Dining out: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As I have mentioned in the past, a perfect night in a restaurant can be one of the best memories you will ever have. But things can go bad real fast, and I am not just talking about on the restaurant’s end. I’ve worked in a fewplace_setting restaurants and I’ve eaten at hundreds of them and just when I think I’ve seen it all something still manages to shock me. From discovering a paper towel under a now half eaten grilled salmon to biting into a perfectly preserved maple leaf under my cheese in a slice of pizza to wrestling live eels with some friends out of a tank in a restaurant, I have seen some crazy stuff.

I could do with more of the eel wrestling madness and less with the “Ow, ow, ow, did I just bite into a staple that is now stuck in the roof of my mouth?” kind of insanity. And yes it was a staple I bit into, thanks for asking. So here before you now is a list of some of the things that can make a night nearly as good as a date with Minka Kelly, some of the things I could live without but don’t make me lose my mind, say like people who wear skirts over jeans. Then there are the things that just make my skin crawl like that new Kanye video. Good God that is bad stuff. Alright, here we go!

The Good

Staff fixing a mistake/inconvenience- It will happen from time to time, even at the best spots, that you will wait for your table, be forgotten about when waiting for your bill or whatnot. The great places remain great in those cases when without you even saying a word they fix things for you. It could be a simple gesture like a free digestif when you’ve waited for your bill, or being comped some starters when you wait 30 minutes for a table you booked. No place is perfect. What often makes a place great is when they can acknowledge an error and fix it-happily.

Kids diningAccomodating Kids- Many places will tell you that kids are welcome but some just do not know how to handle having kids in their establishment. It is nice to walk into a place and know that they can handle having kids. When I say hey this is my kids birthday and she loves this chef and you shrug and say “Oh, well he isn’t here.” you lose points. He doesn’t need to be there but can you smile and say happy birthday? Offer her a piece of cake? Maybe not recommend she try the spicy beef tartare? But when you get a hostess and server that know how to talk to a kid on their level and make a long meal engaging for a kid well that just makes us wiped out parents feel like maybe we aren’t ruining the nights of everyone in the place.

Knowledgeable Staff- Aside from having a meal that will knock your socks off, one of the things I love when out is when staff knows what the hell they are talking about. When you can see their enthusiasm for a certain plate you sure as hell are going to order it. Aren’t you?

Compliments to the Chef- It is a minor thing but when you send a compliment to the chef and it gets delivered and acknowledged by the chef coming to thank you or sending you a dish it makes you feel valued as a customer. It is a rare thing these days to see these mysterious chefs behind the magic curtain controlling the switches. Come pop out and say hi. Customers love it.

The Bad

Chefs Refusing to Adapt a Dish- Don’t get me wrong. I understand that a little bit of the soul of  a chef dies every time someone asks for a beautiful cut of beef to be served well done. But hey dude, the client is paying for it. Can it not work just as well for the server to stipulate that the chef intends for the dish to be served rare so if you want it well done it will not be as the chef had planned? While we are on the topic can we change the term “well done” to “poorly done”? Oh, the horror.

Micro Portions- Yes, I did enjoy each plate thanks. Very much so actually. But this meal just cost me 100$ and I am gonna march over to the pizza stand around the corner and get a slice because I am still freaking starving. Look, while it is nice to get sexy presentation and fancy ingredients I should not be walking out of your place still hungry. Never. Have a few of the first courses be tiny, fine. But when the main dish is the same size as the amuse guelle then we got problems man. Feed me.

Unrealistic Customer Demands- Hi, you’re going to make me a pizza with 8 slices. Each slice is going to be different. And for two of those slices there can be NO CHEESE since one of us is allergic and could get really sick. You got that? No, I don’t. That was a real request from a customer when I worked a pizza place. My crazy boss made the damn pizza. He doesn’t own a pizza place anymore.

Unknowledgeable staff- At the end of a tour of a brewery in Europe I was sitting in the pub connected to it where they serve finger foods and free beer(ya baby) I had a number of questions about the brews. The barmaid/tourguide looks me in the eye, stone faced and says,”I am the worst person to ask. I hate beer.” Well that makes sense. Listen, if you are selling a product, learn about the product. I didn’t complain too much cause you know, free beer(s).

The Ugly

No ServiceCustomers Losing Their Minds- I agree it is frustrating to have a bad night out. Sometimes you need to call a manager over and complain. But you know what? 99 times out of 100 they will listen and do what they can to help. Don’t do the crap you see in that picture there. It sure as hell isn’t the owner that is going to clean that up. It will be some poor schlub making tiny wages. Sure there are hopeless places that just don’t work out. Think of it as a lesson learned but don’t demean the staff.

Maniacal Kids- Much the opposite of when I love when a restaurant can cater to kids, I loathe when parents think the staff is there to babysit for you. Control your kids. You might think it’s cute when your kid is running around play coo-coo with a customer halfway across the restaurant but the server carrying 4 plates of food doesn’t find it so sweet.

Angry Staff- Sure, the busboy just spilled tea on a customer who rang up a hefty bill. Comp the client some dishes or something. Don’t blast the poor guy on the floor in front of everyone. Pull him aside maybe and address it. I was once told not to worry, we wouldn’t see that busboy again for that situation. The tea hadn’t ruined our night at all up to that point but we left with a really bad feeling that some poor bastard just lost his job. Not cool.

And most of all…

Shee Shee Fru Fru La Di Da- I am not poor by any stretch, nor am I rich. I do ok. I love to dine out. I follow the actions of many chefs like they are movie stars. What I CANNOT stand is being forced to wear a fancy jacket to a restaurant in order to be allowed in. I get it. A tasting menu here will run me 195$. Do you think I am going to walk in there in freaking jogging pants and a stained shirt? Let’s get past this stuffiness in some of these top places. Can I not come in with nice jeans and a button down shirt? In some of them it feels more like you are in church. “Excuse me, but it seems like you are having fun. That is unacceptable in our establishment. Please keep any laughing, clinking of glasses, and moans of delight to a minimum.” Lighten up people!

Ahhhhh, that feels better. I had been wanting to get some of that off my chest for awhile now. It takes work on both sides of the dining experience to have the perfect night. So remember, if you are a customer, don’t be a jerk alright? There is a civilized way to handle things. And for restaurant owners, keep an open mind and listen to your clients. Well maybe not the crazy ones who graffiti tag your tables.

Stay phat.



Categories: Phood Philosophies

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