls an environmental cost, he doesn’t offer it. “Friedberg’s strategy to stay mum on the company’s environmentally friendly and nutrition bona fides comes down to his ambitions to reach more than the wellness and eco-warrior set. It’s a decision that distinguishes him from the rest of the restaurant industry, which is scrambling—and in many cases stretching—to claim its food is ‘clean’ and healthy.”

He’s invested in quinoa and is exploring other ways to make protein efficiently. “Friedberg, a lifelong vegetarian with a degree in astrophysics, then put together a spreadsheet that calculated the net energy to produce all different kinds of protein. His findings showed that quinoa required the lowest amount of energy to produce. It was also a complete protein and required a lot less water and fertilizer than other crops.”

I wonder if Friedberg knows that his first NYC restaurant is a block from where the last fabled Horn & Hardart stood. Until 1991 it was on 42nd and Third. It was late to the table, opening in 1958 when the first one launched in 1912. Then a cup of coffee cost a nickel. For years all the food cost increments of five cents.

The restaurant ushers said how the right food gets into bowls and to the correct bin is a secret nor would they divulge who or what is behind the wall of cubbies–a person? A robot? My name was also printed on the tape that ensured my container of food stayed closed.

What do you think of ordering food this way? Do you predict that fast food will increasingly be sold like this with minimal staff?

Eatsa door with name on it

Service of Marketing that Hits a Sour Note: Details and the Devil

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

New Yorker circ photo

I bought some items online during an after Christmas sale and almost three weeks later got a notice from the store that one of the items wasn’t available. OK. That happens. “LET US MAKE IT UP TO YOU,” came a proposal for a “gift”–$10 off a $100 purchase. This hit a sour note: It sounded like “heads they win; tails I lose.” Otherwise I like the store.

The next two examples are courtesy of the circulation departments of a magazine and newspaper considered top of the line in their categories. I subscribe to and admire both. However, they appear to be trying to save money by selecting under par fulfillment and promotion partners at just the time they need to excel.

  • The magazine has been nagging me to renew my subscription months early and if I do, I’ll get a free subscription as a gift. [Always suspicious, I envision losing the months I’ve already paid for, between now and the end of the original subscription, and I don’t want to waste time untangling this potential glitch.] Fine writing and elegance are just two of the magazine’s selling points and the subscription is costly. That’s why I didn’t expect to see a typo in the first word of the third line [“your”] printed on a piece of cheap scrap paper enclosed in their correspondence seeking my business. [See photo above.]
  • The newspaper didn’t deliver its weekend and Monday issues last week. I called customer service on Tuesday making clear that we didn’t want the credit, we wanted the newspapers. The operator [from a far-off land] said he understood. On Wednesday we received a second copy of the Tuesday issue. I called back and was told they would have to mail us the weekend and Monday copies and that this would take from seven to 10 days. I had already spent far too much time on this mistake and snapped “fine, do that,” and hung up. Still waiting.
  • All this reminds me of a restaurant we went to in the Berkshires years ago that served remarkable food in an enchanting setting with a terrible hostess who ran the room like a general during a military operation readiness inspection {ORI}. The tension her approach achieved added a false note to an otherwise pleasant experience. We learned later that her husband was the chef. Nevertheless, she ruined the evening.

Do you have other examples of an irritating detail that conflicted with the otherwise high quality of a product or service?

$10 off $100 turned

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