One of the countless positives of getting a little older and hopefully wiser …is that you get a lot more comfortable speaking your mind and also being a lot less tolerant of nonsense. There are countless examples of this in daily life… but there is one particular aspect of life I feel has slowly been getting out of control…. namely Restaurants.
There has never been a bigger global focus on food as there is currently. The big name chefs are treated like rock stars and they no longer sit in noisy hot kitchens…they are out there in our faces. They have become brand names and they demand outrageous money for their services. The latest financial crisis aside… most of the big name restaurants are booked out months in advance. Not because their food is suddenly so outstanding … but the marketing of food and cooking in general has reached incredible levels. Suddenly even average chefs have an attitude (not that most chefs ever lost the attitude) and they basically dictate what we can or can’t enjoy on our plates. The bigger the chef name…the less choice the customer has. You eat what’s given to you…quite literally. No variations accepted by the “chef”. He “knows” what is the “best” way to serve the chosen meal… and THAT is the way you have to have it.
Then of course there is the “set” menu routine. Now… I can understand from a management perspective that the chef wants to have a set menu… its far more efficient and it gives the kitchen the opportunity to do a number of things well. There are also a number of other arguments put forward by chefs…most of which I can “sort of” understand. If the chef happens to be a boy or girl genius who wants us to taste his/her new creations then I am comfortable in trying a set menu which highlights his/her skills. I am also comfortable in having a set menu from a Michelin-star chef who has an outstanding repertoire and you know that no matter what he (or she) serves you… it will be sublime (read: Ferran Adrià…Heston Blumenthal). The idea is to let the “master” take you on a gastronomic magic carpet ride… to expose your taste buds to the equivalent of a multiple orgasm experience. That’s not only acceptable… but you would be willing to totally forgive the three month waiting list that normally applies to such establishments. We are talking a Multi-O experience after all… albeit gastronomic.
The problem is that some smaller places… as in “much” smaller places…. with chef’s that are clearly delusional… also develop an attitude and they start to dictate what you can or can’t do with the meal that your hard-earned cash buys from them. They have set menus and they often try to tell you that there are no variations to the “way the chef recommends” the meal is presented.
On top of that you have waiters that can often make Manuel (Faulty Towers) seem like a child prodigy…. and you have a very ordinary dining experience. I realise that good staff are hard to find… but a lot of the blame has to go to the so called owners/managers/chefs that obviously have no control or are clueless as to the training and performance of their service staff. It can and often does turn what is meant to be a very pleasant experience… into something similar to watching a very bad sitcom… except you’re IN it.
Then you get the theatrical waiter… the guy who thinks that every table is a chance to perform a Monty Python skit. They become animated…raise their voice to ridiculous levels given the intimacy of most restaurants… and they generally act as if they are in a vaudeville act. The really bad ones also throw in some “attempted” humour… and actually laugh at their own jokes… whilst staring into the perplexed faces of the poor diners. Throw in a fake accent or two…and you have an evening of terrible theatre…. and that’s before you even tasted the food.
On a night when you just feel like a nice quiet dinner with a loved one… some beautiful food and a nice drop of fine wine…. you get bozo the clown telling you what you can or can’t have…. and almost yelling at you as he explains his inexplicable menu. Often in a fake Italian/French accent of course….
Try and picture this if you please… a tiny restaurant with every table full. The Bozo (aka maitre d‘) is prancing around as if he has ants in his pants and making more awful noise than the Sex Pistols did on their hey day. He goes from table to table to supposedly “explain” the menu… which is a weird combo of part “set” and part a la carte. His voice is like a boom-box that echoes off the walls of the tiny restaurant… everyone looking irritated except for him – he of course is totally enamored with the sound of his own voice. He runs through a well-rehearsed routine while he waves his arms around and gives everyone on the table the sort of fake smile you get from a neighbour when he looks at you whilst your dog is pissing on his front lawn. He finally arrives at our table (caps denote LOUD voice):
– GOOD EVENINGGGGGGGGG (fake Italian accent in full force)
(after several lines of complete and utter drivel…)
– NOW… I WOULD LIKE TO EXPLAIN OUR SPECIAL MENU TO YOU…WILL ONLY TAKE A FEW MINUTES
– well… as a matter of fact (at this point he cuts me off…..it’s Saturday night after a long week…I’m tired and thoroughly pissed off by this stage)
– BUT…FIRST THING IS FIRST…. ARE YOU ALLERGIC TO ANYTHING? (looks down on us with the fake smile)
– yes …as a matter of fact I am (returning the fake smile). I’m allergic to bullshit…..
– (silence…..blank stare, hands together in front of his chest…looking at the table but NOT directly at me)
– now…. (looking up at him) I would like the Sicilian grilled octopus and the lady would like “xyz”…. we would also like a bottle of “abc” and IF we require you for anything else I will call you…. (more fake smile)…. capish?
His beady little eyes are now looking down… he has his hands together in front of him…. nods deeply and almost whispers “very well sir”…
He retreats quietly to his kitchen area. Wife looks at me and says…. “that was cruel…”
– oh pleaseeeee….
In all honesty I fully understand what the restaurant staff go through…. I have been in the business and I know that customers can be very very painful. But at the end of the day it’s the customer’s money… and it’s the customer’s night out… he/she/they should be able to enjoy what they want… the way they want it. Without the theatrics or rudeness of Bozo the clown and without the prima-donna in the kitchen telling us what to have and how to have it.
Time we took back control of our dining experience……. just saying ; ~/