Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Serviced

After a pre-shift service meeting at work the other night, a colleague of mine turned to me and said, "You know, when I go out, I don't even expect good service anymore." I found myself identifying with him.

The following evening he came up to me with a revision-- "Actually, I've come to expect bad service." I thought that was rather harsh, but it got me thinking...

How hard is it to find a good waiter around here? This is one of the great restaurant capitals of the world. Thousands upon thousands of foodies live in the Bay Area. Surely, more than a few work in the service industry.

Of course, being a foodie does not necessarily make one a great waiter. It might provide an excellent culinary knowledge base from which to build, but a great waiter also needs patience, an eye for detail, a battle-tested calm, great diplomatic skills, and human warmth.

Taking care of strangers' needs is a tricky business because, often times, the need goes beyond mere feeding and watering. Taking care of a woman who is trying to impress clients? A man attempting to seduce his date? A table full of women with scrapbooks and wrapped presents on a "Girls Night Out"? Grandma's 80th birthday? If you've been a party to any of those parties, you know what I mean. A great waiter can take any of those situations and turn them into triumph. A bad waiter can turn them into one of those horror stories you tell at cocktail parties.

We all have our opinions as to what great restaurant service is. I think a great waiter has the ability to either wholly incorporate him or herself into a guests dining experience or, if need be, create an environment where the needs of the guests are met with an almost Beauty-and-the Beast-like invisibility. And I am talking Cocteau, not Disney. As a server, I find that I am much more suited to the former rather than the latter.

Following my colleague's comments on the state of San Francisco's service industry, I thought about my own dining experiences. Had I had any great waiters lately? Mostly, I drew a blank. One only remembers the really good or the exceptionally bad. In the good category, I could come up with only two in the past couple of months and both examples occurred where I least expected great service. The best of those two was a young server at Kate's' Kitchen in the Haight. It's hard to pinpoint precisely what it was about her, aside from keeping the coffee cup filled, warning against my ordering too much food, her sense of humor, or her deft analysis of the pros and cons of the cheddar pancakes versus the hash. In my opinion, what made her a great server was all of this and that human warmth factorI have already mentioned. She actually seemed concerned, like her eye was on us, and not in an are-you-stealing-the-silver? sort of way. The fact that she managed this when the restaurant was packed to the gills with a waiting list half a mile long impressed me. I watched her. She wasn't just singling out my table for special service. She treated everyone like that. I think I was a little bit in love.

I'm not getting into the terrible service experiences I've had in the recent past because I'd be typing here all day and I've got another 200 or so people to help take care of at lunch today. I just needed to tell myself something positive about the service industry today because all I ever seem to read is about bitter waiters and bad experiences.

Have you unearthed any great waiters lately? If so, tell me who and where. I want details.

3 comments:

Nicky Dunbar said...

Awwww . . . well, now, that makes me want to be a server so I can take care of people. Or so I can be memorable. I shall bring this up with my shrink next week.

squid said...

I recall that you loved our waiter at Foreign Cinema when we last made the excursion, a few aeons ago. Perhaps it's because the two of you knew exactly the type of drink with which to impress both each other and my mother? (Lillet, I believe.)

Michael Procopio said...

Nicky--

Something tells me that you would make a very interesting server. Very interesting.

Squid--

That was about two years ago, wasn't it? Yes, she was great. I like anyone who likes Lillet.