At this quieter time of year a caterer's thoughts turn relentlessly to topics such as cost-cutting, New Year promotions and how the hell do we get the place even half as full as it was for most of December?
Christmas and its lead-up was as good as ever for us, as was New Year's Eve. But no records will be broken. Allowing for slight price increases, turnover was on a par with the same period of 1993.
And even if we did make potential gains during the festive period, these soon get whittled away in the first few weeks of the New Year.
Plodding through the dull, dark days of January and February, all sorts of rescue plans come to mind. Should we be discounting in some way? What about free bottles of wine to larger parties or set price cheapie lunches in the bar? And how do we persuade excess staff that there are some wonderful places for three week's holiday at this time of year?
We did succomb to promotions by giving out a voucher to as many people as would take them as they stumbled out of the December dinner-dances. It invited them back in January and February for bar meals on any weekday.
If they show the voucher they can have £2 deducted from their bill. And the voucher can be used as many times as they feel like coming during the two months. They keep the voucher and just flash it at the bar every time they're in. We're already getting a trickle of them through.
Our monthly themed fun nights are pencilled in for Wednesday nights over the next four or five months and include a swinging sixties night, a Bull & Bush evening and a VE Day celebration.
At this time of year, a caterer can also become paranoid about business in general. Are we really making any money? Is it worth all the aggravation? Isn't the money better in male modelling? Where exactly are we going?
Shortly after Christmas I found myself reading the introduction to the 1995 edition of the Good Food Guide. Here Jim Ainsworth, the editor, writes: "Good ingredients and good staff cost money, and we, the customers, have to pay for it. If we don't then some of the best restaurants will go out of business."
This confirmed an awful truth that's been festering in my mind for some time: it is in fact impossible to make a realistic profit on the sale of a meal.
I can think of no other business where a potential customer doesn't have some idea about what the cost price of the product (the food and the drink) would have been.
All customers buy food and drink for themselves at home. They know what a fillet steak or a bottle of wine costs in the shops. And that's a terrible barrier to overcome.
When they visit a restaurant, every decision about what to order, how many courses to have, which wine to choose, whether to have a second bottle or liqueurs, is determined by a subconscious calculation of what they would have paid for it had they stayed at home. The small matter of running costs is conveniently forgotten.
If you go out and buy a Range Rover you don't find yourself wondering what it cost the manufacturer to build or the profit he and the dealer expect to make on the sale. If you buy a hardback novel costing £12.99 you have no idea what it costs the publisher to produce, what his mark-up is or what the bookseller will make.
Yet in the restaurant world, customers will sometimes openly challenge the idea of you making a profit.
I've heard a customer exclaim: "£2.50 for a piece of melon! Do you know what I can buy a whole one for in the Saturday market?"
This simple question of fair profit/fair pricing in the selling of a meal drags in its wake all sorts of other contentious issues. Low wages, tipping, service charges and mark-ups all relate to what a customer will pay for food and drink when eating out.
I got cross with a woman at the back end of last year who walked out with the posy bowl of fresh flowers taken from the centre of her table. After retrieving it from her, I heard her say to her partner as they went off: "nearly got away with that, didn't we?"
There was a similar incident on New Year's Eve when one party arrived very early. Having drunk the first glass of Kir Royale included in the price, one member of the party got rather heated when told that further glasses were available at £4.50 a glass.
"Well last year we had quite a few glasses without paying extra" he frothed. "I remember", I told him, "that's why you're in early tonight, because you thought you could go on lifting them off a tray at the end of the bar. Sorry but we've caught up with you this year."
He didn't buy any more Kir Royale - and we didn't lose out on our profit!