There are aspects of the restaurant business that have always made me feel whole. The opportunity to hone ones craft, to create something tangible with your hands, to have the privilege of working with Nature’s ingredients and pay respect to the farmer’s work, to bring out flavors and paint a cook’s art on the plate, the satisfaction of working with a team in what are sometimes impossible situations, and to make people smile as a result of your work – these are priceless benefits of investing in a food career. On the other hand, there are certainly aspects of the business that are less inspiring, oftentimes frustrating, and to some degree – just not right.
This is not an article focused on complaining – in fact, just the contrary. This is a moment in time when we should collectively think about turning back the clocks to a time when everyone paid respect to the meaning of the holidays. This negative associated with the restaurant business is not driven by the industry or the owners of restaurants, but rather by a shift in society over the past few decades – a shift with much more lost than gained.
Over the next week or so, from coast to coast, restaurants will be gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year. To a large degree, this has always been the case, and as such an important part of being in the business of food. We help people celebrate, we feed them when they are shopping for others, we give to those who have very little, we offer a place for groups – small and large to pay tribute to their employees and their clients, and at the same time we feed the bank accounts of owners who desperately depend on holiday traffic to make ends meet. This is an opportunity for restaurant employees to celebrate success and help guests enjoy this festive time of year.
What has become distressing over the past few decades is the shift from holiday celebration to holiday isolation for those who work in the restaurant business. As busy as this time of the year has always been, we now see actual days of giving thanks, days when families need and want to be together, and days when many yearn to pay respect in a more spiritual manner – become some of the busiest days of the year for restaurants.
There was a time, just a generation ago, when Christmas, Hanukkah, Las Posada, Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice, were sacred days for families to spend time together, to collaborate on meals in home kitchens, to bring out treasured family recipes again, to exchange thoughtful gifts, and to break bread and clink glasses in support of family, while offering true thanks for the passing year and the one to come. More and more it seems that the thing that families make for dinner on these days is a reservation.
It is fortunate that restaurants are here to accommodate this shift, but what have we lost in the process? We have lost that opportunity to crowd around the family stove and laugh about memories, share those generational recipes, invest that sense of caring into every dish, hug each other and occasionally shed a tear, and be truly thankful for what we have and where we are. Employees have given up an opportunity to share this with their families (maybe their family holiday will be celebrated at another time) and we have shifted the meaning of these holidays to a business decision. Restaurants cannot afford to not open on these special days – the loss of business and reputation would be too great. So, we put on a smile and welcome families to enjoy the fruits of our labor while putting aside our own family traditions. This is a societal systemic issue, not one that lies solely on the shoulders of restaurateurs. Isn’t it time to talk about turning the clock back?
A return to cooking at home for the holidays is a tradition that makes sense. Returning to a time that reflects the history of families, and the true meanings of the special holidays that we hold so high, is long overdue. What greater joy is there than breaking bread with family, giving thanks for our time together, and laughing with reckless abandon?
This dilemma is not exclusive to the restaurant business. We now expect retail stores to be open on many holidays – requiring employees to leave their family traditions behind so that a holiday sale can meet expectations. Public servants are on the job to protect us and provide lifesaving services if and when needed (doctors, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, utility workers, and road workers), leaving their families behind in the process. While many of these individuals work for legitimate reasons, there are many who are behind the range, behind the counter, at the cash register, and waiting on tables as a convenience to some, rather than out of real need.
I always think about those people who work so that we can rest easy and enjoy our own lives on days when family should come first. So, at the very least – I give thanks this holiday season to chefs, cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, delivery persons, cashiers, stock clerks, police officers, road workers, doctors, nurses, military, taxi drivers, firefighters, and thousands of other public servants who give up time with their families during this season to maintain the lifestyle of others.
If you see any of these individuals over the next week in particular – stop and say thanks – they give up a lot for us.
Food for thought
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Las Posada, Happy Kwanzaa, and Praise to the Winter Solstice.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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