Accounts that follow the hospitality industry in some fashion saturate Instagram.
Very few sustain to the point where ten times out of ten I read the caption. Most miss the mark because they post too much, too little, are too showy or self-promotey, or have an agenda cloaked in false honesty, modesty, or excitability.
Robert Darwell posts every single day, once a day @thedailyserver. He has not missed a day, for more than seven years. That’s remarkable, in and of itself.
But @thedailyserver’s beauty lies in the fact that the account seamlessly and humbly blends Robert’s globetrotting with a genuine appreciation of the server or bartender he features on any given day. When Robert visits an establishment, he tries to find something out about the person serving him. He takes pictures, writes a biographical caption, and posts.
Because Robert spends so much time in restaurants and bars – and keeps it interesting for us – I figured he’s the ideal person to query on everything from our current state of affairs to why he does what he does.
Rocco: What prompted you to start @thedailyserver?
Robert: (In June of 2013), I had just learned about Instagram, and most people were posting photos of their food or cocktails. I wanted to do something different that featured and honored the people who worked in the service industry and brought me that food and drink.
I was a waiter at TGI Friday’s in college, and I always say that it was my best training for becoming a top entertainment lawyer. It taught me to quickly “read the room,” provide service, and take responsibility.
How many bars and restaurants do you visit in a year?
Occasionally, I post a guest photo, but nearly every photo I post is one I take and I will visit at least one (and, often more in a new city) new restaurant or bar every day of the year, so easily 350. I would say that in a typical year, I visit at least 30-40 different cities.
You were doing takeout early in the pandemic. As things reopened, you began to dine in (or outdoors) when available.
I started ordering takeout from restaurants and even bars with to-go cocktails because I wanted to support the hospitality industry (and have some great meals and drinks). From the outset, I felt pretty safe picking up from various restaurants because there were never any lines and the places had limited staff who all seemed to be following strict precautions.
As various places opened, I ate or drank outside and felt comfortable doing so where there were no crowds. I felt the same way about dining in. The first time I dined in was at a Waffle House in Tennessee. There was almost no one in the restaurant. Every other booth was closed, silverware came individually wrapped, refills came in a fresh cup, staff was very limited, the menu was disposable, and there were no condiments on the table. Early on, Waffle House seemed to have put a lot of thought into their reopening. I used that as a baseline for my visits to other places.
What has travel been like during the pandemic?
The first time I flew again – on May 2 – the plane was 80% empty. However, an irresponsible agent decided to upgrade every seat to first class and fill it to capacity even though the back of the plane was empty. I didn’t feel comfortable with that so I sat in the back and had 20 empty seats around me. By the end of May when I flew from Nashville to LA, flights were almost entirely full. Most people wore a mask and were respectful of one another. There’s no ice on the plane (and I love ice). Even in first class, just bottled wine and beer.
Favorite bars in the United States?
During the past year, I really liked a small place called Blue Quarter in New York City. It was created out of a storage room. A strip mall speakeasy, Realm of the 52 Remedies in San Diego, really stood out.
One of the places I always look forward to going to when I am in Nashville is the Rosepepper. They make their very potent margaritas based on the original Baja recipe, so they are served almost clear in color. I’ve met and connected with so many people at the bar there.
Attentiveness without being fussy or annoying. Someone who keeps my space clean/cleared and my water glass filled. I really appreciate someone who can read my mood at the moment and knows when I need something or when I want to be left alone for a while.
Best hospitality you’ve ever received.
In Paris, I went to a funky restaurant in the not so popular 18th Arrondissement called CO. The chef liked to bring his dishes out to the table. We got to talking, so on the weekend he invited me over and cooked a private meal for me. That was pretty amazing. A year or so later, he was in LA as a participant on a Netflix cooking show. He and another contestant wound up staying with me and cooking some meals at my place after they were eliminated from the competition.
What’s the “new normal” with respect to travel and hospitality?
Initially, I thought things would snap back pretty quickly given how everyone’s collective memory is pretty short term. But, as the pandemic lingers with no clear end or plan in sight, I fear that some things will be more permanently changed – fewer flights, masks as a regular part of traveling and large gatherings, reduced capacity at restaurants and bars (necessitating higher prices) and less casual lingering.
It’s hard to truly feel welcomed when you can’t see the smile on someone’s face.