The Making of a Restaurant

Saturday, April 21, 2001

Inspiration Cafe's spring class schedule is out. Details are scant, but of the participating restaurants, MK has the highest Reader Rating (8.9). I might prefer to learn some breakfast tricks from Bongo Room's instructor.
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I see La Cumbamba finally got its fifth restaurant report, five being the number required to have an official Reader Rating. William fares very well, placing in the top 10 percent overall and earning the coveted three R's.

Part of me frets that the secret is now out, and the place may lose some of its charm. Maybe even the Sun-Times will write about it. Soon it will be crowded with suburban scenesters and no longer be our little secret. But it's a small part. Most of me is thrilled for William and wishes him continued success. And now we get to say, "We loved La Cumbamba before it was cool!"
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Friday, April 20, 2001

Heat is hot, thanks to its ikezukuri ("prepared live") method of making sushi, in which the fish, alive from head to roe, is killed before the diner's beady eyes.

It inspires two YAMIs*:

1. Ikezukuri with poultry, lamb, even beef. I'm certain the city would never allow it, which probably is for the better. Like many of our better ideas, this would work only if instead of a restaurant we were a restaurant sitcom. Mostly I bring it up for the comic possibilities.

  • "Grilled pork butt? Excellent choice, madam. Chef! One cheek, on the hoof! Wake Wilbur!"
  • A three-legged lamb hops around the kitchen, taste-testing salads and telling jokes to the fowl. In his peripheral vision he catches us whispering about the evening's special, and he spits out his cigar in disgust. "Ba-a-a-astards!"
  • Inevitably stock would escape into the dining room, and I can see Sandy, cleaver flailing about his head, chasing an enormous heifer around a table. "Come here, cow!" he screams. "All I want is a flank steak!" Meanwhile, I'm on my knees behind the bar, whispering sweet nothings to our Cordon Bleu, a handful of cornmeal before me, a handful of axe behind.
  • A two-legged lamb hops around the kitchen, smoking a cigar ...

2. More realistic would be to do ikezukuri with vegetables. We could, for instance, specialize in garlic and grow our own on the premises. Or, we could grow parsley in small pots, from which waiters would snip fresh garnish right at the diner's table. "Say when, madam."

*YAMI: Yet Another Menu Idea
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Thursday, April 19, 2001

Caribou Coffee offers a 10 cent discount if you correctly answer their daily trivia question when you place your order. I was very fond of this gimmick when I frequented there, and I'd like to implement a similar gimmick at our place. While a question-a-day policy wouldn't work -- diners could hear the question and answer being spoken within earshot -- we could have our waiters carry a stack of Trivial Pursuit cards in their apron pockets. Upon receiving their check, a party could ask to be read a trivia question picked at random from the stack. Getting it right would constitute a discount of, say, $1.00 off of their final bill.

A dollar might not amount to much with respect to the total cost of the bill, but I'm hoping the rise a customer gets from proving her smarts in public will increase our restaurant's mindshare in her head and, eventually, will result in another meal sold somewhere down the road. And it doesn't have to be a dollar. In fact, maybe a more direct way to get them back in our seats would be to reward them with a coupon worth x dollars off of their next visit.

This promotion would tie in nicely if our luminary chair was reserved for Alex Trebek.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2001

A diner calls his waiter over to his table.

Diner: Waiter, taste my soup.
Waiter: Sir, is there something wrong with it?
Diner: Just taste it.
Waiter: Is it too cold? I can get you a new bowl.
Diner: Please, taste the soup.
Waiter: Too spicy? Too bland? Too creamy? Please, whatever it is, we'll be happy to fix it.
Diner: Waiter, just taste my soup and you'll understand.
Waiter: Fine. Where's the spoon?
Diner: Aha!
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Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Would it make sense to predesignate one of our dishes as the one which would always be dismissed by our incredibly candid waiters? They'd each have a different take on what was wrong, and they could each make it sound like it was just a temporary deficiency: "It's quite dry today." "The sauce came out too watery." "That beef comes from Scotland." It could work, but for customers who disregard all advice and order it anyway, would we serve them a substandard meal? Get them sick to drive the point home?

Nah, maybe we should let the waiters decide themselves which dishes they'll endorse and which ones they'll put down. It kinda defeats the purpose when the candidness we so proudly tout is actually one big scam.
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