Now that JazzFest 2012 is in the books and we’re looking down the summer corridor toward next fall, most of the city’s restaurant operators are looking at their calendars and bank accounts and thinking, “Hmmm…”
Not that there aren’t various events planned between now and Labor Day (this Sunday’s Mother’s Day being only one). One of the glories of living in New Orleans is the knowledge that, really, every week and/or weekend offers SOMEthing in town and within an hour or two. But, depending on location and other factors, not every business will be able to take full advantage of what might be going on.
We’re nearing the time of year when many of the pricier places, as well as many not-so, will be offering fixed prices for three-course meals or various drink specials and whatnot to lure diners in. Hotels will be offering various packages because convention business can be slower during hurricane season and it can be a great time of year to be a tourist in your own town.
My own experience with summer in the New Orleans restaurant business runs counter to the traditional. Given our various moves to various locations (usually in the spring), we’ve always experienced summer as a time of growth. This contrary-to-ordinary background has us anticipating the hotter months as a time to get the word out and to adjust some of what we do under a little less pressure than we’d have during a heavier traffic time of year.
But this isn’t the case for so many. With convention business down, many locals or weekend visitors opting for the beach or a cooler, less humid clime and the potentiality of hurricanes, a lot of places simply close for awhile and/or reduce staff. Not that it’s an unwise business move. Matter of fact — longer-term staff can actually plan a vacation well in advance and begin putting money aside. There are advantages and, if the place will be closed for a week or so anyway, it eliminates argument over who is going to take vacation when.
Aside from places like Casamento’s, which closes when the main dish is out of season, most have to simply push through the summer with staff maybe a little smaller than desired or removing a few regular menu items or substituting an imported product for something usually produced closer to home (crawfish being the prime example).Even during the summer, there are enough tourists who don’t care about seasonal issues. Most local customers understand what’s going on and adjust their menu choices accordingly, as much as their eyes might roll.
The smartest places in town embrace any change in season and view it as a time to experiment and play with what’s suddenly and abundantly available (Creole tomatoes!). It’s also a good time roll out some new dishes and experiment with kitchen logistics. Some staffing changes are also possible, as that extra person who was valuable during JazzFest might not be as valuable when volume is down. Maybe it’s time to bring in someone else who’s a better multi-tasker or something. Each place has its own needs, as harsh as they can be sometimes.
As part of our contrary-to-ordinaryness, it is sometimes hard for a New Orleanian to explain how our traditional calendar is different from the rest of the country. We begin our new years with football season, move into the holidays, quickly transition to Carnival Season and then segue into Festival Season. While summer might be Vacation Season to someone in Atlanta or Detroit, we view it more as Between Seasons.
Well, kinda. NOWFE is coming up in a few weeks…
Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.