It's crazy out there. Restaurants are closing doors, wine reps are watching corkscrews rust and chefs are wondering if they should've gone to law school. A bright side? This anti-boom and "market correction" are precipitating a shakeout of the pretenders. Why settle for middle-of-the road Italian when you've got Paolo Randazzo offering up stellar examples of the cuisine in one of the 804's sexiest dining rooms at Sensi?
This economy will eat middling restaurants for breakfast; the survivors will be the nimble ones highlighting local purveyors like Dave & Dee's Mushrooms and reducing carbon footprints by serving American caviar instead of stuff from abroad. You've got Belmont Butchery putting love in the house-made sausage and Yellow Umbrella spotlighting seafood from the Chesapeake. It's their job to deliver the goodies, but it's our job as diners and shoppers to notice. So here's some homework: Go out, even if only for appetizers or a $10 bottle, and revisit your neighborhood spots — they'll welcome a walk-in deuce some idle Tuesday.
But let's give restaurateurs some homework, too: This market should mean the end of craptastic service. Managers' inboxes are crowded with applications, and the streets are bulging with overachievers looking for a break. If you don't want to fire any lazy staffers because they're veterans, at least put the fear of pink slips in their hearts and galvanize them to polish their skills. With empty seats in every bistro, there's no excuse for a lack of professionalism, efficiency, serviettes and smiles. Last month, Julia Janeczek, a server at Tarrant's Café, showed that even after a busy shift at 10:48 p.m., a pro still offers hospitality, crisp menu knowledge, and options for guests with special requests or substitutions. When there's no waiting list, you bet your ascot that flexibility better be on the menu.
You probably know that Zed Café cooks up organic goodies from ingredients harvested within 50 miles, but did you know that owner Lisa Granger also imbued her hand-picked staff with months of weekly wine and hospitality training? In this market, no one should merely be fed — they should be treated to a dining experience. Why not institute a VAppy Hour? Stimulate us with weekly $15 specials on flights of Virginia wines and locally inspired apps. Who knows, we might just get back in the habit of staying for dinner.