Saturday, January 3, 2009

January Doldrums

What happens to the food world once the holidays have passed?  It is commonly accepted as fact that September through December offers New York restaurants their busiest season.  Even summer cannot compare to the pulse that is autumn.  Even in a damaged economy, New Yorkers come out to play. 

But then.  January.  In every restaurant I've ever worked at, January marked the nadir, the financial crush, the true litmus test of a restaurant's durability.  Servers claw at opportunities to stay on the floor while managers scramble to send servers home so that the slices of the pie are bigger for those working.  If you normally work five or six days a week, in January you can expect your work week to come closer to three or four days.  

Notably, this year will be different.  This year will be different because even the most prodigious spenders will be counting their dwindling dollars from the privacy of their own homes.  It's more than a bad economy; it's a sinking ship. 

The irony is that what a bad economy requires most is for people to keep spending.  Market crashes and apparitions of disaster scare the public into believing that they should be keeping their savings tied in bundles underneath their mattresses.  Ironically, this mentality only makes things worse.  If bad news encourages even the bravest to fossilize their AmExes, who will introduce capital into the market? 

If investment bankers lose their bonuses and fail to spend money in nice restaurants, servers lose their tips and management loses their ability to afford good product.  And so servers are released back into an ever-growing unemployment market, or restaurants close because the operational costs are too great to buttress with fewer guests.  That's just restaurants.  Forget about the rest of the retail industry, who has already reported that this holiday season was les profitable than any holiday season in the past seven years. 

That will be January's misfortune.  A month that already drags on with its unpleasant weather and lack of holidays and general ennui following the hustle bustle of November and December will now demonstrate how truly damaged we Americans are.  In times like these, is it even appropriate to plan one's next dinner out? 

I say yes.  This is not some ludicrous battle-cry in which I tout the virtues of spending $300 on a perfect kobe steak, but one might argue that changing a lifestyle completely in the face of economic tragedy will only make things worse.  One vote, on the largest scale, means very little, one hundred votes can change the course of history.  One dinner out, in turn, means very little, but one hundred people opting to stay in on a Saturday night means a staggering amount of revenue lost.  You get the picture. 

We will all make provisions for ourselves in the coming year, depending on how severely we have been bludgeoned by the market's collapse.  But let us not forget that a drastic change in how we live will have drastic consequences.  There is a difference between frugality and asceticism and knowing that difference just might change the world.  

Although I will say, for the record, that I have retired my American Express card.  For now, at least.  

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