I am not ashamed to fess-up to eating out a lot. When I think about the work that goes into making a good meal, I am grateful to all of the chefs in our area who are using fresh ingredients and cooking affordable food. Many of my favorite places are in areas tourists visit this time of year. When I think about where to dine, I find myself considering alternatives to places I know tourists love to visit; however, lately I’ve been wondering if that might be the wrong mindset.
Portland is fairly well known for having excellent restaurants. Several of them have earned high praise and well deserved nominations and awards. Then there are countless others that deserve more attention, but for whatever reason they remain obscure and rarely mentioned. As a diner, I believe it’s in my responsibility to support the excellent restaurants in my city. The more successful these restaurants are, the better off the rest of us will be. Think about it; when people come from outside of our area to eat, they are contributing to our local economy and providing employment opportunities to our residents.
Chelsea Cook, Portland contributing editor to Eat Drink Lucky, a daily that offers food drink and lifestyle news in three short tips, had this to say about those who work so hard to feed us in Portland: “Restaurant work is high-stress year round, period. My thoughts are clouded by the way my heart goes out to the people that have put this city on the map as a foodie mecca and craft beer paradise. During peak tourist season, food trucks are my favorites. They're local, they're tasty and their locations are unpredictable. I check online to see where they're parking next and head in that direction.”
Richard Rothlisberger, a retired school teacher living in Falmouth, had this to say about dining out this time of year: “We find that we avoid the restaurants that have big name recognition during the summer months, due to difficulty getting a reservation and the overall quality of the experience. Instead, we find ourselves exploring neighborhood 'gems,' smaller restaurants on the outer extremes of the peninsula that seem to maintain a local clientele. We value the influx of tourists, and what they bring to our economy ... but don't necessarily choose to dine with them!”
And then, of course, there is the issue of reservations; in the not-so-distant past, I was frustrated with restaurants who did not take reservations. Today, I believe I have a better understanding of the reasoning behind it. First and foremost, I think that many people today do not think twice about not showing up when they do have a reservation. It’s inconsiderate and creates a problem for the restaurant. How long can or should you hold a table? How much revenue is lost when a table sits empty? Is it fair to walk-ins waiting for a table? Is it appropriate to take a credit card number to hold a table? It’s no wonder many restaurants who do take reservations keep a number of tables open for walk-ins. By not taking reservations and operating at a first come, first serve basis, you are being more fair to everyone. If the food is that good, it’s worth waiting for. I like the restaurants who are willing to text you when your table is ready and hold it for ten minutes while you make your way back there. Restaurants cannot possibly please everyone, but why not try to please as many customers as you can. Accepting reservations for large parties makes sense as well; however, there should be and sometimes is, a deposit for holding the table.
If you truly love a restaurant, why not make your way there year round. If you assume tourists have taken over your favorite dining spot, you may be wrong in that assumption. When I managed a restaurant in New York, I was often miffed by the unpredictability of business — there were days when we expected to be slammed and yet we were quiet and then days when we thought no one would walk through the door and we’d have a line out the door. If there was a formula, more restaurants would be filled from opening to closing. Why deny yourself the pleasure of good food whatever time of year it happens to be. Food trucks, seaside bistros, corner cafés with outdoor seating; whatever you fancy, they are all right here for our dining pleasure.