Journalist and author Bruce Buschel is opening a seafood restaurant, and in preparation for that he’s put together a two-part list of “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do.” The first debuted in the New York Times last week, the second ran today. His list pushed all the right buttons re: wrong-doing, and I’m not surprised at his readers’ (voluminous) reaction, having seen it before when I’ve delved into the subject of service.
A decade ago, after taking the job as Seattle Times restaurant critic, I posted a list of my own restaurant service peeves — among them many cited by Buschel. In 2004 I was floored by the volume of commentary after writing “When Restaurant Service Goes South.” Two hundred readers e-mailed or called in a single day to offer their two-cents regarding lousy service, a number that was a big deal back before we had global commenting capabilities via our Web site. In 2005 I wrote my “Ten Commandments of Restaurant Behavior” — a how-to for diners, with restaurant pros weighing in on how we can all get along better, regardless of which side of the table we’re on. And again, readers rewarded me with commandments of their own.
As a former waitress, a longtime restaurant critic and someone who dines out often and loves the restaurant business — imperfect though it may be, I think Buschel’s list provides excellent advice, as well as some “in your dreams, pal” suggestions.
I’m in strong agreement with #37: “Never reek from perfume or cigarettes. People want to smell the food and beverage.” And #56: “Do not ignore a table because it is not your table. Stop, look, listen, lend a hand. (Whether tips are pooled or not.)”
My eyes rolled, though, when I read #33: “Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by.” The reality of that edict given the lack of real estate in many restaurants can make graceful service a physical impossibility. And it’s certainly no fault of the waiter, who isn’t responsible for the restaurant’s design; the sprawling customer whose seat is pushed way back from the table; nor a quick reaction while dodging tiny tykes whose parents sit by, strollers in the way, oblivious to the dangers those transgressions pose for those working the floor.
And while I don’t agree with everything he says, I stand and salute this writer-turned-restaurateur for thinking ahead and getting a jump on the kind of service pratfalls that can make or break a restaurant. Because I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No matter how fabulous the food or how inviting the decor, if guests are disappointed by bad service, the great majority of them will not go back.
Agree or disagree with Buschel or with me? Particular instances of annoying or downright rude service you’d like to cite? Service peeves that get you every time (here’s one of mine)? Lay it on me.