As summer approaches I see all around Saratoga people and businesses getting ready for the onslaught of visitors to the city. It’s tough for the folks who work in the service industry. While everyone else is enjoying summer, nice weekends, sitting on patios on Broadway drinking gin and tonics we’re working to make your visit the best possible.
I have almost desire to visit the racetrack. I’ve developed a bit of a disdain for horse racing in recent years. Workers live in barns not quite as nice as the accommodations the horses get while in town and some of the horses who are not volunteer athletes die either on the track or soon after because of injury.
Another sign of summer’s arrival is the number of Craigslist ads and posts on Facebook looking for restaurant employees. The labor pool is very shallow this year because of the increasing number of eateries in Saratoga and because ICE has been rounding up a larger-than-usual number of undocumented workers in accordance with the policies of the current administration. There are just not enough qualified workers to go around in Saratoga and I would expect this to be a very stressful season for a lot of my industry mates.
Fortunately for me, I’m currently well-staffed and expect this summer to be one of the better ones in a long time for me. My previous employment at The Wine Bar (and other places) required me to work six days per week for the season. Now, during my present stint I’m only obligated to work five days. That’s going to make a big difference for me as the extra day of recovery will enhance both my emotional and my physical well-being. When I feel better I’m much easier to work with.
As a Saratoga veteran I have a good sense of what is about to come and how to best handle it. When designing a menu for the summer there is an important thing to take into consideration and that is what people looking for. My experience tells me that most visitors who have spent the day at “da track” are looking for things they’re accustomed to. Steaks, lamb racks, chicken, lobster tails, scallops, familiar fish, and pastas all fit the bill. I’m not indicating that people who travel from downstate are unsophisticated in any sense of the word. What I have learned over the years is that most people who are traveling away from home are looking for something they recognize, and a meal is one place they can find something they’re used to. While it’s fun to travel and experience new things, I find that most people become a bit homesick quickly and are looking for that safe place, a well-prepared dinner they’ve had before.
The summer menu will be about that, welcoming, familiar, and not laden with ingredients that need to be explained to them. Keep in mind that I’m a chef and I will stray ever so slightly from that philosophy in a few spots. For the most part, the summer menu is designed to be simple, quickly executed, and a comfort to our guests.
The menu is about done and will roll out on June 21st. We are taking inventory of plates, glassware (several cases arrived yesterday), and our pans in the kitchen. As my employer expressed yesterday, “there are a lot of moving parts to a restaurant.” I replied, “most people have no idea how many.”
To all my colleagues in the hospitality business, have a great summer, it’ll be over before you know it. Remember to take some time to have some fun and don’t overdo the nightlife. To the visitors to the restaurants, keep in mind that the people working get a very limited summer. We work a lot of hours and have little time for the enjoyment you’re experiencing. Be patient, be kind, and be mindful of others.