It’s hard to remember the unbridled optimism with which we left the office on Friday, March 13 (in hindsight, the date should have tipped us off!). After a couple weeks of restaurant marketing that included some pretty fun hand-washing posts and less fun emails about sanitation, we were planning to work from home just for a week or two. We didn’t clear off our desks or erase the calendar from the wall, we just…. left. A little unnerved by the empty grocery store shelves, the sudden end to the NBA season, and the real moment when LA decided this pandemic was real – Tom Hanks’ diagnosis – we still went out for dinner and drinks, bumping elbows with friends instead of hugging, before sitting side-by-side at a bar for cocktails, passing hand sanitizer like a flask, blissfully unaware of whether those windows could open or what kind of filter was in their HVAC.
Fast forward exactly 13 months and even our most cautious restaurant clients are opening their dining rooms, hopefully for good this time, and vaccines for food service workers have mostly eliminated the overwhelming fear that keeping their business alive means putting their employees’ lives in jeopardy. We’re replacing the sounds of imissmybar.com with the sounds of an actual bar and bartender (but we’re still on board with take-out cocktails). Marketing plans are being written without the fear that they’ll go up in flames with the next announcement from the health department. And we’re optimistically imagining a restaurant world that’s more equitable, more resilient and more innovative.
Let’s bring back the special occasion restaurants, with their $22 cocktails and beautifully designed menus, but let’s make sure the busser doesn’t have to work 3 jobs to make ends meet. Let’s find a way to transition from overtipping (we’ve all been over tipping, right?) to menu prices that reflect not just the cost of “doing business” but the cost of paying the people who work there a wage that they can live on. And let’s make room for the entrepreneurs who’ve been upending restaurant marketing by selling tortillas on Instagram and hand-delivering loaves of bread. The industry has been trying to change for years, and we’re hopeful that the silver lining to the past year’s horrors can accelerate that transformation. The restaurant industry may be rooted in, let’s be honest, exploitation, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
On a more practical level, we’re excited to step back and look at the big picture again. Our light at the end of the tunnel includes seeing restaurants we branded finally open, designing brand new restaurant concepts, and restaurant marketing plans that don’t include the phrase “take-out or delivery” and do look more than 2 weeks into the future.
As soon as our own vaccinations are finished, you’ll find us back in the office, picking up pastries from Republique and checking out our new neighbors at the Firestone Tire Building. Until then, we’ll see you on Zoom.