Grace Periods

Last night Kish and I went to a new restaurant for dinner.  The food was exceptionally good — I had a duck entree that was as succulent as any duck I’ve ever had — but the service was definitely wanting.

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After taking our order, our waitperson pretty much ignored us.  Other tables in the restaurant got bread; we didn’t.  When we asked a busser to let our waitperson know that we wanted refills on our glasses of wine, she scurried off and . . . nothing happened.  We were never offered a chance to order dessert.  Different people kept appearing at the table and apologizing for the delays.  Finally we just decided to chalk up the service issues to a new restaurant that is still working out the kinks, so we got our check — which also took longer than it should have, frankly, and prompted another apology from the restaurant staff — and then we hit the road.

Fine service obviously is a key part of fine dining.  Anyone who has received good service and bad service knows how important the service element can be.  As Kish pointed out after we left, bad service leaves you feeling both unappreciated and tense — which isn’t exactly conducive to a stellar food experience.  You end up anxiously searching for your waitperson and trying to signal them rather than focusing on good food and good company, which is what should be happening.

I can understand how it might take a while before a restaurant gets its sea legs on service, and I’m willing to give any restaurant that serves such good food a second chance, and probably a third chance, too.  Maybe we just went on a bad night, or drew a waitperson who is inexperienced.  But how long does a grace period reasonably last?  If you believe that service is important, shouldn’t that be something that is a point of emphasis from the very first days of training and through the dry runs and soft openings?

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Plus-Sizing America

People come in all sizes, large and small.  And in these days of increasing obesity among Americans, the range seems to be shifting toward the “plus-sized” end of the spectrum.

So, what’s a business that deals with seating any customers who might walk in — like a restaurant — to do to account for that fact?

merlin_151790223_3ada2026-fba6-48d7-9782-0ac8b26447bf-articlelargeThis year the New York Times ran an interesting article about the challenges that “plus-sized” diners face when they go out to eat.  They not only feel judged by restaurant staff and other patrons about what they are ordering in view of their weight, they also struggle to find places where they can comfortably sit for a meal.  Depending upon a diner’s size, booths may be impossible for them to squeeze into, and bar stools may be too narrow and shallow to provide a viable seating option.  And places where the tables are positioned closely together may put larger diners in the position of intruding into the personal space of a neighboring table.

Those of us who aren’t in the plus-sized category don’t pay attention to such issues, because standard seating options are perfectly suitable for us.  But for the large people among us, such options may be so painfully confining that they interfere with the enjoyment of the meal — and some options may be physically impossible to use, period.

It’s an example of the challenges that are arising from the plus-sizing of a significant chunk of America’s population.  People who are XXXLers are going to want to go out to eat like everybody else, and they are going to want to find places that can appropriately seat diners their size.  If restaurants want their paying business, they are going to need to come up with ways to comfortably accommodate such patrons — without calling undue attention to the effort.

A Test Run Would Be Nice

Recently we went out for brunch at a nice restaurant in the Short North.  Our meal was perfectly enjoyable, but my dish was a bit messier than a mere napkin could manage, so I went to the restroom to wash my hands.

The restroom is one of those with a rectangular paper towel dispenser — the kind where you are to remove the paper towels from a slot in the bottom that is supposed to allow the towels to be taken out one at a time.  I washed my hands and went to get a towel, but found that the dispenser had been left so crammed with paper towels that it was impossible to remove one.  Due to the sheer weight of the towels that had been packed into the dispensing space, I couldn’t get my hands into the slot. My efforts to extract a towel had me desperately clawing away at the towel opening, trying to remove a whole towel, but the cheap paper towels were immediately ripped to shreds.  I never did obtain a complete towel, and had to make do with tiny towel fragments instead.  The whole experience left me a frustrated, wet-handed patron who was cursing the paper towel manufacturers of the world — and whoever decided to overfill the towel dispenser.  It didn’t exactly give me warm and fuzzy feelings about the restaurant, either.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me lately; overfilled towel dispensers have unfortunately become commonplace.  I suppose the bathroom attendants of America figure that if they overfill the towel dispenser, they’ll have to fill it less often.  But bathroom attendants, hear me!  Have pity on the hand-washers!  Doesn’t anybody do a test run anymore, to see if a device is actually working as intended?  Is it too much to ask that an establishment have a towel dispenser that actually allows a patron to wash their hands — and then properly dry them?

 

Suffering Seriously Slow Service

Yesterday our lunch group picked a restaurant that was about a block from the firm because it was too cold for a long hike.  It’s a place that specializes in sandwiches and hamburgers.  When we arrived at about 12:10, there was — literally — not a single patron in the place, and the wait staff near the front door were glad to see us.  We were seated promptly and given menus and water.

lsAfter a few minutes, our waitress came by to take our order.  We ordered three burgers and a sandwich, then began talking about the issues of the day.  Another table of patrons came into the restaurant, and shortly thereafter another group arrived.  The waitress came and gave us water refills, and our pleasant lunchtime conversation continued.

After about 20 minutes of chatting, however, we started to get antsy because the food hadn’t arrived.  When we hit the half-hour mark, we asked the waitress where the food was.  She was a friendly young woman who apologized for the delay and said they were working on it.  More minutes went by, and . . . no food.  We’d reached the point of inexplicable ridiculousness — after all, we’re talking basic food orders here — and our comments to the waitress became more pointed.  JV noted that we had been waiting a long time, and the Unkempt Guy reminded the waitress that we all needed to get back to work.  Of course, the delay wasn’t her fault, but we had to voice our exasperation to someone, and she was the only option.

At that point, the direction of our conversation began to focus exclusively on the delay.  We noted that there were only three tables occupied in the restaurant, so the long wait couldn’t be due to a busy, backlogged kitchen.  The two of us who were seated facing the kitchen kept an eye on the kitchen door, and we began speculating about what had happened.  Was our order not begun promptly for some reason?  Did somebody just drop the ball, or was there some other issue?  The next time the waitress stopped by, she swore that she had seen our orders being prepared and it wouldn’t be much longer.

Sometime between 45 minutes and an hour after we had placed our order, the waitress brought out the side salads the Bus Riding Conservative and the Unkempt Guy had ordered, and a few minutes later two of our burgers and the sandwich arrived.  JV, alas, was left waiting for about another 10 minutes for his burger.  In the interim, the waitress — knowing we needed to get back to work — asked if we wanted to get our checks, and I think JV actually got his check before he got his food, which has to be be a first.  We wondered how in the world our three orders were finished so long before his, but at that point we weren’t capable of being surprised by anything.  The waitress finally brought his order, and then took the checks, apologized again, and said we were being comped.  No one ever explained why it took such a ludicrously long time to serve us with our orders.

We finished our food — which was fine, by the way — and left cash tips for the waitress, and talked about whether we would ever come back to the restaurant.  JV took the position that the comping was an effective cure for the bad experience, and the UG noted that in prior visits to the place he’d been served promptly.  As for me, I don’t think I’ll be going back.  The waitress was put in an unenviable position, but she clearly was not telling us the truth in giving us initial assurances that our food was on the way.  And I think if you make people wait for such a long time you owe them more than a comped meal, you owe them an explanation.  Somebody — the manager, or the chef — should have come to our table and told us what happened and assured us it won’t happen again.  As of now, if I went back to the place and had a similar experience, I’d have only myself to blame.

By the way, by the time we left the other two tables hadn’t been served yet.

The Only Guy In The Restaurant

When you’re on the road a lot, you get used to skipped meals and eating at usual times. Today my travel to Boston meant that I didn’t eat anything until dinner time. By the time it got close to 6 p.m. I was famished, headed to a restaurant down the street from my hotel with book in hand, and once again found myself once again . . . . the only guy in the restaurant.

This happens from time to time. Still, it’s a little weird being the only guy in the restaurant. When you’re seated, they tend to put you in the rear, back in the shadows. Nobody wants to put a single, potentially creepy old loner reading a book up front, because it doesn’t send a fun-filled message designed to entice people passing by to stop in, unless the restaurant is eager to attract potential serial killers. A table of four or six laughing twenty-somethings will always get put in the front window; the bookish old nerd gets shunted to the back, where he hopefully won’t be seen by anyone until he finishes his food and slinks out of there.

This isn’t actually a bad thing, if you’re truly interested in reading your book. It’s quiet in the rear, and you aren’t disturbed by the hormonal antics or vapid conversation of young professionals out after work. You read your book, eat your food, and move on. And you try not to notice when the maitre d breathes a sigh of relief to see you head out the front door.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XI)

In Columbus, at least, Greek restauranteurs must be an emotional bunch who wear the core elements of their personalities on their shirt sleeves. In the footprint of our fair city, we’ve got dining establishments identified with a Mad Greek, a Crazy Greek, a Simple Greek, and even a Yappy Greek.

Yesterday, though, we were in a good mood at lunchtime, so we ventured to The Happy Greek. It’s a Short North staple that’s been there for decades — which makes it all the more bizarre that I’ve never been inside its doors. But there’s a first time for everything.

The Happy Greek has all the trappings that you’ve come to expect in a Greek restaurant, including wall paintings of happy dancing Greeks and a bar fashioned to look like the Acropolis. (Surprisingly, the proprietor wasn’t outfitted like Socrates.) And, of course, a menu that features lots of salads and other traditional Greek fare.

My theory on a new restaurant is that you first try one of the basics from their menu, and if that is good you then branch out to other options on subsequent visits. Since I don’t eat salad, Greek or otherwise, I went for the lamb pita sandwich with onions, tzatziki sauce, and fries. The sandwich was big, with lots of succulent lamb and fresh pita bread, enjoyably messy to eat with your hands, and very tasty. The fries were a little on the salty side for my taste, but the seasoning did go well when I started to use the fries to mop up stray pools of the tzatziki sauce, which was so good I could have imbibed it by the tumbler. I’ll definitely come back.

And I should add that the people inside were very friendly, too. With a name like The Happy Greek, they’re pretty much required to be, I guess.

The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.