When it comes to bars and restaurants, continuity is key

The two women sat at the bar. It was a different time and now feels like a different place. Both were in their early twenties and both were similarly equipped: cell phones, baseball caps, ponytails, yoga pants, athletic shoes, designer sunglasses, etc. If there was a youthful American women’s uniform, these two were wearing it.

After work cocktail? Post work out? Pre-family? I didn’t know, but it was apparent that a budding friendship was in the offing. Relationships, whether platonic or romantic often begin the same way: bonding over shared experiences.

“I’ll have a Disaranno and non-fat milk,” asked the woman in the tan baseball hat, perhaps recognizing that while Disaranno used to be one of the world’s best known amaretto, at some recent point the company removed the word amaretto from the front of the bottle.

“I’ll have one too, but make mine with almond milk,” added the woman in the red cap.

“We don’t have almond milk,” I replied.

After some back and forth and a rundown of milk alternatives we finally arrived at soy milk, a product we did carry.

A sprinkle of nutmeg for one, and a sprinkle of dark chocolate (not milk chocolate) for the other and we were off and running.

Opposites might attract romantically, but similarity is what binds most friendships together. Even if that similarity is fleeting at best.

Time is relative to perspective, the physicists say. But isn’t perspective relative to time too? The summer of my 16th year seemed to last forever whereas this most recent summer seems to have been over in the blink of an eye. In my twenties a six month stint anywhere, doing anything, seemed inexorably long. Nowadays six months into something and I have yet to take it seriously.

However, eight or ten months in the bar can seem like an eternity. My first bartending job was at a nightclub. In four years, I saw 6 different general managers, 12 different asst managers, 50 different bartenders and at least that many cocktail waitresses. Every six months it was like a completely different bar. And that was just one side of it. On the customer side, our regulars ebbed and flowed as the demands of life, liberty and happiness dictated. I saw them meet, marry, reproduce, and divorce, sometimes in that order, and sometimes in reverse that order. The bar business is about continuity, but not direct line continuity. It’s more like quantum mechanics, all things are possible at all times. But much like regular physics, bodies in motion, tend to stay in motion.

And that is where the bar/restaraunt business finds itself now. We have an entire “bar” generation that does not have the “bar” experience. What will that mean for the future? Newton famously added “objects at rest tend to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force” to his “in motion” postulate.

The bar/restaurant business might need that outside force. Once people get used to not doing something, it is very hard to get them to do it again. Look at professional sports. They have realized that if people get used to the idea of spending Sundays or Thursdays or Tuesdays doing something else, they just might not want to go back. 

In the restaurant business there is a “law of three,” best illustrated by posted hours. If a customer goes to a restaurant during its posted hours and the restaurant has closed early, that customer will shrug the first time. If it happens a second time, they will become angry, and if it happens a third time, they will never go back. It’s the same with rebranding. It is very difficult to get people to go to a new restaurant at an old location once it has been three different iterations. Continuity is the key.

It has been nine months since I have seen those two young women. In their young lives that is an eternity. In fact, that is enough time to launch an entire new life. Only time will tell if there is a new generation that wants to take their place.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Isaac Newton was wrong about what created gravity. It is not an internal force pulling inward, but rather an external force pushing downward.

-Will mixology survive? We won’t know for another eternity (6 to 10 months).

-The service business is based upon inside forces: good service, customer appreciation and good value. And those are always controllable.

– Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me,” once wrote Anthony Bourdain.

-Drinks do too, I would add.

-See you soon, I hope.