A Cafe for Our Time
During the Great Depression we didn't go out to eat much and neither did anyone else. However, gas was cheap and we did take outings that sometime included a stop in a restaurant, especially when we took along my grandmother, who was generous with the little cash she had. On one such occasion we were in Long Beach at dinner time and went to a seafood restaurant. As was the custom, we all had the same thing, the “Special,” because it was always a few cents cheaper. Even today, on the rare occasion we eat out, I sometimes find myself about to tell the waiter to just bring me the special.
And so, as we slide headlong into another depression, I think of those days and realize that eating out by families must surely become a much rarer activity than it is now. Restaurants will try to meet the challenge, but how will they do it? Here are a few ideas that I think could be a benefit them and also benefit the rest of society:
1. They should offer a very limited menu, perhaps even just one selection each day that, like the restaurant itself, might be called "The Special."  But it should be served with style, perhaps from a wheeled cart that an agreeable waiter moves from table to table serving each person from a beautiful tureen. "Take all you want, but eat all you take," could be his mantra.  
2. He should be serving mostly hearty, pre-cooked soups and stews, to make it unnecessary to cook on site. (Central kitchens can produce high-quality soups and stews, and do so much more cheaply.) Such food, fast frozen after being cooked, could be delivered in bulk where it is re-heated to perfection so it can be served with pride.
3. Additional food to be eaten off premises should be offered for people to take home. Also, fruits and salads should be available in season. (In-season foods look better, are better quality, and are cheaper than out-of-season foods.)
4. Standard beverages (hot coffee and tea, and iced-water) should be free. Those ordering coffee and tea with cream and/or sugar should receive it pre-sweetened and creamed both to reduce its cost but also to avoid the clutter that comes from individual packaging. However, pure luxury drinks, like beer, wine, and sodas, should be sold for whatever the traffic will bear.
5. The restaurant should also emphasize the value of old-fashioned personal effort commonplace in pre-throw-away times by using a durable and washable heavy plastic table service.
6. The management should encourage the staff -- the preparers, waiters, cashiers, busboys and maintenance people -- to participate in creating an upbeat theme, such that there is no hint of a bread line or soup kitchen.
7. Even the decor should evoke both the pleasure and the satisfaction of taking a meal after doing the hard work needed to grow food, harvest it, cook it, serve it, etc. -- all of the tasks carried out to put food on the table.
8. Finally, overall, the management and staff should create restaurants that provide pleasant, competent service, in clean and comfortable surroundings that reinforce good family values and promote good social experiences through an integration of appealing design, superior service and inexpensive food appropriate to the needs of our time.  
“So, what's it like in the real world? Well, the food is better, but beyond that, I don't recommend it.”
 Bill Watterson quotes (American Author of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, b.1958)
Friday, February 22, 2008
 "The Special" Cafe