Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Mommy Dearest: If you haven't already made reservations for a Mother's Day meal, chances are you'll be feeding Mom in the back seat of your car, after a stop at a drive-through window. Moms are genetically programmed to love you no matter what. But even she may reach her limit once she hears, "Do you want to super-size that?" on her special day.

If you have made reservations, prepare to take a financial beating. Many restaurant owners view their Mother's Day customers the same way Fife Symington looked at union pension fund trustees: as suckers ripe for exploitation.

As on that other big eating-out holiday, Valentine's Day, your favorite restaurant may jack up prices, run "specials" that aren't, and have you in and out so fast you'll think you've been eating at LensCrafters. When you call for reservations, make sure you know what you're getting into.

The Price Is Right: Some ideas just seem daffy from the git-go: transatlantic blimp travel; the Scottsdale Galleria; the "Chuckle" on page two of the Arizona Republic.

But if they were giving out a Nobel Prize for the world's dumbest idea, you'd probably think Michael Vasos would be delivering an acceptance speech in Sweden.

He runs a London restaurant called Just Around the Corner. And according to a report in Arizona Beverage Analyst, an industry magazine, he runs it like no other restaurant on the planet: Customers pay what they please for their meals.

That's right--the menus have no prices for food or wine. At the end of the meal, diners receive a blank bill, to be filled in at their discretion.

Here's where things really get screwy. Vasos reports that customers generally pay 20 percent more than what a comparable meal would cost in other restaurants. That's because he goes to great lengths to deliver first-rate fare and service. His customers appreciate that, and pay accordingly. And they're making reservations weeks in advance for the privilege.

How did he get his idea? Vasos says it came to him while watching people tip in conventionally priced restaurants. When the meal went well, customers responded generously. All he did was push the concept, extending full financial responsibility to diners for all aspects of the meal.

Can you imagine how this revolutionary idea might go over elsewhere? Actually, in an ideal world, I think it could benefit both restaurant owners and customers. Because "prices" would be based strictly on the perceived quality of the fare and service (and not, say, on labor, overhead or food costs), owners would have an incentive to strive for excellence. And, in this ideal world, diners would be able to gauge and properly reward the level of excellence. Diners get a higher-quality dining-out experience; restaurant owners fatten the bottom line.

I'd love to see a high-profile local chef take a small experimental step. Maybe RoxSand, Christopher or Vincent could pick out a single dish and make it pay-as-you-wish for a couple of weeks. The results, I bet, would be intriguing.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

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Howard Seftel