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The Making of a Restaurant

Thursday, September 19, 2002

After the ax came a-swingin', as per custom at that office, some of the folks who survived took those who didn't out for margaritas at Uncle Julio's. (How bad is it that layoffs happen with enough frequency that we've -- er, they've -- established a custom?) I hate Uncle Julio's for many reasons, but customs are customs, and at the time I wasn't looking for a restaurant with style, or integrity, or independent owners. I was just looking for a stiff drink, and U.J. serves up a pretty tasty glass of margarita.

Perhaps we could devise a promotion at our place for the just-deposed. Present a dismissal letter with your name and today's date on it, and you get a free beer with which to catch your tears. We wouldn't want to advertise a promotion like this, just spread it by word-of-mouth, unless we happen to catch wind of a mass layoff at a local corporation, in which case we'd post barkers outside the building's front door to distribute flyers.

I'd love to extend the promotion to benefit the just-dumped as well, though finding admissible proof would be difficult. Maybe if the break-up took place in our dining room, with signifcant dramatics so as to seal the deal (e.g. face-slap, water-toss, table-push and walkout) we could comfort the sullen dude(tte) with a cold Old Style, compliments of the house. I doubt anyone would fake all that just for a free beer.
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Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Chicago fans interested in meeting us (and restaurateurs eager to divine our identities lest our poison pens spell their ruin) will want to attend this weekend's Dine D'Vine, a fundraiser for the Inspiration Cafe. We'll be volunteering with food prep Friday morning and attending a few of the sessions later on. Personally, I'm a bit nervous about working with honest-to-God gourmet chefs. What if I slice my tomatoes on the longitude instead of the latitude? Will I end up simmering in the turkey stock?

In any case, we'll be happy to sign menus.
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Monday, September 16, 2002

From this week's Reader item on Fogo de Chao and its espeto corrido: "A highly orchestrated ballet takes place. Brazilian servers sporting pleated pants and boots circle the tables, carrying skewers of grilled steak, pork and lamb. When diners show green cardboard disks indicating they're ready to eat, a flurry of 'gauchos' approaches, slicing portions to order. Guests who've had enough flip their table markers to the red side, and the servers back off."

I do not think we could pull something like this off, but I love the concept of "Green means eat, red means 'Check, please.'" Alas, far from a folksy Brazilian meat emporium, Fogo turns out to be a stealth chain with $50 million in revenue, so Iím not sure Iíll try it out, as inviting as its window rotisseries may be.

Did you know that 9 of the 10 most popular restaurants in Orange County are chains? I didnít either until this Slate article (with astute commentary on Chowhound).

Speaking of which, August's Reader Grapevine was titled "Attack of the Chains." The common reaction to such places as Napa Valley Grille, Weber Grill and Bob Chinn's Crab House is that the dining areas are big and loud ("The place is huge; I think it seats 800." ... "Not the place for conversation." ... "The scene is fun, and active." ... "Bright, large, and cheerful."), the service is neglecting ("Very befuddled service." ... "I expect more from my server than handing me a menu and bringing me my food." ... "Service overall was friendly if a little sloppy." ... "The service is too fast! Good servers can pace the food by observing the customers." ..."My waiter didn't offer me a bib.") and the food is mediocre ("Not so special." ... "Go for the novelty, go elsewhere else for good dining." ... "Nothing special, which is a shame." ... "The food is 'good enough.'").

Are diners wising up and losing their taste for chains? One can only hope. No, wait: One can (and should) do more than hope! One can (and should) patronize independent restaurateurs! Three cheers for dining diversity! Yum, yum, yum!

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