Skip Schwarzman

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 3 2000 9:00 PM

Skip Schwarzman

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It was the best of conventions; it was the worst of conventions.

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Some of these parties were a pleasure. Yesterday's and today's lunches: good clients happy to be partners with us in creating a gracious atmosphere for their guests. Guests who become our guests, too, when we get to participate as welcomed team members in the planning stages.

Then there are parties like tonight's event at a nightclub. Getting information from the planner was like pulling teeth. From a shark. There were scheduled site inspections, walk-through's where decisions would be made on where buffets should go, colors that should be used, and what would work as a menu since there's really no kitchen on site. How many walk-through's do you think there were? At least three that I know of. We got advance notice for only one of them, and that was without the planner or client present! Of course, the fourth walk-through happened today. With the client. Who changed everything one more time. Aarrrrghhhhhhh!

But hey, no problem! Don't bother letting us know. We're just eight blocks away from the site, blissfully making the food for 1,000 people and assigning staff to their responsibilities for the night.

Man, am I Bushed.

We were busy this week. But we've been busier. Since Sunday we've produced seven events. That's enough to keep us honest, and for the first week in August it's great. We could've had more if the time we invested upfront with an out-of-town event planner had produced a deposit check for us. But it turned out to be a learning experience: Cover your ass by not extending yourself too much before getting a commitment. And in this case commitment meant money.

Yet, what is a business in our position to do? Here comes the convention; make hay while the sun shines, right? But Lynn and I are not of the slash-and-burn mentality. It would have been easy (easier?) to have an attitude like that this week; hell, these Republicans are going to be here once and only once, wring 'em out for all they're worth. If the coffee's more like warm water with a brown crayon thrown in than like Juan Valdez's best, or the pork chop's a skinny little thing, or the service is kinda slow 'cause you shaved the price by shaving the staffing level, well … who cares? They ain't ever coming back this way.

Some people operate that way. Sometimes they're right and I'd be wrong. But it doesn't work for me, and in truth there's probably a middle way that would allow Feast Your Eyes to profit more while still delivering good value. We've hitched our wagon to the high-aesthetic star, and we'll live or die by that decision.

I'll tell you this, many of the city's restaurants are unhappy about having invested anything in getting ready for the convention. The word in the food biz here in Philly is that a lotta lotta lotta restaurants are quite disappointed about the business they're (not) seeing from the 'ol Right pf Center crowd. Not that the Dems would necessarily be any better. Nothing political in this, just tallying up the till at the end of the day.

Evidently the really high-profile restaurants are doing quite well (as in, completely booked), the hotels are jammin' (surprise!), and believe it or not, the street vendors are doing great! Seems there are too many receptions, parties, and fêtes to allow a significant number of delegates to fill our restaurants to overflowing. And I know that at least the very high profile, well-located upscale men's clothing store where we operate a cafe has been slow all week.

I'm not so sure everyone saw convention dollars come their way. Of course, we did, and so did many other businesses in Philly. In any event, it's important to remember that the spin-off of sheckels happens only in a pretty centralized area as far as retail shops are concerned. And that's true whether you're hyping or dissing the Republican or Democratic convention, Philadelphia or Los Angeles. Center City Philadelphia saw retail action; businesses in Philadelphia's outer neighborhoods, Chestnut Hill, Southwest Philly, the Great Northeast, or North Philly didn't see any spike in their income graphs. Meanwhile the whole town shouldered the cost of the city's involvement.

Here I come up against a philosophical itch I can't successfully scratch: I'm thrilled that the convention came to town, and while there's a question as to whether the local economy sees a net gain or loss after factoring in the costs associated with hosting the convention, I'm even more thrilled that money's been spent with Feast Your Eyes. Yet ...

I have this inner Social Democrat that says, "Hey, how come an enterprise that has so much money spent on activities and entertaining gets awarded so much volunteer effort?" I'm not whining about "volunteer" as in donations from local businesses. I mean volunteer as in the thousands, and yes, there are thousands, of local residents who've donated their time to be welcoming ambassadors, or city beautifiers, or envelope stuffers. I appreciate the value of volunteering in order to be part of the political process, but the dichotomy of using (needing!) a volunteer labor force to host and pull off the convention, all in the face of so much (essentially) discretionary spending, begs for campaign (and convention) reform.

Oops, sorry. McCain didn't win the nomination, did he?

Lastly, there's the question of Where in the World Is Gloria Estefan? For months you could talk to any 11 people on any one day and be told that Gloria was performing, during the convention, at any one of 13 sites during the five days! She's here! She's there! She's everywhere! You would have thought the woman had been cloned. Well, as I hear it, the skinny on this is that The Gloria was finally assigned (by the Committee on Arrangements?) to perform at an event in Fairmount Park. Seems the food and beverage particulars were that hot dogs and hamburgers were to be served, and The Gloria took offense at being party to such a lower-caste menu and said, "All things considered, I'd rather not be in Philadelphia." So, no Gloria Estefan.

See how much clout the caterer has? 

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