Epic Fail: A Restaurant Critic’s Top Five Service Disasters, August Fun at the Kittle House, and High Summer in a Sandwich at Scarsdale’s Cooked and Co.
Epic Fail: My Top Five Service Disasters
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? It feels like ages since we’ve seen the near ubiquity of the service style once aptly described as “squat and chat.” You remember: those insincere recitations, delivered in a soulless monotone, usually beginning with, “Hi, my name is ___ and I’ll be your server tonight.” Do you remember overly personalized, highly editorialized dish descriptions, like “What our chef has prepared for you tonight is delicious swordfish, grilled to perfection”? This was usually uttered just before your personal space was harpooned by a four-foot peppermill. Then there was my particular horror, the ne plus ultra of bad service training. You remember that leading phrase, “How are you enjoying that?” Not much, anymore.
The good news is that it seems that Danny Meyer’s message of “Enlightened Hospitality” is finally getting some traction. The middle tiers are learning what the best restaurants already know, that good service is more about listening than telling.
But I’ve dined out a lot. I’ve seen some things—and, I mean, bad things. Here is my own list of Top Five Service Disasters. I’d love to know: What are yours?
SCENE: Tony waterfront hotel in New England
I empathize with the owners of seasonal seaside restaurants; I really do. Come mid-August, all their sharpest waiters decamp for college, leaving the B or C team to handle still-heavy crowds. This happened when we were dining harbor-side on the wide veranda of an elegant Victorian hotel, when, after only one sip, we discovered that my husband’s beer was off. It happens—beer is natural product, so we politely informed our waiter that the bartender might want to check the keg. Our sunburned, surfer-looking waiter simply brought the glass to his lips, drank my husband’s beer, then spit it over the railing, saying, “Yeah, that’s bad, alright.” At least he comped it.
SCENE: A well-reputed San Francisco restaurant, a food lover’s destination.
Sure, this joint had excellent food, elegant napery, and slick service, but it also had one staffer that didn’t quite get the memo. After he carefully crumbed my section of the white tablecloth, he raised the crumber to 6” in front of my eyes, then proceeded to twirl the thing as if it were a drumstick in the hand of Tommy Lee. The best part was his smile as he performed a table-side trick with our meal scrapings. It was saying, “Check this out! Bet you thought I was just a busboy!”
I suspect our busboy was this very child, a few years down the road.
SCENE: Otto Pizzeria
A busboy filling my water glass from one of those large pitchers not only knocked a full glass of ice slurry onto my lap, but, with a helpless reactive flinch, gave it another generous splash from the pitcher. Okay, it was bad—I was awash in frigid water—but this kind of thing is survivable. The epic fail came when, having seen the wreckage, our busboy wordlessly disappeared from the planet. There I was, flopping in a tide of ice water, but no one appeared to offer extra napkins or to make a token effort to dry the table. I suspect that this was this poor man’s first day on the job and that, in shame, he simply fled onto the streets of Manhattan, never to return.
SCENE: A downtown Manhattan restaurant
You know what I always remember when I think about restaurants and vermin? The industry changed its name from “Exterminators” to “Pest Control” because the former raised unrealistic expectations. Imagine me sitting with about 10 people in a very casual restaurant. A waiter circles the table, dropping a plate in front of each happy diner. Bang goes the plate down in front of me, and on it crouches a surprised two-inch water bug. Epic, epic fail! (Plus, screaming, fleeing, and general mayhem.)
SCENE: Bathroom door at Dos Caminos
I literally had my hand on the doorknob to the ambi-gender, single-stall bathroom (usually, a private moment of reflection), when a young man wearing one rubber glove shooed me back to a tiny TV table located on the edge of the dining room. On it lay an open tin of Altoids, some cologne, tissues, and a tip plate which held a few dollar bills (and, ambitiously, not one coin). Turns out that this man’s role was to open the bathroom door for me. PS: Tips were gratefully accepted. Or not. Epic fail.
Have you seen an epic service fail? Let us know on the Eater Line (firstname.lastname@example.org) or in the comments section below.
Summer at the Kittle House
Now is the ugly part of summer, because:
A) Everyone is out of town
B) It’s impossible to do business, anyway (see A)
C) You feel like a loser (see A and B)
It looks like the Kittle House is feeling your pain. It’s packed August with events and great dining deals to console us home-bound Westchesterites. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find:
Mondays: New England Lobster Bake Night
From the newsletter, “Every Monday Is New England Lobster Bake Night at the Kittle House! Steamed 2-lb. Maine Lobster, Little Neck Clams, Jumbo Shrimp, Corn on the Cob, New Potatoes—$39.99 per person. And you can pick it up to go— call us and we'll have it ready and waiting.”
Tuesdays: Sparkle for a Cause
This pretty weekly party held in honor of Amy Crabtree donates 30 percent of its proceeds to benefit local charities. Basically, it’s a high-minded excuse to get down with your neighbors at the Kittle House. Upcoming evenings include tomorrow night’s Sparkle to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester and the August 14 evening for Hope's Door.
Also on Tuesdays: $1 Oyster, $0.50 Clam, and Half-Price California Chardonnay Night
Wednesdays:Freshest Catch of the Day Night From the announcement, “Our wonderful supplier of sustainable fish and seafood, River and Glen, will bring us a limited amount of the freshest catch from that day and we'll pan-roast it with your choice of several different sauces, vegetables, and potato or grain. It doesn't get any fresher or more delicious than this, but, alas, like most great things in life, the quantity is very limited!”
Thursday, August 9:The Kittle House Annual Summer Pig Roast and Wine Fest
Once again, it's that time of the year when Chef Marc calls John Boy at Mountain View Farm and asks him to choose one of his prized Berkshire pigs for us to slow-roast to crispy, juicy, pork perfection. But there's a whole lot more than just that gorgeous pig to feast on! Last year we also roasted a lamb, a goat and John Boy's chickens and grilled fresh prawns, swordfish kabobs and sweet sausage. There's always veggies and salads, some tasty hors d'oeuvres to start, and a Kittle House classic dessert buffet to finish. And wine, lots and lots of wine to sip with the swine and the rest of the summertime feast. It's swine and wine and a whole lot more. $85 per person plus additional beverages, tax, and gratuity. (914) 666-8044”
Friday and Saturday Nights: Pianist Nick Oliva plays in the Tap Room from 7:30 to 11:30pm.
Sunday Nights: Kids Under 12 Eat Free
For more information about upcoming events at Crabtree’s Kittle Housewww.kittlehouse.com, call (914) 666-8044.
Oh, yum: it’s summer on a plate. Imagine a crisp and generously portioned ciabatta panino filled with deliciously sticky, well-roasted eggplant, tomato, and gooey smoked gouda. Crunch comes with peppery arugula and spice, with a slash of herby red-pepper pesto. It’s just the sort of simple supper that works for every dog day of summer.
Julia Sexton, restaurant critic, food writer, and CRMA award-winning blogger, is a rampant traveler who will go anywhere to try anything. When not furtively sneaking cinghiale sausage past airport bag sniffers, she cooks and writes at her home in New Rochelle. A regular in Westchester Magazine’s pages, where she reviews local restaurants, Sexton’s food writing has also appeared in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. This fall, look for the debut of Sexton's book, Hudson Valley Chef's Table, published by Globe Pequot Press. She'd love to hear from you, so email any rants, questions, and comments to the Eaterline, email@example.com. Follow Julia Sexton on Twitter @JuliaSexton