The benefits of a deflated balloon and a smaller net.

Dear Feastlings,

I haven’t been much of a birthday sort of guy since I was about seven or eight. Sure, it was exciting when I was a youngster: pin the tail on the donkey, a cake baked in the shape of Snoopy or a a rocket ship- even in my later years, I had a fondness for a chocolate cake that my mom used to make with a cream cheese ribbon through the middle of it. But on my twenty-first birthday, I worked. Ditto my seventeenth through fifty-fifth, unless it happened to fall on a day off. It’s not my thing.

I don’t know the birthdays of many a close friend, nor a number of my coworkers, and I hope no one thinks the worse of me for it, though I know some must.

A birthday I’ve historically paid a great deal of attention to, though, slipped by me this weekend, and I’ll just have to say this about it: since I neglected my own twenty-first birthday, I don’t feel so bad about forgetting it was Feast’s own twenty-first birthday this past Sunday. I worked on birthday and Feast worked on its birthday. Still, it brings me down a bit- in years past, we used to recognize our birthday here with gimmicky fun- I figured that we’d reached another birthday because our regular guests supported us, so I’d offer a free dessert to those guests who’d come in often enough that they could name three members of the staff. We gave a cookie as a consolation prize to those made the effort but couldn’t name three. We’d do it all week.

Over the years, though, it defeated itself. What had begun as a way to thank and honor the people who’d kept us in business and make the staff feel good about being regarded as people by our guests rather than automatons began to sour. People who’d had no interest before would come in and suddenly be curious- “what’s his name over there?” they’d ask, pointing at a busser they’d never seen before. Or, “you’re such a dear, what’s your name?” It didn’t feel good anymore- the staff became guarded for the week, suspicious that our guests’ only motive was a freebie. It shouldn’t have been too difficult- after all, everyone had already gotten an email from me with my name at the bottom of it, so two more people shouldn’t have been too much of a challenge, but it no longer felt good. It felt almost adversarial. It culminated one day when a guest walked in, grabbed the business cards of the dining room manager, the catering director and myself and gloated to her server: “I know three names! I want my free dessert!” We pulled the plug after that.

I think I speak for the majority of the crew here when I say that we love and adore our regular guests. One of the points I try to make during every server interview is how much better our guests are, how much better they treat the crew here, than those of other restaurants, and it’s because we have a relationship with them, an ongoing relationship that we cultivate and appreciate. We see our guests as people and they see us as people, and, especially over the past two years, that’s a rare find. So thanks, all of you. Thanks for getting us to another birthday.

This birthday is a birthday I’m just as happy to have behind us. I just spent twenty-five minutes on the phone with a first-time guest whose list of grievances was protracted at a minimum, and embellished besides, and whose reputation preceded her from other restaurants over the years; we’ve scrambled, short-handed, for the past few days to be ready for today’s menu change; and we’re losing another member of the kitchen crew to the glamorous industry of medical coding, and truly, I can’t say I blame him for going, even though it’s not my own idea of a good time (though in fairness, I have no idea whether it’s enjoyable or not.) So today, I’m interviewing three people, which, if all three show up, will be a record. I’m not holding my breath. Only about one in three people we make an appointment with for an interview actually shows up, and only about one in three of those lasts even a week before they disappear without notice, at least based on what’s occurred during what I hope is the latter half of the pandemic. So that big red birthday balloon is more than a little deflated this year.

Still, I’m giving myself a little birthday gift this year: an earnest attempt at optimism. I had a nice conversation the other day about my brother, and the upshot was this: he feels comfortable with a 3′ x3′ safety net. Mine needs to be ten times that size for me to be okay, but that’s because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy. So for Feast’s belated twenty-first birthday, I’m shoving a healthy dose of glass-half-full down my own throat and hoping I can keep it down. My birthday gift to myself is to be more like my brother. I’m jumping off the tightrope with my fall slowed ever so slightly by that deflated red balloon, and hoping I hit that 3′ x 3′ safety net, whereupon I’ll step gingerly out of it to be greeted by a bear in a fez, balancing on a giant ball, and a chihuahua in a tutu, and a tiny car full of clowns, and all will be well and celebratory.

I’m off now to run through the new menu with the wait staff,

and to run through the Mother’s Day specials with the kitchen staff,

Some special dishes for mom

and with any luck, I’ll have some news about our tasting of carbonically fermented wines this Saturday by tomorrow. In the meanwhile, if you see me this week, remind me that we’re going to be fine with that smaller net, and soon it will all be clowns and acrobats and caramel corn.

Thanks, friends.


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