Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Empty Suits

It seems like that scene in a movie with everyone sitting around the bar, in the desert, waiting for the all clear sign, after the H-bomb has gone off. The streets are empty, the atmosphere is heavy; have we entered the age of the American Malaise?

Steakhouses and fancy designer restaurants fill up early with Maseratis and Land Rovers parked outside, all in a neat little row. There is wealth hovering around us, but it has migrated to the north of the middle class faster than a jackrabbit in West Texas on the first day of hunting season.

How low can you go? Today I found some fresh Italian wine to sell to a client for $3.50 a bottle. Not distressed, actually from Trentino. A little fruity, but not like the bottle of Sonoma Chardonnay I opened up a few nights ago. That was one undrinkable white wine. Fruit, soaked in oily-oak. Like some of the food I had recently in a new place. Only then it was too much salt. Hey, chefs, if you are making a dish with capers, before you spice-a-spoofulate it with salt, taste the freakin’ food! And they wonder why Italian places are closing here and elsewhere (i.e. NY, SF, LA, Vegas, Chicago, Birmingham, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Denver, ad nauseum). Yeah it’s a bummer, but it’s even harder to understand why someone would make an investment in a restaurant and then not go to the trouble to prepare the food in a balanced way. And they wonder why we stay home to eat.

Let’s go over the reasons- Let me count the ways:

1) Fresh food prepared simply and not over spiced.
2) Wine that is of my choosing, not from some salesperson’s tick list.
3) While we’re at it, wine that I can access at a reasonable price, not 3, 4, 5 times marked up.
4) Water glasses that aren’t constantly getting refilled.
5) I can park my own car, so if I want to screw up my transmission I can do it at my leisure.
6) I can choose my music, my noise levels, and the people I want around me, not constantly having to be hostage to my neighbors drama and rudeness.

I can only imagine restaurateurs who are truly engaged nodding their heads, but the ones who need to read up aren’t checking in to blogs. Hey, they can barely get their orders out in time.

And here’s another issue, which it seems many restaurant operators are blissfully ignorant about. Diesel is $5 a gallon. So when a delivery truck heads out, with tomatoes or Teroldego, the clock is ticking on the driver to get the goods delivered efficiently. So how come so many restaurant operators are living back in the days when oil was $38 a barrel? And why are they stunned when their business fails? I’m just sayin’.

Back to the empty suits. I was watching one of my favorite movies, Sexy Beast, and was thinking about organization, whether it revolves around breaking into a bank or onto a wine list. It seems like cracking a wine list is more challenging these days. There is a service called Wineosaur, that can track and compare wine lists by regions, neighborhoods, zip codes, types of restaurants, class of restaurants ($$), really interesting analytical stuff. So I print out an analysis for a new place getting ready to open, try to show them what their competition is doing. This is good stuff, free professional consultation, the real deal. But hey what do we know; the organization I work for has only been around since 1909, eh?

OK, the bottom line? Restaurants that use wine pricing to shore up their profits are sticking it to their loyal clients; you know the ones who are looking at $60-75 to fill up their autos? Just like the fill-up used to be $30-35, so the wine that cost $15 also used to sell for $30-35. Now that wine costs $18 and those restaurants are now asking $60-75 for the same wine. No labor, not like the piccata dish with the capers and the salt. Yeah, the wholesalers are the bad guys, delivering wines to the forgetful restaurateurs on a Friday so they can mark the just-in-time inventory up 3,4,5 times and then when you walk in the empty place on a later that night they look at you, the paying customer, as if you were a bit off for not making a reservation. That’s after they enter your name is a database, send it off the homeland security, just in case you brought a wine opener on to the premises. Might be a security threat. Or worse, we might be giving a staff training.

That’s another thing. This week, this very week, in a restaurant, a server described a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo to a friend as tasting “like a Cabernet.” And then in the same night, at the same table, to a group of food professionals, Gavi was compared to a “Sauvignon Blanc.” Oh really? Managgia, porco dio, we really do have so many miles to go before we sleep.

Say good night, Gracie.

From the front lines of the battle for the love of wine.


Marco said...

Like that friend of yours said, "They haven't eaten enough dirt."

Tracie B. said...

tick lists and that what i signed up for?

BK said...

Next time, AC, please show us the sexy beast, instead of the undergarments she left behind on the line.

Reasons to be cheerful, IJS.

Anthony Nicalo said...

Well at least there are some businesses trying to keep customers happy in the face of rising costs. Namely, a Nevada brothel that is handing out gas vouchers.

genevelyn said...

name one BAD Ben Kingsley movie
(but you've referenced one of his BEST)

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