The art of service

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Does good service start with your servers writing everything down? Some guests told the New York Post this week that pencils and pads in the hands of a waiter can go a long way toward calming the nerves that start to fray when patrons fear their food will come out wrong. Despite that, many of New York’s smaller eateries have taken to taking away their servers’ pads and instead expecting staff to get the orders right on the first try, the story says.

There are two sides to the issue. Some eateries believe that a crack wait staff that demonstrates an ability to memorize your order shows a higher level of personalized service, while others opt for the safer route of requiring servers to write it down. And order pads come in especially handy when it comes to successfully serving the pickiest guests.

Both the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune ran stories about the picky people who just want it the way they want it, to paraphrase Meg Ryan’s character in “When Harry Met Sally.” Tribune writer Dahleen Glanton uses Sally as a takeoff point to tell her first-person story about being a picky restaurant guest and the aggravation it causes her friends. Glanton speculates that the habits often begin in childhood with demands that food be served in separate dishes and grows over time. But whatever the origins, the reality is that guests that want it the way they want it can be a trial for restaurant servers. But, as she points out, they can also be the source of big tips.

The Globe story takes a different angle, wondering how far chefs need to go to serve people who may very well be impossible to please. For Chef David Chang, special requests and fake allergies top his list of the most annoying things customers do.

“People will say to the server they absolutely can’t have gluten,’’ Orla LaScola, co-owner of American Seasons on Nantucket, told the Globe. “They will quiz the server on everything that’s in the food. We’ll prepare a gluten-free meal, then we get to dessert and they order a chocolate cake.’’

Other chefs and restaurateurs quoted in the story say the issues are more significant these days, as more customers want to know every ingredient and even hear a little story about each dish.

“There used to be a little mystery about what happened in fine-dining restaurants. Now that there are cameras in there [on reality TV shows], the trials and tribulations are on display for everyone to see. That brings us all down to Earth,’’ Garrett Harker, owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar and Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Kenmore Square, told the Globe.

Finally, a little reminder that good service may extend beyond the meal itself. Servers disgruntled about inadequate tips for the service they provide have gotten increasingly social, including one industrious waiter who launched a blog dedicated to outing the worst of the cheapskates. While sites like this one could possibly serve to shame and/or educate the world’s bad tippers, they can also backfire big-time on the restaurants that were the source of the receipts.

What’s your toughest service challenge and how do you deal with it? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image credit: parema via iStock