I’m going to wander just a bit from my regular and very satisfying topic of adult beverages and delve into the restaurant world, with permission from my friend and fellow blogger, Robert Peyton.
For quite some time, I’ve noticed two quite disturbing trends in restaurants and they are on both sides of the equation, with the patrons and with the staff and management. Either one or both situations are enough to kill a perfectly excellent evening, or, at their worst, kill the restaurant entirely.
Yes, dining out is a fun and happy experience. Lots of fine food, along with delicious beverages, and good friendships all around. A restaurant table is meant to be a happy place.
But not so happy that those seated around your table are disturbing other diners.
We are all acutely aware that modern restaurant design is all hard surfaces. Drapes, carpeting, and fabric wall hangings are vestiges of another age. And in that other age, those items were soakers of sound. The noise was muted with the use of textiles.
Not all older restaurants incorporated cloth into their design scheme. Pressed-tin ceilings were quite the rage around here for a long time, and many of them still exist. Brick walls also still serve as texture for many a French Quarter dining room.
What has changed, and absolutely not for the better, is the level of noise created by other diners in our present-day settings. Some people leave their manners at home, and I’ll bet they don’t act this badly around their dining room table.
Loud conversations, bordering on shouting, accompanied by raucous laughter are the norm. That behavior is just fine if those people have bought out the restaurant and they are the only ones present, or if we have been the victims of an unfortunate nuclear accident and the Loud Family and Friends are the last people on the planet.
Usually neither one of those conditions is involved. Instead those of us trying to find our own little bit of heaven are subjected to decibel levels approaching those of Runway 10 at New Orleans International Airport.
Consideration for others? Perish the thought. The attitude is that they will carry on as loudly as they wish and to hell with the rest of us. Then the situation becomes an out of control game of who can scream, shout, and laugh the loudest, which is contagious because diners at other tables have to get above the screech for their conversations. Before you know it, the magpie enclosure at Audubon Zoo looks quite tame compared to the scene in a fine dining establishment.
Restaurateurs for their part have been both a part of the solution and the problem. They have encouraged designers to incorporate only hard surfaces in the dining rooms. For one thing, that’s a less expensive way to go than shopping around the world for tapestries that were created in the Middle Ages. The other reason is that hard surfaces are easier to keep clean and free of dust.
What restaurateurs have done, and many of you don’t know this, is to install a very thick piece of sound-deadening foam under each table. Reach under your table next time and see if there isn’t something squishy attached to the underside surface. If it’s not thick foam, immediately head for the bathroom and wash your hands thoroughly. You don’t want to know what the hell it is.
It’s an easy issue to resolve and that’s if our fellow diners, maybe even us, have a consideration for the people around them that are not at their table. Surely you can have a good time without ruining everyone else’s.
New Orleans has a problem. Oh, I understand, and we really don’t have the time or the space to get into all of them here. So I’ll focus on one particular problem.
We have a labor shortage in our restaurants. Good help is hard to find. With so many new places opening, alongside our large census of existing establishments, staffing with qualified and capable service professionals is just plain difficult. Every restaurant manager in town will tell you that this problem is in the top 3 of the challenges of operating a successful food-service business.
And here’s the catch: every staff member knows that they are a desired employee of every restaurant, not just the one they are currently working at, but every one for as far as the eye can see. Many employees know that if things don’t work out where they are now, tomorrow they can be someplace else. No sweat. Out one door and into another, sometimes in the same block.
There are those uncaring staffers who develop attitudes, full of the knowledge that this gig is just a stop along the path to wherever. Service is delivered almost begrudgingly. Special requests are in one ear and out the other, if they are not totally denied on the spot. Proper service technique was either never learned or long ago forgotten. Lemon for your water? Butter for your bread? A new knife to replace the one that you accidently dropped on the floor? Hah! What is wrong with you? Those are free items. We are here to work up the bill so we can be tipped accordingly.
And God forbid that you, the customer, are having a bad day and don’t approach the situation with a smile on your face and the proper mindset in your heart. (Thank you. It’s not easy to mix a biological metaphor when you don’t even know that the shin-bone is connected to the what?)
As for management, they are reluctant to step in because they may lose an employee who will be darn hard to replace. Management usually tries to find solutions, and those solutions almost never entail anything that would reflect poorly on the staff member. The end result, should or even if management gets involved, may include a free dessert but what you really wanted will likely never be yours.
Now I don’t mean to say this is going on in every restaurant. It, of course, is not and there are far more truly nice and professional people on a restaurant’s staff than the other kind. But it does not take many of the other kind to completely ruin a fine dining experience.
More often than not, when, or if, you revisit the restaurant, those difficult servers or kitchen staff members may be gone. They will be off to another place. Likely where you plan to dine tomorrow.