You Don’t Have to Be a Hero to Make a Difference to Restaurants at this Tenuous Moment–the Littlest Gestures Can Add Up to Meaningful Support
This might be a strange way to begin a column about what I’ve come to call the Illusion of Futility, but I was thinking about Superman the other day.
In my younger and dorkier days, I was pretty well-versed in all things Man of Steel. There was a story arc somewhere along the line that involved his becoming overwhelmed by the burden of constantly saving the world, or just not being able to save everyone who needed a rescue. Along similar lines, Bill Murray spends a good part of Groundhog Day trying to avert as many tragedies as possible in Punxsutawney, but never did manage to keep that poor old dude in the alley from expiring over and over and over.
In modern terms, Clark Kent would have a tough time establishing what we’d now call “balance” or “self care.” In the old Superman 2 movie, he even gave up his powers in order to be with Lois Lane, but was inevitably inspired to do a take-back so he could kick kick General Zod’s butt, and also pay back that jerk in that diner along the highway.
If you love restaurants, you can relate to poor Supey. At this time when they are all imperiled, even just deciding which restaurant to support with your hard-earned, and likely pandemic-reduced, dollars by dining out or ordering in, can be a fraught decision. As for anything more ambitious, for many the impulse is there, but the challenge seems impossibly daunting. (It’s actually a version of a true, recognized psychological predisposition called The Superman Complex.)
A perfectly natural reaction, when many of us are emotionally depleted after ten months of COVID and the recent, failed coup in Washington, DC, is to throw up one’s arms and leave it all up to Fate.
But it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. One needn’t save every restaurant in town, or even to do anything particularly flamboyant to make a difference. You don’t even need to spend any money, even on food, although if you are able to, you really should during these dark, cold days of winter.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, almost a year ago, when New York City restaurants were temporarily shuttered, Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen told Andrew Talks to Chefs listeners what they could do to help restaurants while they were shuttered. She surprised me by suggesting that restaurant-lovers write to chefs, even via Instagram comments, to let them know how much they mean to them, and how hard they are pulling for them.
Around the same time, I interviewed Asheville, NC, chef Katie Button in another context (the resulting piece seems to have vanished online or I’d have linked to it), and she told me that restaurant people needed to transcend the impulse to constantly be in pleasing-guests mode, to recognize they needed help, and to open themselves up to receiving it. The other side of that equation, of course, is that we customers who are used to having the attention of servers, captains, and bartenders lavished on us when we dine out need to embrace the role of “helper,” to be patient with places operating with reduced staff, and to tip lavishly. In other words to be low-maintenance, sympathetic customers. (Why this isn’t second-nature to everybody is endlessly depressing.)
On the other end of the spectrum are those souls who’ve been struck by lightening, finding themselves compelled into service by an irresistible BIG idea and somehow summoning the bandwidth and energy to actualize it in these disastrous times.
One of these people is Vinay Gupta, creator of Summerlong Supper Club**. Vinay had an idea for a program that would drive substantial orders to 16 New York City restaurants. He and some colleagues created a program whereby members buy into a 16-week take-away/delivery series of dinners meant to be enjoyed at home. All administrative work is being performed or provided pro bono so the restaurants receive 100% of the proceeds. The supper club is discussed on this week’s pod episode and described on the program’s website. (Deadline for signing up is this Sunday, January 17, so if it’s in your budget, please do … now.)
On the other end of the financial and effort spectrum is a gesture made by a guest of Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts’ Playa Provisions who doesn’t live in Playa Del Rey, California, where the restaurant is, but sent in an open order for the restaurant to apply to a team member or guest who could do with a free meal.
Whether it’s just messaging or commenting on a restaurant’s social media post, supporting them in person or by take out or delivery, or doing something grand and scaled-up, there’s a way for each of us to support the restaurants we love in our own way right now.
So don’t be a hero, unless you want to. Do what you can every day. If enough of us did that, the emotional and economic benefits to restaurants and their teams, as the vaccine makes its way around and spring pokes its sunny head up on the horizon, would be immeasurable.
Go get ’em, tigers …
** Full disclosure: The pod’s promotional partners at Acqua Panna, a supporter of the Summerlong Supper Club, asked me to promo the program on my Instagram. I was so taken with it that I booked Vinay on the show and am mentioning the supper club here of my own volition.