give ’em chairs – next they want water glasses! VE4 debrief

It’s been a long, tough debrief of Viand East Four, and we’re not done yet.

Lots of details below but there were a couple of major problems:

  1. We have succeeded in becoming an underground restaurant. The result is that we have created expectations in our guests that are inconsistent with our goals. The goals of the Viand, established in January 2007,  are to interest people in sourcing their food as directly as possible from farmers and artisanal producers. And to do this in a context which draws attention to community, encouraging people about the power and pleasure of community and the possibility of community projects. In aiming to provide a high quality alternative restaurant experience as a hook to these goals, we have become more focused on quality, quantity, and timing and less focused on education about the food, education about cooking, and community. We need to re-design the expectations so that people are not buying a meal, they are buying a ticket to a community food experience.
  2. as usual we didn’t do a precise food budget. Then were shocked to find we spent 4x as much as ever before, nearly $25 per person, as opposed to $10. Good thing we raised the price from $10 to $25 just one Viand back (VE3)… We don’t mind cooking for free, but the 4 days of pre-viand planning and 1-2 days of cleanup are just too much to be doing for free. We did hope to get paid something for that. But we broke exactly even. That’s how we used to do it for a long time (or even a little in the red). But our intention was not to do it that way any more, because as it gets better and more sophisticated it’s more and more work.
  3. The result: people had NO idea the level and quality of the food they were eating. Most people have probably not ever had cheese that is $30/lb, or wild food (ramps are $9/lb because they  wild and have such a short season). Even the sugar is organic and fair trade. We didn’t cut a single corner in this meal (nor do we ever) but we don’t convey this to the guests, so we did not enable them to appreciate it or consider its significance.


  • Ben & Lauren’s superb dishes: the sardines, the celeryroot smash, homemade duck confit.
  • bringing the beans and sausage to the table, describing heirloom beans, and then pointing at Jamey while explaining “the man sitting to your right made the sausage”
  • managing to seat 32 people in this little space – a revelation
  • paper napkins
  • the work trade folks, in so many ways, including their attunement to the gantt
  • calling the produce buyer for inspiration on what to make when there are no farmers markets for inspiration
  • learning the right quantities of cheese (3/4 lb each of 3 cheeses for 30 people)
  • 6 people learned how to make grandma georgia’s fried apples
  • using the argentine steak knives for cheese
  • giving people more time with the cheese with several plates instead of one big tray for the whole room
  • using wine bottles for water
  • amuse ready on time on friday


  • late, again
  • crush3r made the guest list nightmare about 3x as bad as usual
  • seated viand means we can’t overbook, expecting a few cancellations. so we ended up short on guests due to late cancellation.
  • couples decide far in advance and you can’t get them at the last minute. singles decide at the last minute (and then change their minds twice). hard to manage these guest lists.
  • 1 guest did not pay on saturday night and hasn’t responded to email
  • switching seats (saturday): some people didn’t like it…the numerology is really hard to figure out to maximize mixing (we worked on it a lot but still didn’t get it right)…awkward moving with wine glass, plate, wine bottle, literature… arriving to a dirty table
  • and they wanted water glasses too! we used to have water glasses in venice, but we sold all the glasses to the viand crew there to lighten the load for the move. out here temporarily we only bought one set of glasses. at an unseated viand, people don’t wander around with a plate and TWO glasses, so they switch back and forth between wine and water in their one glass. but put them at a table with a chair, and they want it all!
  • unused to the seated viand, we made an organic but irrational switch from 20-minute dish timing to checking to see if people were done with the previous course. this made us later on saturday.
  • unused to ordering produce over the phone or by lbs (usually do it by eyeballing volume) vio ordered 4x too much mesclun, a $50 mistake on a highly perishable item.
  • too tired from all the planning, some loss of good judgment on decision-making during the meal.
  • amuse delicious but too big for hand feeding.
  • work trade people not trained to talk about the food
  • too much reliance on the menu (and guests reading the menu) to convey info about food.

Ideas for Improvement

  • buy another set of glasses for water
  • separate amuse/feeding/community from $collection. $collector should have guest list and check people off as they pay.
  • better yet, pre-pay with paypal or brownpapertickets. this would ease guest list mania too and facilitate collection of cancellation fee.
  • create and implement cancellation fee policy.
  • when people look unhappy, go talk to them. (some people looked unhappy with singles seating.)
  • pretty garbage cans in dining room
  • plan coat/bag area
  • 10 dishes should include the amuse. one additional dish should be TINY and simple to speed things up.
  • amuse must be one bite (fits in the mouth).
  • spend more time with the guests. teach all the work-traders about the food, in detail. hard to find time to do a training including 2nd shift which would have to happen between 7:30 and 8:15… but it should be a priority.
  • more focus on feeding and sharing, and more explicitness about the meaning of these acts. intimacy with food.