Sunday, September 21, 2008

Scooter Power

This really has very little to do with restaurants, bars or food except that I ride my scooter to work every day and it's amazing what you can carry on a scooter - produce from the farmers' market, cases of wine, bags of bread, printers from Staples etc.... My scooter may also be responsible for this blog since I started on this project just after I was knocked off the bike and received 'light' injuries to the head!

Be that as it may, I have become very attached to my scooter and less and less attached to the NYC department of transport. It's somewhat confusing how in this day and age, with rising fuel costs etc, the city should ignore and even actively discourage the use of scooters. There are no scooter parks in NYC, if you park between cars you often get knocked over, if you park on the sidewalk you get fined the same amount that a car does (the DOT is neither sizeist nor wheelist in this respect).

If you leave for more than a few days, the only really legal option you have is to garage your scooter and guess what - it costs as much for a scooter as a car.

There are a few tricks (none of which I would use of course!). Take the number plate off when you park on the sidewalk (they can still track you down with a VIN number - but it's hard for a ticket to stick if there's no number plate), cover the scooter (if anyone uncovers it you can claim it's been damaged so they tend to leave it alone) , find an area where there are obviously lots of other scooters and bikes - it normally means the traffic cops are more lenient!

LATEST UPDATE:  Be very careful how you park!  I just got a ticket for parking with my front wheel to the curb, as opposed to my back wheel! Hmmmmmm - I rest my case.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lazy Waiter Technique

The lazy waiter is the best waiter! I can't remember where I first heard that but it's stuck with me and that's how I start off many of my training sessions - It's often greeted with glee from those who'll actually suffer from this mantra and with confusion by those who'll live up to it!

The whole idea behind the lazy waiter technique is quite simple and you could apply it to most jobs - it's based on the theory that you don't walk past things that need doing and that you leave behind clues of what you've done - in this way you use as little shoe leather as possible (and waiters walk a long way!) and you don't repeat yourself or end up like one of those people who run around looking frazzled and busy yet end up doing nothing (next time you go to a restaurant watch - there's usually one who covers miles without actually achieving anything).

Obvious examples of this are, if you're walking empty handed through the dining room pick things up, if a table needs straightening, staighten it, a napkin needs picking up, pick it up, if you're opening a bottle of wine at a table take the breathing space to look around at other tables, see what needs doing and re- prioritize your next few minutes etc...if you don't do it now you or someone else will have to do it later.

This may seem like a very simple mantra and it is, but there are many more subtle things that are linked to the lazy waiter technique and that you as the diner may not be aware of.

The lazy waiter doesn't like surprises so she/he is prepared, all the 'sidework' is done, the floor plan is set and there will be as few hicups as possible to throw a spanner in the works during the actual service (this will give her/him more time to deal with the less controllable aspects of the game - one of which of course is the custome!).

The lazy waiter is part of a team of lazy waiters and without having to say very much to each other they can communicate everything that is going on on the floor because they have a pre-rehearsed system. At each stage of your meal your waiter is leaving clues at your table to remind her/himself and everyone else who is taking care of you where you're at in your meal. An upturned glass might indicate that you have ordered tap water or that a cocktail is on it's way, bread at your table might mean that you have ordered your meal and are waiting for your apetizer, certain silverware will show that your main course has been 'fired' or that you've ordered dessert, salt off the table indicates another stage in the meal etc..

Think of your meal as a play, your waiter is the stage-manager, setting up and controling each act. The final curtain for the best lazy waiter is to have been so efficient at meeting your needs that when you get up to leave the only evidence of your presence is a glass, a napkin and the check (with a nice fat tip hopefully) - that way the customer has been taken care of, the table can be 'bussed' and 'turned' as quickly as possible and it's time to stage the next performance.

Of course you never really appreciate the art and skill of the lazy waiter until it's not there - because it's only then that things start to fall apart. That's when you start to think that maybe the place you're eating in is either too lazy to teach the technique, doesn't get it or simply doesn't care - initially by the way I wanted to blame it on the person not the business, but of course, as we all know, the magic is in the attitude and training which starts at the top.

Got any lazy waiter techniques or seen any evidence of it - let me know!

Monday, September 8, 2008

New York Wine and Food Festival

Yes it's on it's way - the New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine (Hmmm! - did someone change the order on purpose?) is here to delight us from 9th October to 12th October.   In the footsteps fo the highly succesful Miami event, this I'm sure is set to become a regular New York moment, full of stars, tinsel, fancy parties and huge charity events.

Anyway, if you dig deep enough and search beyond the star studded cast that leaps out at you from the website you'll find that Jarnac restaurant (towards which I'm oddly bias!), together with many great local restaurants, is participating in the Meatpacking Eats event (I know who knew Jarnac was in the Meatpacking area, but according to many maps it is!).

This event is encouraging restaurants around the area to create a special menu exclusively for this weekend and to pair these around the Southern Wine and Spirits of New York Portfolio (I smell a sponsor!).

Jarnac is doing what it does best and has created a prix fixe menu based around all that's local and at the farmers' market at that time of year.  It's pairing this with some interesting local wines and topping it off with it's signature cocktail, the coup de Jarnac made with Nicolas Feuillate Champagne.  The menu is at $38 without the wine tasting - $78 with.  And here exclusively on this blog is the menu:

Goat cheese flan with an heirloom beet salad
Tempura battered strips of skate with 3 fresh bean salad
Knollcrest chicken liver mousse with toast

Pan Roasted Local Bluefish with  Spicy Tomato Sauce and Fingerling potatoes
Knollcrest Chicken Stewed with caramelized baby onions, quince and honey

Bread pudding

Bon Apetit - be sure to book, it's going to be busy!

Useful Links

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tepid Tilapia!!

Something interesting happened that other night when I was out to dinner - having finished the meal a customer mentioned that their fish had been a bit tepid! Obviously this was reported back to the Maitre D' who came up to the table to apologise.

When she suggested that next time the customer might want to mention this earlier so that the mistake could be rectified, the guest quite understandably replied that he was in mid-conversation with his dining companion and didn't really want to be sitting there with an empty space while his friend ate.

I noticed that when the check came to the table the customer's main course had been comped (to comp - does this verb exist?) by the house, much to the customer's surprise I think!

I was certainly impressed, with things being as tight as they are in restaurants these days and the fact that most restaurants in our area are still reeling from the summer, the temptation might have been to give the customer a dessert or an after dinner drink to avoid too much overhead being lost, or in some cases the argument could have gone - you ate it, you pay for it, you should have said something earlier!

Of course all of these reactions are justifiable in one way or another, but although I don't think the restaurant was obliged to do this, I feel the right thing was done here. The customer left with a good positive feeling towards the restaurant as did his companion, which means that they will probably come back and are less likely to talk about their bad experience, or if they do it will be tinged with praise for the way the situation was dealt with.

I already hear the cynics out there, and believe me I am not immune to this - what if the person in question did this everywhere they went (and this could be for a number of reasons - they always have to complain, they are seeking attention or they like to get comped etc..) - I guess that's where the Maitre D' earns her keep - will this person be back, will their complaints impact business, do they just need to be kept quiet for the sake of other diners etc...

One idea that I like which sort of avoids these issues is to give out Gift cards as an alternative to comping. In this way the person needs to come back to benefit, so if their experience has left them slightly luke warm (!) you get another chance to wow them. Using this method, you can also appear to be comping a bit more and you can up the value of the comp on the theory that this will be future business that you might not otherwise have had.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

To serve or not to serve

The other evening we hosted a private dinner at the restaurant to celebrate a couple's 55th wedding anniversary. That is itself is something to write about, but we'll leave that for another time. Before the evening began there was, as always, the usual pandemonium that ensues when we are asked to do something that is out of our usual routine. Add to this the fact that the flowers hadn't arrived, we were 6 champagne glasses short (where did they go in the 24 hours between stock take and party?) and one of the invited guests arrived 1 hour too early while we were still in full prep and you have a fairly normal pre-opening mess.

Of course the flowers did arrive, we borrowed glasses from another restaurant and the team member who was threatening to leave because of an argument with the kitchen decided to stay.

At 6.30 the party arrived. Throughout the night not one of those guests had any inclin of the shenanigans that had been going on minutes before they stepped through the door - and that is one of the great kicks of working in restaurants.

Forget the lame addage of "the customer is always right", everyone knows that's not always true. What is true however is that the customer is our prime focus, it's all about them whether we like it or not and we are there to serve them in the true and non-demeaning sense of the word.

Some people can do this, some have major problems with it, invariably taking customers ill-chosen and often inapropriate (sometimes insulting) comments personally - and that will make your life on the floor hell

Monday, September 1, 2008


So these little thoughts whipped through my mind today after I'd spent $3.50 on a Latte that proceded to burn a lasting memory on the roof of my mouth. Didn't they hear the milk screaming at them in agony? Should they have warnings on their cups - careful Barista in training! Should I take it back and complain that it's too hot, especially as the person before me thought their's was too cold? Should I just shut up - wait for it to cool down - then drink it?

I ended up doing the latter (although I never finished it), because I realised that the person making the coffee was probably really not to blame - as with most things it's in the training, and the training doesn't come from each customer having a different idea of how their milk should be heated, it comes, first from a realisation that there is infact an art to making coffee and coffee drinks, secondly from an understanding of how that works - just because you have a nice espresso machine, doesn't mean you can make coffee!

And that's one of the reasons why there's such a huge difference in the quality of coffee that's served around the city. I don't really know enough about coffee to comment on the type of bean and the roasting method etc (would love to hear from someone who does). I'm also convinced that the type of machine you use, whether you filter your water and how you clean your machine comes in to play. As with everything though, the proof is in the pudding, so here is the beginning of a list (in no particular order) of places where I think they serve great coffee - please add to it and comment and note that this list is not reseved for just espresso based coffees!

Ciao for Now
The Verb
Grumpy Cafe
Le Gamin
Cafe Gitane