Getting in, and hanging around.

Dear Feastlings,
I’m here today to talk about getting in. There is, of course, the subject of getting into today’s virtual wine tasting, the information about which you’ll find here,

Get savvy about Sauvignon Blanc

and that’s a pretty simple prospect. The information is on the webpage, and if you’d rather not go to the trouble of clicking more than once, you can click on the link included here if you’d rather:

Doug Levy is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Doug Levy’s Personal Meeting Room

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 982 440 4592
Passcode: 529353

There’s also the subject of getting into Feast, though, and some smallish issues have arisen, so I thought I’d give those of you who are willing to wade through my pages of outbursts and self-absorption the inside scoop: there’s an odd confluence in restaurants right now, and Feast is no exception. It’s a teeter-totter of sorts, where yes, it’s summer in Tucson, and our winter residents have gone back to wherever they spend the summer, so it should be easier to get in, but there’s also a bit of pent-up demand, so it should be more difficult to get in. But not everyone feels comfortable dining indoors yet, so it should be easier to get in, and yet it’s now getting too hot to eat on a patio, so maybe it’s harder. Then again, even those who live here year ’round go on vacation, so it should be easier, but we have half as many seats as we do in normal times, so it’s a challenge.

What I’m trying to say is, we’re all on a tightrope- restaurants are still struggling to keep their doors open with less staff, so they’re open fewer hours- at Feast, we’re only serving dinner in-house, since we can’t adequately staff lunch; other restaurants are closed an extra day or more each week, and most of us are still trying to keep tables spaced out for the health, safety and psychological comfort of our guests. Plus most of us probably don’t have the staff to handle full capacity, or if a restaurant does have enough staff, they’re very likely little more than a warm body with little or no restaurant experience.

The upshot is this- with only four hours of being open for dine-in, we make every attempt to keep our guests happy and give them the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely meal, but at the same time we’re trying to get two seatings out of each table, our guests are often dining with someone they haven’t seen in fourteen months or more, so the hour and a half we set aside for a party of two, or the two hours we set aside for a group of four or more isn’t enough, and we end up frustrating people when we’re barely filling half a restaurant. Last night, for example, we had two women join us at 4:30 who’d intended to make an evening of it, and left after only a drink when they were told that the table for four they were sitting at was rebooked at 6:30. While they insisted they understood, there was a palpable tension, they left after their drink, and were clearly frustrated. On our end, to make matters worse, that 6:30 party of four evidently decided against joining us, so the table that should have generated six dinners instead generated two drinks. That’s not how you stay open, nor is it how you make people happy.

So while we’re adjusting Resy to warn our guests that tables are rebooked in two hours, it also can’t hurt to give you a few pointers that apply not only to Feast but to any restaurant, whether the pandemic is distant in the rearview mirror, or whether it’s in that other rearview mirror that says on it, “OBJECTS MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”

First of all, if you’re part of the early seating, i.e. anything before 6 pm, you can assume that your table is rebooked. In normal times, we keep a table or two free to juggle when people stay longer than the average bear, but until I drag all the extra tables and chairs out of my garage and bring them back to Feast, we’re over a barrel now as far as being able to juggle is concerned. The restaurant business is all about real estate, but it’s a complicated sort of real estate. Every seat has the potential to generate income, just like a hotel has rooms that generate income. But imagine a hotel where the guest decides how much they’ll spend and how long they occupy the room. A hotel charges the same for a room with two twin beds regardless whether both of those beds are occupied, but a restaurant with a party of two at a table for four just cut its earning potential in half at that table.

Normally, a party of two doesn’t dine as long, so you hope to make it up on the next seating, but with half as many tables, you have fewer tables of two so half the seats at many of your tables remain unoccupied. So the pressure is on the staff to move guests along expeditiously while still making the people who are tipping them feel welcome- now imagine the hotel where guests decide how long they’ll stay, how much they’re going to spend, AND what wage the hotel staff will be paid.

You might argue that the restaurant should pay the staff better, and I’d agree, expect for one thing: then prices go up and people stop eating at your restaurant. We’re back on that tightrope again.

While I feel particularly unfortunate this year to be beginning my fortieth year in the restaurant business, I also feel supremely lucky to have the guests we do overall- we’ve been building relationship for twenty years, and I’d argue that our guests are better and kinder to us than the clientele of most restaurants because we’re worked hard at developing those relationships.

In the interest of maintaining those relationships, then, I offer you this advice to keep tucked in your pocket when you’re making a reservation at any restaurant, anyplace:

1. Make the reservation. Now more than ever, it’s harder to get a seat at a restaurant you’ve walked into versus one where you have a reservation.
2. Want to dawdle? Don’t come at 5, when your table will undoubtedly be rebooked for 6:30 or 7. Some at 6:30 or 7. Too late for you? Come early. You’ll notice the busser isn’t hovering near your table with a spray bottle in hand the minute your check is presented. If you’re eating at 4, there’s time for a cocktail, some idle banter, a leisurely meal and a coffee. Yes, I know it’s early, but until people get back to pre-pandemic habits, 4:00 is the new 6:00.
3. Unless there’s theater or symphony or opera, a basketball game or some other event, a weeknight will invariably be an easier night to get a reservation, and early or late will always be easier than right in the middle of the evening. Not that we’ll be seeing big events or a crowded stadium or auditorium in the next few months, though, so weeknights are your friend.
4. If you ARE headed somewhere and have a curtain to catch, let your server know when you arrive, not when you’re in a panic that you won’t make it across town in twelve minutes- it’s way easier to keep things moving if they’re armed with information like what time you need to leave in order to arrive comfortably at the next portion of your evening.
5. While restaurants remain short-handed, an overworked host or server may have too many irons in the fire and forget to communicate with you about any of the above. Yes, we try to keep tabs on all of our guests and their needs, but communication is a two-way street. Feel free to tell your server what issues you have, ideally while treating them like a human being. Most of them actually are human beings, and love being treated as such.
6. No one more than we in the industry wants things to get back to normal. We want enough staff, we want enough tables, we want to pay the bills that have stacked up over these past fifteen months. We want our guests to enjoy themselves, to have a meal at a relaxed pace that still allows them to get to their next destination on time and allows us not to disappoint the people who are next scheduled to sit at that table. Remember that at any restaurant, we want you to be happy and we’re doing our best to give you an experience that makes you want to return in the face of everything I’ve described. No one will deliberately attempt to ruin your evening, so when mistakes are made or problems arise, it’s because, well, see the last part of number 5- we’re human.

Time now to get back on that tightrope so we can make you a dinner you can remember with fondness, host a wine tasting that offers you a special find and some wine education, and to welcome you into our house with open arms and a smile under that mask. See you soon.

Doug and the other people at Feast

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