Why bother with the one-course only, non-drinking, middle of the day diner, asks Neil Rankin.
It's a tradition for restaurant industry people to undertake endless and uncomfortable nonstop eating and drinking tours of cities before opening something or during moments of creative doubt.
Of course, these tours do absolutely nothing for creativity and do more for sales of Rennie and make future HR meetings more interesting, but they are still lots of fun.
My last – in New York – was scuppered mostly because almost 60% of the restaurants (10 in three days) we wanted to go to didn't open for lunch during the week. As a Londoner who has always known lunch to be an event at any time, it seemed odd.
That said, I am going to go on record to say that I have always hated weekday lunch. As a consumer I love a lunch, but as a restaurant owner, it's always been a pain in my nethers. That's not to say it's bad for everyone, as some places are great for lunch, but for most restaurants that perform well in the evenings, I'd say lunch is at best a struggle.
Lunch deals are a pain in the arse; fast turns are problematic; non-drinkers are a disappoinment; big, unexpected walk-ins are difficult to accommodate; those "oh, I'll just have a green salad" lot are incredibly dispiriting; business lunches are not all they're cracked up to be; and trying to keep an atmosphere in a half-empty restaurant with chefs and front of house bored to tears is impossible. I want my diners hungry, abundant, drunk and in there long enough to spend actual money. Otherwise, it's a waste of my time.
I want my diners hungry, abundant, drunk and in there long enough to spend actual money. Otherwise, it's a waste of my time
In reality, there are restaurants that are built better for breakfast, restaurants built better for lunch, restaurants built better for dinner and some built for all three, but very rarely. We all secretly hate places like the Wolseley and Dishoom for being so bloody good at everything, but we also pretend we don't because we love eating there too.
Getting ready for lunch in some restaurants feels like turning a strip club into a crèche the morning after, or hosting an AA meeting in a casino after hours. Financially it's just so hard to make it work and I'm really not sure if in all my years of running restaurants (apart from a diner and one in the city) that it's ever really helped much at all. Most of the time we've only done it to please landlords or investors.
Some people feel more restaurants closing for lunch is a step backward, but I can't help feel like it may be more of a step forward. For some at least. The best thing I can think of is to convince people to come earlier to dinner and eat later like they do in New York, because it just makes more sense for everyone and we can all get more sleep and be less grumpy.
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