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I recently listened to a podcast because the title compelled me. “Chef James Rigato on future of restaurants | One of Metro Detroit’s top chefs talks about what the transformations of the past few years mean to the restaurant business.”
So it really is happening in other places… Almost daily, I engage in conversations with our brick and mortar business owners and employees about the hidden pain they are dealing with, and as such I’ve decided to use this space to share with you, our beloved and most important public, how much the way we interact with each other means to the lives of our service industry and retail people.
While the small biz restaurant and retail industries struggle with staffing, supply chain shortages and a massive reduction in retail sales, those who show up for work are regularly criticized and berated on the frontline. Why is this happening?
This is what I gleaned from the podcast and it seems to make sense —
If it’s retail, we want to find things that make us happy. We hope and wish (hard) to find things that fit our rather specific needs.
A woman wandered into a couple of our downtown Saline stores more than once over the course of a day this week looking for the perfect gift that could travel on a flight and be just the thing that would delight everyone involved. She silently came in and left many times, while the clock wore on her defeated search and added to her stress and disappointment. Meanwhile, she was only one of a few customers who trickled in and out the front door all day long during a month that brought in less sales than the same month in 2020.
If it’s dining out, we want to feel immersed in that dining experience — the food, the sounds, the smells, the service that makes us feel special.
In Downtown Saline, we never worried about customers leaving our restaurants feeling frustrated. In fact, people often gushed over social media about their wonderful dish or amazing service or lovely date night. Rarely did managers and employees field angry patrons before this stage of the pandemic. But now, we see signs asking people to be kind — begging us to afford some patience for our hard-working servers who have shown up time and again. Who literally run to get things for us — hot and to our liking.
In both cases, the current state of staffing and supply chain shortages have put our brick and mortar businesses at odds with these high hopes and expectations that we have as consumers. In our search for a sign that our pandemic pains are over, we often find disappointment and can react with anger, impatience and insult. Not always, for sure. But these things do chip away at a person’s soul when they are trying hard to do their best.
Let’s be honest, we’ve most all had these moments. We didn’t mean to, but when things are rough, sometimes our emotions come out sideways.
Maybe by acknowledging our own struggles and needs, we can restore the massive patience and goodwill we created last winter. People eating outdoors in their coats, braving the chill with broad smiles. Making the holiday season another shop small victory for downtowns everywhere! Feeling the same deep appreciation, love and respect that we know our small biz owners have for each and every one of us whenever we walk through the door.
On a final note, I will share a quote from an op ed that Chef James Rigato referenced in the podcast. A plea for a little understanding —
We need olive branches. We need empathy. We need to support the businesses most in need. I know that, and I know you know that.
This is going to be a difficult winter, but what has made the last nine months bearable, and sometimes even fun, has been you. Your support, your patronage, your generosity and your kindness. I speak for many chefs, cooks, servers, dishwashers and bartenders when I say that we appreciate you, and we need you now more than ever.
We have far more neighbors than leaders, and I have faith in you, my neighbor.
Be kind, tip your server and I’ll see you on the other side. I love you.
— James Rigato is chef-owner at Mabel Gray located in Hazel Park.
Let this be the underlying belief of how our small biz owners and employees feel about us. Love and faith.
And, let this be the ethos of our support for our small business community. Let’s be kind, be patient, feel grateful and continue to bring our business to these heartful hard workers. Let’s help them finish this extremely difficult year on a high note. Let’s make them know in their hearts that we want them back in 2022.
Thanks for listening.