Dining with Dave and Dan: Locally owned means you feel at home
One of our spouses and a daughter who worked her way through college as a waitress recently swung into a popular chain for lunch and a relaxed chat.
Once seated, they were warned by their server that he was busy but he would be back shortly, which is a nice warning.
But when the “Guest Experience Captain” – seriously, that’s a job title? – stopped by, the goodwill dissipated.
The ex-waitress told the “captain” they were waiting for their server but wondered if they could get a drink. The response can basically be translated into, “It’s not my job,” from the person whose job would seem to be just that.
She made a note – was the waiter in trouble for being busy? – but said that they would have to wait for their server.
Another 10 minutes passed, and they decided to go to the bar, which was all but empty, and inquired about getting a drink and maybe dining there.
They were told that once seated, they couldn’t change stations, or presumably order their drink directly from the drink maker. (Funny, he was doing nothing, the waiter was slammed, and the Guest Experience Captain must have been changing channels on a TV.)
Same child, different parent, and just a few days later. They were enjoying a wonderful sunny lunch on the patio overlooking the falls when they stopped a passing server, not theirs, to request that he ask their server to stop by. Instead of saying sure without breaking stride, he stopped and said, “Of course … is there something I can get you?” He greeted a request for a glass of chardonnay with a “no problem” and quickly brought one back himself.
We often encourage readers to keep local businesses in mind when deciding where to spend their entertainment dollar. It’s a tough business and even tougher for small mom-and-pops who don’t have the luxury of corporate backing. But you do see just as many chains come and go as the local guys.
Hooters, for example shut down, and from everyone we spoke to (older than 27, that is) we heard the same thing that kept us away: They were irritated by the corporate mandate to have their “experience” interrupted by every waitress in the establishment stopping by for a brief one-on-one chat while signing the ticket.
Just as irritating was their nonsensical practice of “carding everybody.” At 60-plus years old, we prefer some place where the bartender can look at receding gray hair and make a judgment call.
Generally you don’t see those kinds of seemingly mindless corporate guidelines when dining at the homegrown spots.
But that’s doesn’t mean the owner or manager is always on top of things.
Recently at breakfast with a brother at one of his local hot spots, we were quickly put on our heels when the young waitress called us “Hon,” which may have been OK if she weren’t 40 years younger, or at least competent. In the restaurant/patron relationship it’s traditionally used by a waitress older than the customer.
OK, she was working on becoming the next Flo, except that her service wasn’t bad, it was atrocious. While we had empty coffee cups we saw her chatting up a young guy in the corner. That was after we had time to memorize the menu before her return to take our order. By the time we were done, we were digging through pockets to find the exact change to pay our bill – down to the penny, but as we walked out we guessed that maybe that symbolism would be lost on the Flo failure.
That was in Denver, where every other dining experience was exceptional.
The ex-restaurateur in this joint venture would become frustrated when a departing customer would say, “Great meal, but the service was off tonight so we only tipped 10 percent.”
Tip generously when the service warrants it and don’t be afraid not to, he said. Restaurant employees tend to notoriously over-tip, generally 20 percent or more. It’s just what they do. However, when receiving bad or rude service, the restaurateur would leave his business card and zero tip (which means To Insure Promptness).
Drinks are cheaper at home, and we brag about our good fortune to have married great cooks, so we go out for the service. It’s nice to be waited on, treated like we matter.
If we wanted our food from a robot, we could go to a vending machine.
Last week was an occasional meeting with old friends, this time lunch at the Wall Street Diner. It was a home run in all departments.
The stop was part of a quest to find great Reuben sandwiches. We found young, friendly servers who took their jobs seriously and understood the balance between professionalism and friendliness you would expect from a successful local business. We noticed that in the small place, each server kept an eye on our needs, not just the one assigned to our table. And the Reuben passed muster.
Good food and good service enhanced the friendship, making us eager to meet again.
Just a few days later, during breakfast at The Cottage (which is always good if you don’t mind waiting for a table at the popular Valley spot), we marveled at the teamwork of the staff, especially the way they looked out for a pregnant waitress.
Those are the kind of experiences that make it easy to spend money when staying at home makes more sense, except we have to do the dishes.
Former longtime S-R writer Dave Trimmer and former restaurateur Dan Coyle forged a common bond over dinner and drink. They share recent finds and longtime favorites in this column, which runs monthly in the 7 section. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.