Friday, November 2, 2012

Post-Sandy restaurant sensibilities

Here at Ground Zero, the most appreciated post-Sandy restaurant amenity has been the multi-socket power strip. Customers are bringing them into establishments so they can recharge a cell phone, tablet and laptop all at once.

If there’s no wall outlet available, the proper etiquette is to ask someone using a socket if the power strip can be plugged in place of whatever single device the occupant is charging. That phone or laptop gets a slot on the power strip, along with the phone, tablet or whatever of the strip’s owner. Strangers are also welcome to use any vacant socket on the strip.

Other behavioral mores are still forming. For instance, if you’re sitting at a table for hours in a Starbucks or Panera, pulling free electricity and Wi-Fi service, what’s a reasonable “rent” you should be paying? Is a coffee and bagel enough of a purchase? Are you obliged to buy breakfast and lunch if you’re there for both meals? If you’ve not bought anything in awhile, and a customer who just made a purchase is looking for a table, should you vacate yours?

Spending an inordinate amount of time in restaurants these last three days, I can attest that customers were clearly wrestling with those ethical matters. From what I could see, people more or less behaved themselves. There were some freeloaders here or there, but most would periodically buy something to eat or drink, if not a full meal.

Unbelievably, a whole party unplugged its phones and laptops to make way for us when we’d just purchased breakfast and were looking for a place to park. They vacated two wall sockets, which is kind of like giving someone an Eat Free pass.

I was going to brave the scene at gas station grab-and-go facilities, to see how the world of pre-made subs and roller dogs was faring. But the scenes outside were too ugly and obviously risky. I saw a gas line that was easily three miles long, extending from one town (East Quogue) all the way east to the next one (Hampton Bays).

I didn’t want to be around when the station ran out of gas, leaving perhaps 250 cars with nothing but the bad taste of wasted time.

You non-sufferers must be sick by now of hearing about the hardships and damage of Hurricane Sandy. But let me leave you with some perspective: The 20-plus story building that houses Restaurant Business’ editorial offices is located in southern Manhattan. It was filled with 35 feet of water, from the lobby through the basement and sub-basement.

The latter, which houses many of the building’s support features, is still under water.

The landlord says an assessment of the damage won’t be completed until a week from this writing at the earliest. Even if we wanted to go take a look, we couldn’t get in.

We’re not talking about a cabin next to a marina. This is a mid-rise building in Manhattan, not far from Wall Street.

So imagine what it was like for the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in one or two-story places along the coastlines.

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