So it’s New Year’s Eve again, that “special” evening, when people get all dressed up, all liquored up, then stand and sway at midnight, slurring the “words” to Auld Lang Syne. Is there even a second verse to this song? If there is, no one knows it; and God only knows why they would. I am going to start a movement right now to have the official New Year’s Eve song changed to “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt”. Much easier to learn, and eminently more danceable…
New Year’s Eve is a bittersweet event for we restaurant folk, as it always means working longer and later, and waiting on and dealing with many “amateur” diners (the same ones that were puking green beer on St. Paddy’s and bad Jose Cuervo Margarita’s on Cinco De Mayo). With a special prixe-fixe menu and all our guests in a celebratory mood, we will get to swim in the deep end of the service charge pool tonight; but it’s pretty much the last hurrah for our season.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always one of the busiest of the year here in the Napa Valley, as people are home visiting their families or just plain here visiting. We have to shake ourselves out of the December Doldrums of lower cover counts punctuated by the occasional Christmas Party dinner or lunch from the local insurance or doctor’s offices, and dive head-first into business volume we haven’t seen since September. We do this every year with a stripped-down crew, as many “seasonals” have left us. The week is usually a bit of a high wire act without a net, but it’s a nice little shot in the financial arm for the staff and the owners before Janu-ugly and Feb-u-weary set in.
This last week has been bag full of mixed signals about the future. We are much busier than last year at this time, but at the end of December last year most people were just beginning to get the message that their personal and company financials were in the toilet. Christmas parties, celebrations, and consumer spending have been all over the board this year with so many unsure about whether we have reached that magical point of “recovery” or not. Monday night was rocking, as we were short-staffed and running our ass off. Tuesday was great, with a high guest count, but small spending and lots of corkage. Wednesday had us doing Saturday type numbers and a walloping $150 per person check average. We had a table of two this week that purchased our one and only bottle of 1982 Laffite at $2200. No disrespect to the Federal Reserve and Dow-Jones, but these are the more reliable economic indicators to me. I just hope our winter is only three months long this year instead of the Nordic six-month slowdown of 09.
We are apparently also at the end of another decade according to the calendar. This one kind of snuck up on me, as I have been so fixated on the happy fact that this piece of shit year of 2009 is finally over. But all the newspaper and magazine articles about the “Top 10 This and That” indicate that, yes indeed, another ten have come and gone. The James Bond Decade (The Double O’s), or the aughts, or the Zeroes, or whatever we are calling the ten-year rollercoaster ride that ends tonight, is one that I am extremely glad to usher out.
Our family has had many personal adventures over the last 10 years. Just to name a few: We rode the California Real Estate Wave and felt like the Pink Panther in the cartoon where he is in the airplane that is going down. He stands in the doorway and waits until the plane is two feet above the ground, then just steps off, unharmed, while the plane smashes into the ground behind him. We surfed that wave to New Orleans, only to be caught up in another one called Katrina, which swept us off to Atlanta for couple of years and some real financial “adventures” as we looked into becoming small business owners. Then it was back across the country to Napa and, as they say, here we are. For us, and for the economy in general, the last few years has been kind of like floating in the pool on the air mattress that is just a little bit low on air: you’re comfortable, but still sinking slowly, and it’s going to take a major rearranging of your beer, your sunglasses, and re-applying your sunscreen if you really want to get your shit right. Wow, all these water references are going to make me tinkle…
So tonight, after all our guests have finished dessert and gone off to the party in the ballroom, I will close our doors and barricade our tiny restaurant bar against drunken incursions like we are in Fort Apache. Then I will quietly raise a glass of Veuve Cliquot and toast simultaneously to the end of the line for 09, and to better Zen in 2010.