Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
kitchenbabe

Fat Guy Lays it on the Table

Recommended Posts

Another tidbit: restaurants that deal with a lot of no-shows will sometimes demonstrate favorable treatment towards people calling from home from local numbers -- they'll find a table for you, whereas they'll tell someone calling from a hotel or from out of town that they're fully committed.

Which is how it should be done. A former employer of mine insisted on taking any reservation from any concierge at any time, even if it inconvenienced the local regulars. I thought that was stupid and told them so. What good is it to make a good impression on an out of town visitor that may never come back to your restaurant again?? It's nice that all their friends and colleagues back in Dubuque heard about their lovely meal in Philly, but so what?? Where's the utility to the restaurant? Every guest and reservation is important, but if it's about preferential treatment, then the locals should definitely be getting it.

Perhaps it wasn't the specific diner he was concerned about, but the local concierge whose recommendation and business flow he wanted to continue to attract.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it depends on the type of restaurant and its clientele. At the places where I encountered at least some candor on this issue, the main point the managers made was simply that locals calling from home base statistically seem to show up for their reservations (or call to cancel rather than just not show) more often than people calling from out of town. That the locals are more likely to be converted into repeat customers is another consideration.

But then there are restaurants that do very little local business -- they attract mostly business travelers, families on vacation, tour groups or whatever. At those places, you want to be sure you're in the good graces of concierges, travel agents, CVB people and the like.

Which is not to say that all restaurants demonstrate preferential treatment in a rational manner from the standpoint of maximizing profits. Sometime the preferential treatment is based on mistaken assumptions (like a restaurant that, mistakenly for its demographic, prioritizes concierge calls over local calls), and other times it's motivated by personal concerns (the owner just really likes having soap opera stars in the restaurant, even if they don't spend more money or generate any buzz or secondary sales).


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
They prefer that you make the reservation directly, because there's a fee for each online reservation. The upside of the online reservations is that on nights when they wouldn't be full they might get a few extra covers. But if someone has a choice between online and by phone, restaurants prefer by phone.

That's been my general assumption, but I wondered if the reservation system itself wasn't the real expense of using OpenTable. My sense has also been that it's better to be known to the reservationist as a caller, rather than an OpenTable user. Inline with your comment about no-shows and locals generally being more reliable, I see calling directly as offering a chance at a table that's been taken offline, especially if you develop some regularity as a client.

It is however, a mistake to consider an out-of-towner recommended by a concierge as a one shot diner. The concierge that recommends the restaurant may be a better single source of reservations than any one regular diner. That applies only to calls from the concierge. The out-of-town diner calling on his own, as you suggest, is more likely not to offer any steam of business. Thus, I believe Katie's former employer was wise in his approach and eager to make a good impression on the concierge more than the diner.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think it depends on the type of restaurant and its clientele. At the places where I encountered at least some candor on this issue, the main point the managers made was simply that locals calling from home base statistically seem to show up for their reservations (or call to cancel rather than just not show) more often than people calling from out of town. That the locals are more likely to be converted into repeat customers is another consideration.

But then there are restaurants that do very little local business -- they attract mostly business travelers, families on vacation, tour groups or whatever. At those places, you want to be sure you're in the good graces of concierges, travel agents, CVB people and the like.

Which is not to say that all restaurants demonstrate preferential treatment in a rational manner from the standpoint of maximizing profits. Sometime the preferential treatment is based on mistaken assumptions (like a restaurant that, mistakenly for its demographic, prioritizes concierge calls over local calls), and other times it's motivated by personal concerns (the owner just really likes having soap opera stars in the restaurant, even if they don't spend more money or generate any buzz or secondary sales).

Excellent points.

(Just thought I'd say that as I was left with nothing else to say after reading your post.)


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A bit belatedly, I finally got around to reading this book. It's about 200 pages, but goes by quickly. I bought it Thursday night and finished it last night. Curiously, although it's hardcover, the book is shaped like a Zagat Guide, which is a strange design choice. I found it a little unwieldy to hold.

Regular readers of this site will find themselves going over a lot of familiar material, as Shaw's views on many of the issues are already very well known. While researching the book, Shaw gained insider access to a number of restaurants, which he shares with us. Wisely, he didn't post that material on eGullet before publication—otherwise, the book would have been pointless. Those passages are the most enjoyable. Where he's questioning the utility of critic anonymity or predicting failure for the New York Michelin Guide, we've heard the song before.

Shaw has done most of his writing in short formats, and it shows: the book reads like a series of newspaper feature articles. This structure makes the material easily digestible, but at times it lacks depth. For instance, in the chapter on "The Business of the Restaurant Business," Shaw takes brief tours of projects that are already in progress, but they are only fly-bys. Take Café Gray, for instance. Shaw wants to tell us what it takes to open a new restaurant, but when he first drops by, the space is already under construction. A lot of the formative stages have already happened. And he never gets far enough to tell us how it all turned out after Café Gray opened: What worked? What didn't?

Shaw spends several pages on one of his favorite hobby horses: critic anonymity. He believes that restaurant critics should drop the pretense of dining anonymously, since he believes they are usually recognized anyway. He also argues persuasively that the restaurant can't really improve the quality of the food when a critic is in the house, so in that sense anonymity is meaningless. Instead, he argues that critics should develop "ties—close ties—to the community." Shaw believes that those close ties will allow the critic to obtain better information, and ultimately to "promote the best within the industry while exposing the worst."

Shaw's own book demonstrates why this will not work, for it is notable that Shaw never criticizes any of the restaurants or restauranteurs whom he had personally interviewed or worked with during his research. To the contrary, he gushes and fawns over them. It is a love-fest. Regular readers of this site will know that Shaw hasn't lost his critical faculties. But in the book, he holds his tongue. He is too indebted to his sources—without whom the book would have been impossible—to confide what he really thinks about what he may have seen or heard.

By the way, Shaw doesn't hesitate to criticize those whom he did not work with. He gives an extremely balanced view of the Zagat Guides, both their strengths and methodological flaws. He rightly takes the New York Times to task for selecting amateurs as food critics (both William Grimes and particularly Frank Bruni). He brashly says that "Michelin will, and should, fail to gain traction in the United States." Early indications suggest that he is already being proved wrong on that prediction. But would he have been so harsh had Michelin invited Shaw to a few confidential inspectors' meetings? To the contrary, one must assume that Shaw would have bestowed heaps of praise upon Michelin, just as he did for everyone who helped him on the present volume.

Mind you, I am not suggesting that Shaw has done anything wrong here. I would be very happy to receive just one-tenth of the comped meals and insider access that Shaw receives. But I do not suggest that I could write about those restaurants with the same objectivity as a critic who attempts—however imperfectly—to remain detached and anonymous.

One can understand Shaw's lack of objectivity about the wonderful resource he co-founded: eGullet. Having already run us through the limitations of Zagat, Michelin, and newspaper reviews, he asks, "Is there another way? I think there is. It's called the Internet." Jaws drop in amazement. There's this undiscovered secret called the Internet, and somehow we missed it!

Anyhow, I'm as big a fan of the medium as anybody, but Shaw's discussion of the Internet doesn't have the same detachment—and perhaps it can't—as it does where he's not personally involved. He steers clear of mentioning Chowhound, the one other Internet site that could reasonably be considered a competitor to eGullet. Perhaps that's because, in any rational comparison, Chowhound would invariably come across as inferior, and Shaw could be forgiven for not wanting to gloat.

Along the way, Shaw doesn't spare us his opinions, and some are provocative. He appears to be right when he criticizes overly harsh U. S. agricultural regulations that prohibit the manufacture of chesse made from raw (un-pasteurized) milk, even though it is permitted in Europe. He concludes that the purported health risk is insignificant.

He strongly believes it is worthwhile to focus your dining on a few good restaurants, so that you'll become a "regular" and get treated like a VIP. One of the book's early chapters explains precisely how to go about doing that. I don't doubt Shaw, since he's done it and I haven't. But for the moment I intend to disregard his advice. Trying new places—his advice in a different chapter—is just too much fun.

Some of Shaw's general advice seems trivial. He points out that most restaurants have a menu posted outside, and it's a good idea to read the menu first before deciding whether to eat there. Yet, we shouldn't be afraid to try new things. I think my mother told me all that before I was 10. Shaw advises us to remember to say "please" and "thank you." Those to whom this is a revelation are probably beyond his help.

A final chapter on the future of dining takes a fun look at where the restaurant industry has been, and where Shaw thinks it is going. He interviews Jean-Jacques Rachou (La Cote Basque) and Georges Briguet (Le Perigord), two conseratives who turn out to be surprisingly open-minded. He also profiles avant-garde chefs like Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Grant Achatz of Alinea. He argues convincingly that we shouldn't be concerned about global chefs who aren't always present in the kitchens they supervise: all chefs are executives, and are to some extent dependent on work done in their absence. "To my way of thinking...all chefs are absentee chefs," he says. "The only variable I have been able to isolate is the extent of their absence." Less persuasive is his strange definition of authenticity as "being faithful to oneself."

Shaw has a tendency toward hyperbole that can be extremely irritating. Nobu Masuhisa's flavors are "seemingly extraterrestrial." Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz "run roughshod over culinary borders with the audacity of international arms dealers." A pizza oven is "ancient...spewing forth sparks, flames, and smoke with reckless abandon." (Can an inanimate object be reckless?) The workers who tend it "look as though they've been working the boiler room of the Titanic." A cheese-making machine "looks like an evil harp." He later tastes the cheeses: "all are at least superlative."

The book is written in Shaw's easy conversational style. There are occasional lapses into irrelevance, such as complaints about having to wake up early to do research. My alarm goes off at 5:45am on weekdays—a time not unusual among New Yorkers—so Shaw's complaints about leaving the house at 6:30am don't draw much sympathy from me. The ongoing saga of his choices of shoes, none of which seem to make him comfortable, is a distraction we don't need.

But while it may be a mixed bag, there is much here about the restaurant industry from the inside-out, which is precisely what Shaw set out to tell us. I can't imagine anyone more qualified to tell it. One gets the sense that Shaw has far more knowledge to share than made it into this book. I will be very happy to see a sequel.


Edited by oakapple (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
My alarm goes off at 5:45am on weekdays—a time not unusual among New Yorkers—so Shaw's complaints about leaving the house at 6:30am don't draw much sympathy from me.

I have a feeling Oakapple isn't a lawyer.

(The only good thing about that job, IMO.)


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oakapple’s lengthy and literate analysis encourages me to call attention to a review by John McKenna (of The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide) that appears in the latest issue of Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating (2006 Number 71). I haven’t read Turning the Tables, so I couldn’t comment on the fairness of the review, but McKenna makes some general observations about what might be called “restaurant trainspotting” with which I tend to agree. He concludes:

[W]hen Shaw…advises that “the restaurant customer who reads guidebooks, newspapers, magazines, online sources, and restaurant PR materials together will be better off for it,” one wonders if that customer will have any time left for dinner.

Shaw wants to translate the language of restaurants for us, because, “if you speak the language of restaurants, you get what you want: better service, food, reservations and overall experience.” Many people might respond that…getting to grips with all those demographics and all that reading material is, frankly, more trouble than it is worth…. I would argue that the customer's responsibilities are actually few and the same as in any form of dealing with others: politeness, punctuality, and pleasantness. Shaw's advocacy of the restaurant business turns the customer from the pursued into the pursuer, making for a relationship of crazed infatuation.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another take on Fat Guy's book:

http://www.epicurean.com/books/turning-the...ook-review.html

Oakapple’s lengthy and literate analysis encourages me to call attention to a review by John McKenna (of The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide) that appears in the latest issue of Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating (2006 Number 71). I haven’t read Turning the Tables, so I couldn’t comment on the fairness of the review, but McKenna makes some general observations about what might be called “restaurant trainspotting” with which I tend to agree. He concludes:
[W]hen Shaw…advises that “the restaurant customer who reads guidebooks, newspapers, magazines, online sources, and restaurant PR materials together will be better off for it,” one wonders if that customer will have any time left for dinner.

Shaw wants to translate the language of restaurants for us, because, “if you speak the language of restaurants, you get what you want: better service, food, reservations and overall experience.” Many people might respond that…getting to grips with all those demographics and all that reading material is, frankly, more trouble than it is worth…. I would argue that the customer's responsibilities are actually few and the same as in any form of dealing with others: politeness, punctuality, and pleasantness. Shaw's advocacy of the restaurant business turns the customer from the pursued into the pursuer, making for a relationship of crazed infatuation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oakapple’s lengthy and literate analysis encourages me to call attention to a review by John McKenna (of The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide) that appears in the latest issue of Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating (2006 Number 71). I haven’t read Turning the Tables, so I couldn’t comment on the fairness of the review, but McKenna makes some general observations about what might be called “restaurant trainspotting” with which I tend to agree. He concludes:
[W]hen Shaw…advises that “the restaurant customer who reads guidebooks, newspapers, magazines, online sources, and restaurant PR materials together will be better off for it,” one wonders if that customer will have any time left for dinner.

Shaw wants to translate the language of restaurants for us, because, “if you speak the language of restaurants, you get what you want: better service, food, reservations and overall experience.” Many people might respond that…getting to grips with all those demographics and all that reading material is, frankly, more trouble than it is worth…. I would argue that the customer's responsibilities are actually few and the same as in any form of dealing with others: politeness, punctuality, and pleasantness. Shaw's advocacy of the restaurant business turns the customer from the pursued into the pursuer, making for a relationship of crazed infatuation.

I haven't read the book either - but your message was rather timely for me. I am contemplating 3 weeks of eating in Japan - a country about which I know next to nothing. I have been reading - and reading - and reading - trying to be a "good restaurant patron" - and nothing is registering. Except that this restaurant seems to be close to our hotel - and that one isn't.

How can anything register - when a metro area like Tokyo has about 100,000 restaurants! The western media tends to pay attention to about a dozen places in Tokyo (although none of the readily available information is very timely) - which doesn't surprise me - since even the NY media tends to pay most of its attention to perhaps 50 places in NY.

So how to decide - what's a girl to do? I've just decided to play it by ear. About the only thing I'd add to the article cited is that in Japan - it's up to the customer to figure out where the restaurant is - since most streets don't have names - and street numbering is kind of weird (the first building on the block is #1 - the second #2 - etc. - so the numbers can go 2 - 47 - 23) - and to learn whether or not a restaurant accepts credit cards - and to bring enough cash if plastic isn't accepted.

By the way - I think I know what you mean by "restaurant trainspotting" - converting the peculiar English obsession of watching trains for hours - days - weeks - to observe their comings and goings and various characteristics - down to the teeny weeny details - to the restaurant scene. But I'm not sure. If I'm not right about this - please correct me. Or feel free to amplify on this definition. Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
John,

Is this review online?

The Art of Eating is by subscription only - but you can obtain single issues of the publication at its website. Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
By the way - I think I know what you mean by "restaurant trainspotting" - converting the peculiar English obsession of watching trains for hours - days - weeks - to observe their comings and goings and various characteristics - down to the teeny weeny details - to the restaurant scene.  But I'm not sure.  If I'm not right about this - please correct me.  Or feel free to amplify on this definition.  Robyn

You're spot on! As for finding your way around in Japan--or anywhere--what you need is a reliable guru. It's the only way to get started in any strange environment. When I transferred to the UC Berkeley English department as an undergrad, a friend of a much-loved professor of mine at College of the Pacific sat down with me and told me which professors to avoid and which ones to enroll with, whatever they were teaching. He was 100% right and he saved me untold anguish.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...