Jun 13

 

Inspired by a post titled “10 Things a Chef won’t Tell you” I just read on Chef Gui’s blog; I thought I’d write an open letter to restaurant owners, there are things your customer isn’t telling you….  Do you care?  One caveat, all of this assumes that your kitchen is in order and your food is good. 

1) We want to Love you — Help us.    I enter a new restaurant really hoping to find a place that I love and want to tell my friends about.  I want to like your restaurant, I don’t want to complain about it.  Help me love you by  not assuming that I’m going to be a pain in the ass (or treating me as such).  I’ve walked into restaurants only to be told three times between the hostess stand and the table what time the kitchen closes (If you are that eager to get out then don’t seat me).  Many times  I’ve been approached by the server with tales of woe about how busy they are (before the hello can I get you something to drink).  Keep the bad day in the back of the house.  It seems really simple, but if you make me feel welcome, even if the food is so-so — I’ll keep coming back.

2) Bad service will overpower amazing food.   I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had a good meal and bad service.  I’ve gone back and still had bad service.  What I remember is not the food, but the service (or lack thereof).  If your front of the house staff is poorly trained you can have Gordon F-ing Ramsay in the back and people still won’t come back.  Train your staff.  As a bonus, here are the 10 things I that make me happy:

  1. Say hello and smile when I walk in the door
  2. If there’s a wait, don’t look at the board and act like you are reconfiguring a sattelight, just tell me that you think I’ll be waiting XX  minutes let me know I  can  wait in the bar (then please come get me in the bar, I’ve also been sent to the bar and forgotten leaving me drunk, but still hungry).
  3. Hostesses: TELL THE SERVER YOU SAT THEIR STATION – this is big, I don’t mind waiting for a table, I do mind sitting for 30 minutes at the table watching servers run around like mad without acknowledging my party.
  4. Take my drink order please! But don’t run away like you are afraid I may order an appetizer — If Ijust waited 45 minutes for a table then I’m probably pretty hungry and likely a little edgy.  And as a bonus, the extra two minutes at the table saves you an extra trip while increasing the check and tip.
  5. Teach your staff to open wine bottles.  Let me say this again.  Teach your staff to open wine bottles!  Do not let them on the floor until they can demonstrate this skill.  You have house wine that has to be opened every night — this is the perfect teaching opportunity.  I’ve seen it all, bottles under the arm, between the legs, put on the floor.  Do you really want to drink from a bottle that was just between a stranger’s legs? Please save me from this.
  6. Have a staff tasting.  I know food costs are high, margins are low but when I ask what something is like and the waiter says they don’t know because they can’t afford to eat where they work; I have to assume the owner is one cheap bastard.  If your staff knows that your $32 steak is hand aged, grass fed and melts in my mouth oh yeah and the chef makes his own sauce – I’m not just sold, I’m excited.  If I’m left to wonder I will probably pick a safe moderately priced choice.  You also have to teach them how to describe a menu item.  Gone are the days of professional wait staff in all but the finest of restaurants.  Chances are you are hiring people that have never eaten at a restaurant as expensive as yours — you have to teach them what the diners expect and how to entice diners to order more.
  7. If you are out of something that’s fine, but tell me before I get my heart set on it
  8. Here’s a big one that’s going to be hard to swallow.  If I ask the waiter how something is and they say “it’s not one of our more popular items, you may want to consider X; ” I LOVE THEM.  Honesty is amazing.  They  just saved me from eating a meal they don’t think I’ll enjoy.  And they saved the kitchen from the hassel of me sending it back.  This kind of honesty creates loyalty and usually increases the tip.
  9. DO NOT auction off my food.  If you use runners then train the staff to know where to put the plates and make sure they know anything we may have asked for (extra condiments for example) is put on the table.  A meal can be ruined getting cold waiting for a sauce or seasoning.
  10. At the end of my meal, drop the check off, refill my coffee let me know you aren’t rushing me (because you aren’t right?).  THEN DO NOT FORGET ME.

3) It doesn’t matter how casual your restaurant is, I never want to sit with the server.  The only exception is if we are regulars, we know about your life and we talk about more than where the fish came from.  The dinner table is a very private place.  Offering to share a meal or your table (even if said table is in a restaurant) with someone is an intimate gesture.  Please don’t assume that because your server’s are attractive and friendly I want them at my table.  I don’t.  This is the kind of action that makes it unlikely I’ll be back.  And if they choose to slide into a bench with me I may leave before I order.  I don’t know who started this practice but it’s not friendly, it’s just rude.

4) If you have a wine list, have a wine expert.  This doesn’t mean you need a master of wine but if I ask for a recommendation and the waiter doesn’t ask any quesitons about my preference and simply goes for one of the most expensive bottles on the list I know he’s an ass.  Just have someone that can come to the table and help us make a choice we’d like.

5) Store your wine properly.  Wine does not belong on a shelf over the hot air exhaust fan.  If you don’t have a fancy cellar that’s OK, I don’t always expect that, but red wine is to be served at about 55 degrees which is not room temperature (especially not the room temperature of a hot kitchen).  If your wine is in a hot area, then you are ruining it and I don’t want to drink it.  Please put it in a cool place.

6) Have a decent house wine. Decent doesn’t mean expensive, it means drinkable.  Barefoot or Yellow Tail is not decent;  wine out of a box is not decent;  I’m sorry it’s just not.  If you don’t personally like wine, then have someone help you.  Your house wine shouldn’t taste like any of the following: chemicals, alchohol, tannin, sour grapes, rotten fruit or monkey’s ass.

7) Enough with the giant portions. I like to order several things.  I like an appetizer, soup, entree, dessert etc.  I’m usually trying to narrow my choices but I almost never order dessert because the portions are so huge that between my husband and I we can’t finish a shared appetizer and entree let alone add a dessert.  I’m not suggesting diet plates or micro portions; but seriously who can eat a half a chicken comfortably?  One pound of pasta is not a reasonable portion.  You are losing money on the food thrown out and the dessert I didn’t order.

8) FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY– Offer a couple of simple straightforward dishes. There’s always someone in the crowd that wants an extra well no sauce unseasond super dry chicken breast chip, but that’s not who I’m talking about.  They can’t taste anything anyway, so forget them.  There’s also always someone in the crowd that wants a good meal but only wants three or four comfortable ingredients — they don’t want to eat octopus (even if they should, even if it’s your signature dish) They want good food made with ingredients they recognizes.  Give them an option.

9) Make your own damn soup — I’m getting a bit worked up.  But I make soup almost every day so I know it’s easy.  We won’t tell the others that soup is leftovers (what they don’t know won’t hurt them).  Soup is profit and soup should be good.  Soup should not be a line item on your Sysco bill.  I can’t tell you how often I have the conversation with other diners that they feel cheated on the soup menu.  Soup should be something your mom would recognize.  Soup is comfort food, make it comforting.

10) Diners with unruly children are ruining the experience for everyone else:  If your establishment is advertising kids birthday party specials, and “kid’s eat free Tuesday,” this doesn’t apply to you.  If you have a special Valentine’s day menu, it does.  Watching kids run around the restaurant under the legs of the servers or hearing them wail is ruining my meal — and it’s not just me.  We’ve all been trapped on a plane with an upset infant and know how miserable it is.  If my dining experience in your restaurant is paying $150 for a meal and being subjected to someone else’s brats I’m not coming back so I hope they do.  For some reason it is no longer common to expect children to behave.  You can tell as a server, hostess, manager or owner when someone is making your other diners miserable.  You need to step in.  I expect you to step in.  If I sat at my table throwing things or yelling at other patrons you would send me home (and you should).  Offer to pack thier meal to go, comp it and send them home (unless they are regulars then just suck it up).  But otherwise I’m guessing there are three or four tables around them that will cut their meal and bill short and not come back.

Chef Gui was right — I don’t want to be a chef.  I don’t want to cook in 120 degree kitchens, I don’t want to deal with the staffing issues or food cost or any of it.  I want to cook at home and cook like a chef for people I love.  And more and more of us can do that.  I don’t typically decide to go out to a restaurant because I didn’t want to cook.  I decide to go out because I want to be in the atmosphere of the restaurant, I love the chef’s signature dish or I want to try something new.   I go out because I want a special night.  The food is a huge part of delivering that, but the best food in the world can’t overpower a bad experience at the table or an uncomfortable atmosphere.

13 Responses to “Dear Restaurateur – 10 Things Your Customer is Too Polite to Tell You”

  1. great post. thanks for the read.

  2. I agree with all but your last comment. If you have kids, sometimes they have an off night. I don’t let me daughter run around the restaurant, but sometimes she gets loud and laughs or cries or has a reaction I don’t anticipate. If I’m there paying the same $150 (or more likely $250), I deserve the same consideration. More than that, you were a kid once and probably annoyed other diners more than a few times. Tonight’s your night for a karmic balance then.
    I totally agree with many of your other points, but the last one is not only completely out of a chef or waiter’s control, it’s counter productive. Those kids, in a couple years, are going to be ordering the steak or lobster. This place might become a family favorite for special occasions. Also, chances are, with one or more kids, a great waiter who can help you through a meal (quick crackers or fries or appetizers out for the kid or crayons or something) will get a much larger tip on more plates. These places I will return to over and over and my daughter has grown up in them. There’s one Indian restaurant I can think of where my daughter knows the name of the manager. They get 25% tips because they treat her like gold. There are restaurants that I still go to when I go back home that I’ve been going to for 24 years and grew up in. Treating children like second class citizens is one way for a restaurant to dissuade people who are highly motivated to dine out to eat somewhere else.

  3. Mike –
    Thanks for reading. I think you must have misunderstood me on item 10. I am not anti children or anti children in restaurants. I am pro good behavior and involved parenting. And servers should be helping you out with crackers and bread.

    I was not talking about all kids. I like seeing kids out, I like seeing kids with educated pallets. I certainly wasn’t referring to children with an occasional outburst. I’m talking about the parents that bring their kids in and then ignore them. Parents who bring Cheerios or order rice and let their children throw it around the restaurant because the server will clean it. Parents who can’t hear their child screaming at the top of their lungs. Parents who let their children run under the feat of the servers (that’s not only rude, it’s dangerous).

    Part of educating a child’s pallet is helping them learn how to behave in a restaurant. If an adult did any of these things they would be asked to leave. As a parent you are responsible for the behavior of your children. Any business has the right to refuse service to patrons that are disrupting the atmosphere or creating unsafe conditions.

    I’m sure I had my days, but I also remember being marched out of stores and restaurants for “the talk.” I don’t owe you or anyone else Karma. If you think that you are being selfish. If your kid starts to scream and you can’t stop them just pick them up, walk them out and let them calm down. But think about how you would feel if I was the loud lady on the cell phone at the table next to you talking about a medical procedure and completely ruining the atmosphere you wanted with your family night out.

  4. WOW>I don’t even know where to begin. This is a killer post! All great stuff. Any interest in tweaking this to be published in MutineerMag? Very cool post.

  5. Great post. I pretty much agree with all you said. And I loved how riled you get. Perfect!

  6. Ah, this list reminded me so much of some bad experiences.

    It’s a catch-22 in some ways.

    Poor food, we won’t be back.
    Poor service, we wont’ be back.
    Overpriced food, we won’t be back.
    Too little or too much food, we won’t be back.

    So many reasons to not go back to a place.

  7. Bless you .
    Really.
    Bless you.
    I was beginning to think we were the only people who had any common restaurant sense .
    I have often wondered if we omit an unpleasant karma when we go to a restaurant and are……sniff…forgotten.

  8. “I don’t typically decide to go out to a restaurant because I didn’t want to cook. I decide to go out because I want to be in the atmosphere of the restaurant, I love the chef’s signature dish or I want to try something new. I go out because I want a special night. The food is a huge part of delivering that, but the best food in the world can’t overpower a bad experience at the table or an uncomfortable atmosphere.”

    Amen!!!! Great Post!

  9. But there are so many reasons to go TO a place, if they would just think a little more about the experience as a customer!

    Thanks for reading!

  10. Great post! Very, very, true… that is except for the house wine that tastes like monkey ass.. those are actually my favorites! j/k 🙂

    Cheers!

  11. Too much! You made laugh out loud! And people actually trust your opinion on wine! Thanks for reading.

  12. LOL @ #9. Yum!

  13. Great post! I would like to strongly suggest also that restaurateurs start treating tea drinkers like they do coffee drinkers. Coffee drinkers get another cup of coffee, tea drinkers get another cup of hot water. Come on … you know what your markup is! That couple cents more will make all the difference in the world. And consider serving loose leaf tea! Bag tea is often stale before you even get it! It makes a huge difference!

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