I broke one of my rules last week. A big rule, too. I ate at a chain restaurant! EEK!!
I got sucked in by the flashy advertising and their specials. It was AWFUL. I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant, but it is one that, years ago, I used to frequent for special occasions and this particular seasonal deal. Do any of you have those memories or moments that when you try to re-live them just don’t measure up? At ALL? That is what happened. I was so disappointed. And I used all of my “splurge” calories, too!!
Don’t get me wrong, the experience was not ALL bad. The restaurant was beautiful. Recently re-modeled and very well kept. There wasn’t a flyer advertising a local band, yoga in the park classes, or lost dogs anywhere to be found. All too often, we local business owners allow our spaces to become cluttered and disorganized. This can lead to a space that is not very relaxing to our guests.
And their servers. Their servers were very well trained and knew the menu inside and out! They were dressed impeccably. This also made me comfortable and relaxed. I felt sure that I was going to get exactly what I ordered. Many times in a local restaurant we are hiring and firing and training so often that we can’t seem to get a fully trained staff together all on the same day! Chain restaurants often have the luxury of training programs. Every staff member learns from the same program and pictures and schedule. As a local restaurant owner, I envy these procedures and materials. Training is one of the HARDEST parts of my job!
The presentation of the food was perfect too! No chips in plates and everything was a uniformed size and shape. Again – the money larger restaurants have to devote to these details is a big deal. We smaller places get it. We really do. We would give a right arm to have 2 people in our kitchen that can make something the same size every time!
Oh – but then there is the food… the real reason we go out and splurge. Let’s just say that it was lacking in quality and imagination. The portions were small and it was all fairly bland. That is where we locals shine! The pride we take in our food, portions, flavors, etc… THAT is why eating local is worth it. We have the freedom to buy from local producers, to offer seasonal changes that we run into and to change our menu and offer specials that are based on what our customers like.
Every day tickets come into the kitchen and are known as “Richard’s eggs,” “Courtney’s wrap,” or “Jalapeno guy’s egg white omelette.” Shoot, “Ken’s salad” landed on my permanent menu after a customer custom ordered it every time he came in and then starting sending his friends in to order it too! Chain restaurants can’t normally do that. There is no personalization, and often no recognition of their frequent guests. I am sure that individual store managers do their best, but it is hard to keep up with the number of people they feed and see on a daily basis.
So after all was said and done, my rule breaking served as a strong reminder of why I always eat locally. (Aside from the financial impact that one can have on a neighbor, friend, fellow citizen, of course. )
I hope that all of you can learn to see our local establishments’ quirks as charming and as a reflection of their owner. I hope that you will have grace with the decor that has probably been recycled several times and with the flyers that paper every inch of an overflowing community board. Remember that the waitstaff is made up of your neighbor’s daughter and your Sunday school teacher’s son (Or worse – the owner’s neighbor – which somewhat ties their hands in the discipline and expectation area) I hope that the next time you have a chance to go out to eat that you take a little more time to linger over a local table (we don’t move as quickly as the big guys).
I am so thankful to all of my supporters and friends. Without y’all, this is nothing. Without y’all, there is no one to celebrate with or to cook for. Without y’all, this just wouldn’t be any fun at all. Thanks.