Per my request, Santa brought me an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, preloaded with everyone’s favorite virtual assistant, Alexa.
This morning, as I was settling in at my writing desk, I asked: “Alexa: how many days until the Kentucky Derby 2020?”
“2020 Kentucky Derby is in 128 days, on May 2, 2020,” she replied cheerfully.
“What is the date of Mother’s Day, 2020?”
“In 2020, Mother’s Day will be on May 10.” Good. No “Derbygeddon” (years in which Mother’s Day falls on the day after Derby) for Louisville hospitality workers this year.
“Alexa: what day of the week is Valentine’s Day, 2020?”
Yikes. Sometimes, when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday, the dinner reservations get distributed around the weekends before and after, in addition to the day-of. No such luck this year.
“How many days until Valentine’s day?”
“Valentine’s Day is in 50 days.”
This is how chefs, servers and cooks divide up the year. How many days is it until the next busy time, the next stretch of back-breaking work for long hours, the next blip of good tips so we can save funds for vacation? There is no paid time off for most cooks and servers at independent restaurants, so for servers, it should be a slow time of the year when they can sort of afford to miss tips. Cooks will also have to go without pay each day they are on vacation, so any extravagant destinations are usually out of reach financially.
If you’re an owner, when is the next time profit is pretty much guaranteed for a few days or a couple of weeks? Are you properly staffed for that much business? And if so, can you afford to give enough hours to everyone on the team during the lean time to keep them around until fat season?
Owners also have to decide how much time, energy and product they can justify giving to charity in the coming year. Practically every silent auction coordinator in the city will ask for a gift card donation. Each charity tasting event will be asking restaurants to set up a tasting table with several hundred portions, along with the staff to serve it. Chefs will be asked to appear on television in short segments on the local news to advertise for these charity events. Though nearly all requests are worthy, no business can afford to honor them all.
Please keep all of this in mind when you dine out all year long. Servers deserve enough tips to turn their Kentucky state minimum wage of $2.15 per hour into something they can live on and not just during holidays and special occasions when they’re slammed. It’s tempting to think, “Wow, these servers are making a killing today!” on New Year’s Eve, and they probably are making extra tips, but of course they’re also working twice or three times as hard as they would on a normal Wednesday night in the summer. So, please tip properly all year long, and tip extra during those monster shifts.
Leave a great review online if you enjoy yourself at a restaurant; that will help steer business their way. If you don’t have such a great time, please reach out to management to see if anything can be done to rectify a troublesome situation, and wait for their response before posting a negative review.
And remember, your friendly neighborhood line cook typically doesn’t make any extra money during busy times. Their hourly wage remains the same whether 12 guests or 75 need to be fed during a shift. So, designate a tip for the kitchen, or send back a round of beers if you really enjoyed your food during an extra-busy service.
I asked Alexa for a mint julep recipe just to see what she’d come up with. The first recipe she recited contained soda water, so I guess she’s not from Kentucky. When I told her to dispense with that recipe, she asked if I’d like to launch the Bartender app. I declined and then, believe it or not, she asked me if I’d like to try Patrón Tequila. I just said, “Alexa, cancel!” because — having quit drinking a couple of years ago — I was very much afraid a little door would slide open on the side of the Dot, revealing a tiny hand holding a tiny shot glass.
Happy New Year, indeed. •
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.