We have been having a fairly decent early Spring uptick in business lately. Signs are upon us that yes, it’s April, and the tourists are beginning to gather. The locals are still with us too, as they have been all winter, and we love them and thank them for it. But with the impending closure of the ski resorts in the Sierras and the resulting weekly onslaught of tourists from the 714, 650, and 916, they will soon fade off into the sunset and disappear; and most of them will likely not be seen again until Harvest.
We have had some definite signs of the “season” being upon us, and thank God. This, however, is one of those Good News/Bad News situation. Last year, winter lasted until August; but this year, we’ve already had indicators that we don’t usually see until Memorial Day. Apple Martinis have been officially served in our dining room, we’ve seen our first group of tourists in flip-flops and board shorts trying to dine, and we had a large party on our patio last week that brought in a I-Pod Dock and wanted to have a dance party. If they hadn’t been a bunch of drunk, No-Riddim-Havin’ Crackers in their late forties, we might have accommodated them. But their dancing, for the few brief moments they got away with it before we shut them down, was like a bad car wreck on the highway in the middle of the night; and all the diners on the other side of our glass patio doors were like the passing motorists, horrified by the scene illuminated in their headlights, yet unable to look away.
Spring is always a challenge here in Napa Valley, trying to maintain consistency when the weeknights are still fairly quiet, but weekends are packed. Having a few busy shifts, other than just Friday and Saturday is always helpful, as it is so much easier to gear up for a full house when it happens more than just once or twice a week. Patios, and other outside dining venues, are beginning to open here and there as the weather improves; and the increases in seating capacity and the need for more staff to serve them is a big challenge. Many restaurants are just now beginning the process of hiring on their seasonal help, and trying to get them trained and up to speed. Reservation slots have to be closely controlled at this time of year, as having more tables available makes for more opportunities for problems to occur, especially if you are slightly understaffed. At this time of year I would much rather do 10 to 15 fewer covers and do them all perfectly, than risk compromising our reputation for the sake of a few more bucks on a Saturday.
We have recently made a return to the “Top Ten Lists” on Open Table for Food, Service, and Overall quality, and being there helps our business volume immensely. The crew at the restaurant is working well together, becoming more and more precise; and rather than being tunnel-visioned into taking care of only their own little world within the grand scheme of things, everyone seems much more in-tune with “The Big Picture” and have really worked together to make it happen.
The feedback provided by our guests via OT’s reviews of the restaurant over the past few months has also been helpful in fine-tuning things. If one or two guests mention the same service miscue, that particular point of service goes straight to the top of the list for reinforcement. And although past readers of this blog will no doubt know what complete disdain I have for Yelp, as well as Trip Advisor as “discussion forums”, I do pay attention to what is said there. Sort of.
One recent commenter on Trip Advisor objected to being asked if he would like to see a menu before being seated as a walk-in deuce. The couple in question thought I was looking down my nose at them financially, and that just staying at our hotel should have put them above reproach. Even though years of experience at higher end hotels and restaurants has taught me to embrace the axiom of “Never underestimate your guest’s need or ability to spend money”, I have also learned to spot the road signs that point the other direction. These two were not dressed down in “casual” outfits that cost more than my entire wardrobe; they were sloppy. They weren’t wearing sweatshirts and jean accented by five thousand dollars worth of watches, pearls or earrings. They were all about Old Navy. The man was wearing socks from Costco, for God’s sake. How did I know? Because I wear socks from Costco. When confronted with such indicators, I try to be courteous by presenting the menu first, in order to save the guest the embarrassment of making up a lame excuse to leave after they have been seated and gone into sticker shock over the menu prices. “Oh, we were looking for something lighter…” Uh-huh.
So Friday night, and here they are: a walk-in four top, with that haggard “Been-Dragging-Our-Asses-Through-Airports-All-Day” look about them. One of them is the guy I mentioned above, with the board shorts and flip-flops. I know for a drop-dead certainty that they are looking for a quick bite, then off to bed, and that they would be oh-so-much happier at our other, more casual restaurant in the Lobby; but the spokesperson for this particular group was very abrupt and cranky, and refused my offer to preview the menu. So, I was all “Fine. You won’t let me help, you want to sit anyway? Come on in, pal.” Of course they came in, were presented menus, saw the prices and the format; and when I looked over a few minutes later, they had disappeared like a set of testicles in a cold swimming pool. If they had just been a little nicer, and taken my advice as the sincere desire to help that it was, it would’ve saved us all a little time and a lot of embarrassment. Some people you just can’t reach, no matter what the season.