Nothing matters more to a downtown restaurant's survival than the ability to get lunch out quickly. "For 90 per cent of the people coming to our restaurants at lunch," says McAdams, "it's not about the food." That's because when you're paying $20 for a sandwich, the quality of the food is a given. The variable is whether they get you out, happy and fed, with time to spare before your 2 o'clock meeting. Everything at lunch-menu, kitchen, reservations, service-is designed with that goal in mind. In the front, reservations are spaced out so that waiters can get to each table without delay. That restaurant you love doesn't have a table at noon? It does, actually, but you can't have it until 12:15. For OB's locations, McAdams has every element of service timed-one to three minutes for "first approach," a maximum of five for order and delivery of drinks. He learned his finicky trade in the Red Lobster chain, and when he's out watching the floor of an OB restaurant, as he is every day at 12:30, his stomach knots at any delay. ("Tea is the worst nightmare," McAdams exclaims. What with getting the tea bag, the hot water and cup, "It can take three or four minutes.")
In the kitchen, dishes are built for speed: few hot apps, more soups and salads and, in the mains, pastas and items that have high visual appeal but cook quickly, like that rare-seared tuna. "You can knock 'em out like that," says Walsh, snapping his fingers. "Thirty tuna for lunch and you won't think anything of it."
At this stage, the expediter is critical. Walsh, at his most severe, stands at the pass, pulling orders off the printer and shouting. "Pickup steak! Pickup salmon!" means that on the floor, a waiter has signalled through the computer that his table of two has nearly finished its apps, so Nathan the saucier should grab a steak and salmon fillet from his par-cooked supply and start finishing the mains. "Hands!" means Barry has plated and garnished the result, and it's time for server assistants to take those dishes to the table.
A line cook might be tempted to peek at the order chits that get stuck up on the rail, just to keep track of what he needs to get ready. But he'd better not get caught if he does. "That's a bad habit with these guys," grumbles Walsh. "I get pissed off if I see him watching the fucking rail. You fucking listen. Get it in your fucking head." Walsh used to work with a chef who would put the chits on the rail facing in so the cooks couldn't see.
VERTICAL: NOVEMBER, 2005 Marco and his staff tried to set up their kitchen even while walls were being installed. As time counted down, the fridge wasn't ready and the freezer wasn't working. Perishables started to arrive, and they had no place to put them. All the construction delays prevented Vertical from getting its liquor licence, because you can't apply for a liquor licence on an unfinished restaurant. Even once they were cleared for their licence, it took the Alcohol and Gaming Commission time to process it; Gary finally went down to the office and refused to leave until they handed it to him. "It took all of our personal skills," he says, "to just not start killing people."
With their opening finally set for December 9, five weeks late, Gary and Joe worked to build some buzz. Sometimes, when trying to create an instant clientele, new restaurants resort to tricks. New clubs have been known to employ strippers to sit at the bar and look alluring. It's said that the owners of Ki generated business in the early days by identifying the "connectors" in the business district, the people who know people, then inviting them in for a meal and paying their tab. Yannick Bigourdan, the owner of Splendido, sees nothing wrong with that. "It's a fair marketing tool; it's an exchange of service." But Gary and Joe didn't want the fickle crowd, so they tried a more subtle approach. They held two pre-opening parties: one for a crowd of potential guests in the financial district, another that cleverly included 30 concierges from all the downtown hotels. Gary and Joe were confident they could generate a good lunch business right away-one benefit of opening in December was all the Christmas lunch parties they could get. But they needed some dinner business too, and to build that, they needed concierges to send hotel guests their way. And they would have, because Vertical had one great asset many stalwarts of the district, such as Bymark and Canoe, lack-it had a front door that opened onto a recognizable landmark, the pretty little King Street parkette. No wandering through the underground PATH nonsense. Just find the parkette, those concierges would say, then walk up the steps, and you're there.