Final Windows on the World Meeting

The CEO of Windows on the World, Joe Baum loved meetings, the bigger the better. He preferred that everyone crowd into his office, but now and again we met in architect Hugh Hardy’s vast studio on Broadway and 18th Street, as we did at ten a.m. one chilly day at the end of October 1995 to review the progress of the vast Windows on the World enterprise.

Eighteen experts in various fields gathered around the table in Hugh’s conference room. Blueprints of the 106th and 107th floors covered one entire wall. On the other three walls were dioramas of color-coordinated paint chips, tile patterns, carpet swatches, chair designs, bathroom fixtures, and samples of end tables for the seating areas, along with hundreds of other prototypes. Exhibited along the length of a very long table in the adjoining room were scale models of The Restaurant, The Greatest Bar on Earth, The Cellar in the Sky, and the Private Dining Suites. Here, too, were actual samples of crystal, flatware, salt and pepper shakers, and serving dishes. Famed graphic designer, Milton Glaser’s displayed his china patterns in the form of paper mock-ups because all the tableware was still being manufactured in England. His colorful menu designs were carefully placed on the tabletops. Drop-dead gorgeous boys and girls were standing by to model the waitstaff uniforms that had been specially made for the occasion. Continue reading

Windows Broke on Sept. 11

The new Windows restaurants and banquet rooms occupied two acres of space but bore virtually no resemblance to the original. When asbestos was discovered, the space had to be stripped to the steel girders. Every inch of the floors and walls and ceilings were torn down. You could walk on the 107th floor and stare down clear to the empty chasm beneath your feet.

CEO Joe Baum demanded that everything, everything, be reconsidered. I was summoned to write an essay on the very meaning of the word “restaurant.”Another day I was assigned the task of explaining the term “menu.” He insisted on knowing what people were wearing on the street, in the entrance to the tower, and on various floors of the twin towers. Continue reading

Food Job: Mom

The oddest “job” I have ever had was at the invitation of a very large home builder. I was asked to stand in the kitchen of a model home, look like a mom, and cook little snacks for the house hunters. It was a hugely successful promotion. Not surprisingly, everyone gathered in the kitchen. Neighbors met neighbors and shared notes about schools and other areas of mutual interest. Sales soared.

M. F. K. Fisher, The Other Culinary Goddess

I was proud to serve as president of Les Dames d’Escoffier. Every year, we honored a star from our dining and drinking galaxy. During this time, I stumbled across the writings of M. F. K. Fisher, and I applauded her designation as America’s so-called “epicure laureate.” I unhesitatingly chose  M. F. K. when it was my turn to choose the honoree for our annual dinner.

The New York Public Library’s private dining room was the destination for the event. A committee formed to plan the evening. Tables were set with beautiful floral cloths, upon which her books were placed as the centerpieces.

I stepped into the library elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. At that instant, a seemingly homeless woman shuffled through the closing doors. “Crumbs!,” I thought. What could I say? “Grrumph! Madam! This is a private dinner. Buzz off.”? No, I couldn’t possibly say that.

But what? How could I explain the situation politely? It took only a moment to arrive at our destination. The host of the hospitality committee stepped forward to greet us. “Welcome, welcome, Ms. Fisher!” she gushed addressing the old lady.

Crumbs, thought I.

Cookbook Folk Face the Future

The wise are forever issuing dire warnings about slippery slopes. Here is one that has become a very steep slide indeed: Traditional publishers are taking fewer risks on unknown authors and are producing fewer cookbooks. This means that there is less need to maintain high-priced publishing offices in high-rent districts. Costs are cut as publishers’ profits decline. The agonized staff is laid off or offered freelance or part-time employment without traditional benefits.

When the demand for physical, hard- or soft-cover books is reduced, there are fewer orders placed with printers. Fewer printed books result in empty warehouses, and this, in turn, means that there is a less inventory to insure. Fewer trucks are needed to carry books to and from bookstores. We are all painfully aware of the demise of small, independent, neighborhood bookstores, and even of the disappearance of large bookstore chains. Even so, don’t abandon hope.

Food for Thought
The following fact was provided by R. R. Bowker at The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference in New York City in 2012: Cookbooks account for four percent of all book purchases.
The speaker went on to ask the following questions:
? Who buys cookbooks, professionals or home cooks? Answer: both.
? Where do they buy cookbooks, from bookstores or online? Answer: both.
? How does a prospective buyer hear about a cookbook at a time when there are fewer newspaper and magazine reviews and virtually no extensive author or media tours? Answer: Radio interviews and bloggers spread the word. Amazon is the key to sales.
? Why does a buyer purchase a specific book? Answer: Most books are bought as gifts. There is a spike in cookbook sales during the Christmas season. (Diet books, however, are not given as gifts, but are purchased by the intended user.)
? What is the average price paid for a cookbook: Who buys a fifty-dollar cookbook? Answer: some people—a few.
Purchasing decisions are based on
? how many children there are in the recipient’s household;
? whether the buyer or recipient is married or single;
? whether he or she is high-school or college-educated;
? and whether or not the buyer has some income to spare.

Profile of a Cookbook Buyer
Women buy sixty-nine percent of all cookbooks. The largest purchasing group is between the ages of thirty and forty-four, though there has been growth in the eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-old group. This change is attributed to cable-TV cooking programs.

Conclusions: Fewer cookbooks are published every year. Thousands upon thousands of recipes are available online, for free, so a prospective author must ask: who truly needs, or wants, or will buy my book? This is a harsh reality, but it is vitally important to nail this information down.

It is therefore essential to have a clear profile of the prospective buyers of your book. Ask yourself, “To whom am I speaking?” Answer—honestly. Careful research is the foundation on which to build future success.