This weekend, I trotted up to Phoenix for an industry wine tasting. There were excellent wines to be had, and some will undoubtedly show up on our wine list, and I’m glad I made the trip up. But I’m back now, sitting with the sinking realization that what I’m going through at Feast is a tiny exemplar of what’s happening industry-wide. I used to be like anyone else at industry tastings, and likely I still am at the bigger ones- this was all natural wines, and in Phoenix, so not much like the behemoth tastings we go to where there’ll be several hundred wines to wade through in the course of three or four hours. At this tasting, though, there were two guys who were over seventy, then there was me, and then there were dozens of rosy-cheeked kids with ironic moustaches, stringy hair, and trucker hats. Somewhere, I went from Young Turk to Old Guard, if I’m being kind to myself; Young Turk to Dinosaur if not.
I’m decidedly okay with it; restaurants are a young person’s business, and I’ve watched any number of our own staff age out of it- three wine reps, a medical credentialer, and a handful of call center employees all number among our former staff, along with a florist, a flight attendant and a few other job titles I’m not sure of. But at this tasting, I was most assuredly not one of the cool kids.
And that’s fine with me as well. I’ve never been one of the cool kids, at least not until I bought a liquor license and could order Japanese sea scallops and squash blossoms from time to time. But in watching these people at the wine tasting, I saw what I see in our own kitchen as we replace veteran restaurant folk with, well, saplings, really: people new to the industry- new to the work force, really- who have fewer and fewer wings to be taken under. People like me who’ve been at it for forty years are now running around putting out fires while the whole middle tier of people with twenty years of experience are now sitting in air-conditioned offices and fighting rush hour traffic on the way home. So just like I watched a guy with a European carryall finish tasting dessert wines before delicate white wines that there’s no way he could taste after all that sugar, I can see in my own kitchen among the new people- well, let’s just say there are a lot of things that need to be run by the three of us who oversee the kitchen in some capacity, and not all of those things get presented to us.
I watched it all unfold at a former (and, I hope, future) favorite restaurant in Phoenix at which we grabbed a bite after yesterday’s tasting- I saw no one in the dining room who could possibly have been waiting tables for more than a year or two, which means they’re still unlikely to receive the training they desperately needed in order to become passably good at their jobs. I alternately reminded my wife and had to be reminded by her that this is what restaurants look like now: long waits, poorly timed food, inexperienced servers and cooks alike, and that Feast has those nights too; I certainly don’t pretend to have escaped this new scourge. It’s normal now for me to go on an apology run through the dining room at the end of the night and hope that people are willing to come back one day.
There is, I’m hoping now, a turning point nearing. We’ve had five responses to our most recent help wanted ad, and two of them were from people who’d worked more than ten years in restaurants. One of them is even going to come in tomorrow, so we’re thinking positive thoughts.
Meanwhile, we’ll get ourselves set to the best of our ability for the two massive catering gigs we have this weekend, plus the private wine dinner we have tomorrow, and this Saturday’s wine tasting as well.
And with any luck, one of these new people we’ve interviewed this week will work out and we’ll be that much closer to reopening on Sundays. Wish us luck, have a snack, and I’ll thank you now for your patience.