HINT: IT’S ALL ABOUT SERVICE
“The bottom line, in dining and in life, is this: it’s how we treat one another that matters most.”
Recently, I dined in NYC with The Daughter at Pearl & Ash, a restaurant on the Lower East side with a casual-yet-sleek bistro atmosphere, lusciously prepared small plates, and a killer wine list. The experience was so stratospherically sublime— exquisite in food, service, and ambiance— that we both declared it one of our favorite dining experiences ever (tied for first place now with Ely Wine Bar in Dublin).
A contrasting experience this week, in which the food was brilliantly prepared but the service was abysmal, leaves us thinking (as we often do) about how large a role service plays in the dining experience, or any experience, for that matter. The bottom line, in dining and in life, is this: it’s how we treat one another that matters most.
The specifics of this particular #ServiceFail were as follows: we had a group of eight celebrating a special occasion at a highly touted restaurant that we’ve all had good dining experiences at before. When the entrees were served, all but one was delivered to the table. Full disclosure: Yes, that one was mine. I sincerely and strenuously encouraged everyone to eat, certain that the missing entree would appear in a reasonable amount of time, thus relieving my tablemates of the awkward discomfort of eating while one amongst you doesn’t have any food. The last thing I wanted was for this very special occasion to become about my missing meal. Thankfully, it didn’t.
Good conversation, good humor, good wine, good company and very good food, too, I should emphasize, all kept the focus where it ought to be: on the occasion being celebrated. My tablemates shared their dinners, and I did not go hungry. Far from it! Despite the fact that my meal was still not delivered by the time everyone else had finished theirs, I left the table quite full and happy for the shared occasion. It was not a tragic disaster, just an inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, the credit for which goes entirely to our hearty bunch for creating our own spirit of celebration and not allowing the misstep to mar our evening.
Here at The Thirsty Kitten, we’ve stubbornly resisted writing negative reviews, of wine or of dining experiences. If we don’t like it, we don’t write about it. From time to time, we are tempted to stray from this practice, but we always arrive at the conclusion that we’d rather spend our time lifting up successes rather than writing about failures. After all, everyone stumbles once in a while. We all can have a bad night. Just read Yelp. Even the most acclaimed restaurants have some not-so-good ratings alongside the five-star ones.
The biggest point we want to make is that great service doesn’t have to mean doing everything flawlessly (although it would be pretty slick if you could pull it off all the time). What it does mean is that when you do stumble, you do everything in your power, within reason, to make things right. (just like in life, right?) The truly great restaurants know this and encourage and empower their staff to make such problem solving happen when the need arises.
In the case of our dinner, the offering made at the end of the evening was a $10 gift certificate for a future visit, which honestly felt a bit like someone who leaves a penny for a tip. Insulting. The sticking point was not about the dollar amount, but rather that the gesture did not feel commensurate with the magnitude of the bumble or the occasion being celebrated.
We are fortunate in the Twin Cites to be in the midst of a veritable revolution on the fine dining front. Though we’ve lost some stalwarts recently (like our beloved Vincent, boo hoo, and La Belle Vie), other longtime local favorites like Restaurant Alma are still very much alive. And we’ve gained places like Spoon and Stable and Victor’s, two new favorites of ours.
So in the spirit of celebrating successes, rather than belaboring failures, we raise our glasses this week to the restaurants that have mastered the art of fine dining, those that understand that preparing outstanding food is only the first step in the process. Most especially, we salute those establishments that know how to nimbly recover from a misstep and the teams of staff, from the front of the house to the back, that make it happen. You are what turns a great meal into a stratospherically sublime dining experience, and you are the reason we return, again and again. Cheers!