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February 13, 2010

The Valentine's Week dilemma

vdayPerna.jpgI've been thinking about the whole idea of the governor's extending Valentine's Day so it will be Valentine's Week. Could it really make any difference? 

The scenario would go like this:

Husband: I know I forgot to get reservations for Sunday (Valentine's Day) or buy you a dozen roses and you're angry at me. But Governor O'Malley says it's OK to take you out Tuesday night instead, and I can buy flowers, too, anytime this week. It still counts.

Wife: No, it doesn't. I don't care what O'Malley says. It's not the same. You don't love me anymore. Maybe it's good for the restaurants and florists, but it doesn't cut it with me.

The governor's edict is one sign of a larger problem: Recently I've started to feel pressure to eat out just to keep the restaurants I like in business. ...

No one loves eating out or sympathizes with the plight of restaurants in a recession more than I do. But it's an odd feeling to feel I ought to go out.

After all, most people go out to have a nice evening, not to feel as if they're taking part in a charitable event. And yet I want restaurants to succeed -- I like it that we have so many choices in Baltimore when we want to eat out, and I hate to see the number of choices diminished. It's not just the bad restaurants that get weeded out in circumstances like these.

Here's the restaurateur's point of view, which I got in an e-mail yesterday:

This entire winter, the restaurant industry has been hit probably harder than any other type of business, except maybe traveling. Speaking personally, our ... restaurants lost three Saturdays and one Friday due to snow, and an additional Saturday to Christmas.  That's a lot of revenue to lose in a business where managing your cash flow is crucial to your success.  In addition, most people in the industry work on either an hourly wage or strictly for tips, so a lot of restaurant employees are feeling the crunch just as badly as the businesses themselves.

I'm writing this letter to encourage everybody who enjoys eating out to pick their favorite establishment and give them some business once you feel comfortable venturing out into the frozen tundra that the Baltimore area has become.  I was talking it over with other local restaurant owners and we were saying that none of us would be shocked to see at least a handful of restaurant closings in the coming weeks as a direct result of the revenue lost this winter.  Any restaurant that was on the brink could easily be pushed over the edge to a point where it would be impossible to recover. ...

It's hard to argue with him, but I wonder how many people feeling the pinch of a troubled economy themselves will be persuaded by his words not to eat at home tonight.

(Valentine's Week roses by Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:42 AM | | Comments (15)


The restaurateur wrote: Speaking personally, our ... restaurants lost three Saturdays and one Friday due to snow, and an additional Saturday to Christmas.

I guess that restaurateur has no option but to sue the Lord God and the Baby Jesus, the former for creating snow and the latter for being born.

ReCaptcha: preempt the (what snow and Christmas did to dining)

I feel for all of the restaurant workers and owners and hope they can all "weather the storm". It's bad enough that the economy has dumped on us, and now the Heavens too; U say enough is enough!!
Everybody grab your sweetie and DRAG them out to dinner this weekend. Don't pay attention to Marty; he cannot exercise gubernatorial right to extend the holiday, he is not God!
Captcha - employee in- something about me and the industry!!

Hey, it's the latest trend: pity dining!

Wild horses couldn't drag me out to eat anywhere on Valentine's Day weekend.

If the safety net hadn't been disabled under Reagan and Clinton, the restaurant employees (and others) wouldn't be in so much danger.

Ironic that a business would complain about economic woes to someone who works at a newspaper.

V-Week: Hey, I got a great idea kids! Let's make every day Christmas Shopping Day!!

Isn't Valentine's Day a Hallmark made holiday anyway?

Having said that, I truly feel for the restaurateurs and all small business owners. The economy is bad, the weather has been dreadful.

hmpstd, just to play Devil's Advocate, (a role that I feel very qualified for, btw), I think Jesus' birth was actually in April? Or some month that really has nothing to do with todays christmas holiday.

Joyce W., there's a great deal of uncertainty concerning the actual date of birth of Jesus, and December 25 may have been chosen to coincide with existing Roman holidays. Valentine's Day somehow morphed from a saint's feast day to the current love fest, although the process began long before Hallmark. Of course, all this is of small comfort to that restaurateur.

Was there pressure to eat out during the last recessions?

Now, I know during the 9/11 recession, there was a push to travel again, as many people were afraid to fly or be in large groups.

In the 1991 recession there was pressure to go out and buy stuff. G.H.W.B went out and bought socks to kick start the effort.

Not sure about 81-82. On one hand, I'm sure there was pressure to buy more, but that recession was coming on the heels of inflation. There were some who argued we needed to quit buying as that was driving up demand, which in turn was driving up prices.

The Thai Landing will be open tomorrow, Sunday, for the first time. Those of you who haven't been there in a while or ever may want to do so in the next two weeks as they will probably not be around after that.

Has any restaurateur ever come out and said "If business doesn't improve in two weeks, I'm going to have to close?" That would at least give folks a warning and enough time to do something about it. Usually everything just goes along until one day there is a notice on the door.

reCaptcha: davison two. Is that a junior version of the Catonsville Nine?

There will be closings. There probably should be. There are just too many places and not enough patrons to support them. I feel for the restaurants but alot of folks lost hours/money/etc due to snow, closings etc., not just dining joints.

Law of supply and demand.

And I will absolutely not go out to dinner just because they are hurting. Boo Hoo.

What's the deal at Thai Landing, did Streuver Bros. finally force them out?

Unfortunately, You can only blame yourself and not other circumstances for failure. Trust me, I hate to say it myself, but I am the one who has to take blame for my business if it fails or not. A lot of businesses did very well because of the snowstorm. A lot of people went outside and shovelled snow and made $20 a pop. Is Valentine's on a Sunday a bad thing, a lot of people have off on Monday due to President's Day. I'll give you Christmas and New Year's falling on a weekend, but everything usually averages out. January had 5 weekends! Trust me, I am not trying to jinx myself and I think that people should support local, but at the same time businesses should support local customers at the same time. It's a fine line that everybody treads. The restaurant business is an extremely tough business but at the same time it is what you choose. Sometimes you have to open up even in a snowstorm, even if that means you have to cook and have to sleep overnight at the restaurant. I wish your business the best success. Maybe give a free bottle of wine with every two entrees purchased or women eat free with a purchase of another entree. Think outside the box sometime and make your customers feel like they are getting something while you can still manage to make some money at the same time. And at the same time give your customers some quality and consistency because they know. I have always said, if you can make a restaurant work in Baltimore, you can make it work anywhere. Baltimore is by far the hardest place to run a restaurant, so if you are open, you should be proud of yourself. Happy Valentine's Day everybody.

PS Sorry to hear that you are retiring EL, I'll miss ya!

I'd be happy to go out and support my local restaurants, but my street hasn't been plowed yet. We could walk somewhere, but with half the sidewalks un-shoveled and an 11-month old baby in tow, I've kept my trips out of the house to a bare minimum.

I was the restaurateur that emailed EL and asked her to post the copied letter. Since she edited out my name (totally understandable), I'm posting this anonymously in order to comply with her wishes.

I think my request has been a little misunderstood. I was speaking on behalf as the industry as a whole, not just our places. Personally speaking, our restaurants are in a location where people would never be able to get to even if we were open during the storm, so staying open really wasn't an option. We have some plans in place to try and recoup the revenue lost and should be fine, but other restaurants in our area are not so lucky and I'm guessing the same is the case in other areas.

I certainly was not asking anybody who can't afford it to eat out, or make anyone feel like they were pressured to eat out when they didn't want to. It was more intended as a gentle nudge to give your favorite place a visit when the storm subsided because they might be hurting and you might need to get out of the house. That's all, nothing more. It seems some were offended at this notion, and for that I apologize. Reading it again I probably came off a little more forceful (and desperate?) than I had intended, so maybe I need to work on my wording.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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