Thursday, 21 June 2012

So you want to run a restaurant?

I was firkling through some old files today, as you do, and I came across a whole pile of the articles I wrote for a Norfolk magazine a few years ago. This one made me smile. I thought it might make you smile too.

So you want to run a restaurant …?
One of the things we hear most often, especially in the summer when half the
population seems to be looking for ways to Not Do Their Jobs, is “Oh, it must be
soooo wonderful to run a restaurant …”. And yes, it is (usually) – though I suspect
perhaps not in the way that you think. Oh yes, we’ve all had celebrity-chef fantasies
of spending long, hot afternoons at the beach, before sauntering into a pristine
kitchen to don an immaculate set of whites and do a few achingly clever things to the
day’s ingredients before socialising the evening away over a glass or two with the
diners and collecting the evening’s accolades, while the minions toil away at the
sheer hard graft.

Real life, of course – at least in the ever-decreasing number of owner-run restaurants
in this country – ain’t like that. So this article is for the curious, for anyone who’s ever
thought about starting a restaurant, for all those who wonder why we don’t open for
lunch, ‘only’ open six evenings a week, and close down from December to February
… and especially for you, if you’re the man I overheard at our noticeboard the other
day who grunted while reading our opening times, “Hmph. They don’t put themselves
out, do they?”. What follows is an unembellished account of a perfectly ordinary day
in the middle of July – just one of a couple of hundred other such days through the
year. Yes, this, my friends, is the reality …

7am. Rudely awaked by Today programme. Groan. Drag self out of bed (John) to
start clean-up from previous night and prepare for guest breakfast (I am unspeakable
and best avoided before 8.30). Wash/rinse/dry/polish 40 glasses/120 pieces of
cutlery/12 coffee cups and saucers. Remove red wine and coffee stains from
napkins. Guests have asked for room service breakfast, so prepare and serve for
9.45. Eat own breakfast (sort of).
10am. Shopping. Sprint with famous purple shopping trolley round usual haunts in
Holt. We won’t buy anything that we can’t taste, smell or feel, so always hand select
every bit of fruit and veg that we or our neighbouring growers don’t/can’t grow, right
down to last onion.
11.15am. Back. Unload supplies. Deal with 5 voicemail messages; iron 3 days supply
of napkins and aprons; polish and lay up restaurant tables; update blackboards;
clean windows. Clean guest suite; replenish supplies. Guest has mopped up major
coffee spill with white hand towel. Attempt to deal with stain – fear may be write-off.
Put first of 3 loads into washing machine. Washing machine dead. Swear. Call
regular repair guy. On holiday. Call other repair guy. Will come tomorrow [machine
stays out of service for 6 days. Napkins, aprons, tea towels, guest bedding and
towels washed by hand till fixed]. Start day’s bread, plus brioche for guest breakfast.
Slurp coffee.
12.30pm. John: to restaurant garden with 4 buckets of compost and wheelbarrow full
of bottles to drop at bottle bank. Dig 3 rows of potatoes; pick French beans and
courgettes. Hand weed round leeks. Collect beetroot from neighbouring gardener,
plums from another. Kalba: to desk. Check and answer emails; deal with post, phone
calls, accounts and payments; update guest suite availability on website. Think about
next EcoEcho article (late). Time runs out. Interrupted by (1) delivery of 7 cases of
wine; (2) non-delivery of cheese; (3) 17 calls from BT trying to persuade me to buy
back line rental. Start preparing dessert.
1.30pm. John phones on mobile: pigeons have pigged out on cavalo nero seedlings
– needs to reinforce netting cages so will be late back.
1.45pm. Write rest of menu for evening – open to change, of course, if (a) garden
offers unexpectedly large/small/early/late/no yield, or if (b) something different
suggests itself during afternoon – nothing ever fixed until moment it hits the plate.
2pm. Start mise en place: gather ingredients, pick herbs, make stock, clean and prep
first round of veg. Make aioli and pesto. Listen to play on R4.
2.30pm. John returns. Knock back bread. 30 minute tea break. Miss end of play.
3pm. Clean/chop/prep/cook/wash up, ad infinitum. Bake bread and brioche. Do usual
daily round of minor repairs, paint touch-ups etc; check stock and place orders for
eggs/milk/cream/wine/water/oil/cheese/coffee/olives etc as needed.
5.45pm. Kalba: yes, still in the kitchen! John: sort out day’s recyclables; check and
bring in wines and mineral waters; clean restaurant, serving area and loo; sweep
kitchen floor.
7pm. Listen to Archers. Final prep; psych selves up for service. John makes self
beautiful. Figuratively speaking.
7.30pm. Doors open; first diners arrive. John: greet, settle and put everyone at ease;
serve aperitifs, wines, waters. Kalba (in kitchen): in fast forward mode, now alone,
preparing to serve roomful of first courses at 8pm.
8pm to 10pm: John: serve all tables, describe each course, ingredients and
provenance to each; ferry plates in and out; serve more wines and waters, answer
questions about food, us, life, universe and everything. Kalba: cook, finish and plate
four courses; clean down kitchen between each course. Eat saucerful of dinner.
Wash, dry and polish 60 plates; wash all pots and cooking implements. Raise energy
by listening to Queen (no, not that one) on headphones. Leap around kitchen. Scrub
down kitchen. On good day, talk to kitchen-visiting diner. On bad day, talk to self.
11.20pm. Last diners leave. Clear room. Stack glasses and coffee cups ready for
washing tomorrow morning; wipe down tables; straighten chairs, sweep floor. Go out
with torch to remove slugs and snails from lettuce and herb plants.
11.45pm. Check evening’s emails and voicemails. Slurp tea. Do Sudoku puzzle. Go
to bed. Have now been working for nearly seventeen hours: that’s one and a half
hours – each – for every person who dines. Never mind. Soon be December.

So tell me … do you still want to run a restaurant?


Margaret Lawrenson said...

But I never did. I thought it might be like that. More to the point, why did you? Why does anyone?

the devolutionary said...

Good job you didn't open for lunch! Great article.

Kalba Meadows said...

Margaret: for the craic. And no,I'm not being facetious :)

Alex: we used to! And no, I don't know how either.

Sharon said...

Where did you get the energy? I think you deserve a slow life now - although I bet it still has it's moments!

Kalba Meadows said...

It's hard to explain, but the energy comes and refuels itself from the whole buzz of doing it. When it gets hard is when it feels one-way - when the guests don't respond or when there's no relationship. The relationship with what we're doing - being right in it as a process, not outside it and wishing it were finished - and with the people we're doing it with and for creates the energy to do it ...

Nic said...

It's so refreshing for you to say that! i own and run a restaurant and outside catering business in Scotland. The thought of moving to France appeals massively although your day sounds similar to mine - just in a nicer climate! I always find it really amusing when people think that all you do all day is bake some nice cupcakes or a loaf or two of bread, somehow the endless tidying, cleaning and paperwork doesn't seem to come into it! Great blog, i am very much enjoying it!

Kalba Meadows said...

Hello Nic and welcome - thanks for dropping by! Yes, they were 'interesting' days ... great fun, but with a shelf life for 2 people in their home with no staff, I think. Here in France we probably - no, certainly! - work as many hours but doing lots of different things, which is the balance we came here to find.