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Ordering at your own pace


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Went to Philly to check out the apartment that may soon be his -- convenient to Temple, the subway and at least two methadone clinics, love that -- and met friends whom I hadn't seen in far too long at the well-regarded Osteria.

As the server took drink orders, one of my companions asked him if they still had the antipasto platter and the waiter said "yes" and after some back-and-forth over the appropriate size we ordered antipasto for two with our drinks.

A couple of minutes later, the server returned with an "I'm sorry, the chef would prefer..." that we ordered our appetizers with the main course, because of some blah blah blah about how the he'd be prepping our entree during the antipasto or whatever.

My first impulse was to say, "well WE would prefer to get the damn thing now."

My second was to ask if the chef "preferred" that we order by the house rules, or he if he "required" it.

But, having already asked to change tables and being more tweaked than truly annoyed I let is pass.

Later, despite the blather about this somehow being for our convenience, the speed with which the main courses followed the antipasto suggested that my initial suspicion may be correct: they're just trying to speed the process at a busy restaurant so they can turn the table.

Nonetheless, ordering a round of appetizers before delving deeply into the menu is hardly unheard of and, despite the possibility a marginally quicker turn, it seems likely to be something that does more harm in the customer relations area than good. I seem to recall Bruni bitching about this, as well (but couldn't find the topic, if it ever made it to eG).

And the slightly oleaginous construct "The chef prefers..." is annoying. Either we can or we can't, or we could have the server relay the chef's preference at every stage of the meal: "the chef prefers that you pair the Barbera with the chicken liver pasta." "the chef prefers that you you wear a more restrained necktie next visit."

Is this becoming a common practice? Am I right to be annoyed? What's the problem, anyway. Surely in the age of computer ordering, such things are easily managed. We did not, for example, have to order our dessert up front, but the kitchen executed that with aplomb.

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I don't find that nearly as annoying as "dishes are served whenever they're ready," but yes, it's annoying and there's no good excuse for it.

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I don't find that nearly as annoying as "dishes are served whenever they're ready," but yes, it's annoying and there's no good excuse for it.

Having eaten in Philly's Chinatown for lunch (was taking son and friends out) I actually got a taste of that style, as well. Though, in an unremarkable Chinese joint, it's hardly surprising when the two selections from the "appetizer" list are the last dishes to be set on the table.

Given that Osteria is positioned (it seems) as Vetri's "informal" place, it seemed a little rigid. It's not as though there was a tasting menu to be timed.

A pretty decent meal, btw, lest anyone should think I'm bashing the place.

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My first impulse was to say, "well WE would prefer to get the damn thing now."

My second was to ask if the chef "preferred" that we order by the house rules, or he if he "required" it. 

But, having already asked to change tables and being more tweaked than truly annoyed I let is pass.

...

Is this becoming a common practice?  Am I right to be annoyed?  What's the problem, anyway.  Surely in the age of computer ordering, such things are easily managed.  We did not, for example, have to order our dessert up front, but the kitchen executed that with aplomb.

as far as the dessert goes, I don't know anything about the restaurant but is it possible the desserts were mostly pre-fab? Or were they made a la minute? If the former then I don't see why it's remarkable that they put out the dessert on time without you having ordered earlier.

I wouldn't have had a problem with the server's response. I've always felt that restaurants dictate the terms under which their food is eaten -- non-smoking sections, dress codes, even prices, (and the lack thereof). So this sort of thing is more of the same.

given that, I don't think either of your proposed responses would be unreasonable either. Maybe you would've been told it's a requirement, in which case you just kind of have to shrug it off (like a non-smoking section). Or maybe it really just is a preference, in which case you can just reiterate your original request. It seems like a bit of a non-issue to me.

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...

As the server took drink orders, one of my companions asked him if they still had the antipasto platter and the waiter said "yes" and after some back-and-forth over the appropriate size we ordered antipasto for two with our drinks. 

A couple of minutes later, the server returned with an "I'm sorry, the chef would prefer..." that we ordered our appetizers with the main course, because of some blah blah blah about how the he'd be prepping our entree during the antipasto or whatever.

My first impulse was to say, "well WE would prefer to get the damn thing now."

My second was to ask if the chef "preferred" that we order by the house rules, or he if he "required" it. 

...

Congratulations on your restraint, Gunga Din (as in "Your a better man than I am").

Totally greedy restaurant approach to service. It would have been too candid for the server to say, "Our accountant would prefer..."

Holly Moore

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Of course it is an attempt to turn the table. I see the problem as the server mishandling his directive to get orders in. He should have asked if you were ready to order your entrees or urged you to do so in some other non-pushy way.

If the restaurant has allowed 90 minutes per reservation - pretty standard for a party of 2 or 4 - it IS going to mess with their system if you order each course after you've finished the last. It certainly seems reasonable to order the antipasto and get it underway while you continue to look at the menu and decide on your entree. But, as you know, food takes time to cook. Your risotto, pork chop, many entrees will have a 15 to 20 minute 'fire time', which is why it is helpful to the kitchen to have advance notice so they can get it started and it will magically appear moments after you have finished your first course. Desserts are not cooked to order - unless it says so on the menu in which case there is probably also a note that it takes 15 or 20 minutes and you need to be prepared to wait or else pre-order that souffle. Desserts are more often warmed or finished - the creme brulee is sugared and burned, sauces and ice cream and cookies are added to whatever, and it should take 5 minutes or less to get a dessert on a plate.

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It sucks, and is just another annoying restaurant habit (I first encountered it at Lupa, here in NYC, though they seem to be able to space the dishes properly).

What if you only want appetizers? I like to tell the server I want to taste the appetizers before I spend more of my money on a main course...and see what their response is.

At the new DBGB here, they had no problem putting in our appetizer order for a table of 6, while everyone decided what they wanted for their entrees.

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The last place I lunched asked if we would like to order an app while we looked at the rest of the menu...why yes we would thank you. I never thought twice about it but if you are relaxed by making one decision you may order a nicer main.

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Maybe I'm getting grumpy in my old age, but I would have been inclined to reply that in a recession, the chef should really keep his preferences to himself, and pay more attention to his customers' preferences, if he still wanted to have a restaurant when the dust settles.

Why not turn this into an opportunity, and send out recommendations for main courses the chef thinks the table of diners might particularly enjoy tonight instead?

I can't even begin to express how offensive I find this attitude. If you need to turn the table, and you don't give a damn if I ever waste my time with your restaurant again, then go ahead and state it openly.

Well, actually, I guess that's just what they did, didn't they?

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I've heard of this happening at Osteria before, although not to me, I just happen to have always been able to decide on everything fairly quickly. I'll agree that it's a pretty obnoxious policy, although in their defense, I've eaten at that particular restaurant a lot, and I don't ever recall feeling rushed. Maybe because I eat there a lot...

Edited by philadining (log)

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For sure it was mishandled by the server. If the restaurant (chef's) policy is to have the entire order before turning it in than there is a good reason for it. I've been in the situation too many times, the customers order an app to start, and then have an order fire entree that takes 20 mins to produce properly. This results in the customers sitting in the dining room looking for their food like a bunch of lost ducks. Which could lead to the use of some less savory cooking tecniques to get the food out fast, before there is a problem. Good food takes time.

"He could blanch anything in the fryolator and finish it in the microwave or under the salamander. Talented guy."

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Which could lead to the use of some less savory cooking tecniques to get the food out fast....

Um, can you say more? What sort of "less savory cooking techniques" might be resorted to? :unsure:

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Went to Philly to check out the apartment that may soon be his -- convenient to Temple, the subway and at least two methadone clinics, love that -- and met friends whom I hadn't seen in far too long at the well-regarded Osteria. 

As the server took drink orders, one of my companions asked him if they still had the antipasto platter and the waiter said "yes" and after some back-and-forth over the appropriate size we ordered antipasto for two with our drinks. 

A couple of minutes later, the server returned with an "I'm sorry, the chef would prefer..." that we ordered our appetizers with the main course, because of some blah blah blah about how the he'd be prepping our entree during the antipasto or whatever.

My first impulse was to say, "well WE would prefer to get the damn thing now."

My second was to ask if the chef "preferred" that we order by the house rules, or he if he "required" it. 

But, having already asked to change tables and being more tweaked than truly annoyed I let is pass.

Later, despite the blather about this somehow being for our convenience, the speed with which the main courses followed the antipasto suggested that my initial suspicion may be correct:  they're just trying to speed the process at a busy restaurant so they can turn the table. 

Nonetheless, ordering a round of appetizers before delving deeply into the menu is hardly unheard of and, despite the possibility a marginally quicker turn, it seems likely to be something that does more harm in the customer relations area than good.  I seem to recall Bruni bitching about this, as well (but couldn't find the topic, if it ever made it to eG). 

And the slightly oleaginous construct "The chef prefers..." is annoying.  Either we can or we can't, or we could have the server relay the chef's preference at every stage of the meal: "the chef prefers that you pair the Barbera with the chicken liver pasta."  "the chef prefers that you you wear a more restrained necktie next visit."

Is this becoming a common practice?  Am I right to be annoyed?  What's the problem, anyway.  Surely in the age of computer ordering, such things are easily managed.  We did not, for example, have to order our dessert up front, but the kitchen executed that with aplomb.

I think that this has to be one of those situations where you vote with your pocketbook (wallet for gentlemen), and I think you should have replied to the waiter's explanation of "the chef prefers..." with, "Oh, that's not how we wanted to do the meal- we wanted something more casual and less rushed, so would you please bring us the check for any drinks you've served us, and we'll head out to somewhere where we can order at our own pace."

I'm pretty sure you'd see that turn very quickly into a situation where the chef prefers most of all that you not leave his restaurant and go somewhere else.

There are some restaurants where I'm fine with placing my whole order at the start, and others where I prefer to "graze" and make the meal a "work in progress" - and this may not be 100% because of the type of restaurant or its menu - it may just be my particular frame of mind that night.

But I remember very clearly that I was in a "the chef prefers..." situation within the last year or two, and while I don't remember the specifics of what the chef preferred, I very nicely replied to the waiter, "And when he's the one paying for the meal, then he should have it exactly the way he prefers it."

I don't deal really well with this particular kind of stupidity. And I can tell you from my dining experiences that when we say that we'd like to build the meal as we go, we are pretty much always met with "absolutely!" as the response.

But remember that just because you've been seated, and may have ordered a few starters, you're under no obligation to stay. And to be completely truthful, sometimes when my "radar" goes off and warns me that we may not be in a restaurant that we're going to enjoy, I will specifically not order anything more than starters, giving us the option of leaving if they turn out to be as bad as my radar is warning me they may be.

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markk: I'm with you.

I'm paying for my dinner, I probably won't sit longer than 90 minutes, and the chef can kiss my patoot if he tells me what and when I can order. "Chef prefers" my Aunt Fanny!

What the heck? Aren't chefs and cooks trained to accomplish this stuff? You're telling me that you can't get apps and mains out in 45 minutes? You're a goof. Alinea can do it.

If some poor waiter gave me "The Chef prefers" line, I'd pay my bill and head to the nearest Vietnamese (or pizza, or Thai or Chinese) place.

Edited by maggiethecat (log)

Margaret McArthur

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Am I right to be annoyed?

Uhm, yeah.

The sad part is that you stayed after the insult (yes, it was an insult) and gave them your hard-earned money in return for being treated like a 5-year old ("No, you can't have your appetizer now. You'll get it when I decide you'll get it.").

But, hopefully, you've learned from your experience.

You are the Consumer and you are King which is well worth noting especially in this terrible economy. That you're eating out at all, and at a full service restaurant no less, puts you in rare company these days if the statistics are to be believed.

Remember we vote with our wallets. We decide "I like what you're doing so here is my hard-earned money so that you may continue and stay in business."

That idiot didn't deserve your money.

 

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Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

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Am I right to be annoyed?

Uhm, yeah.

The sad part is that you stayed after the insult (yes, it was an insult) and gave them your hard-earned money in return for being treated like a 5-year old ("No, you can't have your appetizer now. You'll get it when I decide you'll get it.").

But, hopefully, you've learned from your experience.

You are the Consumer and you are King which is well worth noting especially in this terrible economy. That you're eating out at all, and at a full service restaurant no less, puts you in rare company these days if the statistics are to be believed.

Remember we vote with our wallets. We decide "I like what you're doing so here is my hard-earned money so that you may continue and stay in business."

That idiot didn't deserve your money.

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OK - just read this thread and thought, as someone who works in a restaurant where the chef needs to have the entire order from the start....I will offer another opinion. Why do we do this? I work in a really small (30 seat) restaurant that usually does about 2 seatings. So there's about 30 people sat around 6/630 and another 30 sat around 8/830pm. A table sits down and orders appetizers and waits for them and then orders entrees. Meanwhile, the other 10 tables orders apps and their entrees. By the time table #1 gets around to order their entrees, they are the last ticket on the line. What this does is make the time between their apps and entrees longer then they may want to wait. Everyone else in the dining room eats before them. We do not rush between courses and if someone really wants to order this way, we allow it but with an explanation.

Our guests are told our preference and then we leave the chioce up to them. Pretty much never have a problem and are often complimented on the good spacing between courses. Just another way of looking at it.

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I suppose you could have sent the mains back because they arrived too soon.

Or not order appetizers at all at that point. I'm sure they wouldn't like that any better.

Or waited to order anything, "I'm sorry, I'm too famished to decide on my main course. Do you have any bread?"

Usually when I order appetizers right away, it isn't because I want to linger, it's because I'm freeking hungry *now*!

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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  • 2 weeks later...
OK - just read this thread and thought, as someone who works in a restaurant where the chef needs to have the entire order from the start....I will offer another opinion. Why do we do this? I work in a really small (30 seat) restaurant that usually does about 2 seatings. So there's about 30 people sat around 6/630 and another 30 sat around 8/830pm. A table sits down and orders appetizers and waits for them and then orders entrees. Meanwhile, the other 10 tables orders apps and their entrees. By the time table #1 gets around to order their entrees, they are the last ticket on the line. What this does is make the time between their apps and entrees longer then they may want to wait. Everyone else in the dining room eats before them. We do not rush between courses and if someone really wants to order this way, we allow it but with an explanation.

Our guests are told our preference and then we leave the chioce up to them. Pretty much never have a problem and are often complimented on the good spacing between courses. Just another way of looking at it.

this is truth. having managed and cooked at a few restaurants, this is exactly how we like it.

i remember a dinner service once where we had 80+ (with more at the bar) seated in our dining room. people were ordering apps and entrees together and then we'd get the occasional table that orders the courses separately. average ticket time (the time from when the ticket comes into the kitchen to when all the food has left) for the two courses was about 40 - 45 minutes. not bad when it's 4 people cooking for 80+. for the tickets where people had apps and entrees separately, the average combined ticket time (from when the first order for apps came in, and then the time the entree went out the door) averaged out to be around an hour to an hour and a half.

Also, there have been times when people had to wait extra long since after ordering their apps and eating it, decide that they want a big steak med well to well done. nothing gets a grill cook angrier than trying to rush a steak (especially if they take pride in their work).

and for all the non-industry people out there;

the 6 minute well done steak.

Take one steak, toss in microwave for 2-3 minutes depending on size. throw directly into deep fryer to sear and crisp up the outside for 2 minutes. throw on grill for the marks. send it out.

lesson: don't order well done.

i've only seen this done once, but the customer was being irrational (i believe it was an 18 ounce t-bone. and he wanted it quick so he and his wife could catch the show at the theater... in 20 minutes). when asked later if the customer liked the steak, the server told me he chomped it down with a smile on his face.

oh hi, by the way. first post.

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