Notes from a Chairman
Many restauranteurs find a great location to build their restaurant. They spend two to four million dollars on a beautiful physical plant, hire a top-notch chef, buy only the best products, and forget one thing. They spend about twenty-seven cents on their chairs. Chairs are one of the most important things in a restaurant. A diner is going to sit from one to three hours, and their meal will be either enhanced or diminished depending on the state of their posterior.
If you are uncomfortable, your dining experience is diminished. If you are comfortable and feel good about the way you’re sitting, you are going to be a happy diner. When I opened Longhi’s, I was very fortunate to find ninety antique chairs that had come from a hotel in Tacoma, Washington. I spent 5 dollars apiece for these chairs, and another 20 dollars each to restore them. In the last twenty years I have invested more than one hundred thousand dollars to have these chairs reproduced. (It is interesting to note that sixty or seventy of the ninety original chairs I bought are still in use, whereas more than half of the five hundred reproductions have had to be replaced.) It’s been a large expense but, in my opinion, a very worthwhile one. My advice to anyone who wants to go into the restaurant business is to make sure you have chairs that are very comfortable-the type of chair that makes eating a pleasure instead of a task. I recently noted that a restauranteur who is a great chef and had fantastic food and a fairly beautiful restaurant went out of business. My problem with that restaurant was that the chairs were so uncomfortable that my meal was tarnished to such a degree that I decided never to go there again. I’m sure that if this restauranteur had put as much thought into the chairs as she had put into the rest of the restaurant, it would still be in business.
WHAT NEXT:NO PLATES?
I’ve noticed over the past few years that many restaurants no longer have spoons on the table. My suspicion is that someone wrote an article in one of the trade journals stating that a restaurant could save money leaving the spoon out of the place setting. (It is true that spoons seem to be the one thing above all others that disappears from a restaurant.) This practice has become so rife that in more than half of the restaurants I frequent there are no spoons on the table. If this is a method of saving money, I hope no one writes an article extolling the virtues of not having forks and knives, because obviously that would really save lots of money.
PUTTING THE SQUEEZE ON BOTTLED O.J.
Before I opened Longhi’s, one of the things I most enjoyed at home each morning was freshly squeezed orange juice. When I went traveling I would always ask the waiter if the orange juice was fresh, and they would invariably say,”Yes, it is.” And I would say,”Do you take a little round orange thing, cut it and then squeeze it?” They would reply, “No, we don’t squeeze it here, sir.” So obviously it wasn’t fresh. Fresh means that you are served the orange juice minutes after the squeezing process takes place. When I opened Longhi’s, one of the first things I insisted on was that we had fresh orange juice-and I meant fresh in the true sense, not as it has come to be understood in America. I now believe that many people think “fresh” means that at one time during its existence the juice was indeed fresh, even though that may have been three years ago. Another funny thing happened’ when my wife Gail and I were returning from a trip to Brazil.We stopped in southern Florida, in the fashionable town of Key West, and we walked into a pizzeria. Gail asked for a pizza with mushrooms. She asked the pizza maker, who was a boy in his teens, “Are the mushrooms fresh?” He replied emphatically, “Yes, they are-I guarantee it.” So she ordered the mushroom pizza. A few minutes later the pizza arrived, topped with what were obviously canned mushrooms. She then said to the young man, “These mushrooms are not fresh!” To which the boy replied, “Yes, they are-I opened that can five minutes ago!” He was not joking. (Another phrase that is irritating to me is “fresh frozen.” What’s my other choice-frozen rotten?)