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Does Service Matter?


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One of the reasons I have come to hate going to restaurants is that the level of service is horrid. We were recently given a gift certificate to a "high class" steak house. It took me 45 minutes just to get a glass of ice water. Why did I have to listen to the server speak in a monotone to explain how the steak was cooked at a qazillion degrees and must therefore be perfect? It wasn't! Why did the server ask if we would be having wine with dinner and then, when given an emphatic affirmative, didn't show up to take our wine order until we had almost finished the entree? I had heard so much about this steak house but the whole time I sat there, all I could think of was jumping up on the table and screaming, "The emperor has no clothes!" Bah humbug!

Then last week we decided to check out a relatively new Chinese restaurant. The service was even more horrid. We waited 30 minutes to order a drink, another 20 minutes before anyone took our food order. We ordered 4 dishes to share between 4 adults and ordered a child's meal. The child was left without food or drink while 3 of our 4 courses were served. Finally, we insisted on the child being served and then our last dish was served long after we had finished the other three!

It's not that we haven't experienced superb service. At the now-defunct Copenhagen Room in Toronto, the servers seemed to be perfectly trained to read minds. If you wanted hovering service that is what they provided, if you wanted to linger and chat with a dining companion undisturbed, that is what they provided. The service was adapted to the diner. God, I miss that place.

Until I find another Copenhagen Room, I prefer to eat at the Nielsen's even if it means doing the dishes! At least the service is flawless.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I guess the level of service expected depends on the reason for eating out and who I am with. If we're out with our two children (ages 18 months and 3 years) then we want food and quickly, before they get too hungry. If it is just the two of us (very rarely) then we want a long evening of adult talk, wine and dine. We don't want to feel rushed out of the place but at the same time, as eating out is a rare occurence we want to enjoy the whole experience.

On one occasion we were waiting for a table (having registered our name with the hostess) and waited and waited, you get the idea. I thought I heard our name (it's rather unusual) and went and asked if we were called. No. So we waited some more. Eventually having missed the start of the movie we had planned to see after our meal, I made a huge fuss, found our name was indeed called and we were given half price meals and free drinks. The evening wasn't really as special as it should have been.

On the other hand we went to a Chinese Restaurant recently with the children and managed to order our meal within 5 minutes of sitting down and had received it before other tables had even placed their orders. Brilliant service when your children are hungry and tired. Delicious too.

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Great service cannot make bad food good, but poor service can ruin great food. For me the best service is attentive and efficient without being noticed.

Doc said it in a few very appropriate words. I'll expand on those a bit...

Not very long ago, Daniel Bourillot died. The world goes on much as it was, however, because most people are blissfully unaware of the fact that Bourillot ever even lived. In truth, even most of those who had come in contact with him probably never knew his name. Bourillot was, after all, "only a waiter" and the fact that he died six months after he celebrated his 100th birthday was merely a curiosity.

I first met Bourillot, who was a waiter at the restaurant in the "Touring Balance" hotel in Geneva, when he was a far younger man - a mere seventy. Even then, however, Bourillot was far more than a mere waiter. He was a professional, a man who took his job with seriousness and pride. As most European waiters, he had started his career at the age of 12, working as a "piccolo" - an apprentice waiter whose job includes clearing dishes from tables, cleaning ashtrays and mopping floors after the last customer has gone home. At sixteen, to the great pride of his parents, he was promoted to the rank of assistant waiter and by twenty-two he was acknowledged by his peers as a full-fledged waiter. Only when he attained the age of 58 did he finally attain the status of being the senior waiter in the restaurant.

Bourillot could have retired with a good pension at 75 but so enjoyed his work that he chose to continue at the restaurant. Even when he celebrated his 100th birthday, he continued to work four days every week. It is true that he had assistants who carried the heavy trays and did the most difficult parts of his work, but he insisted on personally greeting his regular clients, seating them, taking their orders and presenting them with the bill. I last saw Bourillot about five years ago. At that time he proudly boasted that he had been to the funerals of "three wives, three owners of the hotel and more chefs than I can remember". He attributed his longevity to his daily habit "of drinking a small glass of white wine with my morning croissant, a carafe of red wine with my dinner, and a very small glass of eau-de-vie de framboises just before I go to sleep".

Whatever his personal habits, Bourillot knew, as do most of his European colleagues, that whether people have chosen to dine in a prestigious or an ordinary restaurant, the waiter is of no less importance to the success of a meal than the chef. He was also privy to a great secret - that as go-betweens between the chef and the diner, waiters have the option of transforming the most ordinary meal into an absolute delight or of changing the greatest gastronomic delights into an ordeal of pain, suffering and embarrassment.

Bourillot would have been absolutely shocked at the level of service found in many restaurants. In honor of his memory, I have compiled the following list of personal complaints, a compendium of the sins most often committed by waiters, waitresses and maitres d'hotel. To his great honor, during his long career, Bourillot was never guilty of any of them.

On Entering a Restaurant

- I have nothing but contempt for the waiter, waitress or maitre d'hotel who ignores me after I have entered and leaves me standing at the entrance or in the foyer of their restaurants. No guest should have to wait more than sixty seconds to be greeted after they have entered a restaurant.

- I sense hostility in waiters whose first words are "A table for two?". It really does not take very much time to greet one's clients with a polite greeting. "Good evening", or "Hello" will do.

- Especially at restaurants where I am not known (and this happens most often in cafe-restaurants and fast-food eateries), I become upset by waiters who greet me with the kind of warmth and affection usually reserved for one's family members of lovers. Such greetings are so obviously artificial that they are offensive.

- I smile, but only barely, when waiters ask me banal or useless questions such as" "May I help you"? Obviously they can help me. Otherwise I would not be standing there.

- Especially in prestigious restaurants, waiters frequently surprise me by forgetting that every client has a title, even if it is only "sir" or "ma'am".

- Far too many waiters have forgotten that in addition to being a rampart of civilization, politeness is also the basis of good service. The ideal waiter, for example, will be friendly but not familiar and formal but not stiff. They should realize that with few exceptions when regular clients ask them about their health they should reply "I am well, thank you" and not give a detailed medical bulletin.

- I become agitated by waiters who inform me that my table "will be ready in five minutes" when they know full well that it will be at least twenty minutes. I much prefer honesty because that gives me the option of choosing another restaurant or sitting at the bar and enjoying an aperitif until my table really is ready.

- When being seated, some guests will request a specific table and if that table is not reserved, there is no reason why their request should not be granted. Other guests, usually in a party of two, will sometimes request a table that is generally used to seat four. If the restaurant is not crowded and if a rush of guests is not expected, the couple should be given the larger table. Many, including this writer, will be deeply offended if they are forced to sit at a table for two when all of the larger tables are still empty.

Once I Have Been Seated

- Once I have been seated, I do not enjoy having to wait for ten or minutes until my waiter finally decides to bring me a menu.

- Once the menu has been presented, I become upset by waiters who cannot answer my questions intelligently. If I want to know, for example, whether the shrimp in a certain dish have been boiled or fried, the waiter should either know or should check for me. I absolutely despise the answer "How should I know?"

- I rapidly develop a sharp sense of dislike for waiters who have to be constantly reminded to keep my water and wine glass filled or that the ash trays on the table should be replaced as they become dirty.

- I have no respect for waiters who, when they bring your dishes to the table ask "Who gets what?". This question shows a lack of concern for me and waiters should be well enough trained that they remember which dish goes to which person.

- Although service need not always be formal, it should always be correct and careful. I do not appreciate waiters who place dishes on the table noisily; I become frustrated by waiters who do not know the correct locations of forks, knives and spoons; and I fume quietly when waiters treat my food with disdain.

- I do not like waiters who feel that they can ignore me once they have placed the food on my table. It is perfectly acceptable in the middle of a meal to realize that something extra is needed (extra sauce for a salad or a pepper grinder, for example) but there are few things more frustrating than when one cannot catch the eye of his waiter.

- If I receive a dish that I consider inferior and want to return it to the kitchen, I do not want the waiter to fight with me. If I have received a dish that is not what I ordered, I do not expect the waiter to become aggressive or defensive. I expect that my dish will be replaced. When, for example, as happened to me recently, I received an omelet that was hot on the surface but cold inside, I did not appreciate the waitress who looked at me as if I were quite insane and remarked "that's ridiculous ". I do not expect my waiter or waitress to enter into a battle of wills with me. I expect polite, good service.

- I never get upset with waiters who make honest errors. Even the most dedicated and experienced waiters have occasionally spilled soup on a customer. In cases of minor incidents, waiters should do no more than apologize quietly. In the event of a major accident on the part of the waiter (an entire bowl of soup in a customer's lap, for example), the waiter should apologize and the owner or maitre d'hotel of the restaurant should offer remuneration. Under no circumstances, however, do I appreciate a waiter who denies his or her responsibility or becomes aggressive.

- Even customers make errors (using the wrong fork with the wrong dish, spilling soup onto the tablecloth, knocking a wine glass over), but no matter what faux pas guests commit, they should never be made to feel silly. I actively dislike waiters who try to make their customers feel guilty or foolish.

- Too many waiters, both male and female, tend to relate to women as if this were the 19th century. I do not appreciate waiters who ignore the women and listen only to the men at the table. Nor do I appreciate waiters, especially in "better" restaurants who automatically assume that men will order for women. I also become upset when wine is automatically given to the man at the table for tasting. Waiters should be taught that members of either sex are equally qualified to taste wine. They should also be taught that it is terribly bad manners to address a woman only through their male companion. Women also have voices and opinions and it is time that most waiters learned this.

- Because children have no rank and nothing can be gained from them, it is especially easy for waiters to be rude to young people. I have a special grudge against waiters who have such an attitude.

- There are few things more disturbing to me than seeing a waiter with a finger in a glass or in my bowl of soup.

- I do not know why most waiters cannot learn that even in the simplest restaurants, life can be more comfortable for all involved if only they would serve dishes from the right and to clear them from the left. More than correct etiquette, this allows a logical flow of action, especially at large tables when more than one waiter may be serving.

- For some reason, many waiters have never learned to judge the appropriate moment for removing dishes from the table. If one person at the table finishes his or her meal before the others, it is not appropriate to clear their setting before the others have eaten because this gives guests the feeling they are being rushed. (An exception to this rule should, of course, be made if a guest asks for his plate to be removed). From the moment the last person at the table has completed their meal, clearing should be done as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

- I hate nothing more than having to make desperate attempts at any time during my meal to catch the eye of my waiter. There is a world-famous cartoon (originally published in the "New Yorker Magazine" in 1936) about the restaurant guest who is having a heart attack and, when he finally manages to catch the eye of a waiter, the waiter responds by saying "I'm sorry sir, but its not my table". Although they should not be expected to serve tables other than their own, waiters should respond politely to requests and refer them to the waiter who is serving that table. No matter whose table it may be, no waiter should ignore simple, polite requests.

After The Meal

- Like most people, I like to receive my bill promptly after I have finished even the most leisurely of meals. Because too many waiters think their job is over when they have given my coffee or brandy, many an otherwise enjoyable meal has been spoiled for me by trying desperately to get a bill.

- I do not like waiters who, once they have presented the bill, then linger at my table waiting for payment. The waiter should retreat to give me a chance to review the bill before I make payment. If I have questions about the bill, my questions should be answered promptly and politely (and not, as so often happens, defensively) and once I have put cash, a check or a credit card on the table it should be quickly picked up. Change should also be made quickly.

- Once the bill has been paid, too many waiters and maitres d' hotel really show their scorn by ignoring customers completely. Guests should be thanked. They should also be asked if everything was to their satisfaction. Even though most departing clients will not respond in depth to that question, the maitre d'hotel or owner who is seeing them to the door should be prepared to listen to any complaints or comments his guests may have had. If clients go to the trouble to say what they really feels, they should be taken seriously.

Let it be known that I have enormous respect for waiters, regardless of whether they are life-time professionals or students working part time, if they add to the pleasure of my meal. I do not expect waiters to grovel before me, nor do I perceive them as my personal servants. I do, however feel that I have the right to respect and good service and when I receive these I reciprocate with respect and a good tip.

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Most of us can replicate 85% of the restaurant meals we eat, at home.

Really? Is that a comment on the type of restaurants you eat at, or your cooking skills? Much as I love to cook, and to eat at home, I would emphatically disagree.

Unless you eat at only the highest-end places, or those that specialize in molecular, you can do it, with a little time, patience and the right tools.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Most of us can replicate 85% of the restaurant meals we eat, at home.

Really? Is that a comment on the type of restaurants you eat at, or your cooking skills? Much as I love to cook, and to eat at home, I would emphatically disagree.

Unless you eat at only the highest-end places, or those that specialize in molecular, you can do it, with a little time, patience and the right tools.

My thoughts exactly! No, I can't replicate the Keller's and Trotter's of this world but I can come close on most of the main stream "decent" dining places.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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...

Whatever his personal habits, Bourillot knew, as do most of his European colleagues, that whether people have chosen to dine in a prestigious or an ordinary restaurant, the waiter is of no less importance to the success of a meal than the chef. He was also privy to a great secret - that as go-betweens between the chef and the diner, waiters have the option of transforming the most ordinary meal into an absolute delight or of changing the greatest gastronomic delights into an ordeal of pain, suffering and embarrassment.

Thank you. What I would have said if I were as articulate as you! :smile:

When my dander is up because I am thirsty and have been led to a table and abandoned, even manna from heaven will taste like swill to me. Nothing can remove the taste of bad service!

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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Great service cannot make bad food good, but poor service can ruin great food. For me the best service is attentive and efficient without being noticed.

Doc said it in a few very appropriate words. I'll expand on those a bit...

Not very long ago, Daniel Bourillot died. The world goes on much as it was, however, because most people are blissfully unaware of the fact that Bourillot ever even lived. In truth, even most of those who had come in contact with him probably never knew his name. Bourillot was, after all, "only a waiter" and the fact that he died six months after he celebrated his 100th birthday was merely a curiosity.

I first met Bourillot, who was a waiter at the restaurant in the "Touring Balance" hotel in Geneva, when he was a far younger man - a mere seventy. Even then, however, Bourillot was far more than a mere waiter. He was a professional, a man who took his job with seriousness and pride. As most European waiters, he had started his career at the age of 12, working as a "piccolo" - an apprentice waiter whose job includes clearing dishes from tables, cleaning ashtrays and mopping floors after the last customer has gone home. At sixteen, to the great pride of his parents, he was promoted to the rank of assistant waiter and by twenty-two he was acknowledged by his peers as a full-fledged waiter. Only when he attained the age of 58 did he finally attain the status of being the senior waiter in the restaurant.

Bourillot could have retired with a good pension at 75 but so enjoyed his work that he chose to continue at the restaurant. Even when he celebrated his 100th birthday, he continued to work four days every week. It is true that he had assistants who carried the heavy trays and did the most difficult parts of his work, but he insisted on personally greeting his regular clients, seating them, taking their orders and presenting them with the bill. I last saw Bourillot about five years ago. At that time he proudly boasted that he had been to the funerals of "three wives, three owners of the hotel and more chefs than I can remember". He attributed his longevity to his daily habit "of drinking a small glass of white wine with my morning croissant, a carafe of red wine with my dinner, and a very small glass of eau-de-vie de framboises just before I go to sleep".

Whatever his personal habits, Bourillot knew, as do most of his European colleagues, that whether people have chosen to dine in a prestigious or an ordinary restaurant, the waiter is of no less importance to the success of a meal than the chef. He was also privy to a great secret - that as go-betweens between the chef and the diner, waiters have the option of transforming the most ordinary meal into an absolute delight or of changing the greatest gastronomic delights into an ordeal of pain, suffering and embarrassment.

Bourillot would have been absolutely shocked at the level of service found in many restaurants. In honor of his memory, I have compiled the following list of personal complaints, a compendium of the sins most often committed by waiters, waitresses and maitres d'hotel. To his great honor, during his long career, Bourillot was never guilty of any of them.

On Entering a Restaurant

- I have nothing but contempt for the waiter, waitress or maitre d'hotel who ignores me after I have entered and leaves me standing at the entrance or in the foyer of their restaurants. No guest should have to wait more than sixty seconds to be greeted after they have entered a restaurant.

- I sense hostility in waiters whose first words are "A table for two?". It really does not take very much time to greet one's clients with a polite greeting. "Good evening", or "Hello" will do.

- Especially at restaurants where I am not known (and this happens most often in cafe-restaurants and fast-food eateries), I become upset by waiters who greet me with the kind of warmth and affection usually reserved for one's family members of lovers. Such greetings are so obviously artificial that they are offensive.

- I smile, but only barely, when waiters ask me banal or useless questions such as" "May I help you"? Obviously they can help me. Otherwise I would not be standing there.

- Especially in prestigious restaurants, waiters frequently surprise me by forgetting that every client has a title, even if it is only "sir" or "ma'am".

- Far too many waiters have forgotten that in addition to being a rampart of civilization, politeness is also the basis of good service. The ideal waiter, for example, will be friendly but not familiar and formal but not stiff. They should realize that with few exceptions when regular clients ask them about their health they should reply "I am well, thank you" and not give a detailed medical bulletin.

- I become agitated by waiters who inform me that my table "will be ready in five minutes" when they know full well that it will be at least twenty minutes. I much prefer honesty because that gives me the option of choosing another restaurant or sitting at the bar and enjoying an aperitif until my table really is ready.

- When being seated, some guests will request a specific table and if that table is not reserved, there is no reason why their request should not be granted. Other guests, usually in a party of two, will sometimes request a table that is generally used to seat four. If the restaurant is not crowded and if a rush of guests is not expected, the couple should be given the larger table. Many, including this writer, will be deeply offended if they are forced to sit at a table for two when all of the larger tables are still empty.

Once I Have Been Seated

- Once I have been seated, I do not enjoy having to wait for ten or minutes until my waiter finally decides to bring me a menu.

- Once the menu has been presented, I become upset by waiters who cannot answer my questions intelligently. If I want to know, for example, whether the shrimp in a certain dish have been boiled or fried, the waiter should either know or should check for me. I absolutely despise the answer "How should I know?"

- I rapidly develop a sharp sense of dislike for waiters who have to be constantly reminded to keep my water and wine glass filled or that the ash trays on the table should be replaced as they become dirty.

- I have no respect for waiters who, when they bring your dishes to the table ask "Who gets what?". This question shows a lack of concern for me and waiters should be well enough trained that they remember which dish goes to which person.

- Although service need not always be formal, it should always be correct and careful. I do not appreciate waiters who place dishes on the table noisily; I become frustrated by waiters who do not know the correct locations of forks, knives and spoons; and I fume quietly when waiters treat my food with disdain.

- I do not like waiters who feel that they can ignore me once they have placed the food on my table. It is perfectly acceptable in the middle of a meal to realize that something extra is needed (extra sauce for a salad or a pepper grinder, for example) but there are few things more frustrating than when one cannot catch the eye of his waiter.

- If I receive a dish that I consider inferior and want to return it to the kitchen, I do not want the waiter to fight with me. If I have received a dish that is not what I ordered, I do not expect the waiter to become aggressive or defensive. I expect that my dish will be replaced. When, for example, as happened to me recently, I received an omelet that was hot on the surface but cold inside, I did not appreciate the waitress who looked at me as if I were quite insane and remarked "that's ridiculous ". I do not expect my waiter or waitress to enter into a battle of wills with me. I expect polite, good service.

- I never get upset with waiters who make honest errors. Even the most dedicated and experienced waiters have occasionally spilled soup on a customer. In cases of minor incidents, waiters should do no more than apologize quietly. In the event of a major accident on the part of the waiter (an entire bowl of soup in a customer's lap, for example), the waiter should apologize and the owner or maitre d'hotel of the restaurant should offer remuneration. Under no circumstances, however, do I appreciate a waiter who denies his or her responsibility or becomes aggressive.

- Even customers make errors (using the wrong fork with the wrong dish, spilling soup onto the tablecloth, knocking a wine glass over), but no matter what faux pas guests commit, they should never be made to feel silly. I actively dislike waiters who try to make their customers feel guilty or foolish.

- Too many waiters, both male and female, tend to relate to women as if this were the 19th century. I do not appreciate waiters who ignore the women and listen only to the men at the table. Nor do I appreciate waiters, especially in "better" restaurants who automatically assume that men will order for women. I also become upset when wine is automatically given to the man at the table for tasting. Waiters should be taught that members of either sex are equally qualified to taste wine. They should also be taught that it is terribly bad manners to address a woman only through their male companion. Women also have voices and opinions and it is time that most waiters learned this.

- Because children have no rank and nothing can be gained from them, it is especially easy for waiters to be rude to young people. I have a special grudge against waiters who have such an attitude.

- There are few things more disturbing to me than seeing a waiter with a finger in a glass or in my bowl of soup.

- I do not know why most waiters cannot learn that even in the simplest restaurants, life can be more comfortable for all involved if only they would serve dishes from the right and to clear them from the left. More than correct etiquette, this allows a logical flow of action, especially at large tables when more than one waiter may be serving.

- For some reason, many waiters have never learned to judge the appropriate moment for removing dishes from the table. If one person at the table finishes his or her meal before the others, it is not appropriate to clear their setting before the others have eaten because this gives guests the feeling they are being rushed. (An exception to this rule should, of course, be made if a guest asks for his plate to be removed). From the moment the last person at the table has completed their meal, clearing should be done as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.

- I hate nothing more than having to make desperate attempts at any time during my meal to catch the eye of my waiter. There is a world-famous cartoon (originally published in the "New Yorker Magazine" in 1936) about the restaurant guest who is having a heart attack and, when he finally manages to catch the eye of a waiter, the waiter responds by saying "I'm sorry sir, but its not my table". Although they should not be expected to serve tables other than their own, waiters should respond politely to requests and refer them to the waiter who is serving that table. No matter whose table it may be, no waiter should ignore simple, polite requests.

After The Meal

- Like most people, I like to receive my bill promptly after I have finished even the most leisurely of meals. Because too many waiters think their job is over when they have given my coffee or brandy, many an otherwise enjoyable meal has been spoiled for me by trying desperately to get a bill.

- I do not like waiters who, once they have presented the bill, then linger at my table waiting for payment. The waiter should retreat to give me a chance to review the bill before I make payment. If I have questions about the bill, my questions should be answered promptly and politely (and not, as so often happens, defensively) and once I have put cash, a check or a credit card on the table it should be quickly picked up. Change should also be made quickly.

- Once the bill has been paid, too many waiters and maitres d' hotel really show their scorn by ignoring customers completely. Guests should be thanked. They should also be asked if everything was to their satisfaction. Even though most departing clients will not respond in depth to that question, the maitre d'hotel or owner who is seeing them to the door should be prepared to listen to any complaints or comments his guests may have had. If clients go to the trouble to say what they really feels, they should be taken seriously.

Let it be known that I have enormous respect for waiters, regardless of whether they are life-time professionals or students working part time, if they add to the pleasure of my meal. I do not expect waiters to grovel before me, nor do I perceive them as my personal servants. I do, however feel that I have the right to respect and good service and when I receive these I reciprocate with respect and a good tip.

Daniel, thank you for this. It should be required reading for anyone employed in a FOH position that wishes to do his or her job well.

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

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Wondering if there are any Europeans reading this...with their different ideas of "in/out times" and protocol in asking for the check, etc (for starters). I'd be interested to hear their perspective on what good service is and how much it matters.

mark

Edited by markemorse (log)
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Really slow service pisses me off. On the other side of the token, really pushy, fast service also pisses me off.

I'm over 50. Everything pisses me off.

~~~~~~~

What do you think about the waiter sliding the napkin on your lap for you?

I can't help but say it is creepy creepy creepy to me. eww eww eww

:laugh:

This has only happened to me in a few restaurants, Kate, and the first time, I was about as astonished as you! mostly because as a rule I tend to put my napkin on my lap pretty much the moment I sit down, and it felt funny to be rushed. But it seems to be something done sort of in the spirit of helping you push your chair in, lest you feel or look awkward.

But yeah, it can be a bit of an Ew! moment :laugh:

Edited by *Deborah* (log)

Agenda-free since 1966.

Foodblog: Power, Convection and Lies

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I particularly like it when good-looking waiters ask me if I'd like a kitchen tour, and then while we're lingering in the walk-in, sneak a sly kiss.

Sadly, that's only happened once.

But I continue to hope.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Daniel, I also greatly appreciate your post. I'm considering sharing it with my friends who own restaurants in our small town. I may have to convert it into a "things to do" v "things not to do" list, just to increase the likelihood of the ideas being positively received.

We have a quirky resaurant (doesn't everyone though) that has solidly good food. On a good night, the meal might even be one of the best you'll ever have. The prime reason that we don't go more often is the service.

When you enter you are often greeted by the owner/chef who is always unshaven, with a grungy ballcap, his chefs pants and then a formerly white t-shirt covered in pawprints from the days prep. Its almost as if he's presenting a canvas for our preview...as if to say, "Do not waste your time looking at my overcrowded menu. Just look at my nipple to see what is good today."

The host or main server will then intercept and seat you. Now, this is our most expensive restaurant in town and it is the only white linen restaurant. As they walk you to your table the server will pull back the white plastic lawn chairs (I assume because they match the white table cloth).

Now you're seated comfortably enough that you could be sitting in your backyard between games of badminton. The server is very prompt in welcoming you and saying, "I will be your server this evening. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do to make your dining experience more pleasant." Nice touch...uhhh...what's your name again? Oh that's right, you've been trained to never tell me your name until after the meal is complete and the check is delivered since "you're here to serve them, not be their friends." (an attempt to justify the ticket)

Drinks are offered. There are so many stories here, I'll edit for the sake of brevity. My favorite is when they bring a bottle of spring water (nothing fancy, just Perrier or something of the sort) and present it on their forearm swaddled in a fine linen as if it were the baby Jesus, then "present" the bottle to the table for pouring. Or, how about when I order a heffeweizen which they bring to the table sharing their knowledge of how to pour the beer. Now I've been to Germany a few times, and never has my heffeweizen been ice cold...so, why not just put it on the table and I'll pour it myself later...oh, because you don't trust that I understand how to swirl the bottle...oh, never mind.

The server then eloquently describes the specials (which are always too many to keep track of...but I'll let them slide on this since it could just be my short attention span). After your order is taken, the server is quick to explain that they adhere to the Slow Food Movement so the meal may take a while. I thought that Slow Food meant locally grown, fresh, etc...I stand corrected. It just means slow enough for you to sell me more alcohol.

And here, we are talking haute cuisine...do not insult the chef by asking for variations. As if art mirrors life, the old joke is true here...a friend of mine went in to order a BLT, but seeing that they are a vegetarian, they asked for no B...No, the chef doesn't prepare it that way...you know the rest of the joke, but it really did happen here.

Then the meal comes - again sometimes outstanding, sometimes just really good. It is now time for the chef to come out and share his artistry with us again...no, not the plate, but his t-shirt. If you're astute, you'll see the new splotches just above his belt line with your sauce. I'll just assume that his t-shirt is more sanitary than it looks since I see his finger swipes (ala Jackson Pollock) distinctly on his shirt. Our server then re-approaches (whatever his name was) and confirms that the meal is to "the table's satisfaction." Now I've been called a stump, a rock, many assorted farm animals, but I've never been called a table before, so I ask the table, "Table, are you satisfied?" The table screams back at me, "Not until you get your ass out of that plastic chair!" I tell the server that the meal is fine.

We enjoy our meal with only a well timed visit from our nameless server. I know better than to ask for any sauce variations.

Dinner is complete and the dishes are shooshed away (mostly from the left). The server returns and asks if, "We ate too much, or if we saved room for dessert?" Why do they ask it this way? Look, I'm a gluttonous pig and I did eat too much, but I do want some of your dessert too.

I never get dessert because its not their thing...brownies and cookies only (maybe that's why they try and talk me out of it).

Once finished, the check is quickly delivered and the server leaves (although I see him peering around the corner...gotcha! Kinda of like that creep who stalked me in college). The bill is now paid, the server returns only occassionally and doesn't rush us away - thanks.

The server now tells us his name is Matt and that he hopes the table will return...I don't think the table is leaving, so odds are pretty good that it will return.

So here is my math on this restaurant...

$50 What I would be willing to pay for my food (less drinks)

-$15 for having to look at a grungy t-shirt

-$5 for the tacky plastic chairs

-$5 for unnecessary pretention...whatever your name was again

-$2 for erroneous beer handling advice

-$5 for re-emmergence of the rorschot blot t-shirt

+$1 for trying to talk me out of dessert

+$5 for not rushing me out...must be part of the slow food movement philosophy

Total value: $24

By the way...did I mention the restaurant is for sale.

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Most of us can replicate 85% of the restaurant meals we eat, at home.

Really? Is that a comment on the type of restaurants you eat at, or your cooking skills? Much as I love to cook, and to eat at home, I would emphatically disagree.

Unless you eat at only the highest-end places, or those that specialize in molecular, you can do it, with a little time, patience and the right tools.

Maybe you. That doesn't automatically extrapolate to "most of us", or to "can" (as opposed to "could", diluted by the qualification that we need the "time, patience and the right tools").

No, I almost never eat at high-end restaurants, they're out of my budget. But of the places I do eat at, I don't believe that what I "can" make is equivalent to what they do make. Not because their skills are so rarefied that no one can acquire them, but because home cooks don't necessarily make the kind of food that is served in restaurants, they don't have, or need, the same training, and they are not likely to have access to the same resources.

When I eat out, it's for the food, not usually (or at least not primarily) for the service, and the idea that I'm saving myself the bother of washing up or making a mess in the kitchen never occurs to me.

"A little time, patience and the right tools" could apply to the acquisition of skills in almost any field, say, furniture making, but then it's a long leap to the assumption that most of us, even if we are practitioners, are sufficiently skilled to replicate the work of a professional. Even just 85 percent of it.

Edited by Ohba (log)
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"A little time, patience and the right tools" could apply to the acquisition of skills in almost any field, say, furniture making, but then it's a long leap to the assumption that most of us, even if we are practitioners, are sufficiently skilled to replicate the work of a professional. Even just 85 percent of it.

Look, Ohba. My point was not to upset or insult anyone. It was to say that we could and can do it -- if we choose to. I stand by that belief. But the thread is titled "Does Service Matter," and this is one way I present my side.

I believe most anyone can replicate the skills of a professional one time, if you really want to. But not 300 times a night for years, with a team of people who may or may not care about what they do, and make money at it.

Back to the thread: Yeah, it matters. The putting-the-napkin-on-the-lap trick always seemed a little weird to me, but I also don't like having my chair held for me, either. Makes me remember that kid in my third grade class who would hold girls' chairs and then pull them out as they sat, in a ploy to see their skirts fly up as they fell. :sad:

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Ok someone wanted a european opinion, I am a Brit living in the States, but my opinions are a little warped from being a restauraunt owner (in the US)

Back to the thread: Yeah, it matters. The putting-the-napkin-on-the-lap trick always seemed a little weird to me, but I also don't like having my chair held for me, either.

I grew up with this and it has never seemed weird just what formal establishments do.

Clearing plates... Having been on both sides of this, in the UK part of our table manners training includes placing your knife and fork together in the center of the plate when finished, now as a kid I thought this was just one of those silly rules invented to torture children with, now as some one who has served plenty of people I get it.... you are informing your server that you are finished. I have had many times when I have watched carefully thought the whole table was finished and someone starts eating again ..... belive me its a guessing game. Which raises the other part of clearing tables I hate it when serves start clearing plates before the whole table is finished.

Over friendly servers.... THIS really freaked me out when I started living here ...Hi I am Sandy and I will be your server etc

I think that the level of service requested by the first post

Granted, I'm a minimalist when it comes to service. Just bring me and whoever is at my table, food at the same time, at the appropriate temperature, make sure the bottle of wine is on the table and be reasonably "handy" if I need anything else.

is the hardest of all to achieve, good service looks easy but it is not.

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Hi alligande,

It was me who asked for a European opinion....thanks!

One of the things I was interested in was: cultures where "the table is yours for the night" (I was specifically thinking of places I've lived (or live), Italy and Holland). Unless you're at a very touristy restaurant, there's usually no expectation on the diners' part that they'll be pressed into leaving before they're ready, and there's no expectation on the server's part that the meal has to end at a certain time. And I was wondering about the effect of these expectations on "how service matters". Among other things.

Is it generally like this in the UK?

mark

EDIT: spelling corrected, absolutes softened, foreshadowing added. I even edited this EDIT sentence a couple of times.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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On Entering a Restaurant

- I sense hostility in waiters whose first words are "A table for two?". It really does not take very much time to greet one's clients with a polite greeting. "Good evening", or "Hello" will do.

After The Meal

- Once the bill has been paid, too many waiters and maitres d' hotel really show their scorn by ignoring customers completely. Guests should be thanked. They should also be asked if everything was to their satisfaction. Even though most departing clients will not respond in depth to that question, the maitre d'hotel or owner who is seeing them to the door should be prepared to listen to any complaints or comments his guests may have had. If clients go to the trouble to say what they really feels, they should be taken seriously.

Lovely post there on Mr. Bourillot.

I have quoted these two comments in particular because they remind me of a meal we recently had in a bar in St. Louis. Just a typical bar meal, but I really enjoyed the experience of eating there as well as the food. I realized afterwards that it was because the very young (to me, rapidly approaching 60) staff, while they may have dressed in cutoff jeans & T-shiirts, as one might expect in a St. Louis bar in August, seemed to know both of these points instinctively.

That kind of hospitality, of course, is good business practice too. Next time I'm in that area and I need a quick late-night meal, I'll go back to Barristers rather than searching for someplace else.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Certainly, good service is important. But you can get used to, and even become comfortable with bad service, too... While I was in college, living near Manchester's infamous Curry Mile, we'd get pretty awful service, but we didn't care -- I mean, a bunch of drunk students going for a curry after an evening in the pub. Didn't tip much, didn't behave particularly well, so didn't really expect anything...

After having become accustomed to that uh, "level" of service, as a student, in Indian restaurants in Manchester, England, I went to one in California that had great service... Now, I'd gotten used to good service in restaurants in general at this point, but I still felt as if poor service was the norm in Indian restaurants -- even if I didn't consciously think of it. So when this really friendly waiter came over to pour our glasses for us and generally doing a great job, I felt really weirded out by it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I felt as if something was really amiss...

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