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Industry standard

Restaurants create a scene for workers to eat, drink, and mingle with a star-struck public

By Devra First
Globe Staff / February 17, 2010

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SOMERVILLE - It’s a typical brunch scene at Trina’s Starlite Lounge. Groups of friends are crowded into booths, consuming plates of huevos rancheros and drinking coffee. At the bar, groggy-eyed diners wake up with slightly stiffer eye-openers. Everyone is relaxed, enjoying a day off. But the weekend is over. It’s Monday, and this is Trina’s Industry Brunch, designed for people in the restaurant business.

“We could never go to brunch ourselves because we all worked,’’ says Josh Childs, co-owner of Trina’s, which introduced the brunch last month. “A lot of service people have Monday off. It’s a thank you to our industry friends.’’

Events targeted at industry workers have cropped up all over town. In November, Franklin Southie cohosted a Fernet Branca Industry Night with the website drinkboston.com, showcasing the Italian digestif that is a cult favorite among chefs, bartenders, and the people who love them. It grew into a monthly series that takes place on the second Thursday of each month at the South Boston restaurant; subsequent events have featured such beverages as St-Germain, Chartreuse, and Leblon Cachaca.

At the new Kings Dedham, Tuesday Industry Night means free bowling, skee-bowling, and shuffleboard after 9 p.m. for anyone who brings a pay stub or business card from the restaurant, bar, or hotel where he or she works. Kings Back Bay has a similar deal on Mondays, featuring bowling and pool. (Yes, there is an industry bowling league.)

Last week, the North End restaurant Nebo introduced Industry Every Nights. Show proof of employment and you’ll get a handy little plastic card that entitles you to 15 percent off all food after 9 p.m.

Industry nights are nothing new; Kings Back Bay’s event has been around since 2005, for example. But the rate at which they’re appearing is. In addition to being gestures of collegial good will, they are good business.

Restaurants want to fill seats, and industry nights are another way to do so - the off-hour cousins of midweek prix fixe menus, wine dinners, and trivia nights. After 9 on a weeknight - or between noon and 4 on a Monday, the hours of Trina’s brunch - restaurants aren’t exactly jam-packed. Why not fill them? And if it’s with your friends, so much the better. Discounts and freebies can be easily offset by a thirsty post-shift crowd.

“The thing for me is I’m going to be open till 2 in the morning anyway,’’ says Nebo co-owner Carla Pallotta. “Why not? It gets the excitement going. Of course, you hope everything brings a little extra money. It never hurts. But more, we were thinking of something nice we could do.’’

The events can help bring guests to a new location, as with Franklin Southie, which is a little more than a year old. Its South End sibling, the Franklin Cafe, is a popular late-night haunt. Both locations serve their full menus until 1:30 a.m.

“These nights are insanely busy,’’ says bar manager Joy Richard. “It’s been great. We’re trying to build business in Southie. It’s not heavy on industry folks - it’s more office and after-work people. We wanted to bring that location into the minds of people who already go to the South End location. When they get off their restaurant jobs, they can come over.’’

In addition to eating and drinking later than the 9-to-5 crowd, restaurant workers are naturally interested in what’s going on at other restaurants, and they spread the word. “Having more people in the industry gets your name out there more, because they’re people who talk about food,’’ Pallotta says. “They come and they tell their friends. And if your food is good, they’re loyal.’’

But industry nights are not always aimed at the industry. In an age where chefs have attained rock star status, they can serve as a subtle form of marketing. A restaurant that’s perceived as a chef or bartender hangout - so worthy it’s where the pros eat and drink - gains instant cachet.

David Michalski is a cultural studies librarian at the University of California-Davis, and founder of the Critical Studies in Food and Culture research group. “There’s been a move toward seeing food as being, you could say more hip, but being more expressive,’’ he says. “It’s become an art form. You see these people going to an industry night, it would be like meeting the artist. It has some of the glamour of that.’’

Scott Shoer, general manager of Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro, concurs. “Given the state of the economy, and with all the specials and lower-priced menu options, I feel like it’s done more to create a vibe in your restaurant than geared at actual industry people,’’ he says. “You don’t care if they’re in the industry or not, you just want to get them into your restaurant. That’s the god’s honest truth.’’

Tastings, located at Patriot Place in Foxborough, debuted a Wednesday industry night earlier this year, but with nearby bars such as Bar Louie and CBS Scene as competition, they soon canceled it. “It wasn’t really our thing,’’ Shoer says. “It did OK, but at the end of the day, where do we best allocate our time? We focus on dinner, which is what we do best.’’

Richard dropped the term “industry night’’ for last week’s cachaca event, though “it’s still sort of implied,’’ she says. “The term has become kind of generic. I don’t think that’s what many of them are anymore. The appeal to people that aren’t in the industry is that it’s kind of a secret thing, a cool, insider’s view or whatever. I think it has a lot to do with celebrity chefs and the Food Network, and the whole ‘startender’ thing, which is the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever heard.’’

The Monday brunch at Trina’s Starlite Lounge draws about 75 percent restaurant workers, Childs says, but all are welcome. It’s busiest on Monday holidays, when everyone is off.

“There’s an allure,’’ he says. “You’re in the know about something that’s fun and off the beaten track. You’re part of that community even if you don’t work in it. The restaurant business has become such an intrinsic part of our lives. Everyone is much more aware of food and beverage service. There’s definitely some sexiness to it.’’

He pauses and laughs. “Probably that sexiness comes from people who don’t work in the industry,’’ he says. “There’s nothing sexy about me cleaning the toilet at the end of the night.’’

Real or imagined, sexiness sells.

Devra First can be reached at dfirst@globe.com.

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