Friday, May 18, 2012

Could you please rewind that?

I began serving 13 years ago for a catering company up north as a second job to raise some extra cash.  Catering is a whole different ball game, but for what it's worth, I am thankful for having this prior experience before joining the restaurant ranks.  It taught me to hustle and keep quiet.  When you do catering, you don't talk much with the guests as you would in a restaurant environment and you move like your life depends on it.  This was a valuable lesson obtained because once I switched to one-on-one service, I learned how to hone the skill that makes a true server:  humble hospitality. I take serving very seriously.  I talk to my guests about food and wine like it lives within me.  I'm not saying I know everything because I don't, but as a server you are learning every minute you cover your station.  When dining out, I often think about the way the server had done this or that and I constantly use those experiences to improve my game.

Here's the deal.  I dread reading food reviews because so much focus is either lost or overplayed on the service aspect.  Just recently, there had been coverage on particular restaurants that actually did the latter - it offered rough criticism on the service.  And every time I read such reviews, I want to jump into that very moment, change the entire ambiance and ask them to "please rewind that" and give me a chance to prove you wrong.

The first time I was a part of a review was less than six years ago and I was nervous as hell.  It was rumored the critic would show up and I was picked by the executive chef to wait on her and I honestly felt he chose the wrong person.  But I stayed focused and went over all the details with the sous chef running the line and he assured me I would be fine.  I took a deep breathe and dived in and I never looked back. The review was a great success.  I can't recall the actual wording used to describe the service aspect, but it did exert positive feedback.  I was very happy with the results and since then, I made a pact to myself to strive to labor those experiences with great passion.

The truth is, every experience will always be different.  If a concept of a restaurant is one that fares differently than the norm, that should most definitely be taken into account.  The review I read recently mentioned something to the effect of the server setting up camp, well maybe this was true, but when the idea behind the theme is completely different (aka the road less traveled), servers will over prepare instead of neglect.  I feel I have a good sense of when to observe, when to chat and when to walk away.  I owe many thanks to my Sociology degree for teaching me the mechanics of human form and how to interpret the personality of each individual.  And that is the true secret to serving, knowing how to read your guest.  It is power and anyone who wants to make the service experience one the guest will never forget, you must master the art of social interaction.

Here is my final message to food critics, "be a fan, but don't pick sides" - each restaurant is its own creation.  I work with very passionate people, both front of the house and in the kitchen.  They don't mess around.  They show up because they love what they do and they do what they do with heart.  It's not easy to work the kitchen.  I'll be the first to admit it.  That's why my role as a server must counteract with their labor of love that is born amidst kitchen space of high heat indexes.  The guest doesn't get to hear what the line cook has to say, so the server must indirectly speak for them. They must show them the way.  The beauty of serving is having the ability of creating a two hour experience that showcases the efforts of the executive chef, kitchen staff and the restaurant theme as a whole.  I would like to invite anyone who's had a miss experience anywhere to come see me and show you how I roll.  After all, as my Twitter bio reads:  love food and wine, serving such, then devouring it myself.

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