Served: A Great Plan that Never Takes Off
The T-Dance was a great idea. Eric, our bar manager, laid it out very officially during our weekly meeting with the owner—there were bullet points and numbers galore.
I never heard of a T-Dance, nor had most with whom I discussed it.
My mom turned out to be a T-Dance expert though. "Of course! The gay boys love it!" she chimed, when I brought it up. She had worked in New Jersey with many successful, wealthy gay gentlemen. They spent their summer Sunday afternoons drinking by the beach, the sun shining and music pumping. And that, in a nutshell, is a T-Dance.
A Case Is Made
Our garden would be the perfect T-Dance spot, Eric explained. It is stunning, idyllic, and big. What better place to spend a springtime afternoon? Our restaurant is just a few blocks from the heart of Philadelphia's Gayborhood, where the street signs are emblazoned with rainbows, women smooch in the streets, and transvestites strut their stuff.
Our early crowd consisted mostly of older people from the neighborhood, families and pre-theater diners, but the second seating became substantially younger. Most of these guests were on dates, and many of these dates involved two people of the same sex. Could we create a T-Dance venue?
The T-Dance itself would bring us big bucks, Eric promised. Minimum: a few grand a pop. He broke it down. T-Dancers would pay a $10 cover, which would buy them their first beer or cocktail. After that, we'd sell cheap drinks at really reasonable prices. We wouldn't need much staff, just a few bartenders and a few kegs. Our costs would be next to nothing.
One thing we were missing: an outdoor bar. The bar would be an asset to the restaurant. Passers-by would notice: "Hey, there's a bar in this gorgeous garden!" Who doesn't love drinking outside on a beautiful day or night?
Let the Dance Begin
The owners brought in a bar. It was an old green marble clunker of a thing, abandoned in an old building that they had a share in. The bar had seen better days.
Still, it was a bar. On a beautiful Sunday, we stocked it with a million lemon and lime wedges, plastic cups, bottom shelf vodka. We were ready to roll.
We had run a small advertising campaign in our own windows, email lists, and in a few of the local gay papers. Still, we answered many confused inquiries.
"Will there be high tea?"
"Will there be dancing?"
We clarified that it was a "tea dance" with neither tea nor dancing. "But there will be drinking," we explained, "And mellow music, and hanging out."
I was a little skeptical. We worked to get our guests, one great meal at a time. Eric was predicting the garden would be flooded with hundreds of people, that we'd have to turn some away. Our chef was very skeptical. But the owners loved the idea: easy money! So I bit my tongue and hoped my doubt would prove unfounded.
Where Are the Dancers?
The first Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining, the flowers blooming, and the music was rocking (we had bought outdoor speakers, with my dad's guidance). We were ready. We threw open our garden's wrought iron gates, and waited for the revelers to arrive. And waited.
A few of Eric's friends strolled in. They stood around the bar, drinking their Bud Lights. Some of the friends brought friends. Our biggest group was a young gay pastry chef who worked at a neighboring restaurant, and his coworkers. Hurrah!
We counted the cash. A few hundred dollars.
"It needs some time to catch on," we all said. Chin up.
That would be the most we ever saw from the T Dance.
The next week there were the same few friends, maybe about eight of them. The next week, five. The next week, one loyal friend. The poor old bar sat neglected.
Maybe we hadn't given the event sufficient press, or time. But I had the sneaking suspicion that the T-Dance wasn't quite right, wasn't us. It didn't jibe with who we are.
The owners thought, for a brief moment, we could host a big party and make big, easy money. But I think the best business practice of all is doing the very best possible job with what we do. Which is serving memorable, beautiful meals every night. And every night, doing that a little better.