Friday, May 15, 2009

Wait staff

I enjoy dining out. I especially enjoy dining out where the waitstaff is on top of things. No need to request more water, it just magically appears. Butter dishes are refilled when needed. Coffee is refreshed just as the cup is cooling too much. Orders are taken when one is ready to dine.

Why is it that some waitstaff "get it" and others don't. Tonight I was served by one who didn't get it. We had to ask to order our food. We had to ask for another round of drinks. After we ate our savory dishes, we had to ask in order to order a sweet (which wasn't very sweet, but we dined at a tapas place. Goat cheese in the center of the dish, slices of poached pear around the cheese, with honey and almonds sprinkled around. It was just enough sweet to satisfy and, shared, wasn't too filling). We also had to ask to order an Irish coffee after the meal. Just the week before Carrie and I dined at the same restaurant, with a different waiter. Our former waiter got us drinks right away. He suggested items on the menu, when asked to give an opinion. He checked in with us, and was prompt and chatty. Is it the number of tables the wait staff have to cover? I don't think so. This is a cozy place and both waiters work at the same restaurant, covering what appeared to be the same number of tables. Time of day? General attitude? A job vs a career?

Whatever the reason for the difference, the tip did differ. Markedly. 12% vs 20%. I wish more waitstaff were better at their jobs. In Europe there is a huge difference in the restaurant quality. Waitstaff don't just pick up a job while in school. Waitstaff are apprentised. The waiters and waitresses work with a host and learn how to set a table, what utensiles are appropriate for which dish, how to serve wine properly and how to know the difference between a water goblet, a red wine glass and a white wine glass. How to pick up plates unobtrusively, and without having the guest pass plates for clearing. Staff are taught how to sell/suggest items to make a meal more enjoyable (and profitable for the premises), and staff apologize when some kitchen issue delays a meal.

I distinctly remember a wonderful place in Switzerland where I dined in utter comfort. Our waitress was the wife of the cook, and it was their restaurant. They lived above their place, with 4 children. I ordered a wonderful seafood risotto. Jon ordered a Thai chicken meal. I don't remember what Dad ordered. Ben couldn't order. Nothing sounded good to him. This didn't phase the hostess. She has her own children. Seeing him stymied, she offered chicken nuggets and fries to him. He was delighted! Of course this wasn't on the menu, but she knew what her own children fancied, and she wanted all her guest to enjoy the meal. Not only was this meal one of the best I've ever tasted, but it was delightful in the service.

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