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Episode 37: 'Tis the Season

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

The Holidays are here and Brady and Alvin are gearing up for one the busiest times of the year for restaurants. With a look at Christmas traditions in Alvin’s native England and what it takes to deck the halls, this podcast also includes a great gift idea that anyone will be happy to receive.




Holiday Gift Idea: Restaurant Gift Cards!


Must Read: An open letter from a Charlottesville restaurateur


TRANSCRIPT

Brady Viccellio

If you've ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants, then you're in the right place. This podcast takes you inside the minds of restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, servers, basically anyone who has anything to do with food, drink or hospitality. I'm Brady Viccellio, owner of Steinhilber's restaurant in Virginia Beach, and Bella Italia on Laskin Road. Welcome to The Check podcast.


Alvin Williams

Now I'm Alvin Williams, cohost of the check and owner of Cobalt Grill restaurant at Hilltop North in Virginia Beach. Welcome to our podcast.


Brady Viccellio

Alan, we're entering 2021 December, the season of giving and the season of, for a lot of people, partying. What are your plans?


Alvin Williams

Excellent question, Brady. My plans are to eat, drink and be merry.


Brady Viccellio

Good for you. Well, I was just thinking that for a lot of people in our industry, it's a ramp up time. It's where we really have to put on our dancing shoes and go to work.


Alvin Williams

A a lot of people who are not in our industry are kind of winding down and having longer weekends and finding time to go shopping and those types of things. We in our business are ramping up hopefully for holiday parties and people come in to swap gifts. That is the right term swap gifts -- exchange gifts, sorry -- and hopefully big holiday parties and celebrations and that type of thing. So yes. Now, traditionally, we would be getting busier and busier. And I'm not sure where it's going this year. I don't know if we're going to be busier. I know that our restaurant, my restaurant Cobalt does not have all the holiday parties booked that we have had in the past. Because some of the some of the companies are just opting not to do it for whatever reasons. I'm not sure if it's still a social distancing concern or financial concern. But we don't have as many parties booked as we have had in the past. What about you?


Brady Viccellio

Pretty much the same. We're pretty well booked up for the weekends and couple weekdays leftover. We've got some different groups, some of our regular holiday parties, not unlike just like you're describing.


Alvin Williams

So then why do you think that we're not getting busier and busier, and we're either status quo or a little off?


Brady Viccellio

I mean, we're going to be busier than last year even. That's for sure. I mean, even there's just no way we're not busier than last year. Even if we have the same regulations in the same situation. More people are coming out than they did last year.


Alvin Williams

Right. And with that being said, more people coming out, we are still having the same staff challenges all across the country. So we've got to think, you know, once again, I don't want to keep banging on about this, but we're doing the best we can, you know, with the staff that we have. So I guess I'm asking for a little patience from our patrons.


Brady Viccellio

That's it. That's a good request. I was just looking at an article it was an open letter to decline, tell us from a restaurant, a Charlottesville restaurant tour, who decided to remain anonymous, who in that, in that letter just described, his heart ache of his or her heart ache of trying to serve and keep the guests as happy is as pre pandemic times under current conditions and, and the stress that the toll it's taking on that person depression and whatever else comes up with that, but I think we'll make to that, to that letter. I think it's worthy of a link. And I do want to read just a brief, a brief part of this letter. And I don't want to read the whole thing. Like I said, I think we should link to the put a link for the to the letter but re acclimating to business as usual, in a time that is still unusual, has not been easy, already emotionally and physically exhausted. The toll of guest expectations is now further weakening us. Complaints of slow or imperfect service have rolled in and the gentle hand that guests seem to take a year ago is now being replaced by rudeness and impossible expectations.


Alvin Williams

I guess it was bound to happen. Continue reading there. Yeah, I'm going to read a little snippet. I'm saying all this in a plea to the dining community. Please understand what we've been through and what we are trying to return to. He also goes on to say, We know your martini took 15 minutes to get to you. The bartender is taking tables because the server knows no show tonight. And your steak was medium instead of medium rare because we trained in the dishwasher to work the grill. Your server wasn't as friendly because she's working extra shifts to cover her co worker who is awaiting COVID results


Brady Viccellio

A day in the life.


Alvin Williams

All fair points, all very realistic. And I think most of those things are being experienced by most restaurant owners.


Brady Viccellio

It's easy for a guest who, you know, it's hit or miss it just, you know, some nights just go perfectly, you have a full staff, and everything's great. And then, you know, you come in one day, and, and, and half your staff doesn't show up and you start making calls. And they are the phone starts ringing and they say hi, you know, whatever happened, you know, we were all at a party, and there was somebody with COVID there. So waiting on these results, or whatever it is. And a lot of times the perception is that we're ill prepared, or we've taken too many reservations. And we're greedy, people tend to jump to a negative perception on what's going on there. And I mean, all the time, we're doing the best we can to do the best job for our guests. And that's our number one priority. And then the holidays, when we're really I mean, we're going to be busier like I said, this December than last December. And it's, there's it's not going to be without challenge.


Alvin Williams

I'm hopeful that everyone will be joyous and happy because last year, well, so glum and down, I think people are going to be happy to be out and happy to be celebrating, happy to be with each other. And, you know, having a having a drink and having a meal. And I think everyone was going to be upbeat. So I don't think people are going to be Debbie Downer as well, my hope is that people are going to be upbeat, and joyous. And if things do take a little bit longer, that they'll understand, you know, just order another drink if you got to wait a little bit longer for your food.


Brady Viccellio

I agree. Of course I'm hopeful.


Alvin Williams

You know, a lot of restaurants went around last last year. And then I know a lot of them still haven't come back. So there's fewer places to dine and you know, fewer choices. So I think people will be positive.


Brady Viccellio

Everybody’s, you know, pushing their cards around back in October and we start to see Christmas decorations show up in the Home Depot, wherever it is. All those things that we put up somebody has to do it. For example right now I've got three employees and my mom working to put up Christmas decorations at Steinhilber’s.


Alvin Williams

I was just in my storage unit was in there to get some catering equipment. For a job we had the other day and I saw the I saw the Christmas wreaths hanging up there, I thought, oh, Lord, we gotta start decorating. So we got to, you know, figure out who's going to do that, you know, already short staffed, but we're going to have to maybe have a little Christmas decorating party with a couple bottles of wine after service one night and see if everyone can get involved in an help put those up.


Brady Viccellio

For some it's a big undertaking. And it's and it's can be fun, but fun things are done, generally done when you want to do them. And then these types of things, it doesn't really matter. It could be cold, it could be hot. It could be, you know, whatever uncomfortable. After a long, you know, you could schedule it for Tuesday after burger night, and it could be a huge burger night. Yeah. And you know, Everyone's tired. Everyone's tired. It's just one of the things that's got to be done and it and it brings cheer to the to the staff, it brings cheer to our guests.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, that's why we do that to put up the holiday decorations, because it just makes it a warmer, nicer holiday feel for our for our guests that are coming in. So we have to find the time to do that. And the manpower.


Brady Viccellio

I think in in about a year ago, we had a little bit of a Christmas episode. And did we talk about the difference in Christmas in England versus Christmas? In the United States?


Alvin Williams

Not sure we did. From my recollection, a lot of Christmas in England is or was to me, it was either you down the pub with a group of friends around a fireplace and just drinking pints of beer and having lots of laughs or you are in the family home with my family. We have lots of different cousins and aunts and uncles and we would just go to one of the houses and everyone would get together there and cook together.


Brady Viccellio

I mean, the holidays in general. I mean, I know there's one day in particular. That's a little different. The day after Christmas.


Alvin Williams

Oh, Boxing Day. Yeah. You like Boxing Day, don't you?


Brady Viccellio

I just think it's funny. That's the thing. Yeah, Boxing Day


Alvin Williams

is a real holiday. It's I guess you supposed to get all your wrapping paper, throw it away or something. I can't remember what it was. I just remember I was having fun. What is Boxing Day to you? What do you remember?


Brady Viccellio

Just remember it, seen it on the calendar and not know what the hell it was. But I don't think it has to do with boxing stuff up.


Alvin Williams

I think that's a myth. I can't remember what I just remember was I was always off, you know, school or work or whatever. It's like a bank holiday.


Brady Viccellio

According to the internet I'm seeing Boxing Day was traditionally celebrated on December 26, the day after Christmas day and was originally created for the service Yeah, the help the how the household help, were they after Christmas, you box up some gifts, I guess presumably the ones that were rejected.


Alvin Williams

Maybe they would call it a Christmas box because I remember my aunt used to always say how come up to the house and get the Christmas box. So that's what they called it. So I think they're the landowners who had servants and that kind of stuff would Yeah, wrap up a little gift and give it to them. And they would have the day off as well. So that was traditionally the day off for the workers, because they will be working on Christmas Day. Because, you know, they got to help out the higher ups.


Brady Viccellio

So the elite would get in their motor car and head over to the getting the battle in Chinatown. Yeah, distribute some real gifts.


Alvin Williams

I think so. Do you think we're going to have lots of larger parties this year in the restaurant? Or do you think it's just going to be regular smaller parties?


Brady Viccellio

Think both. Normally, for me, December is primarily made up of parties of I'd say 12 or more. I get a few that the smaller twos for sixes are kind of December's not a particularly busy month for them. It's the larger party so um, that's what I'm expecting. That's where it's been in the past. That's what I have


Alvin Williams

you do anything, anything differently that you do in during the holidays that you don't normally do during the year? You know, any special dishes or anything, anything sell better than usual?


Brady Viccellio

Not really, because most of the time most of those people are looking for what they had last year at the same event. And you know, we don't really want to change it up on them because it becomes a tradition.


Alvin Williams

What about mince pies you ever heard a mince pies? Yeah, like a meat pie? No, it's not me. An English mince pie is a dessert. And it's fruit. It's all dried fruit. So let's say raisins and currents and maybe dried apricots and it's all mixed together. And fruitcake. No, it's not a cake. It's a pie because it's in. It's in a pastry crust.


Brady Viccellio

Right. All right, we have a fruit version of a fruit and it's been I guess, I think we call it mincemeat.


Alvin Williams

Even though it's not meat. It's just dried fruit. I don't know why looking at me like that's what it's called. I didn't invent the name, but that's what it is. It's a mince pie. And it's delicious. You can have it by itself or you can have it with custard. Sometimes they come iced with like royal icing on top. Mince pies just go ahead. Go look it up on Google because you think I'm I don't think mince pie is delicious. My bartender brought me one the other night him and his girlfriend made him because I'm going to make mince pies and he thought of me because he knew I was British. And it was absolutely delicious.


Brady Viccellio

There's a fruit mince pie. And there's a meat and fruit mince pie.


Alvin Williams

No, there's no meat and fruit mince pie. Okay, all right. It's just who says that early mince


Brady Viccellio

pies one of them has several names including mutton pie, shred pie and Christmas pie. Typically, its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat to it. A range of fruits and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg served around Christmas the savory Christmas pie as it became known. It was associated with supposedly Catholic idolatry and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through the Victorian era. Although by then its recipe had become sweeter yeah and because


Alvin Williams

I would frown on it if it had goat in it. I mean who eats mutton pie with fruits that's crazy No wonder they adapted the recipe got rid of that one and just went with the street fruit today


Brady Viccellio

The mince pie usually made without meat, but often including suet and other animal fats. Yeah, in the remains a popular seasonal treat. enjoyed by many across the United Kingdom and Ireland. So maybe some animal fat


Alvin Williams

But it's delicious. Anyway, so mince pies. So mince meat is not always just about me ground up before.


Brady Viccellio

Well it'd be a mince pie or Christmas pie. And mince meat.


Alvin Williams

I got some good news for you ready? As we're reading lots of articles today. So this is from the National National Restaurant Association and it says that 62% of consumers want restaurant gift cards for the holidays. So that's good for our industry. Right? Let me give you some stats.


Brady Viccellio

It's good for the for the gift giver to, yeah, you can purchase gift cards from I think both of us online, right?


Alvin Williams

Absolutely. Yeah. So here's some of the stats. 62% of consumers hoped to receive their restaurant gift cards for the holidays of those consumers 62% Want a gift card to their favorite restaurant, while 20% Want to try a new spot. About one quarter of consumers said that they would use the gift card as soon as possible. While 38% said they would use it within a few weeks. I don't know, another 38% said that they would save it for a special occasion. So that's good. I mean, people buy those during holidays, some using straightaways. Some using special occasions, some use them later down the year, it gets, you know, spread out evenly. So it is the gift that keeps on giving.


Brady Viccellio

From the comfort of your own home, go to steinys.com or LBIaskin.com.


Alvin Williams

Or cobaltgrille.com. And yeah, you can just order them straight online through toast.


Brady Viccellio

Or to the check podcast.com where you can find links to all of that.


Alvin Williams

That's a one stop shop and a One Stop website. All right there.


Brady Viccellio

We should get some check podcast T shirts made so people can be so proud of, we could probably just contact the was it 12 listeners we have now and just tell them we have a T shirt.


Brady Viccellio

Mike, Jim, Betty, give us a call. Let me know what size. Alvinn sounds like we're getting ready for a big December, whether it's going to happen or not. We need to expect and be ready for big December.


Alvin Williams

Absolutely. Speaking about weather. What if it snows?


Brady Viccellio

And it's always a possibility.


Alvin Williams

But there's always other things other than, you know, COVID issues we have to worry about. You know, weather could be bad or? But um, yeah, I think we're going to have a great holiday season.


Brady Viccellio

I'm looking forward to it. And I'm looking forward to maybe check the check episode or two on on some holiday. Some holiday fun.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, we may even be doing some cocktail mixing, orpreparing some holiday favorites.


Brady Viccellio

We've done a lot of cocktail drinking. We haven't done much mixing.


Alvin Williams

We can mix them and maybe we'll make a little video and put that up on our website and people can go there and take a look.


Brady Viccellio

Alright, well, we'll call that a teaser. But we that means we got to make good on it. So


Alvin Williams

You're going to make You're going to make me a famous eggnog that you make every year when you come and destroy my kitchen. So we might as well just video it video. Alright, I can do that. It's a deal, and I think has something to cook. All right. All right. Well, everybody. Thanks for listening to our podcast.


Brady Viccellio

I'm Brady.


Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin. This is the Check.

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