We may go to “destination restaurants,” just once in a lifetime. We tread in their hallowed halls with reverential awe.
El Bulli was just such a paradise. It shone brightly in the exalted galaxy of gastronomy. Disciples flocked to hear the angels of Ferran Adria sing in perfect harmony. We bowed our heads, murmured our hushed Amens and departed with full hearts and empty wallets.
There are “those” restaurants — and all the others…
To open a new restaurant is a daunting undertaking fraught with danger and near death experiences.
Everyone knows: location is everything…though, of course there are exceptions to every rule and some restaurants thrive mightily in unlikely spots, but even a simple neighborhood restaurant must have a long gestation period. Nine months is barely enough time to think through a cohesive strategy.
As I mentioned in an earlier posting: the first question for a restaurateur to ponder is who lives and works nearby, and who will become regular guests? Are they wheeler-dealers or bikers? Meat eaters or locavorian vegetarians? Will they be doctors and dentists or driver’s license dispensers? Are they blue-plate seekers or diners-after-darkers? Are they (YIS’s) Young Impoverished Students? Or WOOFS (Well-Off-Older-People?)
Nothing can proceed logically until a decision is made about the composition of the target market. This demographic definition will dictate the design of the space and the content of the menu. Indeed it will (or should) point the way to every effective decision from the marketing and publicity to the “voice” of the servers who may welcome a table of four hedge funders or frown upon a young couple wearing dirty sneakers and an infant on their hip.
Speaking of hip, white has become the super sophisticated color of hyper COOL fine dining. Sound is hushed. White tablecloths have given way to austere bare wood surfaces that provide stark contrast with white walls and white light. Food is plated back in the kitchen — precisely — on large white plates by white- jacketed chefs and presented, formally, by bowing white-shirted servers.
White is what color is not.
Color was once HOT.
At the legendary La Fonda del Sol opened by Joe Baum, fashion designers draped the waiters in ponchos, serapes, and high-heeled matador boots. In the dining room, color was used as architecture.
The room’s sun-drenched adobe walls set off vibrant purple and orange banquettes. Chefs tended spits and grills laden with suckling pigs, legs of lamb, sides of beef, and whole turkeys that turned slowly and aromatically over beds of glowing coals. Cauldrons of soup simmered to the beat of the marimba and mariachi bands. Big food was center stage.
The atmosphere was infused with excitement and gaiety that was reflected in the advertising campaign, featuring a mustachioed hombre with eyes closed and head on the table, who made various wise-guy pronouncements such as: “We are not responsible for deals and bargains struck during meal periods. There is to be no dancing on the tables after midnight. And, if you go home with someone other than the person you came with it is no fault of the management.”
It has been said, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
But it works for restaurants.