Twelve friends were visiting from England, including three kids: a two year old, a four year old and an eight year old boy. They were staying at a hotel in New Jersey on the banks of the Hudson River. We wanted to treat them for dinner but had no time to plan it. Granted, it was a Thursday night and not the crowded weekend. But all of my engineering alarm bells were going off: visiting guests with young kids, and no viable place for dinner. What could go wrong? Everything. It could be a typical NJ night out with a two hour wait and no suitable food for young kids. Or for British palettes. How would we even get to the restaurant with so many guests, assuming we could find a restaurant? The planning was not done.
There was a small shopping plaza a short walk from the hotel. I found a little pizzeria in the plaza. The group decided that they would enjoy pizza, and I thought, why not? I hadn’t pre-checked the menu and reviewed three to four alternate designs. But we were all doomed anyway since nothing was planned.
It turned out that the little pizzeria had a patio deck directly on the river behind the restaurant. You could order pizza and then sit out on the deck and look at a spectacular view of Manhattan. There was no wait and no crowds. On a scale of one to ten, the weather was a 27: sunny, dry and about 70 degrees F. We just moved some tables together and had a perfect setup for the guests with the kids.
The restaurant was almost empty. OK, I was thinking, doing the appropriate engineering calculations: there must have been a reason why no one was there. Probably the food was not so good. I was just hoping no one would get food poisoning.
But the food was actually very good. The pizza was terrific- interesting pies with fresh ingredients that made everyone happy. There were even excellent salads to go along with the pizza, and some pasta for those who wanted it. Nothing fancy, but delicious and well prepared, with little wait and no hassle.
As the sun set, a light river breeze cooled us. The kids didn’t even get antsy, because after gobbling down the pizza, a flock of ducks and seagulls swam over to the deck. The boys tossed pieces of crust and the formerly placid river surface churned with swirling beaks and wings. In the background, surfboarders and sailboats plied the water. The backdrop of Manhattan lit up and glowed on the far bank. All in all, it was one of the most pleasant and enjoyable dinners ever- great food, great company and a great view. Yet, it was all undiscovered and unplanned.
My lesson that night was that, sometimes, you don’t need to engineer everything to succeed. Sometimes randomness works.
But not too often.