Thursday, August 29, 2013

Restaurants and Power Outages

This past Tuesday lunch, we had to close due to a power outage. In LaSalle for the first 28 years we were in business, our power was as steady as a rock. It was a relief because where I came from the power was anything but consistent. Recently for some unknown reason, it seems like our power outages are happening with almost a third world frequency.

Just think what it would be like for you to invite a bunch of guests over, you have all the preparation done, and 10 minutes after guests arrive at your house you have no power. It would certainly change how you went about your evening. In a social setting, it might even be fun. In recent years, it has become apparent that we are much more dependent on electricity than for just cooking and cooling. Electricity has become 100% essential to placing orders or even to getting paid. There is pretty much nothing we can do without it anymore.

Tuesday at 11:15, we were all set up and ready to open for lunch when the power goes out. By 12:30, the power was still out. With the bulk of lunch already gone, we have no option but to send everybody home. It can cost us several thousand dollars to set up and get ready to go. We then have no sales to offset that expense. Our servers go home tip-less. For a business owner, it is aggravating! There is no insurance for this and we obviously don't get anything back from the power company.

When this happens, the only thing we can do is sit around in the dark and tell stories. I go back to the old days at the Red Door Inn. The Red Door is in Peru, Illinois which had (and still has) its own municipal power system. I don't know about now, but back then the power would go out often - really often.

Back in those days, most equipment was gas. When the power went out we could still cook almost anything on the gas char-broiler or stove-top as long as you had exhaust. Most people had cash or check. Believe it or not, back then most of could all still "carry the eight"  and add guest checks by hand. We could even count back change. Life was much simpler.

We would throw candles on every table for lighting, use flash lights in the kitchen all the while the steaks were still sizzling on the grill. The only thing that would hold us back would be keeping the smoke out of the dining room. Small portable gasoline generators were not common place.
This is where things get a little odd. This is one of the stories that my friends and co-workers used to love to tell:

One of the first things you were trained to do at the restaurant was as soon as the power would go out, (and it did often) every able-bodied male bus person and dishwasher were to immediately report to the second floor. My father had devised this ingenious way of keeping the exhaust system running. Attached to the three-foot round exhaust pulley with a very long fan belt was an exercise bike.

The exhaust unit was in a second floor room with no insulation and no air-conditioning. In the summertime it was very hot, sometimes reaching 120 to 130 degrees. It was our responsibility to get on that bike and pedal as fast as we could and as long as we could. Sometimes until we fell off. Most of us could only last another two or three minutes until we had to break.
The shift changes had to be timed with perfect synchronicity. I bet our crew could have beat most small countries' Olympic teams in the 440 relay.  If it was a busy Saturday night (most were, and it was common place to have a several hour waiting list) there would be lots of smoke. When you got on that bike you had to peddle as hard as you could. Every once in a while one of the managers, or even the owner, would come up and crack the whip. IT'S GETTING SMOKEY! PEDAL HARDER! FASTER, FASTER, FASTER ! MACHT SNELL!

The crew would by this time have their shirts off and would be sweating up a storm. Sometimes the lights would be off for 20 minutes. Other times it would be an hour or two. Either way, it always added some adventure to the evening. Downstairs, things just kept humming along.

Blog with us. I know there has to be some of you out there that experienced this at the Red Door.

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