First, the background: Steve Barnes ran a short piece in his Table Hopping blog last Friday discussing the concerns expressed by the city of Albany over the name and logo for the soon-to-open restaurant/bar called Jugs and Mugs, which will be located at 849 Madison Ave., just down the street from St. Rose. The city apparently is worried that the provocative name and logo are harbingers of trouble--rowdy late night partying, that sort of thing.
That's all speculation. I'm more concerned with the name and logo and what they represent for Jugs and Mugs in concert with the type of restaurant the chef and general manager, Chick Hawksley, is going for. In the Table Hopping piece, Hawksley says, "This is not a college bar; things are not going to suddenly go crazy at 9 p.m." Barnes goes on to say that the restaurant expects to feature compelling food--the kind that I say is missing from most pubs and casual restaurants in the Capital Region (in favor of unimaginative Sysco stylings)--including New Orleans shrimp, pork belly and manchego tacos, fried chicken, house-made corned beef. None of it will be frozen, and the shot of chicken wings included in the article makes the food look promising.
So what's the problem? I say this as a non-prude, someone who doesn't care that places like Hooters--or even Nite Moves--exist and are popular. I may not frequent such places, but unless a place is bringing real problems to an area, I don't see a reason for the government to step in and stop it from opening or shut it down. The problem is that the name and logo for Jugs and Mugs don't seem to jibe with the type of restaurant Hawksley is going for. In one fell swoop, the restaurant has effectively eliminated a significant portion of their potential clientele. And that just seems like bad business to me.
Now, I have no experience running a restaurant (though that hasn't stopped me from giving advice in the past), but I do have experience dining at many, and I know that especially in our current economy--and in a place like Albany, where it seems particularly difficult for new restaurants to succeed--the last thing a restaurant owner needs to do is turn away potential diners before even opening the doors.
Take a look at the poll listed on the Table Hopping blog: in this survey, 32% of respondents checked the box for "Both the name and logo are tacky and suggest it's a place that's not for me."
You hear that thud? That's a huge door closing--before it's even been opened. I don't want to say that this Table Hopping poll is scientifically accurate or anything, but with nearly 800 respondents as of Tuesday morning, I think it's safe to say this is a harbinger of a problem for Jugs and Mugs. (Not to mention, an additional 22% said, "I don't like [the name and logo], but I'd try it at least once if I heard good things about the food.")
I can't say for sure--though it sure seems likely--that the female servers at Jugs and Mugs are going to be dressed in Hooters-style clothing (the logo suggests as much--not to mention, it appears the cartoon waitress there might not have anything on below the waist). But I know there are a lot of adults, both male and female, who would be really hesitant to step foot in the place without knowing the whole story. A lot might be embarrassed to return from their lunch break and say, "Just stopped by Jugs and Mugs," knowing that most others might only know of the name and/or logo and the connotations associated with both.
And in saying that, I'm not exactly reaching. There's a Mugs 'n' Jugs restaurant chain in Florida, it appears, which seems fully rooted in the Hooters style (they even have their own "Mugs girls"). Maybe it is a bit prudish for people to avoid places based on such factors, but hey, that's the world we live in. Who wants to risk offending co-workers, bosses, parents, in-laws, friends?
It reminds me of the recent Wandering Dago controversy, in which the local food truck was unceremoniously booted from the Saratoga track because of the old-timey ethnic slur in their name. Sure, maybe the folks at the track shouldn't have let it get to that point, but I also think it's crazy for a business to just toss a word in their name that may offend people, even if that's a small group of people in 2013. And not only that, but to then have items on their menu called "The Mick and Cheese" and "The Polack." Yes, it's 2013, and we're all grown-ups here, but the last thing a business needs to do is risk turning off patrons and draw negative attention to themselves.
I come at this issue from the perspective of someone who teaches writing at the college level and is constantly challenging students to think about the ways in which language is important in all the ways it's used. Context and connotation must always be considered. These are not private clubs in which a limited subset of customers need to visit for the place to be successful; they're establishments that have to open themselves to as many possible customers as they can.
Some people will always fall back on the "politically correct" card as something holding back freedom of speech/expression. Look, if you knew some of my favorite TV shows over the years, you'd know I'm not one who believes in political correctness. But again, it comes back to context; if a show is airing on Comedy Central, for example, it only needs so many eyeballs to be successful. If it's on primetime network TV, the network has to look for a wider audience (which is why we end up with some popular, yet broad, comedies--typically on CBS). I just think that when you're opening a new business, one seemingly targeting the general populace, the last thing you want to do is risk offending (and turning off) some of those potential patrons.
That's clearly what Jugs and Mugs has done, all before even opening. If they truly don't fashion the restaurant as a Hooters-type place, then I'd say it's not too late to change the name and logo and any other materials they've had printed up. The cost to make those changes--and then get a whole new batch of publicity--will be worth it in the long run, I bet.