The Whole Dining Experience

This came in from mama2dylan 9/16/08

Like most serious eaters, I've been searching for deliciousness my whole life, but sometimes, in more reflective moments, even I acknowledge there's often more to eating out than great food. Obviously for me the food is paramount, but there are other factors that go into judging great restaurants such as 'cleanliness', the 'quality of the food', 'service quality', can I easily hear what the people I am with are saying? Is the service personal without being intrusive?
 I’ve worked in the restaurant industry most of my 50+ years. In fact my 1st job was a waitress at my mom’s 1st restaurant when I was 10 years old. In the 70’s I lived in NYC for 10 years where I filled my passion for food and dining out at some of the finest restaurants in the city. Over the years I began to understand what constitutes a great dining experience.
This weekend as I dined out at various Salem eateries I was reminded of what’s important to me when considering the whole dining experience. I’m one of those people that tend to critique things about a restaurant from the service to the food weather it be good or bad I always take note.
I met a friend for breakfast early Sunday morning at the Original Pancake House on Portland Road. I just love this place. I usually go to the S. Commercial location, but I found this location to be equally as good as the south store. The cleanliness, service and food are always paramount leaving me with a feeling of satisfaction as I left.
Sunday night my husband and I decided to try the Willamette Noodle Company for the 1st time. Unlike a Friday or Saturday night there was no wait. We walked in and were seated right away. Upon entering the 1st thing you smell is garlic, immediately making me crave linguine and clam sauce. Unfortunately they don’t have linguine and clam sauce on the menu.
It is a tiny little place so one of the 1st things I noticed was how I could hear the conversations of others at tables nearby. Not all the tables mind you, only the ones where people didn’t have the common sense to lower their voices taking into consideration that they were too loud for the small area they were seated in. That alone can ruin a dinning experience.
The server greeted us and brought water. A few minutes later she brought 2 more waters forgetting that she already brought us water. We ordered the basket of Rob’s famous cheesy garlic bread. It was OK, very garlicky. We both agreed if this came with a side of marinara sauce for dipping it would be better, also if it was crispy. We both felt the Caesar salad left much to be desired, the dressing was bland and the romaine was not the nice green leafy kind I’d like to have seen. The croutons about broke my teeth. And in contrast the salad is crammed into a tiny soup like bowl whereas the entrée swims in a giant black bowl.
My husbands fettuccini alfredo with chicken was excellent according to him. I on the other hand didn’t entirely like my entrée of chicken parmigiana with spaghetti. I liked the chicken, but in my opinion they used way too much garlic in the marinara sauce. Instead of the tomatoes being the star the garlic prevailed. In addition they put the same veggies as the pasta primavera on your plate (peas, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli). I have to say in all my years as an Italian and eating in authentic Italian eateries I have never received veggies on the plate with the pasta. They just had no place there. Out of curiosity as to the flavor we ordered a side of meatballs which never did arrive at our table.
When we finished the server placed the check on our table without a word. This is the time when I would expect the server to say would you like anything else (dessert perhaps) or thank you, you can pay me when you are ready. One thing I did like was that the server placed the check in neutral territory and didn’t assume that my husband was paying. Many times when we dine out my pet peeve is that the server places the check next to my husband. Little does he/she know not only am I paying, but I’m responsible for their tip!
One thing I have observed is how the service almost seems to decrease in quality the slower the restaurant is. One day recently my son and I went to the Roadhouse on Lancaster about 3:30 in the afternoon. Of course at that time of day it is very slow. I waited quite sometime for my salad to arrive. Apparently the server forgot it because only moments after it arrived my entrée came. Actually that’s another pet peeve. I strongly dislike it when our salad, appetizer and entrée arrive within moments of each other as they did at our visit for lunch at the Roadhouse on Lancaster today. Why can’t a server simply place the appetizer order, deliver it and then place the entrée order? What’s the big hurry? Or are they just being lazy? Or are they worried they may forget the order since they don’t write it down?
One thing I do like are refills on my beverage and to our server’s credit those came many times without asking. I’m also a stickler about pre bussing a table. It seems to be a lost art. Even if a server waits until they place the check down at least make an effort to bus away some plates at that time as our server did today.
And last, but not least PLEASE stop cooking the %$#@! out of my chicken breast. Everyone is so afraid that you’ll get sick and die if they don’t grill your chicken breast until it’s so dry and tasteless it may as well be a hockey puck. I find this to be especially true at the Roadhouse on Lancaster.
So, what makes or breaks a dinning experience for you? I’d be curious to hear….


Lisa Anne said...

I can completely understand most of your frustrations. Especially, when a restaurant is slow, shouldn't the servers be overly attentive, friendly, and not make (so many) mistakes? At my favorite restaurants this is usually the case. Thats what makes or breaks a dining experience IMO. You forget how good the food is if the place is dirty, you get forgotten by the server, or its unbearably loud. My most recent dining experience was for lunch at Bavarian House in Mt. Angel. We were the only people in the restaurant. While it took a little while for the server to notice we were waiting for a seat(she was helping in the bar), we had impeccable service from the beer/food pairing suggestion to the after lunch information about Octoberfest, which was still 2 weeks away. We were able to enjoy our food much more since the good service put us in a good mood.

Salem Man said...

Service is tricky. You don't want them to be hovering over your table every five seconds. When I worked as a waiter, I made sure to keep my eyes on the water. When cups were empty, I was there right away. Sometimes people would put there glass at the edge of the table signaling refill. The other thing was to get the food to the table as soon as possible and be sure everyone's meal arrives at once.

And I also hate it when they cook the %$#@! out of the chicken.

Anonymous said...

What always destroys my experience anywhere whether it be in a restaurant or in the doctor's office is whenever I hear employees talking about how much their hate their job, their sex life, politics, complaining about the customers that just left, etc. People need to understand that they never know exactly who is sitting at that table!

Anonymous said...

This commentary was difficult to read due to the lack of punctuation. It also went on and on unnecessarily. Keep it succinct. I know this a blog, but this entry is just a sprawling mess.