This month's diary comes from the sunlit Santa Ynez mountains overlooking the blue Pacific in Santa Barbara, California. I've had a love affair with the USA ever since working in Cincinnati as an 18-year-old on an exchange visit and have been back a number of times since then - but not as many as I'd like.
While this trip may not qualify as a business trip for tax purposes (it's probably our last family trip before our children leave home), it certainly opens one's eyes to areas where the UK is either a long way behind but catching up fast, or streets ahead of, the industry over here.
Generally speaking, everybody in the service industry is genuinely pleased to see you and anxious to increase your spend. In chain operations such as the Rainforest Café of Disney we are subjected to a "talk through the menu" with "popular dishes and my favourite ones as well" graphically described by our server. In more modest establishments that doesn't happen, but we always receive far more than the UK traditional "Are you ready to order?"
This attitude may be due to the tipping culture that exists here, which supplements a relatively low minimum wage. Although I am quite happy to reward good service anywhere in the world, I do find it disagreeable when the bill has a handwritten note, "17% tip not included", added to it.
One member of my family doesn't eat meat and is not keen on fish or unusual vegetables. After a while it became very difficult to find menus that included items other than pasta and pizza, but we're grateful that there is an abundance of Italian-style restaurants. Perhaps it's because we have eaten out night after night for several weeks that it seems more difficult to find varied vegetarian food in the USA, but the overall choice does seem greater in the UK.
Before we left home I left a list of contact phone numbers with our restaurant manager in case there was a really major crisis. No news is good news - or so they say - and I'll find out what's been happening when I get back on Monday morning.
On our return…
No news was indeed good news! Our team has taken care of everything admirably while we've been away. Of course there is the usual mountain of mail to go through as well as our detailed sales analysis and turnover figures to study. On the whole, business levels have held up reasonably well compared with last year and our labour hours are down as a result of adjusting working patterns. That means that the profit and loss accounts for July should show an improvement on 1997 in spite of having spent nearly £1,000 repairing a fryer, cream whipper and griddle.
As we've returned from holiday, two of our managers are off on their holidays and we're back into the business at the sharp end. Suddenly California seems a long way away and a long time ago.
Next diary from John Downs: 24 September