Sunday, January 15, 2006

We address Friday nights at Rich O's, the smoking policy, and other concerns.

The Curmudgeon (upper case “C”) is not about to rain indiscriminately on the parades of fellow curmudgeons (lower case “c”), all of whom know quite well what it’s like to feel, well, a tad curmudgeonly.

At the same time, as a business owner, I’m obliged (and in fact eager) to respond to the concerns and comments of our customers, who in turn are encouraged to provide their critiques and suggestions whenever the mood strikes.

Of course, I understand that such comments almost always are offered in a constructive manner, and as such, they are highly appreciated.

Thus, here are a few thoughts from a Rich O’s regular, as posted on his blog. Granted, I don't believe he was expecting a response, but because the issues raised are timely, I thought I would, anyway.

I don't think I like this new Rich O's very much. This new Rich O's where all of the assholes that used to stay out front, out of my way, are now suddenly compelled by the new smoking policy to come into Rich O's proper.

It's just so fucking crowded.

One of the PBDs remarked that the crowd was certainly good for the owners, and I have to agree that this is true. For now. But what happens when all of the regulars get so sick and tired of standing around all night waiting for a place to sit that they stop bothering to come in at all? What happens when they decide that it's not even worth checking to see what the crowd is like? What happens when they just go somewhere else?

I don't know the answers, and I don't have any solutions. I am pretty sure, however, that doubling the size of the place, but reserving that new space for port tastings and other "special" functions, when it's asses to elbows every single fucking Friday night - well that just doesn't seem like the most brilliant thing I've ever heard of.

Here are my thoughts in response.

The new smoking policy roughly doubled the perimeter of the previously delineated non-smoking section, and was undertaken owing to customer demand, especially insofar as larger groups are concerned.

Adding together the total seating capacity of Rich O’s and Sportstime Pizza, more than half of the seats still are smoking seats, and all the Sportstime seating area remains smoking friendly.

“Regular” customers are the lifeblood of any business, and it’s important to know that there are “regular” customers who have always congregated around the bar area (“Rich O’s proper”), but others who’ve sat and dined at tables in front, where smoking now has been eliminated.

To be truthful, demand for non-smoking seats from these regulars has consistently outpaced specific requests for seating where smoking is allowed.

There’s no doubt that henceforth, it will be more crowded in the bar area. At the same time, winter’s the busiest time in all respects, and in better weather, some customers will prefer to step outside and smoke. This coming spring, we hope to get started on a modest outdoor seating area. State law requires access to be from the Sportstime dining area, but in spite of this minor inconvenience, such a space could become a good draw in temperate weather and relieve the strain indoors.

As for Friday evenings in particular, ask any restaurant or pub owner in Louisville how well Mondays and Tuesdays do by comparison with Fridays, and try see how difficult it is to have consistent policies, procedures and service when seemingly every customer wants to come and eat right at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. It’s very, very hard to be efficient on Friday.

Our new banquet and conference area was not designed for overflow seating one night a week, because to use it that way would offer no help for the real problem we have, which is serving food. The kitchen’s simply not big enough to serve meals in a timely fashion to those extra people who would be seated in the new room – something that already is almost impossible on a Friday evening without seating there.

Pre-arranged functions can be operated according to a fixed menu and prepped beforehand.

Balancing the competing interests of smokers and non-smokers – and regulars and casual visitors – can be daunting, but we’re trying to forge a compromise and adjust conditions as we observe them.

By the way, as to a related point, I'm sorry we ran out of Weihenstephan and Baltika. They come from Cavalier in Indy, which delivers once every two weeks, and if we get a sudden run on product, there's no chance to order again for several days. Both beers should be back in stock by mid-week.


barenada said...

You're right, I did not expect a response to my little venting episode, but thanks anyway. As I said, I don't have any answers - just problems.

Seeing as how I went through about a year's worth (for me) of Weihenstephaner in just a few visits, I'm certainly NOT going to assign blame for its depletion to anyone but myself. The same goes for the Baltika 6, but that always seems to go quickly because it's so yummy.

barenada said...

I've reread your response, and I count that in six paragraphs you either make the smoking policy the focus or you at least mention it.

My initial rant was not aimed at your new smoking policy. Not at all. I think that I understand pretty well your reasoning behind that change. You've got a business to run, and part of your job is to fill as many seats as you can.

Nope, my initial rant was about what I consider to be the biggest problem. Not, as you state, serving food in a timely manner, but instead having enough seats available for the customers you get.

I wrote a while ago that, had I walked into Rich O's on that one particular night, I'd have left and I'd have never come back. The crowding was that bad.

The new smoking area delineations are not the problem, though they may have exacerbated the existing problem.

Why, do you think, that people - smokers and nonsmokers alike - continue to crowd into Rich O's proper even if seats are available out front? What are they looking for? What are they trying to avoid.

Answer those two questions and I think that would be a very good start toward attracting and keeping regular customers instead of just having a steady flow of first-timers.

The New Albanian said...

Sounds like a conundrum to me.

Assuming that people in general and regulars in particular enjoy the "proper" area for its intimacy and ambience, to enlarge it (even if we had space to do so) would destroy it.

To open the new part for regular seating quite likely would create openings, and these would be filled rather quickly, I suspect. Then food's a problem again.

The German solution: Declare the couch area the Stammtisch. You can't be seated there unless you're a regular -- and if you have to ask whether you are, then you're not.

Drawback: It's an unfamiliar concept stateside, one that requires compehension from all participants to be effective.

It would appear that neither you nor I have answers at present.

barenada said...

That's close to what I was thinking - the perceived privacy that each little section in Rich O's proper provides contrasts greatly with the cafeteria setting that you find out front. I'm sure that it would be no small endeavor to duplicate that type of setting out front (I'm not even talking about Prost here) but dimming the lights, maybe putting up a few fake walls, hell, even throwing some sofas and maybe a chair into the West end of the room - any or all of these could only increase the lure of that front area.

I'm not even going to get into the other reason people flee into Rich O's proper. It's just one word: Kids.

As you know, I'm a smoker. I also know that you enjoy an occasional cigar. Do you, however, have any idea how frustrating it is to walk in and find that not only is Rich O's proper completely full, but that it's also full of nonsmokers? Some people will simply light up and say to Hell with the nonsmokers, but I and most of my friends are not those people. So we stand, and we wait for a section to clear, and if one finally does then we go sit. Or we all crowd around the one or two ashtrays that haven't been hidden or removed by one of the bartenders because the mere sight of them offends the nonsmokers.

But this isn't supposed to be about smoking sections and the fact that smokers have respect for those rules while nonsmokers do not. This has been the case everywhere and forever. It's supposed to be about making the entire establishment as popular as Rich O's proper is.

I'd love to see that happen.

Your German Solution, for both of the reasons you list, just wouldn't work. It is a fun idea to joke about though.