By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
For years, maître d’ Ben Chekroun at New York City’s Le Bernardin has reined in new servers with his list of 129 cardinal sins of “Monumentally Magnificent Trivialities.” I have distilled my list down to seven sins that can be devastating to your restaurant.
Filthy bathrooms. Years ago, I had an uncle who collected classic cars. He took me under his wing and coached me on, among other things, how the previous owner maintained his vehicle. His indicator was how clean the trunk was. Look at the cleanliness of a restaurant’s bathrooms and you will have a pretty accurate indicator of how they run their restaurant.
No salt and pepper shakers on tables. As a chef, tables with no salt and pepper shakers are a sign of arrogance. It says you are impervious to mistakes or criticism. Cold food is cold food, but seasoning is subjective. Maybe your guest would prefer more salt than you chose to initially season the dish with. If you allow substitutions, then you allow salt and pepper shakers on the table.
Rushed service. I once dined at a new restaurant that a friend in the wine business said we absolutely had to try. It was one of her accounts and the owner was dying to entertain us. This restaurant was all the buzz; a much sought-after reservation. Clouded by their anxiety to impress, they botched one basic aspect of our overall experience. Every course was forced on us before we were done with the preceding one. The quality of the food was completely overshadowed by the “expedient” service.
Questioning the guest. On a trip to Las Vegas, my wife Carrie and I once had a dining experience that still has people shaking their heads when I tell the story. Carrie ordered a salad that was supposed to have walnuts. It initially appeared there were no walnuts. Upon closer inspection, however, her salad did contain a few walnuts beneath the lettuce. The only problem was that the waiter conducted the inspection. With Carrie’s fork. We did not tip 20 percent.
Not writing it down. You see it all the time: your server approaches the table to take your order with nothing to write on. You make a mental note of your group’s size, and you just know something will be incorrect. A bartender merely turns around to begin your drinks seconds after leaving you. Your server may experience many other distractions on his or her way to the computer, and your order is almost inevitably wrong.
Confusing service with servitude. We recently visited some friends in Santa Monica, Calif., where we patronized a few restaurants. When you live in a community as small and off the beaten path as Big Sky, you often get the feeling we play second or even third fiddle to the “big city.” In all three establishments, the poor service made me re-realize the warmth and friendliness of Buck’s T-4, but also Big Sky in general.
Slow food, wrong food. Like many quality, high-volume restaurants that generally run like a Swiss watch, Buck’s is not immune to slow service or slow food at times. We realize that occasionally, slowness happens. But don’t compound that by not preparing your guest’s food to their liking after they’ve already been waiting too long.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.