The following essay is not intended to detract from the magic of Northeast Social, a relatively new and instantly popular restaurant that is winning friendly reviews from all corners of the Twin Cities. The menu is nicely balanced, the food is well-executed, the staff is gracious and enthusiastic — as restaurants go, it’s a clear winner.
Northeast Social is doing a thing that a number of local restaurants do.
It is not a good thing, and it needs to be talked about.
There is a four-top just inside of Northeast Social’s front door. On a recent 10-degree night, a party of four seated at that table grumbled darkly about the temperature for the entire two-hour duration of the meal, because every time the single front door opened — and it opened a lot — a blast of weather would enter and chill the hell out of everyone.
A nearby space heater was a thoughtful but ineffective gesture — it helped speed up recovery time, but did nothing to blunt the constant stabbing of cold air that made the entire meal an exercise in recurring annoyance.
To greater and lesser degrees, there are a number of other restaurants that suffer from a similar problem. Due to a lack of (insert one: heavy velvet curtain, double-paned vestibule entry, sufficient distance between door and closest table), the restaurants have one or more tables that are at the mercy of the elements, particularly when those elements are, for example, hovering right around zero.
The honorable thing to do would be to retire that four-top until the weather crawls back up into the 40s and 50s. A good hostess does not let her guests sit somewhere that’s subject to intermittent icy blasts, and neither should a restaurant, regardless of the potential impact on profit.
But maybe that’s just not practical, and nor is building a vestibule or some other kind of properly insulated buffer between world and diner. A very bad thing to do is to nervously pretend the problem is not a big deal. “It’ll get better soon,” said our waiter, which was a big fat load unless he was referring to “soon” in geological terms, as in, “it’ll be summer again in no time because millennia pass in the blink of an eye once you’ve got the right perspective on things.”
If ditching the table just isn’t an option, here’s something to consider: be forthright about it.
“So,” the waiter might say. “The only table we have open is The Cold Table. If you take that, all your hot drinks and soups are free, and we shave 10 percent off your bill. Or, you can wait for the next regular table, which should take 20-30 minutes.”
You’ve given your diners fair notice, and given them a choice: Suffer a bit — but enjoy a novel experience and a bunch of free soup and coffee — or wait a bit, and be seated somewhere where you can enjoy a proper civilized meal.
God knows we tolerate winter around here, but we shouldn’t have to do it while eating dinner indoors.