"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Taster’s Cherce

I won’t abide lousy service in a restaurant, never mind smugness. My wife thinks I’m nuts, even though she’s the same way with clerks in retail stores. I don’t just want a waiter to be attentive, I want them to be warm and knowledgeable.  Earlier this summer, we went a trendy restaurant near Columbia and I asked the waiter what he’d recommend. He pointed at the menu and said, “Well, it’s all really good,  you can’t go wrong.”

Right, then.

On that note, check out this recent GQ column by Alan Richman:

I should long ago have paid attention to this disastrous decline in service. Casualness in restaurants does not automatically make customers feel more relaxed. It often has the opposite effect. Remember how tense my friends became when we received no attention at M. Wells.

I appreciate an atmosphere lacking formality. I love Momofuku Ssäm Bar in Manhattan and Schwa in Chicago, both unpretentious and unfussy—but also attentive. They employ people who know how to take orders, fill glasses, clear plates, drop checks. Neither neglects customers. These days, too many new restaurants do. Their motto might as well be Too Cool to Care.

Well-run restaurants recognize that thoughtful service enhances an evening out, and that a bit of formality might be required in order to reach that goal. Customers these days tend to confuse discipline and manners with arrogance. Perhaps they are remembering the excess stuffiness of decades past. That hardly exists any longer. Arrogance today is exhibited by inconsiderate servers who do almost nothing for customers other than slap plates down in front of them and expect a generous tip. Arrogance is a restaurant believing it can prosper without looking after its customers.

I will tell you what else is extraordinarily self-defeating: We empower popular restaurants, and M. Wells is very much one of them. All we care about is accessibility, getting through the door. Such restaurants are rarely held accountable, no matter how uncaring they might be. I doubt that the people who operate these sought-after spots ask themselves if they are treating their customers properly. They are not obliged to do so.

M. Wells gets the Gas Face.


1 ms october   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:05 am

yeah this happens too much.

a lot of new/newish spots have pooped up near me. many of them have very personable people that are nice and friendly but they are really overwhelmed. i feel bad for them because they are nice and are trying.

then, unfortunately you have too many at the "hot spots" that believe they are the reason for the place's popularity. get over yourself asshole.

2 RIYank   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:40 am

I used to think this sort of thing happened more in NY than elsewhere. It's the opposite. If you go to the fanciest restaurant in suburban Whatevertown (smallish city, the restaurant is probably in a mall), the norm is slightly arrogant, somewhat condescending, and even neglectful service. Maybe it's the lack of competition; maybe it's the idea that arrogance indicates sophistication.

Not true in Providence, by the way! Whew.

Ms Oct, I am glad/sorry that a lot of newish places have pooped up near you.

3 ms october   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:46 am

[2] haha - i've made this typo more times than i can remember.
perhaps i should examine the roots of this typo.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:51 am

I can deal with overwhelmed if it is also personable. Neglectful or condescending is horseshit.

5 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:55 am

I definitely agree about M. Wells. I was on a crew that shot an episode of a popular Cooking Channel show there; their food was interesting (imagine big, giant hamburger and onion rings held by a steak knife), but their service was decidedly not (imagine medium rare big giant hamburger). They have a hipsterish attitude that trends towards passive-aggressive and I was definitely slighted by the fact they completely forgot my order out of a crew of no more than seven, then didn't apologize, nor was my order right. Fuck M. Wells.

6 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Aug 17, 2011 12:32 pm

Omg, that Grover clip is rip-roaringly funny.

The good old days when children weren't condescended to in popular culture. Or at least, in some of it.

7 YankeeAbby   ~  Aug 17, 2011 1:36 pm

I realize that most wait-staffs work for shit pay and rely on tips, but plain & simple...you give me shit service, you get shit tip. (or some of Ms. October's "poop") ;-P

8 Chyll Will   ~  Aug 17, 2011 1:51 pm

[1] How could I of all people have missed such an amusing typo, and especially as it is very apropos of the current chic restaurant boom.

9 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 17, 2011 3:35 pm

7) Exactamundo.

10 Greg G   ~  Aug 17, 2011 7:00 pm

Having waited tables myself, I am overly nice to the wait staff. And we tend not to eat out at the nicest places. But, a week ago we at at Fraiche in Santa Monica. (It was in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode a few weeks ago). The food was very good, and you could tell it was expensive because they gave you tiny portions and no side dishes.

Our son was with us and they comped us mashed potatoes. The waiter was very nice, but in more expensive places you only see the waiter for a minute and the busboy, expediter (brings the food) and host come by. The waiter hardly does anything. I always tip at least 15%, and 25% if they really go out of their way. But for the most part I give 20%.

I love the scene in Reservoir dogs about tipping. It is silly to tip well for bad service when in all likelihood, if I get bad service I am not going back to the restaurant.

11 Greg G   ~  Aug 17, 2011 7:00 pm

We ate at. Not at at.

12 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Aug 17, 2011 8:34 pm

Boatzilla can back me up here but once you've spent time in Japan then "service" takes on a whole new meaning forever. And NO tipping!

13 Boatzilla   ~  Aug 17, 2011 11:30 pm

[12] No doubt. I used to think NYC had better soibis than Tokyo, because in NYC you could get "special service," but I've changed my mind. Last time I was in NY, about 3 years ago, I was appalled at how miserable the service was at every level from retail to "nice" restaurants.

Of course, I'm not there much and haven't been around the city like Alex and yous guys. So I'm sure there's plenty of good service somewhere in NYC. But in Tokyo it's above average everywhere, over the top excellent in 10% of the places, friendly and casual in many, and bad in very few.

Sometimes it's overly officious, but you always get taken care of. And if you are wise and play your cards right, you can get special service.

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