Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A tipping rant

(My brother sent this to me. I could not have said it better myself, so let's just pretend I did.)
Here's something that drives me crazy...

My date and I have just had a lovely meal. The bill is presented, neatly tucked in one of those leather folders. Let's say the bill totals $58.50. If I'm paying with cash, I might place a hundred dollar bill inside the folder, and set it near the edge of the table. The server comes by, picks up the folder, and asks, "Do you need change?"

I'm sorry, it's not your job to determine what kind of tipper I am. It's your job to make the f***ing change and let me decide whether or not I'm going to leave you 70%.

Sorry for the salty language. Enjoy your meal.

The Miracle of In-n-Out

I overheard someone at work today who said, "In-n-Out is basically the same as MacDonald's except for higher quality burgers." Okay, I agree that In-n-Out's quality standards are exemplary. But otherwise, I completely disagree with his statement. And, being a PITA curmudgeon, I had to tell him so. Here's more or less what I said (edited to improve clarity, wit and logical structure):

I like In-n-Out's food, but I looove the way they run their business. Here's a list of reasons why:
(I love lists. You'll see...)
  1. The menu; it's simple, focused and never changes. They serve a small number of excellent items. They do not insult their customers by trotting out crazy ass stuff like Choco Tacos or McRib sandwiches. Burgers, fries, soft drinks, lemonade and shakes. That's it.
  2. Service. The staff are always well trained, well managed and well paid; as a result, service is uniformly excellent. Ask yourself: Have you ever been to an In-n-Out and NOT been spoken to in a genuinely (or at least convincingly) friendly and enthusiastic manner? Have you ever heard a rude comment from an employee? Have you ever been ignored by an employee who was chatting with a co-worker? I haven't. maybe that's because In-n-Out pays significantly more than California's already high minimum wage, and every store is corporate owned and managed. (In-n-Out is not a franchise.)
  3. Cleanliness. The place is clean. The counters, the tables, the bathrooms, everything.
  4. Meaningful innovation. Not the ice cream as taco innovation of Taco Bell. For instance, when the drive-thru lines began snaking out through parking lots, In-n-Out began employing walk-up staff who take orders ahead of the kiosk via wireless handheld devices. This makes the drive-thru line go much faster. I don't know if In-n-Out invented this technique or not, but they've surely done well in their implementation.
  5. Quality. Fresh, high quality ingredients, nothing's frozen (except the ice cream in the milkshakes) and your burgers are always made to order, not in advance. The fries are made on the spot from real potatoes.
  6. Value. I can eat a complete meal at In-n-Out for $4. And I know it will be fresh and tasty. Mmmmm, boy.
By the way, the only fast food burger I like better than In-n-Out? Tommy's. Tommy's actually shares a lot of the qualities of In-n-Out, but with chili sauce on top. ... And they do breakfast. Oh yeah, with chili sauce.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fulfilling a Curmudgeon's Lifelong Dream

I've always been a pain in the ass about service, particularly in restaurants. I suppose that comes from working in restaurants for years during college, in every conceivable capacity that did not require advanced training (chef) or capital (owner).

My friends and family have endured my pontification on the subject for years... Now, they will be relieved to know that I'm creating another outlet for my angst... A blog about service.

First, I should explain the title. It's from one of my pet peeves of restaurant service. Someone is enjoying (or not) a nice (or not) meal, and he makes the momentary error of putting down his fork. The waiter will swoop by and ask, "Are you still working on that?" Whenever someone asks me that question, I'm tempted to say, "I'm not working. I'm eating." My point being... eating in a restaurant is not a job; it's a pleasure (or at least it should be). You should be allowed to relax, take breaks, take your time, enjoy the company of others or just sit still and chew. When I'm done, my knife and fork will be at 4 o'clock and I'll probably ask you for the check, or dessert, or something.

So now you're beginning to sense (with horror, no doubt) what a huge pain in the ass I really am.

But in my own defense... I believe everything I care about is universal. These are not arbitrary opinions, or based on some arcane book of etiquette. I formed my sense of good service while waiting tables, or more often by watching other more skilled staff wait tables, in a wide variety of restaurants.

Let's begin with... My basic rules for Waiters:
  1. Eye contact. Walk past your tables. (Through your "station.") If a customer doesn't look at you, they don't want to talk to you. You never need to ask, "Is everything OK?" or, God forbid, "Are you still working on that?" ("Why yes, and I'll be..." Oh, never mind.) This is the number one rule of good service, and sadly the most violated one. Really really, you do not need to ask if I'm enjoying my food while I'm still chewing it. Not only have you interrupted the meaningful (or trite) conversation at our table, but you've basically forced me to be rude by either ignoring you or talking with my mouth full of your wonderful food. Bad waiter!
  2. Personal but not intimate. I'm very sorry, and I'm sure you're a wonderful person, but no, I don't care what your name is. And I am not here to make friends (at least not with you). To be fair, some people love it when a waiter disgorges personal information and hovers about like long-lost pals at a high school reunion. I don't.
  3. Four o'clock. A thoughtful (dare I say educated?) customer will place his cutlery at the "four o'clock" position on his plate when he would like the plate to be removed. There are variations on this in practice (fork and knife crossed, for example), so you'll have to figure it out if someone deviates. And eventually, if a customer is apparently done but not employing the four o'clock technique, you might have to abandon this tactic and just ask. But please, no reference to work in your inquiry. TYVM.
  4. Serve from the left, clear from the right. Or is it, serve from the right and clear from the left? I don't really care about this one, to be honest. It does add a bit of predictability and slightly reduces the chance of catastrophe. But really, this is nonsense. Let's move on.
  5. Rule number one is the most important rule. Seriously. You can skip the other four rules. They're just there for symmetry and weight. Rule number one is key. (Maybe next I'll write Five Rules for Restaurant Customers including the number one rule: Make eye contact with your waiter if you need something. Don't yell out "Miss" or "Sir" or -- God forbid -- hiss at them like a snake. That's a sure-fire way to get ignorified...)
PS: Please forgive me my insistence on the archaic term "Waiter" instead of server. When I say waiter, I mean server. Or vice versa. Whichever gets you off my back. And for simplicity's sake, I am using the male gender designators of he/him to refer to non-specific persons. I know there are female customers and servers. Thank you and I'm sorry and let's be friends.