The Unfocused Cost of Restaurant Parties

*I say unfocused as opposed to hidden because hidden would imply that they were intentionally and successfully kept from view. It’s rather that the average person with their lenses fogged over miss these absurd and disgusting costs. Not having the luxury of allowing things to just “be as they be”, I let my thoughts plague me and probably foolishly think writing about them here in this blog will somehow lead to a future without all the fucking  bullshit that has come between us—cubiclizing us. No, I’m not above these things, I’m below them, because I let them aggravate me, but I hope I can convey some of the aggravation to you, and maybe a critical mass of us can turn the tide and reclaim our lives from these stupid fucking neo-traditions.

So, if you are like me, you are invited to a few ridiculous friend and family parties a year where they are hosted at a particular restaurant that is centrally located to most, but not necessarily convenient. The party purpose and the reason for the party might be as follows:

1) A 75th birthday party – because the children in their 40s and 50s would be plagued by guilt if they didn’t do something for their parent.

2) A christening – obviously not really for the 6 month old, but for…?

3) A high school graduation – big fucking deal, it’s more of an achievement not to graduate and have the balls to make that call (in my opinion and ill-advised decision unless you’ve got some obligations that are more important).

4) A 25 year wedding anniversary – every single person involved would rather have put their funding towards 2 plane tickets to send these people to Peru for a month, even possibly paying off their employers for “reverse-paid vacation-leave”, than everyone losing their Saturday night and not really paying homage to the couple, but rather just chasing after their own children, or awkwardly schmoozing with family acquaintances, and/or having a few drinks from the over-charging open bar (or worse, unopened bar) and imagining that you were in Peru, or back in college…

 

So, after reviewing these, and I think there is at least some degree of truth in all of these—sometimes more true for certain family/friend circles—I wanted to talk about who is REALLY benefiting from these. There are many beneficiaries:

FIRST, most directly: THE RESTAURANT AND CATERERS. After gratuity the restaurant charges $27 per plate (for the NJ area), even though there is a restricted menu or buffet, that probably in turn cost them $3-5 per plate, maximum. The large crowd means profitable scales of economy in the kitchen processing. If it’s Italian slop the per plate cost can be taken down even further to $1.50, diluted with unhealthy pasta and bread. Beyond food there is the cost of building lease and non-kitchen staff (I factored kitchen staff in to the per plate price), but this only adds in to make it $16 per plate, so all in all $11 per plate is the profit for the owners, which is an OKAY profit, but this is in the stressful restaurant business where restaurants go flop all the time and the real beneficiaries are the owners of the commercial property who rent it out to chronic losers. Just like their time is limited, so is yours—you are encouraged to be out before 4 hours. (After-party in the parking lot! What of the awkward young men pushing valet parking? A further intrusion of capitalism into every basic aspect of our lives.) However, you might like the excuse to end your time with the people you invited after a mere 4 hours, but then you have to ask, was it really worth spending the money to have this event, or was it just socially required that you do so? At least you don’t have to clean up after yourselves, though 12 committed dwarves show in the hobbit what a small task that really is if everyone pitches in and basically only cleans up after themselves, not a buzz kill but rather a community uniting effort!

SECOND, less directly but more sinisterly: THE HALLMARK INDUSTRY, i.e. gift bags, cards, and thank you cards. Unless there is a “no gift policy” at your event, chances are that time come people will be walking in, giving you the kiss on the cheek, and next thing they ask is “where would you like this?” You take the gift bag off their hands and put it in some corner, where some underpaid busboy briefly daydreams about stealing the contents, until he realizes it’s probably baby under garments. The gift bags are unnecessarily embroidered with plastic flash, fetching $1 to $2, not replacing wrapping paper because sometimes inside is a wrapped gift, what the fuck? Anyways, being that this giftbag industry is present at all these Saturday or Sunday events, all across this over-consuming country, who knows how much they make in a weekend? At your party there will be a couple of hold outs who wrap the gift in newspaper, or reuse a giftbag that they previously stowed away, but these exceptions are still spending money on some gift, so they are not as true to their ideals, some of them painfully conscious of this (myself included).

Now, a formal thanks is in order for these gifts and “the present of your presence”, so once the stressful party is done, there is the stressful job of tallying the gifts and money to see if you came close to breaking even after the restaurant costs, and all the while keeping tabs of who gave you what so you can indicate that in the thank you cards you send back to them. Knowing what they gave you is especially important to note, because it’s going to be the main piece of unique information that goes into your thank you card, which will be half-lies such as “it was good to see you”. Not a lie in that you don’t enjoy seeing them, but a lie because you were spread so thin that you didn’t really see them. I think it would be more appropriate to write “it was good to glance at you”. Don’t forget the stamp on that envelope!

THIRD, most dominantly: THE PETROLEUM AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRIES. The cost of driving a sedan is 58 cents per mile. Why so high? This includes purchase of car, maintenance, repairs, and fuel. I skew the average driving distance upwards a bit because there will be a few out-of-staters, and it comes to roughly 21 miles. Thats $12 per group of 2 and a half persons, plus many arrive in gas guzzling machines and had to take toll roads/bridges to get to the restaurant, so their price will be several dollars higher.

 

I’ve grown weary of writing about this, there’s only one of me and as I have said previously capitalism systemically (though not systematically?) wears us down as it intrudes further into our intimate spaces… I must go pay bills, and fulfill other bureaucratic rituals.

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2 thoughts on “The Unfocused Cost of Restaurant Parties

  1. Charley, this post is awesome because it sums up a lot of my feelings about these events that I always dread going to, but have never quite been able to articulate why I loathe them so deeply. I feel that my fondest memories of being with my friends and family are the times when we didn’t spend enormous sums of money to be together. The times when we cooked a simple meal together, went for a walk in woods, or sat around a fire playing music without worrying about who was picking up the tab and who we would have to thank for bringing us gifts that we didn’t even want.

    Our culture has the idea that “relaxing” with friends and family requires other people to serve us, whether by parking our cars, cooking our meals, entertaining us with their music, cleaning up after us, and then driving our cars back to the curb so we don’t have to walk 100 feet across the parking lot. I challenge any family who wants to celebrate an event to spend four hours in each other’s company without spending any money. As in a single dollar. (Maybe unrealisic for those who are far away and need to spend gas money, but a lot of families are close enough to hop on their bikes to see each other). How many families could actually go through with it without having Uncle Phil fuck it up for everyone? And as someone who is graduating tomorrow from college, I am thankful that nobody has tried to throw me a fucking graduation party!

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    • Karl, I agree whole heartedly that being at a house with friends are where memories commit to our brains more often and more fully. Love those walk in the woods too of course, with the dappled shade on a sunny day. Followed by a fire at dusk? Utopia! So simple and good.

      As for restaurants, as much as they try to hide it, there’s something “institutional” feeling about it, and I think its what you point out, like people serving us makes hierarchy glare too… should’ve put that in the post! So I think you are right to draw a contrast with home life. And I fucking hate valet parking! should’ve put that in there too. I had to deal with that this weekend, when they were trying to bully my wife (who was driving) to valet park, but we snuck around another way to then park the car on our own. So now you are in the post college times? Hope the job hunt goes well… another post could be devoted to application and interviewing bullshit and anxieties. Another day!

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