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"U" is for Underpromise, Overdeliver

There were only five U's, which is too few to pick three favorites. Of the two we loved, both caught fire and only one, Umami, has reopened. We have faith that Underground will resurface someday.

In the meantime, as we move through these last few alphabits, we're taking more opportunities to reflect on the experience of writing this blog.  And, while we've come to understand Madison more (and we love it here, obvs) we sometimes feel the need to offer, um, constructive criticism.  It might come across as mere ranting, but what we say, we say with love.

For this wrap-up, we got to thinking about promises and flakiness.

There was a time pre-A to Z when Nichole dragged JM to Peacemeal solely because she'd had some amazing lemonade there.  She liked the food and though she knew he'd never eat a TVP burger willingly, maybe a salad and that great lemonade would be OK?  He consented, we went, they were out of lemonade.  In our tiny little world of the time, this was a disaster, and the kind of thing that eventually inspired us to use a list.

See, Madison's culture of idealism doesn't seem to give a disincentive for being flaky. (It's true that Peacemeal closed, but that's an extreme example - what a fantastic world we'd live in if a volunteer-run vegan place on State Street could stay in business.)  We love free-spirited dreaming and even all-out weirdness.  We've eaten at many a place that had weird hours, weird relationships with the customers, weird ideas about fusion cuisine, weird ways of ordering, etc.

This has nothing to do with tolerance and acceptance.  Madison is so free you can almost be whatever you want.  Which is why it's so frustrating (to us, maybe we're the weird ones) when self-definitions aren't lived up to.  We're not talking about changing your mind or dealing with emergencies. But it's a good idea to keep things simple enough that they're within the reach of success. And it's imperative to always be honest and to stick to your word.

If you say you're going to do something, do it. If not, just don't say it.

Hawaiian timeSabores Latinos en Pepe's Casa

Left: Hawaiian time, unpredictable but honest. Right: Madison time, just plain unreliable.

If you can't be open six days a week, don't run yourself ragged trying to be.  If your delivery driver is also your only waiter, don't put "We Deliver" in your Yellow Pages ad.  If you don't post a wi-fi policy, don't snark about customers for using your wi-fi "too much" (and customers, don't camp out at cafes for the wi-fi. Go to the library).  If you put up a bus stop, stop the bus there. If you don't have the details set, don't send the press release. If you don't have enough money to tip well, don't order another beer.  If you make a reservation, show up.  If you didn't take that picture of a burger, don't use it on your web site.  If you pay dues to restaurant lobbyists, know their whole platform and don't pretend to be apolitical.  If you're not open all night, turn off the damn OPEN sign.

It's OK to be frustrated by these things.  No restaurant (or other entity) has the right to expect continued attention when it continually disappoints.  It is OK to expect promises to be lived up to and it is OK, after multiple disappointments, to shift your limited resources to entities that do not flake out, no matter how good the food is.

So, what to do?  The schmuckiest thing to do when flakage happens is to complain about, but not to, the flaker-outer.  The most golem-esque thing to do is buy what you're sold without a thought.  The menschiest thing to do is to give second and third and seventh chances and talk to the flaker-outer before you quit trying (the table below shows we'd give at least 98% of the places we've been to a second chance, if we ever finish the alphabet).  But we'd wager Yelp and Twitter (heck, the whole internet) would get a lot less traffic if everyone followed that model.

And hey, you kids! Stay off our lawn.

Thus endeth the rant. Now watch us flake out before we get to ZuZu Cafe.

Our grades thus far:

A 295
B 279
C 104
D 16
F 2

GPA by first letter:

1st PassCumulative
A 3.11 3.32
B 3.15 3.20
C 3.25 3.21
D 3.20 3.28
E 3.03 3.04
F 3.24 3.26
G 3.21 3.30
H 3.16 3.22
I 3.40 3.33
J 3.13 3.04
K 3.08 3.17
L 3.23 3.27
M 3.32 3.27
N 3.15 3.16
O 3.23 3.25
P 3.09 3.10
Q 3.39 3.39
R 3.19 3.19
S 3.14 3.15
T 3.19 3.19
U 3.03 n/a


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I think that I'll take this opportunity to tell you just how much I like your blog. I've come to depend on it, look forward to the posts, and I check back if I'm going to try someplace new, to see if you've reviewed it.

Your presentation is solid and thorough.

I totally give this blog an A. :)

Great post! Failing to manage expectations is the worst. If you are out of something on the menu the waiter should warn me- don't let me get my heart set on it just so he can come out and tell me you ran out.

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Listen to The Corner Table podcast "Remembering Restaurants," aired December 24, 2020, where Chris and Lindsay talk with us "about the menus and memories left behind when restaurants go away."

Madison Food coverInfo about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.



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