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Bad service in an upscale joint: Insufferable!

SANTA FE, N.M. — “There are no second acts in American lives.”

So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in notes for his final, and unfinished, novel, “The Last Tycoon.”

Your friendly neighborhood restaurant reviewer offers suggestions for waitstaff, particularly those who work at upscale joints.

Scott couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s all there are. Had he lived, he would have seen his own second act. Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Tiger Woods. Eleven years ago, Tiger burned down his house, marriage, family, reputation and career, then endured four back surgeries. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, he re-entered the golden gates of redemption with a win at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, the former bastion of racism, sexism and white guy privilege. Oh, and playing in a threesome with a Samoan and an Italian.

The next day, in Paris, the cathedral of Notre Dame burned almost to death. A few weeks before, and without nearly as much media coverage, three black Baptist churches were torched in Louisiana.

All will rise again. It’s the Nature of Easter, of Resurrection, of Nature and Life itself. After Winter comes Spring. After Death comes Life. We are not defined by the blows we suffer, self-inflicted or otherwise. We are defined by what we do next. It’s a choice.

Now that our preamble is done, time for our Easter sermon … .

I was invited to dine in a very upscale Santa Fe eatery for my recent birthday. As I sat playing with a very nice napkin ring – it gave me much enjoyment just rolling it around, touching it, examining it, placating my rampant Attention Deficit Disorder – a super-efficient busboy came swooping in and took it away. Just like that, and without so much as a by-your-leave.

Hmmm. We let it go. A few moments later, he came swooping in uber-efficiently and, like the Angel of Death, removed my not-quite-empty glass of champagne. Not only that, he didn’t return immediately and ask if I might want another. When I affably noted to him his unwelcomed over-efficiency – I was going to make it one of those “teaching moments” – he compounded his offenses by standing over me, arms crossed defensively, disagreeing with me, acting aggrieved.

Had I not been with a very nice person, I would have gotten up and stuck his head in the nearest dish of upscale food – the teaching moment he needed. That and “You’re fired.”

It got me thinking. There’s nothing worse than lousy service in a pretentious joint. If you don’t like your job, quit. Don’t take it out on me. I’m paying.

So in lieu of a dining review this week, here are some other Tips for Waitstaff:

• Don’t EVER tell me your name. I have all the friends I want. I am going to call you “Waiter” or “Waitress,” “Sir” or “Madame.”

• Don’t EVER say, “Are you still working on that?” Working? We are NOT working. That’s what we do when we are NOT enjoying a meal out in your restaurant. We are ENJOYING our meal. Or were, rather.

• The proper response to “Thank you” is NOT “Not a problem.” Problem? Who said there was a problem? The proper response is “You are welcome.”

I asked my pal, The Good Doctor, for a few tips of his own.

They are:

• NEVER remove the plates of individual dinner party guests. Wait until the last guest is finished!

• NEVER reach across a diner to pour or serve food. Go in from the side.

• Smile!

• NEVER contradict a customer or make them feel less than brilliant. (See above.)

• Brush your teeth before coming to work.

Thank you, Doctor!

I then wrote my dear Anglo-Irish pal in London, Rowan, a world-class chef and restaurant-goer, like The Good Doctor.

Rowan writes:

• Do NOT hover around my expensive bottle of wine that I’ve saved up for, and pour it into the glasses of the fastest drinkers so that you can get the poor sap, me, to buy another bottle.

• Another thing I can’t stand is, “Hi, would you like a glass of champagne while you’re waiting?” Yes, if it’s on the house.

• Ask for a recommendation and the waiter recommends the most expensive thing on the menu.

• Or ask for a recommendation and the waiter says, ‘Everything is good.’ Makes me think nothing is good.

• Taking my glass when it’s not finished. (See above).

• If something is not properly cooked in a good restaurant, they will take it away and bring you an entirely redone plate. In a bad restaurant, they slap the offending item back on the grill and bring it to you with your original plate of food now looking like a sex worker’s boudoir.

• And while we are at affectations – something I have a Ph.D. in – when you choose a wine in a restaurant and they come and pour some for you to sample. You are not, in fact, being invited to taste the wine to see if you like it. What you really should be doing is simply smelling it to see if it’s cooked or not. If it is cooked, your nose will immediately be greeted by the smell of a diseased cork, which will have infiltrated your wine. You can then send it back, because, of course, you haven’t touched it, you haven’t drunk it and it remains the restaurant’s job to return it to the supplier. Taking a large swig and thinking this Château Lafite doesn’t taste like that lovely Oregon pinot noir I like, I’m sending it back and the restaurant can deal with the losses … . Not the way it should work.”

Thank you, Rowan.

Finally, as with badly behaved children, I don’t blame the servers; I blame “the parent,” the restaurant owner.

Get it together, people.

Not a problem, and I am done working on this.

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