Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ruint?

"The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side." -- James Baldwin
Yesterday was Hub's birthday. As is usual for our family, we made reservations at a pricey but prestigious local restaurant with a sterling reputation that was the choice of the celebrant. We gathered the clan members in town, and got ready to enjoy ourselves.

As the main cook for our family I truly appreciate eating out. The chance to have great food without any effort past choosing what I want in combination with the ability to walk away from the table without having to clean up after myself never ceases to be pleasing.There is something to be said for the opportunity to not only eat food that has been well prepared, but to be able to do so in a format where everybody can get just what they are in the mood for, rather than being squeezed into a "one entreé fits all" style such as home cooks provide day in and day out.

I spent years working in restaurants both in the kitchen and in the front of the house, so I do understand how much work is involved on every level to provide a pleasing dining experience for the folks who walk in the restaurant's doors. Both ChefSon and LawSchoolGirl have now worked in the food industry in various capacities. As all our palates have become more informed, the fun of choosing more adventurous venues and the willingness to order and then share sampling bites has become an entrenched part of our fine dining experiences.

But, as our range of experience has expanded our range of what is considered "acceptable" has narrowed.

If a dish is not thoughtfully prepared, if a sauce is poorly seasoned, if the service is slow or inattentive or the temperature or doneness of a protein is off? We feel free to share our notice of and reaction to such shortfalls with the others at the table.

But for me at least, it is hard to hear of such a shortfall without that having somewhat of a negative impact on my shared experience even if my own personal order is not necessarily directly affected. Bottom line, I want everybody to enjoy their food and their time at the table together. If one person is unhappy with some aspect of the dining experience, it is hard for me to ignore that.That said, with our standards for dining out currently set so high, I wonder. Have we reached the point where we will typically not be able to fully enjoy eating out at most of the restaurants we can afford? Will there always be some oversight or slip-up to take the experience down a few notches from "great"?

What are your expectations of a restaurant experience? Are you willing to ignore poor service if the food is good? Are you OK with lackluster food if it arrives fast and hot and the price is right? Where do you draw the line when it comes to eating out in determining what is acceptable?

What is your feeling about complaining in front of other people at the table if you are unhappy with part of your experience? Is it OK to wonder aloud why the service is so slow? All right to point out how other tables who came in later have already gotten their entreés? Does etiquette require suffering in silence or should everybody feel free to critique their experience as ongoing narrative?

Please feel free to share in the comments section. I'll be interested to compare notes. Have we become spoiled and intolerant or are we merely discriminating well informed consumers with reasonable expectations? Weigh in - let me know what you think.

Postscript. The restaurant we chose for our celebration last night has disappointed two of out three visits for the length of time it took to receive our entreés. 

I know from reading other reports and personal experience as a waitress when other tables are getting their food promptly while you are not? That is not an issue with an understaffed kitchen as is typically offered by way of explanation. When your group alone is slow getting entreés (barring somebody with a special time consuming order which should be both noted on the menu and pointed out when ordered by your wait staff) that is a case of your server not turning in orders and/or checking on them properly. 

Clearly many of the diners present along with us at this restaurant on previous visits are regular patrons. We are not. Should that make a difference in the level of service we are offered? I vote "no" unless we are also offered a difference in the prices we are charged for the experience.

3 comments:

Flapjacks said...

ah, yes. as noted in my recent parkside post, my ilk is made up of people from all walks of the service industry life. going to a great restaurant with a group of waiters from another great restaurant generally lends to some critique.

personally, i like a well balanced outing of great food, and decent service. austin actually has a bad rap for poor service, and my years at wheatsville have spoiled me. i feel that service is always a bit underwhelming, even at home depot, but am often surprised, if not shocked when i get amazing service. i never tip below 20%, and am glad to go higher when the service warrants it.

no matter what level of prestige a particular restaurant is at, we always critique. timing was off, mis-poured wine, cold food, rude server, poor execution, etc. we're a rough bunch to wow, but generally easy to please. i may have negative comments about a stellar meal, and does that mean i won't be back? not at all, just that i'm paying attention, and despite my rugged appearance, know what i'm paying attention to.

PassivePastry said...

maybe it's my newly established patience (after dining a summer in europe) or the fact that i also like everyone to be happy and like to try and convince myself that my meal is worth what i am paying for- but i don't think i've had many bad dining experiences in Austin. especially in the nicer places i've been too.

I'm always in charge of coming up with new restaurants for my folks to go to when they are in town- and up until now i have never disappointed. i feel like as long as they are happy, then the service and food was moy bien. but then again, i grew up in a town where Red Lobster and Olive Garden were the best places to get seafood/italian... so as far as food quality/taste/seasoning goes... i'm probably not as observant as some.

so can you secretly tell me this restaurant? (unless i missed it somewhere)
i must know.

Iris said...

Very provocative post! I know that if my husband and I are alone, we comment to each other on all aspects, good or bad. However, when we're with others, we're generally less likely to point out flaws in food or service, because, like you, we don't want to diminish the others' meals.

My years of waitressing, bussing, hostessing, and floor-managing have contributed to my tendency to be a little too forgiving of service issues at times. But that's generally just at lower-end joints.