Hey, I’m back! The long ice cream/tourist season is over…and the word is…GOOD. And that’s how I would describe this year - good. But not great, and not terribly crazy, either. The last couple of years were hot, hot, hot; both in Seaside and the Portland metro area. By that I mean the weather – lots of 90° days mean folks flock to the beach (and to the store). This year was not so hot and frankly, ice cream and tourism are both weather-dependent. Sure, people come to Seaside no matter what’s going on outdoors, and some folks eat ice cream every darn day, but weather has its effect both on how many come to town, and what they do once they get here. As a result, we had a very good year, but not quite to the extent of 2014 and 2015. The ending was a bit abrupt, but we ran out of ice cream faster than anticipated. That’s a GOOD problem to have.
So for the last week or so we’ve been cleaning up and catching up. Working during the summer months is pretty much 24/7. It’s work, work, work, and there’s no time to get the car maintained, get a haircut, etc. So that’s what we’ve been doing, and, as we’ve been busy running all these errands, we’ve been eating out a bunch. We never do this in summer either, and as a result of all this eating out, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.
More and more eateries are moving to what I refer to as an “eat and get the hell out” ambiance. Now, the picture here is of an infamous spot on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and Bob’s Grill mostly plays the theme for fun (like Dick’s Bar makes fun of being a dick…sort of). What I’m talking about is a deliberate, but inconspicuous attempt to make diners feel uncomfortable while eating, and making their stay short (and profitable, I assume, as the restaurant must be looking for a fast churn). Though it seems bass-ackwards to me. Let me explain.
We all know about fast food joints making their plastic chairs uncomfortable to sit in so that you’ll order, eat, and leave (and maybe next time just take it to go, leaving more room for other customers). But the things I’ve seen of late boggle the mind because they seem so counter-productive (no pun intended).
For example, the infamous salad and soup buffet house Sweet Tomatoes used to play classical music in their restaurants. This was appropriate and refreshing (and about the only place I’ve EVER heard classical music beyond some hippie joint tuned in to NPR). Now, the corporate heads have decided that today’s modern/loud/pop music is just the thing lunch customers want to hear. Loudly. Sadly, this trend pops up (pun intended) at most chain stores. No matter what the target market, all the music is geared to 20-somethings or less, and at a volume that makes dinner conversation a lost art because no one can hear it. I SAID IT’S PLAYED AT A VOLUME THAT MAKES DINNER CONVERSATION A LOST ART BECAU…never mind.
Like I said, this is done DESPITE the target market. Now I am guessing on some of this, but for the years we’ve been going to lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, the bulk of the crowd is 50+. Yes, there are some working stiffs (again, older ones), and a few families with small kids, but it’s the era of music from the 70s, 80s, or maybe the 90s; certainly not that of today’s modern swill (don’t start me – I was in radio for 20+ years and know swill when I hear it). Worse – go to “senior time” at Sweet Tomatoes, when damn near EVERYONE is 60+, and the music doesn’t change, nor does it get any quieter.
Last night we went to a new brew pub that was supposed to be “upscale” (in an upscale town with a pricey menu). To our shock, there were no waitstaff – you ordered at the front, and they brought it to you. There were TVs on with the game, but as for any other ambiance…nada. There might have been one picture in the lobby, but you couldn’t see the brewery, and the décor was wood benches and tables and walls and windows…and that’s it. Did I mention the pricey menu? Yes, the food and beer was good (not great), but I was still hungry when we got home. And because there was no waitstaff (just “bussers” to clear our empty plates), dessert was never considered (can’t linger too long to watch the game, I guess). We might have wanted another pint. Or stick around to visit with the other couple we went with (who we haven’t seen in a couple of years and lives 10 hours from here). Nope, we felt rushed, so we left. I’d say, “it’s their loss,” except they already extracted a goodly sum from us.
Now remember, I own an eatery. Our ice cream parlor is quite small (seats 14) so when we get busy in the summer I am aware and sensitive to the “there’s no place to eat” problem. We are fortunate to have a patio (no seats, though) where customers like to go out in the summer to “hang” and eat their treats. Still, there are always times when tables are full and there’s a couple/family/group who have already finished and yet they tarry a bit…and a bit longer…and longer…and it gets to the point where you want to find a nice way to say, “eat and get the hell out.”
But in all of the situations I described above, this isn’t the case. There are PLENTY of seats to choose from. Overcrowding is NOT a problem and utilizing an “eat and get the hell out” strategy seems downright dumb. Yes, they may have problems at other times of the day, and yes, I know that there are some folks who overstay their welcome as a matter of habit. Ironically, once place I’ve seen such is at Sweet Tomatoes. On two occasions there have been large family groupings (in the center of one side, at their long tables designed to hold large groups), where they were finishing their meal as we arrived, and when we left…they were still there. Obviously, they planned on camping here for a while. So I know it happens.
But are all restaurants going to this “eat and get the hell out” strategy? When were at Sweet Tomatoes earlier this week, I noticed that they are in the process of remodeling. The new décor seems colder, less inviting…
…and they’ve taken the long tables out, too.