Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sense of Entitlement

The other night, I woke up several times through the night. This usually happens when I have to get up early the next morning and I had to get up so early that morning for hockey. However, I don’t think that is what was causing the sleeplessness. What kept waking me up was an interaction I had with a customer that night. It shook me. 
It was a solidly busy night and Alex was working an off-site catering but generally the evening was going well and the food was going out a decent pace. We were all having fun, joking around about how tired we all were. You see, it was Valentine’s weekend, the busiest of weeks for restaurants and we were no exception. We had seen our busiest Valentine’s Day ever a few days prior and we had continued to be slammed for the weekend. 
Then the thing happened that throws everyone off: a cook cut himself. Badly. We have a prep kitchen in the basement and there is cook who preps and runs food up to the line all night. The line cooks communicate with the “runner” by flipping a switch and a light comes on in the basement indicating that the line needs something. It took a few minutes to figure out what was even happening (why isn’t he answering the light?!!) but eventually we put all the pieces together and realized we had a situation. So a bartender with first aid training decided to take the cook to emergency for assessment. Emotionally its a complicated moment in a team when someone gets injured. There are the initial moments of confusion and shock, then there is the sorting out of who has to take care of what to keep the team rolling, and then there is the challenge of getting grounded again and getting the job done. 
All of this happens fairly quickly. On average, I would say 10 minutes from cut and being bundled off to the hospital, to regrouping and getting your show back on the road. Remarkably quickly, I would say. And in the meantime, you just want to front of the house to continue on. Keep the drinks coming, the bread, the music, the laughs, the visiting. It’s a conundrum: do you let guests know what’s happening or just let the party keep rolling and hope it doesn’t create too many hiccups? People also are weird about cooks and blood. Understandably so. But, folks, it happens, they cut themselves. And we clean up, throw out whatever they were working on, and clean their station. Life goes on. So, that night, I went with keeping the party rolling. 
Generally the restaurant seemed happy. But the kitchen was overwhelmed. In the time that it had taken to figure out what was happening, sort out what the prep hadn’t got to, and get cooking again was tough on them. And I think our sous-chef’s brain was about to implode from information overload. We stopped calling out the bills for about 5 minutes and regrouped. Just finished cooking what was right in front of us and kept moving. Calling out the bills is letting the cooks know what they need to get cooking. Our sous-chef couldn’t hear another “octopus” or “tequila mussels”. You could see his brain just couldn’t even figure out what we were saying. 
At 25 minutes into this moment in our evening, a very nice lady came up to me. She explained that their table had been there for quite sometime and were wondering when their apps would be up. I apologized. I decided to explain to her that we’d had an incident and that I hadn’t necessarily wanted the servers telling their tables. I also let her know her apps were up next and I would be buying her table’s apps for the evening. She thanked me, seemed to understand and went back to her table. I checked her bill time. The order for apps had been in for 22 minutes. Yep. 22 minutes. She had come in with 7 other people, been sat, ordered drinks, been served drinks, had ordered food and had waited 22 minutes for her apps. It took us another 7 minutes to get them finished, plated and delivered to their table. I felt that we had a done a really good job. 
Another 25 minutes passes, in which time I’ve called Alex and asked him to get back from the catering and he got on the line, and a man from the original woman’s table comes up to me. As we are plating their mains. He talks to me about feeling frustrated at how they’ve had to wait. During this time they’ve also been doing shooters. I can never tell how those affect people. He was not nearly as pleasant as the lady. He was resentful. I explained to him what had happened. I let him know that I had already talked to a party from his table and bought their apps. This somehow didn’t seem to satisfy him. I asked him what I could do to make it better. He responded that someone should have told their table. I explained to him why I hadn’t wanted the servers doing that but acknowledged that maybe I should have handled that differently. I asked him twice what I could do to make the situation better. He didn’t seem to want to focus on solutions, only on the timing problems. He became increasingly irritated with me. I explained that we were plating his food at that moment and I should get back to it.
In the end, the party had apps 30 minutes after ordering them and mains 30 minutes after that. Not our goal. Not a good day. 
Always after moments like this, all the things I should have said come to my mind. Like, “Have you ever had a tough day at work? Does it help when people are nasty to you about it?” or “Having grace is a powerful way to move through the world” but of course none of this comes to me at the time. Instead, we all just try to gather ourselves back up and get back to work.
We are in the business of food. We should have got that food out faster. However, I come from a place where I don’t understand the sense of entitlement that rules our dining experiences. There are people who feel that it is their right to get the food at exactly the same time as anywhere else. It doesn’t matter that we make everything from scratch and cook it to order. It doesn’t matter that someone hurt himself. That person is entitled and they are going to make sure everyone knows. Ok. We know. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to engage in a little more conversation at your table and, if you were totally starving, ask for a little extra bread? Resilience is also an important part of this conversation. Surviving your food taking an extra ten minutes, when surrounded by friends, wine, music, and a lively environment, is a skill we should all develop. And do it gracefully.
I think normally most of this would have been water off a duck’s back for me. You know, I’ve been doing this restaurant gig for 7 years. I was a crisis counsellor for years before that, for people with real problems. But the real kicker of this, and what really bothered me, is that the table stiffed their server. Not one penny. And they made her feel terrible about herself. They completed deflated her. All over waiting a few extra minutes. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

School Nights

As the holiday hubbub wraps up, the ornaments get tucked into boxes and the wreathes seek shelter in a corner of the basement, the energy shifts. The new year is always such a time of cleaning (I love the sparse ways of January after the crowded ways of December), organizing, sorting, creating order for the coming months. At bistro, this shift of season has led to much cleaning and organizing. We recycle all our glass bottles and in December we simply can't keep up so we have a wall of empty wine and booze bottles waiting patiently in old wine boxes to head to the recycling depot. Janine has taken multiple trips in the truck over the past week to take them. You can feel the sigh of relief from everyone at bistro as one more zone gets cleared out and we have a wee bit more space to work! New menu planning is underway. New projects are being ignited. Everyone is taking a deep breath, exhaling relief that we made it, and finding space to move forward.

And, for so many, January also means the return to school. As homeschoolers, we have always just worked when we felt inspired and followed the rhythms of ourselves. For the past two years, I have had 2 kids dipping their toes into academia and so we also returned to school this week. This has been helpful in reminding us that it is time to fire up School Nights again at the bistro.

A few years ago, Alex and I were staying in Toronto at the Drake Hotel. I love the Drake for many reasons (and it is not the peaceful night's sleep that you get, be ready to embrace a party!), in particular I love the creative energy that is sparking away in that place: from drinks, to food, to art, to music, the place is abuzz at all times. There are curated art shows. Like, for real. As many of you know, I like art. My restaurant is chock a block in real, actual pieces of art. My home is crammed with art. I love being surrounded by visuals that engage me, challenge me, soothe me, and generally make me happy. The chef, Anthony Rose, has got some awesome food happening, from the diner, to the lounge, to the 3rd floor, year round outdoor patio, there is yummy food going on. There are bands and theatre productions happening. The Drake is what the Albert could/should be. And every Monday night, there is 86'd hosted by Ivy Knight.

As far as I can sort out, Ivy used to be a cook, working in the kitchens in Toronto. She is cook with a knack for connecting people, writing, and being in tune with the zeitgeist. At one point, I believe she was writing about the Toronto food scene and brunches around town. She has recently started up the fantastic website, We first met when Alex and I were brought out to cook at the first annual Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario ( ). Go if you can. Seriously. Cheese in this bucolic setting with wineries every ten feet. Heaven. After the Cheese Festival, we headed to Toronto where we were staying at the Drake, and Ivy invited us to her weekly 86'd night at the Drake. Every Monday for years, Ivy has been hosting a party at the Drake on Monday nights that is connected to the restaurant industry. Whether it's a pickle and pate showdown, a raw milk film screening (complete with cookies and, sadly, pasteurized milk), a cookbook launch or an oyster night, somehow there is a connection to the industry. Hence the 86'd name: code word in restaurants for something we're out of. The first time I attended an 86'd night I thought: I want to host a party like this at my place. An irreverent, funny, pleasing night. Of course, at that point, we weren't big enough. But along came The Other Side.

When we opened The Other Side (as I have since found out it is called out in the world), I began pretty quickly trying to make this happen. I'm like a dog with a bone when I've got an idea. Fortunately, I have friends who are irreverent, funny and pleasing, and who were game to get involved. Sarah Zaharia and Talia Syrie were willing and took up the project. We decided to run it Sunday nights and decided to call it School Nights as it's the last night of fun before having to get up and get back at it. Originally, we had a 'teaching' component to tie in with the theme, but that became cumbersome. We tweaked the concept a bit and came up with a plan to have some fun food (often involving other restaurants or chefs), a fun drink, and some music. And sometimes an activity: pumpkin-carving anyone? We had a hot-sauce throw down where the crowd judges the hot sauces made by various people. We had plum-pudding and punch; spaghetti western night with spaghetti to eat and a spaghetti western film showing; poutine night (which will make a reappearance this spring); opera night where a chorus member came and sang for us and got us all singing! We have had Mariachi's Ghost, the Brothers Landreth, and Mama Cutsworth play. Every week it is a a moment to join people in an evening of snacks, drinks, and music hosted graciously by Sarah and Talia. I am proud and excited by how this event has taken on a life of its own, bringing people from all over the place to have fun in our lounge.

And so, as with the way of January, the planning has begun. School Nights begins again this Sunday. It may involve some grilled cheese. It will absolutely involve some fun, good music and nice people. The @School_Nights twitter account and Facebook pages will keep you in the loop about what were doing. Or, just stop by on a Sunday evening and be surprised and have a little fun.

Of course, School Nights is not the only project I have cooking for the lounge. I really want to do a live art show. And I want some sort of poetry reading or author event. And I want to hear ideas of what people would like. We have this space and we want to do fun, creative things in it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Digging deep and growing

I fear jinxing it. I have a slight bit of superstition in me. Don’t pass anyone on the stairs. No shoes on the table (which seems both sensible and wise), no mixing red and white flowers, if I spill salt, over my left shoulder it goes. I grew up with my most amazing and awesome Grandma Renee who was incredibly superstitious, as well as a freakishly accurate tea leaf reader, and some of it rubbed off on me. So, I am hesitant to make note of the bistro’s state of relative calm and goodness for fear of tempting the fates. But I am going to forge ahead and make note: Bistro is looking pretty good.

The past year has been so crazy intense I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it. I felt like I was herding cats at all times: money was bonkers with the reno overbudget and the expense of operating a situation more than twice the size of the old one; staffing hit some huge snags (more about the 120% idea of staff in another post); Alex and I hit some major and near fatal bumps in our relationship; and, I was still pretty grief-stricken for my cousin. All in all, it was the most unpleasant of years.

Over the past few months, however, a slight shift has begun taking place. I am remembering how to run a business, get my feet under me. Alex and I have more good days than bad in our 24-year old relationship. We have some awesome staff who care about the bistro whole-heartedly (as did many of the former staff.) We are busy and the food is good and the service is good. School Nights has evolved into its own delighful situation, hosted so graciously by Talia and Sarah. We have once again created a good place to be.

Of course, Alex and I are not ones to sit for long. We have plans afoot. I believe we function best when stretching ourselves. In December, we did a soft launch of our Bistro To Go line. Over the years, people have asked us for jars of things we make, like fennel marmalade, tomato confit, or bacon jam and we have hunted down some form of container and sent them home with whatever their heart desired. We have formalized that process a bit. Our great day Sous-Chef, Grant, who is meticulous and a very smart cook, has embraced this project, creating jars of beautiful concoctions for folks to take home. December proved to be wildly successful for this project and we plan to expand on it. We will set the website up to sell them, I think. And we’ll see if any stores want to stock them, like our fantastic butcher, Marcello, at Marcello’s Meats (shop there – he and his family are amazing!)

We are also going to expand the Bistro To Go line into meals. Recently, our youngest has added “Hockey Mom” to my portfolio. Given that our eldest is almost 15, I felt that we had probably dodged that bullet. Yet, along comes the youngest and not only is she seriously into sports, she is freakishly good at them. And so my life has the added challenges of juggling a hockey schedule. Which, in turn, has added to my craziness around feeding the family. More than once, I have resorted to a roasted chicken from a grocery store. Not with pride but with a little bit of sadness in my heart. All of this has led me to ponder the plight of the families who are juggling 14 things and want something yummy on the table.

We are going to start by offering pre-made meals. You can stop in on your way home and get some short ribs for 4, or ½ a roasted free-range chicken, or some beef bourguignon. We will offer these with sides like mashed or scalloped potatoes, grilled polenta or some quinoa with veggies. Soups made from scratch by our cooks or homemade stocks to make your own. We are open to requests. Which I think will lead us into the next phase of this project: chef services.

Part of our renovation was putting in a large kitchen in the basement, both for prep at bistro and for our other endeavour Bistro Caters! We started Bistro Caters! a few years ago. Alex and I have always loved catering. It’s this really unique opportunity to push our creativity and hospitality into new places. No two caterings are the same and they all provide some opportunities for us to think creatively. We cater all sorts of events, from 4 person dinner parties, to cocktail parties to weddings for 300 people. Ultimately, I would love to have a party planning service but that’s not yet. For right now, we are thinking about ways to use the space and staff we have. We have two sets of really dear friends whose schedules make ours seem like play time. These friends, independently of each other, have hired chefs to cook for them a couple of times a week. Just dropped off, ready to be warmed up, plated and served. Aha!, I thought. This would be a pretty straight forward service for us to offer. And so, Bistro Chefs! is born.

And so the business keeps expanding and doing its thing and creating its own energy. Outside of that part of our lives, Alex and I have also been keen to expand our horizons. We haven’t travelled as much as we like but have had some great adventures. We fell in love with Gimli, like head-over-heels, mooning for her when we are apart, aflutter on the drive, love. We have both started writing for the new prairie on-line paper The Spectator Tribune (Alex has been able to be a bit more prolific on that front than me but I am hopeful!) And we have all sorts of cool and funky little projects started with some friends so we’ll see what shakes out of it all and will write about it as it goes.

Finally, Alex and I had a really ridiculously great opportunity this year. Alex was invited to represent Manitoba at the Canadian Chefs’ Congress. Possibly the most amazing event I have ever attended: incredible food, brilliant creative chefs, political conversation about food, land, sustainability, resources, and one or two parties. At this event, our creative juices really got going again. We are hoping to host this event in Manitoba in 2014. We got engaged in some great national-level conversations about food. And, (this is the biggie) we finally clicked on the topic for a book. Alex and I both enjoy writing and have for years tossed around the idea of what to write about. Something happened in Nova Scotia at this congress, some sparky alignment of the stars, that had us agree on what we are going to write. This past November, our newly 13yo son wrote a 50,000 word novel as part of the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – look it up!) event. Needless to say, there is some inspiration to be found in his accomplishment for both Alex and I. And so, an outline has been written and we have both begun our work.

Initially, I started writing this post feeling like 2012 was a disaster. And it was certainly a year of challenges and significant unpleasantness but as I come to the end of this writing, I am reframing it to be the murky place from which beautiful things will be born. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

New Dance Steps

Well, we're a month in. Bistro 2.0 has been in full-swing for about a month now. It's been a spectacular ride. Not seamless, yet not as perplexing as the first time we opened a place.

There have been a few bumpy parts: we're still waiting on lots of equipment, including all the feet to our tables which means we have to be creative with making them sit right! Our second hood,
deep fryer, oven, and second walk-in cooler are all yet to arrive. I look forward to that day! One of the little challenges that I didn't anticipate is that when we gutted the old restaurant, we had to put everything in storage, and now that we've rebuilt the restaurant, everything seems to have a new home and we're not always sure where that is. Where do we keep the toothpicks? Has anyone seen anymore water glasses? Do we have short straws? Does anyone know where my shoes got put? There are a lot of conversations like that. Construction is still on-going: we are having offices built and the catering kitchen is about half-done so we continue to shuffle stuff around. It's a bit of a fancy dance we have going on right now!

Learning new systems for everything has also challenged our brains. The boys on the line have so much more space (which is a good thing), and there are now three of them (which is also a good thing) and they have all new equipment to work with (another good thing) but the dance steps have changed. Holy Moly, this charbroiler is hot (resulting in a few misfired steaks!) Who does which part? Moving in the space is different. So many more burns! Look at their arms next time you're in, Alex and Quin look battered.

From the front end, we have installed a computer system. Gone are our lovely handwritten bills in favour of a machine that can split checks anyway anyone wants. The process of switching has been quite funny. SImultaneously none of us wanted to give up the handwritten bill yet we
feared the table of 8 that wanted to split the wine 3 ways and 2 different people would share the appetizer and oh, by the way, can I get my friend's first two cocktails? Learning the new machine has been relatively straight forward but we all felt anxious. At one point during the training, our server and poet-in-residence, Andrew, curled up on the banquette with his hood pulled up over his head, hugging the stuffed penguin. Poor one! Now he's a pro.

The other, more noticeable change is we've grown! Whereas we were once able to seat 44 people (okay, a few more if we REALLY needed to), we can now seat 100. That's a lot of people! At first, I felt unsure of where I was supposed to be, my dance had changed, too. The space was so big! Sometimes I felt like I was chasing after staff trying to connect with them. A funny little British-style sketch routine with us running in circles, always missing each other. I also was constantly worried that I wasn't connecting with customers, that somehow I would miss them.

A month in, we're getting in the groove. You can feel all of us relaxing into this new loveliness. Remembering that we are really good at dancing together. Realizing how fabulous this new
situation is! Table isn't ready? No problem, come sit here in the lounge, have a drink and order your apps. No reso? No problem, come sit here in the lounge and have dinner. Want to have a party of 24? No problem, come sit here in our room and close the doors if you want privacy or leave them wide open to be part of the bistro life! The kitchen has figured out the dance. Food is going out at record speed (45 minutes for main courses on Saturday in the middle of the craziness on bills that included really large pieces of meat!), the food is great - I feel Alex is reinvigorated and has some great cooks supporting him, the servers are happy to have space and equipment and systems that work. And from my perspective, I'm remembering what I love about this: it's fun. I love to laugh. I love to look around and see a room full of happy people eating and drinking. I love to work with my staff. I love to think about dinner features and play with infusing booze. I love this whole life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bistro 2.0

We are days away from opening our new lounge and private function room, and completely renovated restaurant. I am simultaneously excited and terrified. The process has been arduous and seemingly never-ending.

Three years ago, we decided that expanding was a good idea. I have always felt little pangs of sadness when I send people away to wait for a table. I feel like they’re in my home, I should be able to accomodate them. And so, we began the process of finding the financing to expand. That was a far more complicated and arduous undertaking than I imagined. When we first opened, banks would not even set up appointments with us. No one, not even the credit union I had been dealing with since childhood, was the least bit interested in gambling on a restaurant. In the end, our friend helped facilitate the opening of bistro. I felt that after 3 successful years of business, banks would be eager to work with us to expand our business and open a lounge. Yeah, no. So we cobbled together a group of family, friends and supporters and managed to secure the financing. Fortunately, in the meantime, the space next door had become available. And so the efforts to open a lounge were really in full swing.

We have had drawings for over a year. We’ve been anticipating this moment for a long time. Of course, the unfolding of it is never as smooth as hoped. We put in permit applications in July. We finally received our occupancy December 23rd. Three different engineers agreed to do the job and then decided they were too busy. Our HVAC people have been AWOL multiple times, we lost our electrician along the way (although the one we eventually got is amazing!)...

Fortunately, in all of that some really beautiful things have also happened. Our friend Derryl Theissen stepped up and became the general contractor and has been doing an amazing job. He has beautifully navigated all the bizarre commercial space rules and the anxiety and stress of Alex and me. I can’t imagine doing another project without him. Mind you, he may not feel the same way! Another lovely situation was a longtime customer called to say he had some leftover tile from his house that he had brought in from Italy, would we like it? He dropped it off and it is stunning. One of the workers on the site has a little puppy that he brings to work every day and that makes all of us happy. But, perhaps for me, one of the loveliest parts has been the designing.

I was fearing the decorating piece of the lounge. I have a lot of ideas and sense of what I want but am not always clear on how to translate that. When we opened the bistro, our dear friend, my mother-in-law’s best friend, gently guided us through making the choices. Her name was Cecile Clayton-Gouthro and she was a textiles prof and artist with a fantastic sense of style. She chose the blue and brown, the art, where the mirrors were hung. She died of cancer the week before we opened.

As I was starting to think about decor and how to tie the two spaces together, I realized I was facing two daunting tasks. First, change. Second, what did I want it to look like? First, I was going to have to let go of the blue and brown; of all the beauty Cecile created. In fact, doing the challenging task of making ‘cold’ colours seem ‘warm’. This is hard to do. And, I believe, we have become a bit identified by our colours. Heck, we even have a ‘Bistro-tini’ that is the blue of our walls. Second, I was going to have to pick new colours, decor, design. Ack!!!

Over the past few years, Alex and I have entered the travel phase of our lives. Our kids are older, we have some flexibility, and we are super energized by travelling. We have been exploring other cities like mad and getting our creative juices flowing, particularly around food and drinks. However, a side-effect has certainly been exploring new ideas of what to do with spaces. We have seen some wild and lovely things in Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Minneapolis, Vancouver... I believe this has deeply informed how we have proceeded with the lounge, and ultimately the bistro. Our favourite hotel in Toronto is The Drake and one of the things we love most about it is the playfulness of it. I hope that we have managed to bring that quality into the new space.

However, I have felt ultimately incapable of executing the changes without help. And here is one of the loveliest parts of the lounge reno story: A few years ago, my friend Liane Chalmers-Bock decided to go back to school and become an interior designer. Liane and her husband, Ted, have been friends with Alex and I for over 20 years. They were at our wedding. We used to have dinner parties together every Friday night. We were pregnant with our first children at the same time. We had baby play groups. And then life happened. We exchange Christmas cards, see each other a few times a year – at the folk fest or at the bistro – but were not nearly as connected. When I ran into Liane at Loni Beach this summer and had a tour of her beautiful (self-designed) cottage, I asked her if she would consider helping me design the bistro. She agreed and we’ve been on this delightful journey together.

I have really love having Liane to bounce ideas off of, to go shopping with, to gently steer me away from some ideas and toward others. She is calm, patient and has a wonderful sense of style. Through the process of developing a new space and transforming an old one, one that has truly been a touchstone in my life, we have rekindled a really great friendship. It almost makes all the frustration and chaos of the past renovation year worth it!

I look forward to shifting and growing and changing. I also look forward to the rekindled relationship with bistro. The opportunity to feel reinvigorated, reinvested, and energized. To try on new challenges (cheese tasting class anyone?) and to sink into the comfort of all the relationships that make bistro such a special place. I feel pretty lucky. It’s a pretty great gig.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The thing about a blog

It's very hard to keep up a blog.

Wait, no, let me amend that. It's easy to keep up a blog when life is fun and filled with joy. Life has not been like that and I was saying to Alex the other day that I feel like Debbie Downer! I am normally a very upbeat person and I live life with a 'Suck it up, Buttercup' approach. I really try to see the positive in almost all situations (except when I allow my dark humour side out) and I love my life.

As anyone who follows my blog knows, this past year has certainly tested my resilience in the upbeat department. Lots of death and mishap in our family. I really felt that we had turned a corner this spring and then my dear, lovely, sweet, funny, cousin Chris killed himself. Nothing can change that. My family looks like crumpled up pieces of paper scattered on the floor. We are without a way of knowing what to do.

We have spend a lot of time crying and laughing. Chris was very funny and so we remember those bits as much as possible. We can't seem to get close enough to each other. My other cousin, Chris's sister, was sitting at the bar in the bistro and I realized we were so physically close to each other that we were leaning into one another. That's the way now. We lean in.

I am reading a wonderful book, "Blood, Bones & Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton. She is a beautiful writer and has reminded me of many things I love about the restaurant industry and life with food. I am grateful for this book popping up now. It is gently nudging me back to writing and back to seeing the beautiful little world I live in, filled with crunchy bread, thick, rich chocolate, glorious oozing cheeses that clear the back kitchen with their pungent ways, muddled fruit soaking up rum in the bottom of the shaker, clinking cutlery, great music and lots of friends. I am being very careful to pay attention to all these beautiful things and people surrounding me. I can be sad and I let myself be sad for all the pain of the past year. But I am also happy. Happy that I have the family I do, happy that I work the job I work, happy that my life is full and splendid.

We're heading to a Cheese Festival in Picton, ON next week. We are renting a car and driving from Toronto, staying in a hotel filled with industry people, and Alex is cheffing with some folks. I think the writing bug is back and I plan on sharing some of these adventures in my blog. But before we head to Ontario, we head up to Riding Mountain National Park to be with my family and lean in for awhile.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Restaurant Manners

When our kids were wee, we took them to nice restaurants (we still do.) We encouraged them to pick out nice clothes and sit up in their chairs and make conversation and appreciate the opportunity. They were dinner party pros by the time they were 5. Alex's mom fed them off of Rosenthal dishes while in the highchair (this made me crazy with worry!) My point is, we have the ability to learn how to behave properly in a restaurant. With our kids, we call it "restaurant manners" and we whisper this in their ears as we enter a restaurant as a gentle reminder of the social expectations of the situation. In fact, this shorthand often works in other social situations, too. And if a three year old can say please and thank you and appreciate the experience, I'm pretty sure some adults can learn this skill as well.

The other night we had a very difficult table. Now, I'm prepared to go the extra mile for people. I will send dishwashers to pick up the right kind of juice at the store, I will bring them a chair to sit on while they wait at the front door, I will visit with them and make as much effort as possible to meet their needs. And this was the case with this table: we all went a few extra steps to make them happy. I have very few issues with high-needs tables: we're in the hospitality industry! We are good at "killing with kindness", I call it. Lots of smiles and attention. Usually this results in a lovely time for everyone. Yet, the problem was: this table was rude. They were demanding, dismissive & crabby. And, it was relentless: at no point did they shift to being kind or nice. It was as if they had no need to be polite because they were somehow above it. . I am so perplexed by this. What benefit does this bring the table? How can you feel proud of yourself or enjoy yourself if you are demeaning another person? I've been toying with how to address this: should I offer reminders to these tables that they have to be nice to their server? should I post an explanation of "restaurant manners" on the wall? or menu? in the washroom?

The reality is that we get all kinds of customers and 90% of them are delightful, 5% odd and 5% rude. We'll put up with rude because that is the gig. All we can hope is that rude people will recognize their jarring ways and tip accordingly.