Unrest in the Restaurant Scene: The Blogger View

April 8, 2013 · 1 comment

in Food Media,General Food,Trends

Last week, Lesley Chesterman, the fine dining critic for the Gazette, wrote probably one of the most interesting articles I’ve ever read from her: Unrest in the Restaurant Scene. I believe; however, the title of the article may be a little farfetched since I don’t see it as “unrest”. I see it as the evolving diner. The opinions of the panelists were eye-opening and very informative. Readers got a chance to see what the restaurateur and/or chef thought about a diner’s behavior before, during, and after a meal.

When I go out for dinner, I don’t expect every service to be the greatest I’ve ever had, or the food to be the most delicious ever. I expect professionalism. You know when you have a good waiter, when you have a bad one, and when you have one that’s just ok. You know when you’re eating a well-conceived dish, as opposed to something thrown together. It’s nice to find out how something was made, how many hours something was smoked, where a dish came from (for example, it’s their grandmother’s recipe), and even where a chef developed the inspiration for the menu. All this adds to the experience of a meal.

Since this article caught many people’s eyes, I thought it would be a great idea to hear from the local food bloggers. We answered every one of the questions posed in the article. Try not to think of this as a response or us disagreeing with what was written in the original article. It’s merely our views of the interesting questions. Some of us answered in English, and some en Français. The bloggers are:

In an effort to be cutting back on waste, should customers be charged for bread? / Dans un effort de réduire le gaspillage, le client devrait-il payer pour obtenir du pain?

FGM: Yes and No. Yes, because it creates a lot of waste from uneaten bread, and no because I think it should be factored in to the price of the dishes on the menu. If I were someone like Jeff Finkelstein, from Hofkelsten, who bakes bread for most of the top restos in the city, I would hate to see my bread go in the garbage. I like what some places do when the waiters walk around with a few varieties of slices of bread in a basket and serve you a couple pieces.

AG: Yes, especially if it’s quality bread

CM: No, but I do think that they should be asked first if they want it. Clients that don’t want to fill up on bread or who are gluten intolerant should have the choice. Same goes for those who want bread and who may even want a second round of bread.

EM: Yes, if the bread is nice and home made. I don’t want to be charged for a shrink-wrapped Pom roll, but I also hate to see good baguette and artisan bread thrown in the garbage.

MS: A minimal fee should be added for bread but only if an effort was put into said bread, for example if it’s made in-house or ordered from a reputable bread-maker. I don’t want to pay extra for bread bought at your neighborhood supermarket.

JM: On ne devrait pas automatiquement apporter de pain au client. Pourquoi ne pas l’offrir plutôt que l’imposer par défaut? Et si le resto décidait de faire payer le client pour son pain, un produit de très bonne qualité serait de mise.

CD: Oui. Cela permet d’offrir une plus belle qualité de pain, plutôt qu’une baguette d’épicerie servie par automatisme, et dont la moitié se retrouvera à la poubelle. Si la maison souhaite offrir quelque chose, je préfère mille fois plus être surprise avec un petit amuse-bouche bien pensé.

Considering the high number of no-shows, should restaurants consider asking for a deposit to hold a reservation for six or more? / Considérant le grand nombre de clients qui ne respectent pas leurs réservations, est-ce-qu’un restaurant devrait exiger un dépôt pour une réservation pour 6 personnes ou plus?

FGM: No, but I believe they should keep record of people who don’t show up. I love what Porchetta in NYC did on Twitter last week when they posted how many no-shows they received last month. Jorge Jr. from MTL Cuisine and Stephen Lesley did the same. It’s important for people to know how much it hurts a place when people don’t show up. Also, if you’re going to be late, call them.

CM: Some people just ruin it for everyone. If restaurants start asking for a deposit, then I would stop eating out. Just be a grown-up, call and cancel if you can’t show up!

MS: No-shows are the highest form of disrespect. If you have friends in the restaurants business, you would know that no-shows can make or break a night. Adding a fee to hold a reservation can ensure that the person will at least call to cancel.

JL: Yes. In the age of accessibility (email, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging), there is no excuse for not contacting to cancel. There should also be a blacklist database shared amongst restaurants.

FDN: Yes, but there should be a 24hr grace period allowed for modifications/cancellations due to unforeseen circumstances. Restaurants in NY, Chicago and Vegas have done this for years, even for tables of 2. You can’t buy tickets to a concert or make hotel reservations without a credit card, why are restaurants forced to operate on an honor system that clients fail to respect? No-shows are a costly loss, all the more frustrating when you consider that the restaurant you bailed on was likely forced to turn down potential clients keeping their end of a verbal agreement you didn’t see fit to honor.

JM: Non. Le restaurant devrait avoir un système de confirmation de 24 à 48 heures auparavant. Et si jamais le groupe n’a pu reconfirmer sa présence avant un moment spécifique requis, la réservation est automatiquement annulée.

Is the number of people taking pictures of their food in restaurants these days turning into a problem? / Est-ce-que le phénomène des gens qui photographient leurs plats devient de plus en plus problématique?

FGM: Not really, as long as it doesn’t bother other people around them. There’s a way to be polite about it. I really hate it when people take their plate from the table to the bar and take the picture there because it’s better lighting, and then bring it back. That’s excessive.

EM: I really don’t mind, as long as we all respect the meal. Be in the moment. Wait for the server to be done with the description of the dishes before getting the camera out. Don’t take your plate up to a window to get better light. Yes, I’ve seen it done.

MS: I don’t think it’s a problem as long as it’s done with respect to the chef and the other diners. Being a food blogger who writes restaurant reviews, I always take pictures of my food but I do it discreetly, I never use flash, and I never publish the photos anywhere if they don’t do the food justice.

JL: No, but the people taking the pictures should do it with discretion – excessive flash, getting up and moving to a spot with better lighting should be frowned upon.

FDN: When we started our site you could get away with people assuming you were just an eager tourist photographing your food, but not anymore. As food bloggers, we’re clearly guilty, and biased, but calling it a “problem” is a little dramatic. With a few years of doing it under our belts, here’s the way we see the guidelines:

  1. Stay in your seat! You have absolutely no right to walk around taking pictures of the décor, staff and clients like you own the place.
  2. Keep it to a minimum, it’s not a photo shoot. A few snaps, and put the camera away – work with what you’ve got.
  3. It can be tough to resist the temptation at times but no flash, it really does bother other diners. That DSLR you’re schlepping around is expensive, learn to use it properly.

Should a customer send back his or her food if there is a problem, like lukewarm soup or overcooked meat? / Est-ce-qu’un client devrait retourner son plat si celui-ci n’est pas cuit correctement (par exemple)?

Unanimous Yes/Absolutely

Is it bad manners to request a doggy bag? / Est-ce impoli, de demander à rapporter son restant de nourriture (doggy bag)?

Unanimous No, it’s not rude at all since the customer paid for it.

Is there a dress code in upscale restaurants these days? / Y’a-t-il un code vestimentaire à respecter dans les restaurants un peu plus « haut de gamme »?

FGM: It obviously depends where you eat. At a place like Moishe’s it really bothers me to see people wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat. Have a little class. I think restaurants should make customers aware of a minimum dress code, if they have one. Keep your flip-flops and baseball hats at home.

AG: If restaurants implement a dress code in Montreal, it will be a problem. But as a customer, you should dress appropriately for the restaurant you frequent!

EM: Not really, and it’s a shame. I like to dress nice for dinner and wish more people did.

FDN: Unless it’s made clear at the time you make your reservation, no. Daniel in NYC and Alinea in Chicago are the only two places we’ve ever been that enforce a dress code, we were told in advance and were happy to respect the requirement. Otherwise, expect Jordans and a ball cap.

JM: Le client devrait en profiter et se mettre sur son 36, surtout dans un endroit gastronomique. Mais avec tous les styles qui nous entourent, on peut être tout de même très présentable avec un chapeau et des sneakers. C’est très relatif… Mais tant que personne ne pue, qu’il n’y a pas de jeans en lambeaux et que l’on ne voit pas de seins ou de craques de plombiers désagréables, ça va.

CD: Malheureusement non. Bien qu’il puisse être pratique de pouvoir être habillé de manière décontractée, je trouve que les clients devraient, de manière générale, se présenter avec plus de soin, afin de ne pas diminuer l’effort déployé en cuisine et en salle. Devraient être interdits coûte que coûte : casquettes, souliers de courses, jerseys de sport, bermudas et gougounes.

Are restaurant wine prices too high? And/or are restaurant food prices too high? / Est-ce-que le prix des vins et de la nourriture dans nos restaurants est trop élevé?

FGM: I don’t know enough about wine and their prices to comment. High food prices don’t bother me as long as the service and quality of food reflect it properly.

AG: We know when we pay too much, no matter the restaurant.

CM: Restaurants in QC charge way too much for wine, but then again, it’s not really their fault, they need to make money and the SAQ monopoly sucks.

EM: Restaurants who work hard to build a good wine list deserve to make a good profit. But when I see a cheap bottle of Brouilly at $70 on the wine list, I have to laugh.

FDN: Wine – definitely. But a lot of the onus lands on the SAQ, they’re a monopoly and world-class extortionists. Also, many people don’t realize that restaurants pay a significantly higher premium for the same products you do in store.

Food is more a question of value, we’re always looking at the bottom line. Ever wonder why a whole lobster in Chinatown costs half as much as a lobster claw on your risotto does at “chez whoever”? Or why the same organ meat restaurants couldn’t give away 10 years ago is selling for 30$ a plate now? At the end of the day the restaurant is a business and dining is entertainment, if you were eating for sustenance alone Kraft Dinner on your couch would’ve done the trick. To us, the key is perspective and generosity, we can go to Liverpool House or PDC and leave thoroughly satisfied, happy to spend the same 150-200$ we’ve left other places hungry and angry for.

CD: Oui pour le vin, non pour la nourriture. Le restaurateur doit faire une marge profitable sur les prix déjà trop élevés du vin achetés à la SAQ, cette société d’état qui devrait être beaucoup plus sensible à la réalité de la restauration. Pour la nourriture, les clients voudraient payer le même prix qu’il y a 20 ans, alors que le prix des aliments, des logements et des services de base (hydro, gaz, etc.) augmentent à chaque année. Après, on se demande pourquoi autant d’établissements de qualité ferment leurs portes…

Should the tip be included in the bill? / Est-ce-que le pourboire devrait être inclus dans la facture?

FGM: Never. The diner should decide the tip; however, 15% is standard, and it should always be given even in the worst cases. Waiters and waitresses work very hard. If there’s a problem, discuss with the manager before you leave.

AG: Tips allows the restaurateur to have employees in service that it does not cost too much. The tip also allows the customer to inform the server’s level of satisfaction. There is a vicious circle from which it is very difficult to escape.

CM: No. I like leaving a tip as an indication of how pleased I was with the service. Tips are always expected, but not always deserved.

MS: No. Tip should be at the discretion of the diner.

JL: No. It’s a direct reflection of how you felt about the service; if that is the case, we should have the option to deduct part of the tip if it’s automatically included.

JM: Jamais. Le pourboire doit demeurer à la discrétion du client suite au service qu’il a reçu. On peut facilement constater, ailleurs dans d’autres villes où il est inclus, à quel point on peut être mal servi.

CD: Non. Le pourboire motive le serveur à faire de son mieux et permet au client de démontrer son niveau de satisfaction.

Is booking a table online the best way to go? / Est-ce-que faire sa réservation en ligne est la meilleure des solutions?

FGM: It’s easy, efficient, and it’s the future. If I do see that a reservation I want is booked on Open Table, I will still call the restaurant to be sure.

AG: The human touch is always better in my opinion.

CM: Sometimes, but it doesn’t always work. I prefer to call.

EM: I love it. What I hate is restaurants that work with answering machines and callbacks. I know that they can’t have someone on the phone 24/7, but I’m always stressing out. Did I get the table? Should I call back? Will I still get the answering machine? Hello? BEEEP!

MS: Booking online saves everyone’s time, yours and the restaurants. But I have had incidents when my booking never got through or when it looked like the restaurant was full online but I finally managed to get a table when I called.

JL: Yes and no. It’s easy and convenient, but calling might find you a last minute cancelation.

FDN: No, we prefer speaking to someone. Sometimes places say they’re fully booked online but when you call they have room.

JM: Tellement! Plus rapide, et inclut un service de rappel et de confirmation de présence (avec OpenTable par exemple). Et si on a des questions ou besoin de plus d’infos, là on appelle.

CD: Je préfère personnellement parler à un être humain. Je peux discuter de certains détails et poser des questions, par la même occasion.

Can customers ask that the music be turned down? / Est-ce-que le client peut demander à ce que la musique soit ajustée à la baisse?

FGM: They can, but I don’t think it’s up to one diner to decide the fate of music volume in a restaurant. If many people are complaining, then the restaurant should turn it down. I’ve never asked that.

AG: You can always ask. Again, for me, the type of restaurant is important to consider.

CM: I don’t think so, but my boyfriend always asks. It’s hard to please everyone. I’d rather they turn the air-conditioner down!

EM: Yes. I love ambiance as much as the next gal, but sometimes the music is so loud I have a hoarse voice at the end of the evening from talking too loud over the latest hit. Not fun.

MS: I’ve never asked for the music to be turned down

JL: Yes, as long as you’re not a dick about it.

FDN: Give it a rest. You know whether you’ve reserved at a quiet romantic restaurant or a young, lively spot. How does the saying go? If the music’s getting too loud, you’re getting too old!

JM: Si 4 clients mentionnent à leur serveur qu’ils ne s’entendent pas discuter en l’espace de 30 minutes, il y a matière à considérer la dite-demande. Mais en général, la musique (s’il y en a) fait partie intégrante de l’ambiance du resto. Et de toute façon un bon restaurateur devrait savoir qu’il gère un resto, pas une discothèque.

CD: Oui, ils peuvent toujours demander poliment, mais les oreilles d’une seule personne ne peuvent dicter l’ambiance de la soirée de tous. Le choix de la musique et de son volume font partie du style d’un restaurant, à même titre que l’éclairage, la tapisserie, etc. Le client ne doit pas être offusqué si on refuse de se plier à sa demande.

Does the chef have the last word when it comes to making substitutions or meat cookery (as in refusing to cook a duck breast well done)? / Est-ce-que le chef a le dernier mot en ce qui a trait aux substitutions d’aliments et à la cuisson des viandes par exemple?

FGM: The diner should trust the way the chef wants something cooked. If the diner has a problem, they should tell the waiter and the kitchen should oblige, if it’s a request that isn’t outrageous. Asking for meat to be cooked well done is fine, but substitutions comprise the integrity the harmony of flavors on the plate.

AG: Hummm. Still the problem of the payer and the payee … For me, this is the type of restaurant that determines whether I would to ask.

CM: I prefer to let the chef do their thing, 95% of the time. Only three things I think we should have say in:  steak, eggs and bacon (I hate when it’s cooked to a brittle stick).

EM: He or she may not have the last word, but they do know better. Trust the chef. Always.

JL: Yes, unless you’re asked how you like something cooked.

JM: Me demander la cuisson de mon steak, c’est non-négociable. Mais si un plat est pensé et « construit » autour d’une recette spécifique impliquant une certaine cuisson ou un arrangement d’aliments précis, le client devrait opter pour autre chose si ça ne fait pas son affaire. On ne doit pas non plus « défaire » le menu ou réarranger le travail effectué. Ça dénature le tout en quelque sorte.

Is it okay to mention allergies to the waiter up front? And or make special requests? / Est-ce correct de faire mention de certaines allergies à notre serveur ou de faire part de certaines demandes spéciales?

FGM: Absolutely. Nobody wants a diner to have an anaphylactic reaction in the middle of service.

AG: The customer has the duty to warn of any allergies and the manager must take into account, to the extent possible.

CM: Yes, allergies that are legit. Special requests within reason and always ask politely.

EM: Of course, if you really have allergies. Special requests are ok, if you are prepared to be told “Sorry, we can’t”.

MS: Yes, allergies and special requests (within reason) should definitely be mentioned, especially since it can be a matter of life or death.

JL: As long as you don’t mistake “dislike” for “allergy”. The menu and dishes are created and conceptualized to taste a certain way, if you don’t like something, there’s other stuff on the menu.

FDN: Food allergies are serious and they should be made clear. But don’t be the person who pretends to be allergic to things they simply don’t like – you’re not fooling anyone and your Atkins diet doesn’t qualify as celiac disease. While we’re on the subject, don’t play the vegetarian card explicitly when cute animals are involved, you eat steak and chicken, we eat rabbit and horse, get over it.

JM: Pour les allergies, oui (et c’est important). Pour ce qui est des demandes spéciales, ça ne devrait pas être du genre « je ne mange pas de ceci ni de cela, ou de ceci et de cela alors faites-moi quelque chose d’autre ». Il y a un merveilleux outil qui s’appelle un menu: tu peux le consulter auparavant et, si rien ne te convient, tu peux aller manger ailleurs.

CD: Allergies et demandes spéciales ne devraient pas se trouver dans la même catégorie. Les allergies sont sérieuses et ne pas les mentionner peut être très dangereux. Cependant, les clients devraient s’adapter le plus possible au menu qui leur est proposé, au lieu d’essayer de refaire le monde autour d’eux. Le menu fait partie intégrale de l’identité d’un restaurant : s’il ne nous convient pas, libre à nous d’aller manger ailleurs…

If a customer has had a bad meal, should he or she get onto social networking sites like Yelp and trip Advisor and let the restaurant have it? Or, on the contrary, should customers rave about a good meal? / Si un client a eu une mauvaise expérience dans un resto, devrait-il en faire part à son « réseau » sur internet? Et au contraire, si une expérience fut mémorable, le client devrait-il en parler un peu partout?

FGM: If it’s a bad meal, call the restaurant, speak to the manager, or write an email. People in the restaurant industry thrive on feedback as long as it’s voiced properly and constructively without being insulting. If they enjoy their meal, the same can be said. As far is reading reviews on social networking sites, and including blogs (like this one), get a few opinions before jumping to conclusions.

AG: I’m riding on this question. In disaster as the plate in the service … why not?

CM: I tend to rave if it’s good and not go back if it’s bad. I think it’s ok to let people know that you didn’t have a good meal. If your people are your Twitter followers, then by all means share your experience.

JL: Don’t go into the business of slander.  Word of mouth advertising is more valuable than talking trash on a website.

FDN: It’s a double-edged sword, and it certainly cuts both ways, we always say you can’t have one without the other. Without the bad meals how is one to put the truly great meals into perspective? People love good publicity but get offended by the bad, it’s to be expected but at least in our case, it’s never personal. The key is to offer constructive criticism, negative comments alone offer no insight into how a restaurant might improve the aspect you disliked. Most people we’ve worked with in the restaurant industry have thick skin but to be fair, some of the ignorant comments we’ve read online could get a hostile reaction out of the best of them.

CD: Si on encourage que les clients diffusent leur bonne expérience autour d’eux, on devrait s’attendre à ce que le contraire se produise aussi. Personne ne lirait les critiques d’amateurs si ceux-ci ne rapportaient que les bons coups. Cela dit, je pense que les clients qui magasinent leur prochaine sortie en lisant les avis des autres savent faire la différence entre une plainte de mauvaise foi et une critique équilibrée et modérée.

Should there be calorie counts on menus? / Les menus devraient-ils afficher le nombre de calories?

FGM: In fast food and large chain restaurants, yes. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. Customers should know that duck fat is not healthy. Delicious, but not healthy.

CM: If you’re counting calories, then you should know what you can handle.

EM: Hell no.

MS: No

JL: Do you really care how many calories are in your rib-eye with the truffle butter and the side of duck-fat fried potatoes? If you are, ask the chef to substitute your steak with a salad.

FDN: If you want a calorie count go to weight watchers. As much as food media would like to have you believe that chefs have some sort of moral obligation to your health and sustainability and saving the polar bears, at the end of the day they’re there to cook food better than you do at home. That’s what justifies the bill and to be honest, one glimpse at the quantity of salt and butter required to do so would probably shock a lot of people. If we were forced to consider the practice of calorie counting legitimately, it’s probably a practice that’s a lot more plausible in a cookie-cutter franchise where recipes are standardized than in a restaurant who’s menu changes frequently.

JM: C’est si emmerdant. Pourrait-on revenir un peu plus au facteur pur plaisir de manger sans devoir se sentir coupable de comptabiliser quoi que ce soit? De plus, si je fais attention à ce que je mange, je sais « en principe » quoi commander qui serait moins calorifique non? Sinon, un bon sandwich aux œufs pas de mayo vous attend à la maison, fort probablement.

CD: Absolument pas. On ne va pas manger chez WeightWatchers, mais au restaurant !

Do kids belong in high-end restaurants? / Les enfants devraient-ils être admis dans les restaurants plus haut-de-gamme/gastronomique?

FGM: As long as they behave and don’t distract other people from eating their meals, I don’t see it as a problem. Parents should be responsible for their kids.

AG: Absolutely. But parents need to ensure the smooth running of the meal.

EM: Well-behaved kids are ok, but why would you bring a baby or toddler to a high-end restaurant? It’s not fair to other diners who went out to have a grown-up evening or to your baby, who probably prefers to stay at home.

JL: As long as the parents don’t let them run around… literally. Run. Around.

FDN: If they’re well behaved, why not? If they’re spoiled brats, please budget for a babysitter so the rest of us can enjoy our evening.

JM: S’ils sont en âge de se tenir « tranquille », de ne pas courir partout, de ne pas pleurer aux 10 minutes, pourquoi pas?! Mais comme ces endroits sont un peu plus chers et que les clients qui s’y présentent s’y retrouvent habituellement plus souvent entre adultes, je ne m’en fais pas trop à ce sujet.

Does a good restaurant always have a sommelier in the house? / Est-ce-qu’un bon restaurant offre toujours les services d’un sommelier?

FGM: No, as long as the wait-staff are properly trained. If it’s not part of a waiter’s/waitress’ mandate, then yes a sommelier should be present. It’s entirely up to the management and the chef. The absence or presence of one doesn’t sway my opinion of the restaurant.

EM: No. To me, it’s more about having great wine and a staff that is trained to know what’s in the cellar and make good recommendations.

MS: Not necessarily. I have had great wine recommendations from hosts or waiters who knew their wines inside out but were not officially sommeliers.

JM: Tant mieux si la maison compte quelqu’un de la sorte dans son équipe mais ne pas en avoir un ne signifie pas pour autant que l’on ne peut pas être bien conseillé en vin. Les serveurs devraient toujours avoir reçu une certaine formation sur le sujet, avoir un certain intérêt sur la chose.

CD: Non. De toute façon, le terme « sommelier » est aussi galvaudé que le terme « bistro ». Je préfère que tous les serveurs aient une bonne connaissance des vins et, surtout, de leur carte, et qu’ils puissent guider le client de manière personnalisée.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marc Caron July 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

Just one point, when it comes to no shows. I agree that it does hurt a business, and I admit to having been guilty of doing this twice in my life (both while out of town a misjudged timing of tourist events). But when it takes you 3 days to try and get through to someone to just make a reservation at a restaurant because they simply don’t empty out their voicemail system and barely ever answer the phone, you can’t blame a customer for not calling the restaurant to let them know. For example, Garde Manger is hard to get through to someone. So much that I haven’t even tried in the past year myself simply because getting a table is too much of a hassle and there are plenty of other great options in the city.

This is also a large plus for the usage of online systems such as Open Table since a client can cancel that way without the stress of having to try and reach someone at the restaurant. If the owners can’t have someone handle the phones fully completely, then they should allow for something like OT.

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