By Mordechai Schmutter
If you’ve ever considered opening your own business, you’ve probably thought about restaurants. People love restaurants. You get to sit there like royalty while someone brings you your food, and then that person keeps coming over to ask you if everything’s okay, no matter how many times you insist that it is.
Why do they expect things not to be okay? Is there something I don’t know?
“Did he find the fly yet?”
“I don’t think so. He keeps saying everything’s okay.”
But the biggest issue in opening a restaurant is that no matter what you try to do to differentiate yourself from the competition, people will determine whether they come mainly by one factor: Do you serve fleishigs or milchigs? Ultimately, people want to know, “How long until I can eat somewhere else?”
So what you really need is a gimmick. What do you do that no one else does? And does it have to be strictly food-related?
So I came across some ideas in the form of real-life restaurants that are just a little bit different from the rest, the only caveat being that they aren’t kosher. You can have the first kosher restaurant to use these tactics! (You can make your royalty checks payable to Mordechai Schmutter, c/o 5TJT. On second thought, forget “c/o 5TJT.”)
Idea #1: Silent Restaurants
What it is: A restaurant that serves the entire meal in complete silence. No one’s allowed to talk. It’s like the entire room is mad at each other.
Where it exists: A restaurant in Brooklyn called “Eat,” probably because there’s literally nothing else to do. Of course, since it’s Brooklyn, it’s not completely silent. You still hear honking.
The logic: According to the chef, the silence allows the customers to better experience their food. As well as the sounds of people chewing.
What it’s like: Sneaking food at the library. It’s also like all of the other meals over the course of the year where you just sit and chew and don’t talk, like breakfast on Shavuos morning, or that last meal before Tishah B’Av, or that first time we eat matzah on Pesach, where it’s basically just really loud chewing.
Will it work? Let’s put it this way: In the mesivta where I teach, we have a no-food policy, but students eat anyway. We also have a no-talking policy, and students talk anyway. I generally look the other way with the eating in the hopes that the people who are eating are not, for the moment, talking. But everyone talks to them. Well, mostly they schnorr food. So will this happen at restaurants, where everyone already has food? Yes, because people still take bites off each other’s plates. But my point is that this will be pretty awkward if the people schnorring can’t say anything first.
Customer highlights: (1) After years of alternating between taking bites and yelling at your kids, it would be nice to just take bites. (2) You can eat with your hands and no one will say anything. What’s your wife going to do? Give you the silent treatment?
Customer inconveniences: You’re not really going out with your spouse without the kids just so you can eat in silence. You want to talk to your spouse about the kids while desperately trying to think of something else to talk about that is not about the kids.
Safety issues: Safer than eating at home. Your mother always told you not to talk with your mouth full, because people don’t want to see the food in there, and also because you might choke, and people will have to help you and then see that food again. It’s not any better the second time.
Not ideal for:
• Business lunches
Business benefits: Quicker turnaround. It turns out that if people don’t talk, they eat faster.
Business drawbacks: I’m not sure what to do about people making berachos. Maybe they should make one before they come, and have in mind the restaurant. Making a mezuman might be an issue.
Fun ideas for improvement: Those tablecloths you can write on.
What it is: A restaurant that serves meals completely in the dark. They have waiters lead you to your table, and you just sit there, afraid to move, in a really dark, noisy room full of people nervously asking their companions if they’re still there.
Where it exists: “Pitch Black” in China, “Opaque” in California, and “Dans le Noir?” in Paris, London, Barcelona, Moscow, and briefly NYC. See photo.
The logic: They say that if you take away one of your senses, the remaining ones get stronger. Like if you’re near something that smells really bad and you hold your nose, you find you can suddenly taste it too. Also, dimly lit restaurants are fancy, so logic follows that pitch-black restaurants would be even fancier.
What it’s like: Some yeshivas keep the lights off for seudah shlishis so the tuna tastes better. It’s also like when you nosh out of the fridge at 3 in the morning. Yes, refrigerators have a light, but the first thing we do is disable it.
Will it work? It’s hard to say. From what I’ve read about the restaurant, it’s really loud in there. There’s a constant stream of people going, “Waiter? I lost my fork again,” and the occasional shriek from someone whose dining companion just poured a pitcher of ice water on him.
Customer highlights: You can do that thing where you take food off each other’s plates and neither of you will know.
Customer inconveniences: Mostly clothing stains. Also, the waiter keeps coming over to you and asking if everything’s okay.
Waiter: “Is everything okay?”
You: “I really don’t know.”
Safety issues: None. Firstly, they don’t serve anything with bones or pits, or anything that requires a knife. The waiters wear night-vision goggles, and, in some restaurants, they just hire blind waiters who are used to it, and who find you by touching your face.
Not ideal for:
• Business lunches
Business benefits: You can save on décor. You also save money on electricity, and you never have to clean the restaurant.
Business drawbacks: You might want to clean it anyway. Every night when everyone leaves, they turn on the light, and go, “Oh.” Then they switch the light back off and try not to think about it.
Fun ideas for improvement: If the big problem with this restaurant is that it’s too noisy, why not combine it with the silent one? That’s a good idea. How long before you realize you’re sitting in the broom closet? You also might wind up with some people falling asleep waiting for each other to finish eating. Especially parents trying to get a night out.
What it is: A restaurant where diners can eat the menu, preferably after ordering. Though if you have a pitch-black restaurant, people are probably going to be eating the menu either way. The menu is a cracker topped with edible ink, and it comes with its own dip.
Where it exists: Moto, a restaurant in Chicago that also uses herb-stuffed silverware, which is an incentive to eat with a fork.
The logic: The restaurant is vehemently anti-paper, for environmental reasons. So instead, they have several expensive, specially made printers churning out new menus all day.
What it’s like:
• A fortune cookie, if the paper were edible
• Accidentally eating the sticker on a piece of fruit
• The last meal before Tishah B’Av, if you make your ashes out of paper, as opposed to scraping out the bottom of the toaster
Will it work? I don’t see why not. It’s definitely something to do while you wait the half hour for the food to come.
“Waiter, can we get another basket of menus?”
Customer highlights: In most restaurants, the waiter takes the menu away immediately after you order, and you’re forced to make conversation, unless it’s a silent restaurant. I don’t know why he does that. Maybe it’s so you won’t pass the time by continuously changing your order. But this way you don’t have to make conversation while you wait, and if you do, you can talk about the edible menus. (“How are you doing?” “I’m up to page 17.”)
“Do you want dessert?”
“I don’t know what’s available. I ate the menu.”
“That’s okay, we have a dessert menu. It’s sweeter.”
Safety issues: Not many, other than people choking on their menus.
Not ideal for:Shidduch dates. (“And then he ate the menu.”)
Business benefits: You get to respond to the question “Is there anything you’d recommend on the menu?” with “Yes; butter.”
Business drawbacks: The risk of people saying, “I’m not hungry. I just ate a whole menu.” Also, if you have no paper, how do people dry their hands? Is there bread near the sinks?
Fun ideas for improvement: Edible bentchers. Though people would have to bentch again. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.