Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Chef After My Own Heart...

I'm not talking about David Paul Larousse's cooking. I'm talking about his concern with the increasingly poor service in restaurants, and how it affects the entire meal, no matter how good the food is.

What bothers him isn't always the same thing that bothers me. He rails against the growing practice of informality by one's servers. For example, he really resents being flirted with at the table by his server... when he's dining with his wife. What if he were ALONE, I wonder?

For ME, on the other hand, THAT behavior would lay the groundwork for a huge tip (and phone number?) at the end of the meal. kidding...sort of.

My most vivid experience of this informal approach to service was when we ONCE (and only once) went to an Outback Steakhouse. We went with our voraciously carnivorous son, on the mistaken belief that we could get a good steak. After we were seated, our server comes over AND SITS HIMSELF RIGHT DOWN AT OUR TABLE AND INTRODUCES HIMSELF. He was very affable and not a bad waiter, but even my teenager was startled at the unexpected intrusion into our personal space.

Larrousse takes this one step further by declaring that he wants NO personal information at all about his waiter. I don't always feel this way. Of course, I would start a conversation* with an earthworm. But, I do agree that you don't go to a restaurant to have an evening out with the waitstaff, and they should never interfere with (or contribute to) your conversations.

My biggest bĂȘte noires are in the actual service department - taking away plates before everyone is finished is my number one; not bringing silverware when you're sitting there forkless; not refilling water glasses...stuff like that.

Here are a few of the items in Larrousse's list of the greatest service transgressions. (This is Larrousse talking):

• I am not dining out in order to have an experience with you, nor will we strike up a life-long friendship.

• Do not ask me "Is everything OK?" As a professional, you should be able to discern this without asking — and if you cannot, then you should consider entering a different profession.

• If I pay the bill with cash, do not ever ask me if I want my change. Bring the change — always. As a food professional, I promise I will reward your fine service with an appropriate gratuity.

* Last week at a local restaurant, I learned that Gary, our waiter, was trying to decide between medical schools. I did offer my insight into the one that I thought would best serve his interests...after a 2 minute conversation. But this was ME launching the foray into a personal conversation.


Emiline said...

I NEVER sit down at the table with diners. I would feel uncomfortable. I see people do it all the time, at the restaurant where I work.

I think I'm guilty of pulling plates, early. Sometimes. Just being honest.
My mom is talking SO LOUD on the phone right now, I can't concentrate on what I'm writing.

Sue said...

Tell Mom to PIPE DOWN!!!GAWD!!! Just kidding. Be nice and move to another room and let your poor mother have her once in million years conversation. And while you're at it, go bake her some cookies. Oh, wait, you probably already did.
Ok, so now you know to NOT take the plates early. Although Americans are so brainwashed, many people think that IS good service to pull them early. I personally have no problem sitting with a dirty plate until all have finished.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I remember having dinner at Outback once and I found the waitress sitting down with us kind of charming. I have always loved the friendly service at Outback, which is always a thousand times better than most chain restaurants. If the food at Applebee's wasn't bad enough, the service is always abysmal.

Emiline said...

I gotcha. Will avoid doing that, in the future. Our restaurant isn't known for it's service. It's all about the rolls.

Seriously, she was shouting. I was going to write more on that comment, but I couldn't think.

Sue said...

Hi S(D)OC,
It's true, now that you mention it, I don't recall the service (other than the waiter lounging at our table) being as bad as in other places. And they certainly were a cheery bunch. The food, though, is another story...

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW??? So when you're slapping down the plates in front of folks, and grabbing them up the minute they put their forks down, you can just remind them IT'S ALL ABOUT THE ROLLS! Now THAT is funny.

Anonymous said...

I was a waitress for 5 years, and I always thought taking the plates was GOOD customer service! On the assumption that people don't want a cluttered table/to look at dirty dishes. So I've been unknowingly tickin' people off, all this time...? :)

My personal pet peeve is the every 5 minutes interruptions: "everything ok over here, ladies...?" "you doin' alright?" Please, if we something extra we'll let you know when you come around to re-fill the drinks!

Anonymous said...

I'm usually a slower eater than my companions, I just hate it when the server comes arounds to clear the table and asks me if I'm still "working" on that, as if it's a work of art or a project that I'm working on. ???!!!

Sue said...

Hi Amanpea,
The problem isn't with the servers. The problem is with the folks RUNNING the restaurant and not properly instructing their servers. It doesn't seem like it would be all that difficult to institute a 15 minute training program to school servers in "proper" service.

About the interruptions, Chef Larrousse also hates that...he says NEVER to interrupt a conversation. I hate it EVEN MORE, though, when they NEVER come back and there really is a problem with something.

I'm with you. It's ALWAYS me that is still eating when they practically strip the table of salt shakers and condiments.

That's funny about the work of art.

Chicagoman said...

I tell you, this is the first time that I have really wanted to completely disagree with your posts upon reading them (and that is ok, I hope *smile*). I LOVE a really personable server. My wife and I are very social people and that last thing we like is a really snooty, over-formal type of service. I don't want them to be completly involved in our conversation but a little banter is more than ok with us! I like to get to know people. I guess that is just us.

And I have never even noticed if a server takes my plate or someone elses plate before everyone is done. I never even considered that this mattered. Then again, I'm an easy going person so stuff like that would never bother me. I just want to eat good food and have some fun.

Great blog as always -- and fun to disagree. :-)

Sue said...

Hi C-Man,

No, no disagreement with me is ever tolerated in this forum... NOT!!!

I admit my favorite kind of service is the one person behind each chair, catering to your every need, filling your water glass within 15 seconds. Yes, I have timed it. And a personal remark by the server would be shocking. However, I also know that outside of French palaces of fine cuisine that's a little unrealistic. (Unfortunately, it's getting rarer there too.

I like friendly service too (remember, I advised my waiter about his medical school choices), but correct service. I can't believe you've never noticed if they've taken a plate before everyone has finished. You must be a fast eater. Because as the last person finished, almost always, I feel like I'm being rushed. On the few occasions when I'm not the last, I'll keep my fork poised over my empty plate to avoid it being snatched away, just to keep my still-eating companions more at ease. See, I may be snobby about service, but at least I'm thoughtful to the folks at my table.

Heather (thelooking-glass) said...

My husband and I went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant in DC for our anniversary a few years ago. Within the first 20 minutes of sitting down, we knew our servers name, his religion, what classes he was attending....

He knew we were there for a special meal. Add to that the fact that we had been apart for about 6 months due to his job and I wanted to throttle the server. He really did put a large kink in our meal with his yammering and I wasn't subtle about the fact that I was annoyed, all to no avail.

Ironically, the sommelier didn't show up until 15 minutes after we had ordered our meal.

I don't mind a friendly server, but I really don't care about the life story. I prefer my servers to err on the side of silence. I'm also sitting with the people I want to sit with and if I'm waiting an hour for a table, I certainly don't need an employee pulling up a spot for him or herself.

When dishes are cleared before everyone is done, I tend to feel like I'm being rushed out the door. If my server is asking "Is it OK to take your plate?" the answer is probably no. When we are all done eating is a good time to take them all and you won't have to ask.

At the end of my rant, I would like to note that I am not a food or restaurant snob and great service will keep me coming back to a place that has just mediocre food. I really appreciate any restaurant with great staff, whether it's $300 a head or McDonald's. (I really do have a preferred drive-thru, just based on the people that work there).

Sue said...

Hi Heather,

I couldn't have put it better myself! I can be a snob or not, depending on the situation, but your story is over the top. For a waiter to actually ruin a meal with his nattering and conversing is an OUTRAGE! Do you think if you had ordered this, he would have gotten the message?

Shut the Hell Up Cocktail
1/2 part Bacardi 151 rum
1 part Crown Royal Canadian whisky
1 part Jagermeister herbal liqueur
1/2 part Everclear alcohol
2 splashes grenadine syrup

Pour Jager at bottom of glass. Mix Crown, Everclear, & 151 separately to layer on top of the Jager. Splash the Grenadine. Attempt to shoot & shut the hell up. (I guess it was the waiter that actually needed this.)