The End of Restaurants to me, is not a shock but an inevitability of the economics of privilege. Why?
The price of dining is too low to support labor that earns a livable wage.
In the past, sit-down restaurant customers, aka diners, were conditioned to expect an entire human being catering to their preferences during their time at the restaurant.
Flatly, that meant an entire human being dedicated to managing a complex dance of expectations, flattery, amusement, humor, and wit, between the diner and the establishment.
This is a performance of sophisticated emotional labor.
This phenomena of expectations, known as hospitality, is supported by a commission-based, high-touch, high-volume sales model.
The success of this model is also requires the physical labor done by the cooks, dishwashers, and bussers. Their work is essential to support the customer-facing workers’ task of providing a dining experience where dirty dishes disappear and new dishes arrive all to adhering to a cadence that is assumed from a diners body language.
When done well, this experience is essentially magical.
Restauranteurs are not stupid and have known this for quite some time, widely complaining about shrunken margins and the cost of labor being a large and variable expense for their business.
But customer’s price expectations are ludicrous on the face of the amount of labor that they expect to be performed. Is it realistic that for a $15 entree that you not only get your food, don’t have to worry about dishes, cooking, or cleaning, but also the performance of hospitality where someone is able to convince you they care about your day?
What other business else has the expectation of that level of individualized customer support?
Of course, this model existed in the real world for as long as it did because of mitigating factors, like humans nature as social animals, social relationships providing meaningful support for both the diner and the waiter/bartender, some workers’s passion for service, and the underlying expectation of this is just what reality is.
So given the coronvirus crisis, this pulls at me from two directions. The one is, a bartender who loved bartending for the relationships and money that I earned by essentially hanging out and being a good host to people I liked. And my understanding of the reality of the economics of this dynamic.
Personally I am definitely inclined to take bad news at face value and then search out the far reaching implications of that news.
When it comes to major crises like the coronavirus pandemic we are experiencing, for all I’m concerned, the world has already ended and we are now living in an eternal present. Which will never end.
Obviously that’s not true.
But I am definitely not ready to go back to working as a bartender given the conditions. At least the bartending situation where I was at since moving to NYC (daytime shift at a hotel).
For one thing, hotel guests are needy, and since it was a large corporate place you can’t just tell people what time it is like a neighborhood bar.
And for the other thing, making awful tips while refilling coffee and potentially exposing yourself to an exceedingly virulent virus just doesn’t make you feel good about your life and your choices.
The irony is, I miss my regulars, who in addition to paying my bills, were my legitimate friends with whom I had contextual, but fulfilling relationships.
So it’s on that note that I, running through my phone looking to see what music I can play given that I gave up my apple music subscription*, and discovered a voice memo that I didn’t recognize.
*they’re taxing taxing, at $11 a mo. I still get mad when I think about how much money I spent on iTunes. Where are those files now?!
So I turn it on and what do I hear but the quiet ambient music and humming dishwasher and other soothing sounds that accompany me closing the bar. On this night, one of my regulars Tip (a MAILMAN and thus a REAL MVP) stayed a little later with me to help mop up and make the bar shiny. I miss those guys.
The only thing you need to maintain a friendship is shared values. Everything else, well that’s here today and gone tomorrow.
So I uploaded the file to youtube and matched it with a slideshow of as many random pictures as my mac allowed before it quit on me.
Normally, I hate nostalgia, which seems in direct conflict with my sentimental nature. But the sound of a quiet closing bar is soothing to me on so many levels.
And it rhymes, Quiet Bar ASMR. So let me know what you think, unless you think it sucks, which in case don’t.