Stewing Over New Year's: S.F. Restaurants Brace For Chaotic Night Of Crowds And Computer Glitches (San Francisco Chronicle) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

``What we're nervous about is that people are going to get turned off because they don't want to deal with this...''

Understatement of the new year!


Stewing Over New Year's
S.F. restaurants brace for chaotic night of crowds and computer glitches

Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 1999
)1999 San Francisco Chronicle

[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

Andrew Wolfe just wants to be a restaurant manager, not a gladiator. But this is New Year's Eve 1999 and the battle is on.

For the manager of Red Herring at the Embarcadero, as well as dozens of other San Francisco restaurateurs, New Year's Eve presents a unique set of obstacles no one would wish on his or her stiffest competitor -- among them Y2K shutdowns and potential riots.

With the pressure so high, an unusually high number have decided to rent out their places for private parties or just chuck the whole thing and stay closed -- a move almost unheard of on a lucrative, high-profile night like New Year's Eve. Among those closing are Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Boulevard, Gary Danko and Jardiniere.

For the brave warriors who decided to stay open, though, the operating principle is to prepare and then prepare some more.

Consider Wolfe's to-do list:

-- Attend a strategy session with police to figure out the implications of having more than 100,000 people swarming a city-sponsored Embarcadero fireworks celebration exploding just outside Red Herring's doors.

-- Hire four security guards and stockpile materials to fix broken windows and other damage.

-- Find a generator in case a Y2K bug shuts down the city's electrical system.

-- Tell guests that when it comes to transportation, they and their cars are on their own. His valet service, because of a failure to get insurance coverage for New Year's Eve- and Y2K-related mishaps, has bailed for the night.

Even if Wolfe could find a free- lance replacement, the odds are that it would take hours for the valets to navigate packed streets and return cars to patrons.

On top of that, he will have to pay a band 50 percent more than usual and pay his regular staff double-time so they will be sure to show up.

``My biggest concern is getting my customers and staff here and back safely,'' Wolfe said. ``(But) I've been through it all, seen it all. This will be one more notch in my wine opener.''

For most restaurants open New Year's Eve, one of the fundamental challenges is to make sure diners pay their bills. Several San Francisco restaurants are having patrons prepay in case computers crash at midnight.

At Montage in the Metreon, where dishes like foie gras club sandwiches will enliven the menu, waiters will use old-fashioned paper tickets and calculate everything by hand. If things get really out of control, the restaurant staff will turn to the five-page Metreon emergency Y2K evacuation plan.

At other restaurants, customers must fax signed credit card slips ahead of time to ensure payment.

``No. 1, we don't want empty seats,'' said Andrew Freeman, who handles public relations for Scala's Bistro, Kuleto's, Grand Cafe and Fifth Floor, among other downtown restaurants. ``No. 2, something might happen to the computer system at midnight. We're prepared to go manual if we have to.''

But Freeman and the managers of restaurants he represents have bigger worries. Many of them will serve dinner near ground zero of last year's disastrous New Year's Eve celebration, in which hundreds rioted during the city's Union Square party.

People threw bottles at police on horseback. Parked cars were trashed. Store windows were covered with spray paint, and 35 people were arrested.

This year, the Union Square celebration is a spiritual one, with 25,000 free tickets available at local churches. The area will be surrounded by police barricades, so people heading to one of the restaurants inside the secured area will have to find a way to get to them. Those with reservations at Scala's, for example, will be instructed in a confirmation letter to meet a restaurant security guard at Stockton and Sutter streets to escort them in.

``What we're nervous about is that people are going to get turned off because they don't want to deal with this,'' Freeman said. ``Initially we thought about closing, but restaurants are built to serve the public and create memories. People will have a memory of where they spent this holiday. For us, it means guest loyalty.''

But it also means more stress than many in the Bay Area restaurant business have ever experienced.

``I think there will be a huge sigh of relief when it's over,'' Freeman said.

Nancy Oakes of Boulevard has no desire to be one of the food gladiators of New Year's Eve 1999. She decided in July to keep the doors at her Embarcadero restaurant firmly shut.

Oakes thinks it is going to be plain crazy in the streets around her restaurant.

``I feel somewhat justified now,'' she said, especially after she learned that police and medical personnel are turning a nearby pier into a temporary jail and field hospital.

Oakes also did not want to be perceived as gouging diners. High food costs for luxury items like lobster and caviar and the extra charges for items like security and a generator would have meant a ridiculously high price for dinner, she said.

How much to charge for the last supper of the century without appearing to gouge customers has been the subject of much debate among the Bay Area restaurant community. Although the average New Year's Eve dinner price at nicer restaurants runs between $100 and $250, a few are offering several- course dinners with wine and, in most cases, entertainment, for more than $500 per person.

Ritz-Carlton chef Sylvain Portay has created a $550, six-course tribute to the man many consider to be the chef of the century, Auguste Escoffier.

At Nob Hill Restaurant in the Mark Hopkins Hotel, $600 buys a five-course affair with drinks, dancing and party favors.

Fifth Floor chef George Marrone has created a $500, six-course menu with wine that features pairs of dishes for each course. Diners get a duet of Iranian and Russian caviar for the starters, a duet of French and domestic foie gras for the second course, and so on. But to make the evening even more special, Morrone is signing special plates printed with the menu for keepsakes.

Plates seem to be the high-end restaurant souvenir of choice this year. Diners at the Ritz-Carlton will receive inscribed Limoges plates. The Grand Cafe's $275 late dinner includes a plate outlining the evening's five-course menu, with chef Denis Soriano's signature.

At the Starlight Room, where an average of 50 calls a day come in for a virtually sold-out event, guests who paid as much as $600 per couple for prime booths will leave with a silver ice bucket, etched Champagne flutes and a disposable camera -- ideally filled with snapshots from the evening.

At Splendido, things will be a little different. Diners who attend the $175 late seating will get a hand-cast brass bell so they can ring in the New Year just like chef Giovanni Perticone's Roman ancestors did.

New Year's Eve prices are steeper than ever. But to the Bay Area's restaurant warriors, even the most expensive dinner seems like a steal when compared with the best-outfitted gladiator in town, The Ritz-Carlton.

The hotel is offering a $100,000 deluxe package that includes three nights in the presidential suite, a chauffeur-driven Jaguar for the weekend, a tour of Napa Valley, matching gold Bulgari watches and two private dinners for eight.

It will even throw in two massages, a makeover and dry cleaning.

So far, there are no takers.



-- Chef George Marrone's``Evening of Duets''

Russian and Iranian caviar with California sparkling wine and French Champagne

Domestic and French foie gras with French Sauterneand Hungarian Tokai wine

Domestic and Australian crustaceans with California Chardonnay and French white Burgundy

Argentinian and Japanese beef with California Cabernet Sauvignon and French Bordeaux

French and Swiss cheeseswith California Pinot Noirand French red Burgundy.

French and Hawaiian chocolates with a pair of rare Madeiras.

Price: $500, includingtax and tip.


Chef Sylvain Portay's ``Tribute to Auguste Escoffier''

Theodora consomme, which was served in 1908 to the King and Queen of Norway.

Russian Aspic of Sole Filets from the 1944 British Royal Court menu in Scotland.

Parisian Timbale of Crustacean, which was served in 1887 to Escoffier's friends at The Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo.

Beef London-House, which was served in 1911 to the queen of Holland while she cruised on the battleship ``Edgard Quinet.'' Frosted Tangerine, served for Christmas and New Year's at The Savoy Hotel in London.

Croquembouche, served at London's Savoy Hotel as part of the menu for a royal wedding.

Price: $550, includingtax and tip.


Chef Richard Ormsby's ``God Help Us All the End is Near'' dinner

Hot black-eyed pea truffle

Dungeness crab tian with avocado marscapone or Maine lobster ``cappuccino'' with black truffle tortellini

Grilled tiger prawns with vanilla saffron sauce and potatomousseline or seared smoked scallop with Osetra caviar sauce and potato blini

Grilled veal loin and Maine lobster medallions and foie gras baked potato or ahi steak poivre and prawn tempura with wild mushroom potato gratin.

Trio of creme brulees or a battle of the chocolates featuring Valhrona devil's food cake, Scharffen Berger lunar tartor El Rey bon-bon.

Price: First seating, $145,Second seating $195.

Wine not included.

-- Diane J. Squire (, December 11, 1999


Anyone who thinks were not globally interconnected... just LOOK at those menu items!


(Now... Whats for lunch?)

-- Diane J. Squire (, December 11, 1999.

``I feel somewhat justified now,'' she said, especially after she learned that police and medical personnel are turning a nearby pier into a temporary jail and field hospital.


-- Andre Coltrin (, December 11, 1999.

More reasons to be the %@# OUT of cities of any size days at least before rollover, and not come back for a long time.

-- MinnesotaSmith (, December 11, 1999.

Cavscout's deluxe menu for, Oh let's say, May 1st, 2000:

Apertif: a little apricot brandy I've got stashed (shhh, don't tell Ed, my nosy next door neighbor).

Hors d'oevres of freshly canned Vienna suasages in a light Heinz ketchup sauce

Soup: chicken top ramen, an oriental delight

Salad: iceberg lettuce (if the gardening goes well) topped with powdered ranch dressing made with powdered milk.

Entree: a mesmerizing melange of Dennison's chili lovingly ladled over a steaming bed of white rice, tenderly garnished chunks of SPAM and sprinkled with parmesan cheese

Dessert: Reese's peanut butter cups, if I still have any left by then.

After dinner cocktail: straight shot of JD i've got stashed.....

After dinner entertainment: Quiet stroll around the property with appropriate "equipment".......

-- (, December 11, 1999.


-- ghost (fading into, December 11, 1999.

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