Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Restaurants Survive

Here’s our Nice ‘n’ Naughty List with a Fun Quiz

     Everything comes down to service in a restaurant whether patrons, bloggers, or critics wish to acknowledge this consciously or not.  How else to explain why some restaurants with dreary food stay in business for decades while others with creative, beautifully prepared menus close up shop sometimes within a year?  Yes, people will say they like or don’t like a restaurant because of a specific menu item, but
that is only part of the reason they’ll return.  Instead, it’s about how they were treated.  

     In the spirit of the season, we’ll start with Our Nice List:

     Mid-priced restaurants usually have better service than some top-line ones (unless they’ve been around a while) because they have greater turn over and generally more experienced servers.
     Female servers aged 30 or older are the best servers because they realize it’s all about service and if they connect well with patrons and are informative and competent, they’ll make better tips.
     The staff at Red Lobster in Kenwood understands how to pull off what I call tag team service.  Each group knows exactly the order of what’s needed and when at all the tables in their section and all the individual servers deliver.  As Neil says, “it means something when the manager’s name is next to the front door.”
     Always take the server’s suggestions, especially at Jean-Robert’s Table where Boo proves nightly that she’s the best server in the region.  The other servers are pretty terrific as well, though the hostess can be a little cool.
     We’ve had quick, intelligent, compassionate service at Via Vité, especially when one near catastrophe was averted.
     The servers at Wine Guy Wine Shop and Bistro excel at serving and also having to behave as sommeliers.
     The various locations of First Watch feature quick, courteous service and, again, fast turnover.
     Bakersfield Is the most happening restaurant in town and a major reason is because the staff will seat you with some really fun people, explain the menu, and actually share recommendations.
     Katie (whenever she’s on) is a marvel at The National Exemplar at the Mariemont Inn.  She knows exactly how to present herself to different customers to ensure that each has a uniquely positive experience.
     If you’ve visited the restaurant that’s within three miles of your home more than three times in the last six months, it’s your neighborhood hang out.  Ours is Lemongrass in Hyde Park and it’s been so for fifteen years.  Ray, Ying, William, Poo and the rest of the servers are as friendly as if you’re in their home.

     And for Our Naughty List, which I hope is more entertaining than the experiences that inspired them.  One little note is that the restaurants where these happened are listed at the end:

The Untrained Server
      The restaurant was mostly deserted yet we were seated next to a door that was opened a number of times creating a draft.  The waiter had to be reminded that we’d run out of water.  The chef (for that night, anyway, since he wasn’t the acclaimed rising chef that’s relocated there) came over to congratulate himself and find out if the waiter had provided what we needed (he hadn’t).  Though the waiter had been told that our friend was allergic to peppers, they showed up anyway on his salad.  The waiter then went MIA and a waitress brought our food with “Hey boys, are you ready for all of this?  Here you go” as she practically nuzzled us.  Two out of three of us are gay and we were all at least old enough to be her father.
The Unpolished Server
      The food at a departed restaurant was always excellent, but the servers were never able to describe the preparation or the ingredients of the dishes.  One admitted that he wouldn’t try fish because he was from the West Side even though the chef’s specialties always included it.
The Indiscreet Server
      A group of us met to celebrate a birthday.  Three of us used credit cards.  Only our African-American friend was asked for identification and, yes, she and her husband were by far the wealthiest of us.
The Con Artist Server
      It was our first (and, so far, last) visit to a new restaurant.  We hadn’t had a chance to look over the menu.  The waiter greeted us, took our drink order, and in a by-the-way tone asked if he could bring guacamole.  “Sure,” we answered, assuming it was complimentary or about $5 when we saw the size of the portion.  We were taken aback when we saw it was $12 on the bill and that it was over $50 for three of us to have lunch without drinks or dessert.
The "I Can't Believe I'm Going To Do This To Paying Customers" Server
      We’d really enjoyed this restaurant on a number of occasions and couldn’t wait to take a friend, who was a chef.  All went well until the hostess insisted on moving us in the middle of dessert so that a larger party could be seated using our table.  I complained to the manager, who wouldn’t go to the trouble of taking anything off the bill, but offered bar drinks instead.  It was an empty gesture since we don’t drink.  I called the next day and spoke to the chef-owner.  She promised to send a coupon for appetizers.  Twelve years have passed since that promise never materialized.  We moved and the chef-owner opened another restaurant where, when we wanted to avoid an hour-long wait at a neighboring restaurant, we decided to say uncle after eight years and go.   We lucked out with a misery Mary waitress who preferred living in Denver.  Fine, go back to Denver and we’ll go to one of the many fine restaurants in our region.
The Full of Himself Micro-Manager/Owner
      We made a reservation for a party of six.  We arrived at the restaurant on a snowy Saturday night.  Our reservation had been lost and the chef’s husband said we should have made the reservation with him.  That’s a hard thing to know when you’re calling and, though we’d been there a couple of times before, we didn’t know that only the owner believed himself to be competent.  He offered us appetizers if we called some time to let him know.  The six of us stood outside while other potential patrons were turned away, but we lucked out that Wild Ginger could seat us forty minutes later.  We went for lunch a couple of times afterwards because we’d liked the food.  On both occasions, only one or two selections were still available on the menu.  It was like the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch.
The Cha-Ching Server
      We’d gone to this restaurant a couple of times and liked the unpretentious food.  We went one Saturday night with some friends and, even with a reservation, were placed right next to the kitchen.  Though we ordered appetizers and entrées, we declined wine.  And, with that decision, the waiter wouldn’t give us the proverbial time of day until he brought the bill.

      Now take Our Quiz and match up our experiences with the restaurants listed below.
(Aioli, Otto’s, Daveed’s at 934, Honey, Henke’s Winery, Nada, National Exemplar at night)

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