In this guest feature, Ron Thomas shares his perspective with Sarnia Post readers who enjoy eating or dream of one day opening a restaurant of their own in Sarnia. Ron has years of experience cooking for himself and dining in the Lambton County area and recently decided to become a chef after a friend told him his burgers and fried eggs were “pretty good.”
How To Run A Restaurant in Sarnia
Flavour = Salt + Sugar
Don’t get complicated by balancing flavours or using spices people don’t already have at home. When people dine in Sarnia, don’t patronize them by allowing them to taste any of the hard ingredients you put into a dish either. Find ways of using sugar and salt to blast away those flavours and leave your guests feeling like they’ve successfully satisfied the call of their baser cravings. When in doubt, reach for a bottle that says “sauce” somewhere on the label, anything will do. They’ll always say your food was “good” when asked and thank you, and they will be back when their addiction to salt and sugar brings them back.
Set aside two or more menu items and take them international! Pick cuisines you have no cultural attachment to and absolutely zero experience in preparing and theme your dish. Add an ingredient you’ve heard is associated with that cuisine, and when naming the dish, include a word you think you’ve heard before even if you aren’t sure of it’s meaning. Pay no attention to the people that say “there’s no cheddar cheese in Thai food,” “What the hell is a Sicilian breakfast burrito?” or that there’s “no such thing as Mexican Tilapia, Tilapia is a garbage fish anyway!”
You may notice that only a small number of people order the dish at first, but remember that so long as it is there, your guests will have a tool to dishonestly lure their friends and family with the promise of something interesting at least once before they strike your establishment from their consciousness.
Ranch it up!
Make sure half of your dishes are covered in ranch dressing, preferably fresh from a bulk can or jar. If diners can distinguish a difference between the dishes in a blind tasting, it’s probably a sign that you are not using enough ranch dressing. Nobody in Sarnia really knows what ranch dressing is, but they might get scared if they taste other flavours unfamiliar to them. If you have trouble securing a regular supply of ranch, try complimenting each dish with soggy vegetables and a small cup of ranch dressing. Some may feel threatened and leave, but it may be enough to hold their interest until you can work out the kinks with your suppliers.
Fresh is just a buzzword.
Nobody cares if your food is fresh and actually tastes like food. Sourcing food locally just leads to more expense and less time away from your work. Make sure all your food comes frozen or in cans from a corporate supplier who makes your life easier by bringing you items already familiar to your patrons from their experiences at every other restaurant in town.
You may win them over faster if you are able to co-ordinate your deliveries so that they can witness a GFS truck beside your establishment as they arrive. They will see the truck and smile comfortably, knowing the food will taste as much like real food as the last place they went to before they even walk into the place.
Potatoes are a vegetable.
Don’t ever expect your customers to enjoy a dish they can’t swap some kind of fried potatoes into. There will be people on a health kick who will want a salad with extra ranch dressing instead of fries with their ranch burger with extra ranch dressing, but if you don’t allow fries at all, you may begin to lose trust with everyone else.
A growing number of people are finding enjoyment and merit in forming their eating habits around a vegetarian diet. It is important that they too learn to understand that potatoes are a vegetable. You may sometimes be able to include a vegetarian option on your menu, like a pasta dish of some kind (just keep cheap vegetables in the freezer in case anyone orders it, that’s all they could ever want). Be careful though, feature these items too prominently or have too many of them and you risk being labelled “weird” or “alternative” or a “health food place” and next time your restaurant comes up in conversation as a lunch possibility, someone’s friend will say “No, I’m in the mood for real food” and they’ll go have ranch burgers somewhere else.
How To Eat in Sarnia
Learn the lingo.
Make sure to say the food is “good”. Don’t confuse yourself by trying to explain what it is that you like about your dish or think too hard about the fact that you’re probably only responding to salt and sugar and don’t actually know what food tastes like.
Use words like “different” to politely describe food that you’re afraid of. It’s not your fault it isn’t white bread and overcooked meat, but they’re nice people.
Don’t worry about actually trying to taste it, just act as if the single mouthful you’ve had was enough to satisfy your appetite. You can also ask for a box so you can take it home and smother it in ranch dressing or pitch it out when they’re not near to see it.
If they’re nice, tip nice
When you’re out enjoying a meal with your own hard-earned dollars, you should expect all the best service and some. Whoever is serving you should be smiling at all times and speaking to you like you’re royalty. Whether or not they just worked a double shift, slept a total of 4 hours in 2 days, just had their car stolen while they were busing tables or buried a loved one, you have no way of knowing anything but what your needs are and how you should be treated.
If they stop smiling for a moment, make sure to lean over to your friends and family to talk about what a bitch or asshole you think they are. See how your friends respond and create a secret consensus to tip poorly before your server gets back to the table.
Keep this in mind when waiting for your food. If you remember that you’re hungry and forget that you waited too long to visit the restaurant, make sure to blame the amount of time it takes to safely prepare food on your server, especially if you saw them talk with another employee for a moment. They may not have anything to do with the preparation of your food, but why should they stop and chat when your stomach is growling? Make sure to make a mental note so that you can penalize them further.
Also, if they forget anything or your food isn’t salty/sweet enough, they are probably a horrible human being and deserve to be paid less.
Make sure to pretend that you have nothing to gain by keeping money for yourself rather than tipping. Surely the only thing you could be accused of is caring about others and the integrity of the establishment. Spend the savings on a burnt drive-through coffee on the way home or go out for a beer somewhere else. You deserve it!
Make the space your space.
All restaurant dining rooms are just thrown together with no consideration for anything. Nobody planned or organized anything, and they want nothing more than for you to re-arrange everything so that you can have the seat you want when you want it.
Either ask a server if they mind if you drag tables around to form an inconvenient super table, or just do it without asking. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re going to demand it anyway. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you can guilt someone into doing it for you while you stand awkwardly watching them in your jacket and outerwear.
Don’t think for a moment there was any benefit to planning ahead, making a reservation or finding a location more suitable for the size of your party. You’ll just get angry and have to give your server a smaller tip.
Bonus: Be insufferable about how warm/cool you feel while your body adjusts from the outdoors being a slightly different temperature than the dining room.
Get the drinks right.
When ordering drinks, it is important to stress your emotional attachment to your preferred brand of carbonated garbage drink. When your server asks “We only have __(cola brand)__, is that OK?”, you need to pause long enough and make just the right sounds that your server knows that they will never be able to make you happy. This will help prepare them for the low tip they will likely receive. If you are ordering beer and the server offers you things you’ve “never heard of” in the two times a year you drink in public, make sure to ask them if they have “anything domestic”, regardless of where the brew is from.
Ranch it up!
When your dish arrives, don’t spend too much time trying to taste it. Whoever made your food, designed the menu and tested dishes out for 3 months before opening probably doesn’t know what they’re doing, and you can repair it all with just the right amount of whatever salt-sugar-creme combination comes out of your favourite squeeze bottle. Start flailing your arms around to attract one of the servers and ask for ranch dressing or ketchup. Make a mental note to tip them less for not having it on the table before you got there. You’ll want to be quietly disappointed when they bring you a small cup rather than entrust you with an entire bottle, so make sure to ask for more after dumping it all on your first three tastes.