The Making of a Restaurant

Saturday, June 16, 2001

Greg writes in: "You need cool matchbooks. Dick's Last Resort, in the Gas Lamp quarter in San Diego, has soft-focus soft-core porn from the '60s on theirs."

This is an excellent point, except that Sandy and I are fundamentally opposed to smoking. Maybe we can give away cool patches instead. A patch with soft-focus soft-core porn? Done!
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Friday, June 15, 2001

The featured job in the Tribune's Working section this week is Waiter/Waitress. The article explains that the job market is growing, which bodes well for my quest for experience. It also describes, for those who've been living under a rock for all of civilization, the requirements for acquiring such a job.

The importance of a competent waiter, as we've mentioned before, shouldn't be understated. As the president of the National Restaurant Association says in the article, "You have to be a salesperson. You're the advocate for the owner of the restaurant.... the front-line ambassador the restaurateur has in making sure the patron has a good experience."

I also found this quote particularly promising: "We have countless stories in this industry of people who began as hourly workers and went on to become salaried employees, or owners of their own restaurants." He doesn't mention the success rate of those restaurants, of course, but we can pretend.
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Thursday, June 14, 2001

Going in we were aware of the rap on Geja's: It's fun, but you may feel taken afterward. "Fifty dollars to cook my own food? I could do as well at home with a few dollars' worth of meat and a quart of Wesson." Indeed, were we to have paid our own way, we would have left feeling like suckers, too.

That's not to say we didn't have a ball. We did. In particular I liked the element of danger. During the main course, a pot burped hot oil and winged me near my eye. Then during dessert I dripped hot chocolate on the back of my hand, which blistered nicely. (If anyone asks, Tyler Durden scalded me with lye.) And while cooking my chicken, I kept in mind Keillor's story about the Lake Wobegon Lutheran youth group, which tried to cook a whole chicken in cheese fondue and had to cancel the ski trip after everyone got food poisoning.

So, what is our adventure's lesson? It's quite clear: People will pay $50 for $5 worth of food if you make it fun. They'll line around the block if you make it fun and dangerous. How do we do this? Here are some ideas:

  • Cook your own pasta. In the middle of each table is a large vat of boiling water. We give each diner a strainer and a bowl of her favorite pasta, uncooked, and she cooks it to her preferred doneness.
  • Catch your own shellfish. Dad would occasionally let dinner scramble around the kitchen. Now that was fun! Remove the bands from the claws, and it's dangerous, too. Many seafood restaurants let diners point to the lobster or crab they want. Let's take it a step further -- and make things more sporting -- by having diners reach their bare hands into a barrel crowded with gnashing, pissed off crustaceans. Maybe we blindfold them, too (the diners, not the crabs). Lose a finger, get free dessert.
  • Pick your own mushrooms. Fun and dangerous!

YANI: The Dangerous Kitchen


It was back in November when Luke turned me on to the Reader Restaurant Raters. Hosted by the Chicago Reader, the RRR is a system where the oft-unvoiced proletariat are given their turn to express opinions on the quality of local restaurants. A rater will rank a restaurant on a variety of scales, and then all the data from all the reviewers will get compiled together and averaged out to a final score that appears next to each restaurant's review online and in the paper.

Since we both started doing it, we've become skilled at creating opportunities to visit new restaurants. And while we do appreciate the thrill of helping out our fellow citizens, our intentions are also a bit more selfish: for every review we do, we're given an entry into the Reader's monthly raffle. The prize? A $200 meal at any restaurant of our choosing.

The winner is announced each month to the clan of RRRaters through a newsletter. It was originally a YACMI of mine to win the contest, and then list this blog as part of the announcement of my winning, thus bringing knowledge of this idea to many more people (thousands!) and hopefully trigger a positive meme among the very demographic we want supporting us: habitual restaurant-goers. Of course, I was only half-kidding myself, because I never expected to win.

But sure enough, my 12 entries for the month of March seem to have done the trick. Sadly, the Reader didn't follow my suggestion to include a link in the newsletter announcement. Alas. The good news, though, is that this past Monday I was able to take Luke, Colleen and Lilli to a lovely night out at Geja's Cafe in Lincoln Park, where the final bill, with tip, came out to just $12 over the certificate, requiring us to pitch in only three bucks apiece for a classy fondue experience.

And now... I'm off to do another review.
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Monday, June 11, 2001

We've both had our say about cell phone use inside the restaurant. Turns out we're not the only ones thinking about it. In Friday's Dining section, the Tribune's Phil Vettel listed five places that have a notable policy against cell phone use. Number four is a delicious, brazen kick in the pants to the phone jerks of the world. And while I'd relish putting something like that on our menus, it's this writer's humble opinion that not all of us are devoid of the basic etiquette that comes with cell phone ownership.

I'd like to see us have a policy that sits somewhere between number two and four, and hopefully we can do it without pissing off the schmucks who, sadly, are still needed to pay the bills. Later on, when we've been around for a while and have a more steady base of regulars, I'd have no problem seeing us get a little more snarky.
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