A most unlikely set of topics, but I’ll let you be the judge of that by the time you reach the end of this column. Spoiler alert: the two items are not connected.


Oh, So That’s How It’s Going to Work

We have heard so much about all the new restaurants that have opened in our area over the past 8 years. Yes, that’s Katrina minus one. It was all we could do to have any New Orleans at a minimum level the first year after Katrina, let alone open up new businesses.

But the tides have turned and the gods have smiled down on our entrepreneurial hospitality community, so here we are with a gaggle of new establishments, which includes both food and drink outlets. As we have been pondering the reasons for our good fortune, a corollary thought was, “Well, how the hell are we going to staff all of these places?”

That answer seems to be emerging, at least from a customer’s perspective, and we seem to have good folks, many not from here, who want to take part in our Renaissance and in our Economy.

There is a trend, however, that I have noticed, and I’ll bet you have too.

These new New Orleanians are from all over the place. Ask your restaurant server where they are from and the answers will likely be California, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arizona, Washington State, etc. They seem genuinely happy and excited to be here. Very cool. Thank you for joining our merry little town.

Yet the standards of restaurant service in those other areas are different from our habits. America does not, as we do, live to eat. Stopping for food in most cities is a required activity, not necessarily a time for pleasure. For New Orleanians, often we consider a meal the most important thing we do all day long. And we linger over our meal. I’m willing to bet that any study of the length of time spent at the table will show New Orleanians take longer to dine than anyone else in America. Even retirees living in Florida go about this activity a lot faster than we do. We truly are European in this regard.

It is often said that the only way locals know the lunchtime meal is over, is when they see the early dinner crowd coming into the restaurant. Which is often construed as the signal for us to start the drinking and dining process anew.

We have all grown up with the idea that no local restaurateur is going to toss us out because we have been at the same table too long. So we stay. When we finally get the ordering out of the way, we have a penchant of not wanting our courses to be delivered one on top of another. While we are still enjoying the soup, we don’t want the salads to arrive. Or worse, the main course, set off to the side of the table, getting cold, because there is no spot for it in front of our place, as we converse, drink, and enjoy a fresh salad.

The threads here are these newcomers to our community who are filling important positions in restaurants. They are not accustomed to serving people who “dawdle,” spending way too much time in conversation and visiting other friends also dining at the same time. Our new servers, for the most part, and some if not all, are anxious to turn the table to the next group of diners. It’s the way they were raised/taught, and what they experienced back in their hometowns.

So we are now subject to “helicopter” service. The server approaches the table and asks if the group is ready to order from the menu. Obviously we already have the drinks. Those come first in all situations.

When the server is told the group is not yet ready, and in fact, has not even looked over the menu, the server goes away, only to return in 4 minutes, pad at the ready to take the order on which no decision-making progress has been made. The scenario repeats multiple times, with the server returning in an annoyingly short period of time expecting progress from the guests.

I would not even bring this up except that 1) It has happened with rude regularity a number of times in the past month; and 2) I think our new residents should realize and respect the New Orleans standards of service to which we have all become accustomed our entire lives.

There is a corollary here and that is the other annoying remark that comes from the kitchen, I guess. At least the blame is laid in that area. “The chef wants all of your order at one time. He will not accept an order for one course then later we bring him the other part of the order.”

What? Suddenly I cannot eat the way I like and then have to pay through the nose, including a hefty tip for such “attentive” service. Maybe I do not know where I want to go with the next course until I have enjoyed the first course. Unreasonable on my part? I don’t think so.

So, listen up all you fine servers, be attentive to your customers. Get the feel of the table. Does the group want to sit and talk for a bit? Have a drink? Eat bread? Whatever. Really great servers treat each table of guests as individuals who have their own style. The servers must keep an eye on all the tables assigned to them, and then out of the “third eye” keep watch over their entire assigned area to see if anyone needs anything further to complete a truly memorable dining experience.

When you are hovering over a table as if you are part of the party, or obviously trying to move the situation along, you do not accomplish your commitment to service and ultimately you negatively impact your earned reward at evening’s end.

(A big Thank You to my buddy, Robert Peyton, respected author of the Haute Plates blog on this website, www.myneworleans.com. He graciously gave me the green light to intrude on his turf with the above rant, which may or may not be in good taste. Thank you, Robert.)

Not a Week

goes by when I am not asked, “How do you learn about wine?”

My stock answer is, “Pull a lot of corks.” That may not be so contemporary considering all the wines with screw caps.

One way to learn about wine is to have someone guide you through many experiences, with discussions of all those factors that make a wine something to remember.

Every day in our city, there are multiple wine tastings. Every wine shop in town, and there are a bunch of those, has tastings that are usually themed. You can taste a series of wines that have the place of origin, the grapes, the vintages, all in common, or some combination thereof.

At these events there is someone pouring the wine who knows about the wines. They are happy to share with you whatever it is you want to know. Questions are encouraged and there are many side discussions with other tasters. You can learn a great deal by attending a few of these prolific events. Contact your favorite wine store, or a store in your area, and ask to be put on the mailing list.

There are also, from time to time, events that feature wines with a lecture from a noted expert. Usually the lectures are not dry. We are talking about something fun – Wine.

An upcoming lecture will take place on Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m., at the American Italian Cultural Center at 537 S. Peters, right next to the Italian Piazza. Local wine expert, Peter Patti, will go over 5 excellent Italian wines, representative of the regions from which they emanate. Italy can be a complicated place to learn about, especially the wine scene. This is a good opportunity to obtain a grounding of knowledge about what has been happening in that grand land going back to before the time of Caesar.

Attendance is open to everyone, $35 for non American Italian Cultural Center members (a very fair fee considering the quality of wines to be tasted), and you can contact them at www.americanitalianculturalcenter.com, or 522-7294.