It has been a while since I went on a rant in these pages. It’s not that I haven’t had cause to complain. I most definitely have. But I’m not sure that I want to be known as the disgruntled, surly, curmudgeonly chef. (Not that I’d be the only one — just the only one without my own TV show. And the only woman.)
The service entering my sphere of existence is reaching its nadir. I’m the first to admit that it could all be in my head. My head is full of expectations that are regularly met by only a handful of individuals, most of whom I have raised. But in the wider world it has reached such a point that I am now leaving the house expecting to be disappointed. So I figured, what better time for an animated diatribe on service — or, more precisely, the lack thereof?
The straw that broke this camel’s back has been documented in the photograph you see above. This photo is unaltered. These pancakes were served to me this way. Yes, the orange looks chewed. Yes, the parsley is overturned. All this, presented to me by a waiter with a smile. Let’s ignore, for the time being, that I was served pancakes garnished with orange and parsley. This is the least of the offenses. (Suffice to say such an attempt would have certainly received a C- if presented to me by one of my culinary students, even if the fruit was in pristine condition.)
We were not at the Ritz. It was a small, quirky diner — a chain establishment that probably would not appreciate any tarnishing of its reputation. Then again, they may not give a rat’s ass. Clearly no one did who was working the shift I interrupted. This is now, apparently, an acceptable way to provide service to customers. At least this is the loud and clear message I am receiving.
Other recent service offenses have included a cup of coffee garnished with hair, which was promptly fished out tableside by an apologetic server. I have been served a hot meal that went cold while I waited 10 minutes for my companion’s food to arrive. I have asked for a refill of water and received an entirely new glass of water, which I can only assume is there to keep the old empty glass from feeling lonely. (This also happens with straws. Servers should note that, if I didn’t use the first straw you brought me, I’m not going to use the second one. Or the third.) I have been spilled on, harrumphed at, eyeball-rolled, ignored, forgotten, been given the wrong dish and sometimes served just plain awful food.
Sadly, I have become accustomed to the inadequacy of most restaurants. This might be because my standards are higher than most people’s. Food service is, after all, my chosen profession. And though the key word here is “chosen” — and I am fully aware that most people providing food service are not in their dream jobs — they still accepted the job. There should be a modicum of giving a crap.
Restaurants were created with the sole purpose of providing service. It’s really the whole point of their existence.
Restaurants are not the only places where bad service exists. For instance, it was one hotel’s policy to respond to complaints of mice nibbling on room snacks by placing a mousetrap in said room, rather than, say, moving me to a new room and comping my bill. Another hotel felt that if I returned to the room for a late afternoon nap to an unmade bed, housekeeping’s response should be an enthusiastic heavy sigh. And, news to me, it is perfectly fine for a taxi driver to ask that you come prepared with a map to your destination.
Perhaps you are thinking, “She should really cut these service professionals some slack.” Well, you are right. And I do. Every damn time. I never make a fuss, I never stiff, I never post bad reviews on Yelp. But I never, never, ever patronize these places again — a strategy that, if pursued by more people, would end the scourge of mediocrity in a heartbeat.
No, I’m not expecting this rant to make a difference. And maybe, rather than a rant, there should be a conversation about a higher wage. I am absolutely on board for a higher minimum wage that allows service workers to live comfortably, proudly and free from financial fear. But the thing is, I know plenty of people who are classified as working poor, yet still manage to do their jobs happily and professionally. These people possess a thing called work ethic. But sadly, they are few and far between. How can we address this? Will more money help? Does the Common Core have a unit for that?
The thing about service is that it requires you serve somebody. That is your job. But guess what? Most jobs require that you serve somebody or something. It might be a boss, or a board of trustees, a classroom full of kids or the U.S. Constitution. Whatever or whomever you serve for a living, whether you enjoy it or not, at the very least do it well. Make your workday worth something.
Recipe for Good Service
Serves 1 employee for a lifetime of success
1. Preheat the work environment so that others feel welcome. Set timer, because waiting around does not generate pleasure.
2. Mix your interaction with concentration, and be sure requests are fully absorbed. Fulfill said requests with due diligence, and take responsibility when the ball is dropped. Be warned — one cannot substitute passing the buck here.
3. Shake and bake, because hard work is a worthwhile endeavor.
4. Cool completely in the face of adversity, and remember that customers are not necessarily always right, but they should always think they are if you want them to remain customers.
5. Garnish with Pride. A job well done leads to more jobs done well.