Food Speakeasies

All restaurants in my area are closed to on-site dining by political decree. Many restaurants are still open for take-out orders. However, most of the customers that would be willing to go to a restaurant in these hard financial times wouldn’t go just so they could balance a bowl of menudo on their laps or a plate of bacon and eggs on the seat next to them on the drive home. They would go so that they could sit down and eat.

There was a brief period locally where patrons of McDonald’s and Burger King could get around the on-site dining prohibitions by eating outside at picnic tables. Now, those outside tables have been roped-off with caution tape and blocked by physical barriers to prevent outdoor dining adjacent to the buildings. A local edict even prohibits dining outdoors near a food truck like on a picnic table. Businesses with movable outdoor picnic tables have turned them upside down and stacked them up to make them unusable.

I am aware of two restaurants that have external unmovable picnic tables set in concrete that have not yet been roped off. Not surprisingly, they are actually getting customers. Other restaurants continue to flop while displaying ever-more conspicuous glowing “Open” signs. The reality is that most people will buy cheaper food at the supermarket to eat at home if they can’t eat on-site at a restaurant. Sundown Multi+Daily Im... Buy New $13.87 ($0.23 / Count) (as of 04:37 EDT - Details)

It is obvious what will happen next. It is already happening. Sneaking over to a picnic table outside the restaurant won’t satisfy everyone. Eventually, heat, mosquitoes, flies, cold, rain, or evening darkness will make the picnic table patrons long for more civilized, but obscure, indoor dining. The restaurants are hearing these requests: “Do you have a private room where you can host a private event with food while officially remaining closed to public dining?” “Can you cater an event in a private room across the courtyard from your restaurant?” And, even more likely, “Do you have an employee break area in the back where I can sit down and eat this bowl of clam chowder with a real metal spoon before it cools down rather than me running the risk of spilling it on the upholstery in my new car while eating it with a plastic spoon?”

These arrangements will become more common. “Look, let me wolf down my messy chili con carne burrito in the back room or in the kitchen away from prying eyes who will report your business.” A hefty tip will confirm the arrangement and pave the way for future visits by the gracious customer.

Next, people will drop the name of the first customer. “Hey, I know Bill. Can you give me the same arrangement as you give him? Can I eat my sloppy plate of lasagna in the janitor closet or in the employee break room also? I really don’t want this delicious sauce all over my car.” Soon, the boss puts a bigger table in the “employee break room.” The secret access words become, “I’m cool. I know Bill.” The tip jar moves from the front counter to the table in the back room so that the appreciative big tippers aren’t seen making their payments out front.  A special hidden side door “service entrance” may offer access to the now popular “employee break room.” The passphrase then becomes universal. Everyone says, “I know Bill” when they enter the restaurant.  Even the cops will start saying, “Hey, I need to eat this in the back in Bill’s room on a real plate before it gets cold.”

Odd features from history, like speakeasies, that have seemed to us like mere legends from the past become market realities when political history repeats itself.

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