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April 20, 2005

Comments

Kudzu

Does anybody else remember when hearing-impaired people handed out little cards to signify their specific conditions (on the back was usually a small-print illustration of ASL alphabet)? Wouldn't it be nice if each of us could compose a card saying what we do and don't want from a server? Some lines pop immediately to mind: Don't call women "ladies" over and over while serving us. (Do you say "gents"?)
Don't compliment me on my choices from the menu (I don't care what you think of them.) Don't over-describe specials (but be ready to answer my questions, should they arise).
Do try to speak clearly and slowly enough to communicate. (I remember a server at Fifth Floor whose affected murmuring was maddening.)
Don't interrupt when it's obvious that I am in deep conversation with my dinner partner, especially to ask me if everything is all right. Do be willing to accept a criticism (as in, "This wine tastes a bit off.") and do something about it. For a host or hostess: Do read the atmsophere and be sensitive if guests appear uneasy about their assigned table. You may not be able to change the seating, but if it's possible it can make all the difference . Do try to aid in ease of seating guests; way too often the crammed-together chairs (or tables pushed up against a banquette) make for awkward and unattractive maneuvers -- not everyone's a flexible sylph.....Something I really can't abide is what I call the "snap" : a captain or even a server curtly ordering a busboy around right in front of diners....In the long run it comes down to what good manners are all about: a feeling of comfort on the part of the guests and the staff, neither causing distress for the other.

Kudzu

PS You asked about different expectations from different levels ($$$) of restaurants. Some of the most genuinely caring attention I have had has been from little local places like taquerias and neighborhood Asian and family-run Italian restaurants. What it boils down to is true hospitality -- a welcome and a caring. There's no way to teach this.

haddock

Kudzu:

I completely get the thing about caring, hospitality and that is something unteachable.

I'm glad you brought up the examples you did because it seems like there is a strong streak of prejudice toward our "ethnic" eateries here. Actually, let me rephrase that. Some people will give an "ethnic" restaurant a much greater margin of latitude than they would one run by a honky like me.

I've often thought this was really patronizing on the part of the people who do it. A restaurant either takes care of its customers or it doesn't.

molly

I agree with kudzu, especially about servers having a script and interrupting me to ask how things were. Good service to me is

1) good timing - don't visit me every 5 minutes to see if I'm ok. Don't ask if everything is ok before I've eaten anything. But don't ignore me.

2) knowledge about the food and wine or the ability to say "I don't know, but let me go find out or get someone who does know". This is especially important for people with food issues (allergies and for those who don't eat certain foods). When I ask what's good, don't say everything, give me an answer about what you eat or would eat from the menu.

3) attitude - comfort, confident, capable. You are part of the restaurant team. Also, I hate the oversell for items like dessert and coffee, I don't expect a used car salesman to be serving my dinner.

Go ahead and fill my water and wine, thanks for paying attention! I really appreciate good service and always tip accordingly. A good server can make or break it for me. We used to go to Globe in Venice Beach every week, the bartender who also served the cocktail area was so excellent that we went half for him, half for the food. When he left, he was replaced by a woman who was way too personal when she came to our table, talked about herself the whole time, got our orders wrong and then argued about the ingredients in the food. We stopped going there. Anyway, how I do go on. I wasn't great at waiting table because I didn't have the attitude (I mean I have way too much attitude) but I really admire those that can successfully pull it off, it's a hell of a tough job.

shuna

In the industry service or front of house is one of the toughest jobs. On some level more tough than the diswashers. I could never be a waiter so I give them a lot of leeway because I see how tough it can be. For every kind of establishment I critique accordingly, I may not expect as much at the taco place, but being treated well or dreadfully comes in many guises.

I really don't like when anyone asks how everything is. Maybe just because I am rarely going to say what is really going on. For me it is a wasted formality and I have been glad to work at many restaurants where the waiters were taught to watch people eat to assess the very same thing. People like to know that they are being paid attention to.

I think that it is really important for guests to know this most important thing:
>> The fact that waiters are treated as if they are in a career that is not a career hurts everyone<<
1. waiters don't view themselves as professionals.
2.diners often wonder why their waiter has chosen this "low" profession.
3. chefs do view their job as serious and have a hard time finding waiters who will dedicate themselves with focus to educating themselves about the cuisine and wine---
4. especially if they are not making what they think is enough money to do so.
5. When waiters are really good and consider that this is what they may want to do for a living, society scoffs. Few people are proud to say they are professional waiters.
{But have a short chat with those Tadich Grill waiters. They OWN their stations! And they can sell them to retire for tens of thousands of dollars.}

Service in America is really hard. It pays very little, (or so much that the waiters and the cooks want to kill eachother), is really taxing on the body and soul, is not taken seriously, service workers are treated like servants, and all this feeds the snake biting it's tail.

When I get treated well I always inform the management. Writing letters is really great.

Haddock, your point about whether there is a way to inform the house/waiter how you want to be treated is interesting. I am unsure if this could work for me. I like to meet new people and I want to leave it to them about basic ways to serve me. Some houses keep information on their guests and I think that that is important. I have called restaurants ahead when I want them to know things I don't want to say in front of the other guests at the table. I think this helps the staff, instead of thinking that for my Particulars a house will psychically know. (which I think is really obnoxious, to be sure.)

Thank you for a piece that makes us all think about this complex subject.

XO
S

karen

You all made some excellent points. I am not a restaurant professional, but I do dine out quite often.
My major pet peeves reflect several ones mentioned above. If I am in what is obviously a intense conversation with my dining companion, please do not bother me. The water issue does not bother me, but if you see an empty bottle of wine on the table, please take that as a clue to ask us if we would like another bottle. (We will)!
I also agree with Haddocks comment regarding the "I don't know." I would much rather have a waiter say that and go and find out the information I am requesting, than to wing it or just stand there.

Most importantly to me re waitstaff: Treat Food Allergies seriously. Please! I know that some people over-use the allergy angle (I have one girlfriend who says she is allergic to mayo, but it is just because she is trying to eat low fat, and thinks an allergy is less embarrassing.) I have a life threatening allergy to mushrooms (I know, I am missing out!) - and have been hospitalized twice for reactions, and must carry an Epipen with me. I have had waiters say "Oh, we will just scrape them off your sandwhich" - or- just as idiotic -there are no mushrooms in the dish, just in the sauce which is all over the dish."
I have found most chefs very nice about either adapting a dish, or if that is not feasible, suggesting to the waiter an alternative.
The best service has been friendly but not overly familar (unless I am a regular).
I also have frequented places just because of the great waitstaff, as well as for the food. One of the best places in Austin, TX where I live has great food, but lousy service. I do not darken their door. Thanks for the opportunity to share/vent!

Kudzu

Karen: My sympathies. I used to feel like we were a one-family waiter-testing crew -- my son is (seriously) allergic to wheat/dairy and my daughter a vegan. You can imagine how many questions we had to ask about the menu, no matter where we went. It meant a hefty tip if the waiter happened to be the least bit patient, informative, and/or understanding. And it made choosing a dining destination really, really difficult!

haddock

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. As much as those of us in love with food might think otherwise, the food is the most miniscule part of the dining experience.

I'll be spending more time on the floor in the coming year so I'm trying to see service from the customer's point of view not the restaurant's

brittany

I wanted to know how do i go about being a health inspector and what would my major be. I also want to know what would be a good and cheap college for that major and how many years does it take for me to complete those classes

haddock

Brittany:

The requirements will vary from state to state, perhaps even from county to county. A degree in environmental health wouldn't hurt.

The cheaper colleges will be your state universities and junior colleges.

More information can be found here: http://www.washington.edu/students/gencat/academic/environmental_hlth.html

As for length of time, prepare for a normal 4 year course of studies for your BS and more upon that if you decide to pursue high degrees.

Matthew D. Broder

Another complement to your cleanliness is when the exterminator decides to patronize your restaurant. It's even better when they are both there together, in work mode, and the bug man tells the health man that he eats at your place.
In case you were wondering, this happened to me once. I got an A from the health dept and the exterminator got a free lunch!

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