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Dec 1, 2021

Let Me Be Perfectly Cleared

Why are we being hustled out of restaurants?

By Ed Goldman
I’m not sure if it’s pandemic- or supply chain-related—almost everything is these days—but have you noticed that when you dine out your dishes and glasses are cleared so quickly you’re sometimes still using them?

I’ve also observed that lately, food seems to arrive at my table with record-busting velocity, as though I’m a cranky toddler who’ll begin pounding my pacifier on the table any second.

Edgy Cartoon

Shaken and Absurd

Or maybe there’s an in-house competition going on among the cooks, waiters and bus staff: The first to get these malingerers out the door will win an all-expense-paid trip back to their apartments. 

Perhaps there’s a new unspoken motto about alacrity being a virtue: “The customer is always done.”

In the pre-COVID past, the managers of busy restaurants had a quota of tables they hoped to “turn over” in the course of an evening. It may even have come in the form of an edict from the owners: Thou shalt schedule seatings for 5, 6:30 and 8 p.m.

At diners, of course, these 90-minute seatings are doubled or even trebled—unless in the case of a big group, such as a team whose members (Earl, Doris, Midge and Hank) just won a business-to-business bowling competition. Conversely, if the group consists of as many as 17 eight-year-old soccer players, you can pretty much expect the ordering will still take far longer than the consuming of 17 servings of burgers, fries and malts. Experience has taught me that kids at that age are incapable of sitting still for more than about 25 minutes without successive screenings of “Frozen” and its sequels—or pharmaceuticals, natch.

I’ve felt this rush-to-nourishment most keenly while enjoying a pre-prandial martini. 

If I order a second one, a diligent server will start removing my current one, even if insufficiently drained (the martini, not the server). I realize, from having marketed a few restaurants—in another, far more lucrative segment of my ill-lusterless career—that the serious dough for a full-bar restaurant derives from that full bar. As the owner of a fairly upscale restaurant told me, “We just break even on the food. The profit margin comes from the sale of booze.” 

This certainly echoes the findings of my own forays into financial literacy.

A big bottle of vodka may cost me anywhere from $17 (at Rite-Aid) to $26 (at Corti Brothers, a pricey independent market that’s been a Sacramento landmark since 1947). 

But at a restaurant, a drink made from even one tenth of a bottle’s contents can range from $5 (at a neighborhood watering hole) to $16 (at an airport lounge, since there’s no competition—unless I opt to substitute the sugar intake from alcohol with that derived from a Cinnabon). 

At home, by contrast, each martini costs me from about $1.50 to $2. Granted, there’s no piano bar in my condo. But I do have a piano and I do have a radio, and I’ve become surprisingly adept at playing the radio.

In closing (do I detect a collective sigh of relief, or is it just mine?), I’m reminded of two restaurant-related incidents.

  1. A onetime friend of mine who weighed (no kidding) 500 pounds went to a smorgasbord place and after his fifth trip to the buffet, was told by the manager to leave the premises. 

“I thought this was all-you-can-eat,” my friend protested. 

“That’s right,” the manager said. “And buddy, that’s all you can eat.”

  1. My mom had a somewhat untraveled friend who told her whenever she goes to restaurants that feature “soup du jour” on the menu, “Every time I order it, the du jour tastes different.”

Okay. That’s all-you-can-read. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw


The holidays are upon us, and the Amazon trucks are parading into our neighborhoods. It’s fun to get packages, especially unexpected gifts, even those we order ourselves.

Even so, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.

For every Amazon truck delivery a small business may lose out, and a very already rich Jeff Bezos gets richer. Sigh. There is a very real social cost to change and convenience.

Small businesses need our support: they’re the driver of jobs in our communities. More than ever, small businesses need help to recover from the effects of the COVID pandemic. So please support your local small businesses by shopping at a small business this holiday season.

A survey from “LendingTree” found that 49 percent of Americans plan to hit the stores the weekend following Thanksgiving and on average spend about $305 each. But will they be doing online shopping or walking into a real store?

The same survey also found that 63 percent of consumers say the pandemic strengthened their loyalty to small businesses. But what is loyalty? It’s one thing to claim it, but will you actually walk into a mall or cross over the threshold of a community store?

What is the priority when time and convenience come into play? Will you pay a bit more for less selection?

The survey also reports that 63 percent of respondents say a small business in their community permanently closed due to the pandemic. I’m concerned. I love small businesses. They are the heart of America and provide the most jobs overall.

As the famous economist E.F. Schumacher said, “Small is beautiful.” Let’s practice what he called “economics as if people mattered” by trying to spend money locally and proudly support our communities. People really do matter.

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