New Year’s Eve Recap

The night at Carney’s felt frustratingly slow. But it really wasn’t. The problem was that an extra server was scheduled, so we were kind of alternated between falling over each other and twiddling our thumbs. The restaurant had more than two full seatings, booked solid – just, we only had three or four tables each. When all was said and done, we walked with $335 (remember, we tip pool at Carney’s). Not bad. I’ve made over $500 there on New Year’s Eve, but these are different times.

Carney’s owners have been employing some value-oriented strategies the last six months. Some ill-advised, some not. Wednesday night they brought out a typical condensed ‘Holiday’ menu – about half the items from the regular menu. They bundled a $9 salad and a $6 side, yet only raised the prices between zero and $5.

In my experience, waiters almost unanimously oppose any price cuts, discounts, coupons, value combos, early bird specials, etc. Our short-sighted perspective is: I have two guests who would otherwise be spending $150 (translation, $30 tip), but instead are getting out for $100 ($20 tip). And, of course, a distant second in this thinking: The house is getting $50 less income.

It’s taken many years, but I’ve come to understand the long view here. Currently, it is a good idea on several levels to rein in prices. While initially it really does hit the bottom line hard (because at the beginning of such programs, guests are often unaware – they’ve already come in expecting the regular rates and are ready to pay) – over a period of time, however, it creates the guest perception that it’s really not as expensive as they might have thought. They will therefore come again, even when they are pinching a few pennies. Further, go down the road to a time when the economy has improved and purse strings are looser, your restaurant will benefit the most because you’ve remained in their consciousness through the hard times. At that point, they will simply come more often and spend more while they’re there.

Of course, nothing is black and white, so even when price-cutting strategies work, there are always plenty of exceptions. You have to hold the line on some things. Don’t change your entire identity; instead, add more affordable items while retaining your top-notch items at their same top-notch prices. Carney’s did an interesting thing that’s been very effective. They added a smaller Filet Mignon (6 oz.) to the bar/lounge menu at $29. I believe it’s only Choice, while the regular 10 oz. Filet is Prime and costs $45. It’s been very popular. I can see the strategy working, as the volume has been solid. And like I said, you have to get through these times without disappearing from the grid.

Enough of that. I mentioned awhile back The Waiter’s Holiday, but truly, New Year’s Day is the Waiter’s Holiday. There are only a few (nearly) universal days waiters can expect to get off. The Big Three: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are chock-filled with family obligations. Combine that with the fact that every place is shut down, and you have merely a nice day off, a day of rest. But New Year’s Day has parties, sports, bloody marys. It also has a lack of obligations. You’ve just finished your best money-making night of the year (generally) and the only thing you really have to do is . . . nothing at all. It’s beautiful. The beauty is amplified because it’s the capper on the high-stress Holiday season. New Year’s Eve was Game Seven and you have officially finished the Playoffs (to use a sports metaphor).

The last several years I’ve risen late and straggled down to a local beachfront seafood bar/grill to enjoy Stoli bloody marys and peek at a football game or two. After two or three drinks I would head to the residences of some local friends and some more football. I’d kind of crap out early from the afternoon drinking, maybe get home and watch a rented movie or something. It was fun.

This year I never left the house. And that was fun too. I had coffee, reviewed the news and sports, ate, watched a tiny bit of football, worked on the computer, recorded some of my original music on a new program I acquired, and finally eased into a martini around 7:30 p.m.

Back to work Friday morning didn’t go smoothly. I had mentally screwed up the verbal relay of my schedule at Michael’s, and thought I was off.

I got The Call. “Hey, where are you?” Every waiter has had that call. I made profuse apologies and managed to be only an hour late. Fortunately for the restaurant (and me, I guess) it was pretty slow so there were no repercussions. Despite the fact that Michael’s is highly corporate, everyone looked the other way and I didn’t get written up.

Carney’s was also slow. So much that they cut a waiter in advance. Just two of us. It was fine. Made $163.

Tonight, more of the same, but we had all three of us. I was the opener, so I left early. Don’t know how much I made.

I’ve noticed the last several years at Carney’s – a hard drinking place – that the first couple weeks in January are particularly slow. They would be anyway, but with these drinkers, New Year’s Resolutions invariably involve quitting/cutting back on drinking. They finally cave mid-month and it’s back to business.

Me? I’m having a martini right now. Cheers!

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