Since I got this writing gig, I’ve spent a lot of column inches imploring diners to support the local independent restaurant industry. I’ve asked this knowing that belts are tightening, budgets are shrinking and moths are flying out of rarely opened change purses all over the city. But what’s in it for you? What are we doing to entice you to spend your decreasing pool of entertainment dollars at our places of business?
Of course we can drop prices. Many already have. Several local fine-dining establishments have recently revamped their menus to adapt to the changing recessionary and discretionary-funds dynamic. Le Relais, Avalon and Seviche come to mind. But what else can we do for you?
We can be consistent. Consistent with our service level. Consistent in the preparation of our most popular dishes. Consistent in our attention to detail in both the front and back of the house.
My table companion at a business meeting recently found a clod of dirt in her salad. The server instantly insisted on comping the diner’s meal, but … well, there’s nothing like a dirt clod to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Unfortunately, a couple of the meals at the table were also delivered to the wrong diners, and even after that was straightened out, some folks’ meals had to be done over because they weren’t what had been ordered to begin with.
Granted, this could happen anywhere. Good lettuce grows in dirt, and every once in a while a dirt clod slips through. But compound one innocent little dirt-nugget with one or more service missteps and you’re talking about people making a mental note not to come back anytime soon.
Tepid soup? Strike one. Dressing not on the side? Strike two. A glass of wine that you specifically chose to pair with your entrée arriving 20 minutes before the food? Strike three: You’re history. And snotty service with an attitude is no longer in fashion, even as a novelty, period. Amateur hour is over, indies. We have to be on the ball, on point and on our best behavior.
When diners-out who champion corporate conglomerates are asked why they choose to patronize a chain rather than a locally owned and operated restaurant, one of the things they inevitably say is that they know what they’re getting. Chain restaurants that are inconsistent in service and product just don’t last very long — they rarely get a chance to become a chain.
In these recessionary times, knowing what you’re going to get has just jumped to the top of the list of what folks want when they make the decision to spend the money to dine out. So, take heart, diners. Indies are now on notice that we have to deliver the best possible experience, time after time. That means it’s a great time to dine out.
So we’ll be seeing you in the dining room.
Marsha Lynch is a graduate of Sullivan University and has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants, including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s and L&N Wine Bar and Bistro. She is now the pastry chef at Café Lou Lou.