Imagine a night when Houston’s best restaurants close for an evening to serve a complimentary meal for a charitable organization. Each restaurant would select a charitable cause that pulls at their heartstrings and provide a memorable dining experience for members of an associated non-profit group that supports that cause.
The goal: to provide an opportunity for all involved to forget their current circumstances while enjoying a nice meal and camaraderie among each other, as well as to serve as a reminder that each one of us matters. The event would be equally or possibly even more rewarding for restaurant staff and volunteers who are there to make sure each guest’s dining experience is memorable in the most magnificent way. This is not about monetary donations. This is about providing something much more valuable – our time.
Our hope, if we’re successful, is that similar events will happen in Houston and beyond its borders and will be known as “Table Service Day.”
A lot of people I shared this idea with thought I was crazy and that other restaurants would never consider participating. Would these establishments really close for dinner and lose an entire night’s revenue? Wouldn’t it be easier just to write a check? Would restaurant patrons really want to volunteer to serve others? For many, it would mean coming directly from their nine-to-five job and working another four to five hours. But I have faith in this town and believe there are people who care and want to give back to their community.
Clutch City, this is what you did. Mayor Annise Parker’s office proclaimed June 15 as “Table Service Day” and this past Monday, I, along with my partners, Michael Tran and Chef Paul Friedman, consultant Chan Do, and our staff and loyal patrons, successfully completed our first Table Service event at Peli Peli Galleria.
Benefitting and in honor of Star of Hope, which serves Houston’s homeless population and families in crisis, we titled our event “Starry Night.” With the help of Scott Arthur, Star of Hope’s director of public relations, we designed an elegant evening featuring a three-course South African dinner for more than 150 homeless clients and Star of Hope staff.
To go above and beyond, prior to dinner we sent volunteer makeup artists to Star of Hope to provide makeovers to 60 women who would be attending the dinner. Makeup is often taken for granted, but it is a luxury for women at the Star of Hope. Next, we rolled out the red carpet and hired a professional photographer to take individual and group photos upon their arrival. We wanted to capture this memory for our guests and give them a reminder that people care and that there is hope.
We wanted to create a sense of community with our guests and volunteers, so we set purple as the color theme for Starry Night. All of the Peli Peli staff and volunteers wore purple attire to commemorate the night. The dining room LED ceiling was adjusted to mimic a beautiful purple sunset with stars. Trendy Treasure Florist, owned by Lana Ward who is married our server Robert Ward, donated several table arrangements that added a special touch to our evening.
Although rain and the threat of Tropical Storm Bill prevented 50 of our customer volunteers from attending, 37 braved the weather to serve others. Though the evening started off a bit crazy with volunteers and Star of Hope guests arriving at the same time, once everyone got settled in and took initiative to make sure each guest was seated and taken care of, the night became magical.
Volunteers served food and drinks to each table, chatted with guests, gave tours of the restaurant, and explained our David Garibaldi paintings, as well as the Twelve Tribes of Israel that are carved into the dining room walls. No matter what task they were doing, they all did it with a smile. It was inspiring to see that every volunteer captured the spirit of Starry Night and Table Service Day just as I had envisioned.
After the opening prayer from Hank Rush, Star of Hope’s President and CEO, our inaugural Table Service dinner began with passed hors d’oeuvres followed by a salad and the “Starry Night Surf & Turf,” featuring Kingklip, a popular white, flaky South African fish and filet medallions topped with garlic butter, a side of mango coleslaw and carrot bredie (our version of mashed potatoes made with carrots, leeks and potatoes). We finished off the experience with our most popular dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding, a British dessert made with dates and toffee sauce.
Our goal was to provide the same dining experience any of our guests would receive at Peli Peli Galleria. This includes Chef Paul visiting each table, and a personal birthday song from our server/aspiring singer/songwriter Latoya Williams. That night, LaToya wowed the crowd with her rendition of “Happy Birthday” sang to Star of Hope’s Scott Arthur, followed by a performance of the gospel hymn, “His Eye is on The Sparrow.” I had never heard the song before, but seeing Latoya’s raw emotion while singing gave me goosebumps and brought tears to some. I could not have imagined a better ending to the evening.
So what’s next for Table Service Day? Help us create a movement by asking your favorite restaurant to participate in Table Service Day. Then, use the hashtag #tableserviceday when sharing about your Table Service event through social media. My vision is for every Houston restaurant to be involved in this movement and create a tradition that will inspire restaurants in cities across the nation to give and serve their communities.