Depending who you ask, it’s either the golden age of hospitality — or it’s a terrible time for hospitality.
Perhaps I’m simplifying the arguments too much here, but it sure was fun to watch restaurateurs duke it out at the American Cuisine and Hospitality Symposium hosted this September by Commander’s Palace.
At the symposium, big-time culinary types discussed topics like the treatment of women in restaurants and the food history of New Orleans. This wasn’t the first such event hosted by Commander’s Palace. The last took place in 1983, and you can read about it in the NRN archives.
Anyway, back to the state of hospitality.
“I think it’s awful,” said Ti Adelaide Martin.
If you don’t know her, Martin is co-owner of Commander’s Palace, along with Lally Brennan. Their restaurant is a New Orleans mainstay for treating customers like kings.
“Isn’t it time for the hospitality revolution?” Martin asked the crowd.
From Martin’s perspective, hospitality is both a privilege and part of the give-and-take relationship of life. After all, it’s not demeaning to serve friends.
“It’s an honor to serve. Tonight I serve you, tomorrow you serve me,” Martin said.
Famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, argued that hospitality has made progress in recent decades.
When Meyer researched restaurants in the 1980s before opening Union Square Cafe, snobbery abounded in the New York restaurant scene.
“The restaurants that treated you the worst were the busiest.”
But, Meyer said the real reason behind having a good restaurant “is for the purpose of making people feel better when they leave than however they felt when they came in the restaurant.”
That’s something both Martin and Meyer agree on.
“You can’t have cafeteria hospitality if you pick and choose who you are going to be nice to,” he said.
And it certainly doesn’t have to be a formal thing to treat people well.
The Commander’s Palace owners like to refer to their restaurant as “a fine-dining joint” and encourage customers to relax and enjoy themselves.
The co-proprietors showed their hospitality philosophy in action at the Commander’s Palace 125th anniversary dinner, held the night before the conference. Following a cocktail hour in a cemetery, the restaurant fed 250 friends and family and colleagues a five-course meal.
By the time the third glass of wine and the third course (House-Cured Hog Jowl, if you are curious) made it to the table, half the room was on their feet talking. Emeril Lagasse sat behind me making jokes. Chefs and writers milled about. It was a fine-dining party.
It may seem odd that Commander’s celebrated 125 years of hard work of serving food — by serving more food. Surely, more than a century of dedication deserves a vacation.
The anniversary dinner made sense, however, the next day at the symposium.
“We truly believe we are only as good as the last meal we serve. … I think we change the world just a little bit sometimes,” Martin said.
This is the plight of those of us who do what we love every day. We are only as good as the last meal we serve, or the last story we write.
But what an honor it is to serve.
Contact Jenna Telesca at [email protected]
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