I love the kitchen.
I love the safety of its boundaries.
I love the pace, the flow, the certainty of the actions.
I love the quiet bedlam that is fully evident during peak service. I love the food… that is my bottom line in any restaurant, whether it is mine or anywhere in the world.
So if those opening words are my philosophy, why am I offering the following statement?
I strongly believe that service is more important than food in a dining experience.
I read a lot and found this quote that speaks of what, for me as a true food lover, might seem like a blasphemous departure from my life’s work. In an article from the Chicago Tribune on May 15, 2008, food critic Phil Vettel addressed my topic for today: “An attentive and friendly front-room staff can cover a multitude of culinary sins, or as New York restaurateur Danny Meyer says in his book, Setting the Table, ‘The road to success is paved with mistakes well handled.'”
Did you ever think you would hear me say that service is more important than food?
As a kitchen person I have my passions and never-ending commitment to great food; however, my dining experiences in the past few years, and especially this past summer, have tipped the scale.
Keep in mind, I will never not love food. I love to grow it, love to cook and, yes, my stomach may finally be proving it, I love to eat it. All styles, most cuisines – just do it well.
Cooking is funny. The cooks and chefs may have their quirks and personality traits that we deal with every day, but basically food is a simple commodity, that when nurtured during growth, when the “mise en place” is precise, the cooking skills are exact, and the plating is done with care, the food from the farm, the sea or the garden will show well. Yes, a lot of care in planning and executing make the process better for all.
Yet unlike the world today where our Supreme Court has intimated that corporations are people, a plate of food is still just plate of food. And for that we can all be grateful.
A good team in the kitchen can get the work done and the plate will never suffer from the personality aberrations of one cook or another. A great leader and task-master in the kitchen can help that greatly.
However, the service aspect of the dining experience is so very different. The following is a litany of issues/questions that I think/worry about when I dine:
- Did I select the right restaurant?
- Did I get the time I wanted?
- Did I get the table I wanted?
- Did I get a server on his or her game?
- Did I get the server with the great personality and attitude or simply the order taker?
- Does my server know the menu, the wines, the specialty drinks so well there is never a hint of hesitation?
- Do I sense that I am special and that tonight will be a great treat for all involved?
- Was I greeted well at the front door?
- Was I quickly spoken to at the table?
- Did I sense that all was right?
As I have matured, many of these issues have become less important. I’ve become significantly less worried about the right time and right table. I’d happily take knowledge and attitude over place and time.
There was time that I thought only about the food quality. I’m not sure, nor does it really matter to me, why my dining personality has changed. In my dining experiences over the past yeas and especially this summer: I’ve had great food. But, more importantly, such superlative service or even simply properly paid attention that it is impossible to dissect the details, and moreover not even that important. What I know is that Wynne and I, and our family on occasion, had a great time and that is what counts. Dining needs to be fun. Dining is personal and that is where we take the next step.
Dining out should be fun and include great service, food and a prominent beverage list. Dining out is filled with expectations and my goal this year is to raise our entire staffs awareness of that very complex word — expectations. We’ve been meeting since October 3rd 2014 and will continue to meet every week for the foreseeable future. The good news is that we have technically well-trained staff. And in many cases, a staff that fully appreciates the nuances of providing exceptional service.
My list of issues, referenced above, is the basis for my expectations. The bottom line is that our goal is to make our guests feel even more special by increasing the attention our staff offers. We all recognize that if you treated very well, every other element is perceived in a better light. This attitude is pervasive from me, Sukie, David and George and will make its way to EVERY staff member, whether they have direct customer contact or not.
So what changes are being made in the kitchen. The Ridgway Bar & Grill dinner menu has only a few substantive changes. I made 18 tweaks to individual items. Some will be noticeable; all are to make the dish slightly better. The big changes are on our Courtyard menu, available from 4pm – close. I made some really superb additions to it and hope you check it out next time you visit us.
I am also hard at work in the bakery, as well. I hired two very excellent bakers to augment our already very capable staff.
Enough for now, time to get back to work and meet with our service staff to talk about how to make everyone that walks in our doors feel special.