When you go from 2-week Italian vacations in hotels to living there several months at a time, something that can cause a bit of frustration is restaurant closing days.
On a 2-week stay, there are several ways to choose a restaurant. For instance, you might stop into a place that looks interesting as you wander around the town. Or you could be following the advice of a guidebook or friend, and search out a particular restaurant. Or you could ask the hotel’s front desk for a recommendation and have them make the reservations. In all of these instances, you don’t really know the restaurant, so all you care about is that particular meal. If it turns out to be a so-so meal, you won’t remember much about it the next day. If it was really good, you might take one of their cards, which you’ll either lose or tuck away someplace so remote that it will take at least 6 months for it to resurface, at which point you’ll figure you must have enjoyed the place since you took a card, but you’ll have a hard time picturing the food, the décor and the people.
However, if you live in a place, your goal is to discover restaurants around you that you truly enjoy, so you can be sure of eating well time after time. And that’s where the frustration can come in. Almost every restaurant is closed 1 day a week, but unless you make an effort to keep track of those closing days, at some point you will inevitably show up on the restaurant’s doorstep to find the lights out and the door shuttered. Frustration gets kicked up a notch if you’ve traveled half an hour to get there.
The important point is that the restaurant’s objective is not to annoy you; their objective is to get some much-needed rest.
There are very few restaurants that I can think of within 60 miles of Orvieto that aren’t family owned and staffed. Most are open for lunch. That means a family member must rise early to do the marketing for that day’s menu, get the food prepared for the lunch crowd – some of whom will hang around until close to 5:00 – be ready when the dinner crowd starts arriving around 7:00 and finally close up when the last stragglers leave at midnight. They fit Life in wherever they can around that schedule. And then they do it again the following day.
These are not chain restaurants where there’s a never-ending stream of college-age Tammys who want you to know how important you are to them, yet never seem to have time to refill your water glass. The staffs in Italy are professional people who have been in their jobs for years and take great pride in the restaurant that their family has kept in business – perhaps for generations.
If the workers aren’t blood relatives, they’re loyal employees who probably started working in that particular restaurant when they were quite young, and have become part of the extended family.
I must admit that we eat out an embarrassing number of times a week, so we know a lot of the people in our favorite restaurants, and we’ve seen firsthand just how hard they work. We went to lunch with a restaurant owner on her day off last summer, and during the couple of hours we were with her, she answered at least 6 calls from people wanting reservations for the following day. Her last customers the night before left at 12:30, and her day following our lunch would start early, shopping in the market. We’ve seen the weary look in the eyes of our favorite restaurants’ staffs. Yet they are always gracious, patient and accommodating.
The lesson from today’s lecture? If you’re going to upgrade from a Category 2 Dreamer to Category 3 – figure out how you’re going to keep track of your favorite restaurants’ closing days. I don’t want to hear any whining if you show up and the door’s locked. When was the last time you worked 15 hours for 6 days straight….and then did it again the next week…..and then the next……and then……