A Familiar Season?

Fall issues are hitting the racks and everyone is armed with a prediction for the upcoming months.  For some destinations the fall marks the finale to a busy season, as in the case of Annapolis, Maryland, where I spent my Labor Day weekend.  At its peak, the colonial waterfront town is bustling with tourists and sightseers ready to take a seat at any restaurant that can file them in without an extraordinary wait.  But this has been a very different year.

I arrived curious to see how the area’s commerce and tourism had dealt with the sloping summer economy.  Surprisingly, both were mostly unaffected, in fact some business owners claimed to be busier than last year.  The influx of tourism, which usually persuades locals to flee town, didn’t this year at hands of the economy, and therefore local restaurateurs benefited substantially. 

However, there were noticeably more bargains than usual as a greater concentration of inserted “two for ones” and “midnight happy hours” impeded the flow to the entrée pages.  And once at the entrée pages, you could see an effort to keep value, not solely dictated by the prices, but also the ingredients.  Most dishes were occupied with potatoes of slight varying styles.

Yet, admittedly the seats were filled.

Annapolis is not New York City.  And New York City is not Annapolis.  The differences are as vast as the Grand Canyon, but while New York City and other parts of the nation plan for a busier fall season, the methods practiced in Annapolis to get the patron to the table don’t appear to be all too different.

Yesterday, Frank Bruni speculated on what diners will witness this autumn.  Cheaper ingredients to keep menu prices down, an emphasis on bar snacks, reservationists packing the book at cost of creating long waits; all of these items should be expected and familiar, considering most establishments have been following these practices in a year of trial and error.

“You’ll notice more special deals, more value meals: happy-hour snacks for under $4; late-night nibbles for less; Sunday promotions; lunchtime bargains.

You’ll see hanger steaks where strip steaks were once ascendant, dwarf lobsters where steroidal crustaceans once reigned. Luxury items will be scarcer, low-ticket options more ubiquitous.

You’ll notice more comfort food and more straightforward food, as many restaurateurs defer to what diners are guaranteed to order, rather than what chefs are flattered to concoct.”

On one hand Mr. Bruni’s assessment seems bleak and vapid, but it also serves as an optimistic reminder to the degree of which restaurateurs will go to please and accommodate their guests.

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