Industry Standard: Insider info for those who dine out

Small distinction, big difference

My long-suffering fiancé and I, peckish on the day after Derby, decided to try a hip new-ish spot. It’s not so new that they shouldn’t be on point already, but still new enough that most folks we know hadn’t been there yet.

We didn’t make a reservation. But in light of what transpired, I’m gonna say it again: Always make a reservation. Even if you just call in on the way there. Even if you’re sure they’ll have plenty of seating, let them know you’re coming. Even a last-minute reservation ensures an assigned table and an assigned server who’ll know you’re coming. They’ll have menus ready, flatware on the table and some idea of how your party will fit in with the serving rhythm of their other parties.

We arrived unannounced. The hostess, without eye contact, says, “Can you give me a minute, please?” Sure we can. It did take only a few moments to confer with a manager, not nearly long enough to require an excuse. “Welcome, I’ll be right with you!” would have been perfect, but “Can you give me a minute, please?” makes me feel that I am pressuring you unnecessarily. Which we weren’t.

Anyway, we were shown to our seats. (Worst table in the restaurant, but to be fair, this is partly our fault for not making reservations.) The tiny table was scrunched up against a divider, so we couldn’t see the rest of the room.

Then came the first contact with our server: “I’m gonna need you to give me a minute, guys.” No welcome, no “Hi-my-name-is,” just a negative right off the bat: You’re going to have to wait. In fact, he was back in a flash, maybe three minutes. So again, there was no need to go negative. Smile, welcome us, say you’ll be with us soon.

Now we’ve been inside the restaurant probably six minutes. We’re seated and our server has acknowledged us. What’s my problem? Two quick unnecessarily negative encounters with staff.

The server presents the menus and beer list. We look around and decide they’ve done a great job with the ambience. The music is neither mind-numbing nor loudly distracting. Menu items seem to be spelled correctly.

Our server is back to take our drink order. “Hey guys! How we doing up here?” Ugh. I’m OK with saying “guys” or “ladies” to a large group, but if there are just two of us, a couple, we’re not “guys.” And the two of us are not “we” — which seems to include you. You are not dining with us. There are us, the diners, and there is you, the guy who’s hopefully going to bring us our food later. I’d be OK with this verbal presumptuousness once, but our server sinned repeatedly time after time, coming to the table with “Hey, guys, how we doin’?” I think this style of service is called “Late Smarmy.”

John asked about the “local craft offering” on the beer list. Our server said, “Actually, it’s not local, it’s made by a guy the owner knows from somewhere.” John ordered this beer just to see what the heck it was.

The drinks were served promptly. Our order was taken promptly and served well within my stringent ticket-time expectations. So, in the end, the place looked and smelled great, our wait time for a table and our food was well within reason, and the beverages were awesome. Our table was weak sauce as far as placement goes, but we didn’t have a reservation, and that’s fair game. We tipped our server 20 percent plus whatever the roundup to the next $5 was, because he made no technical mistakes.

And yet, like the service at another restaurant we went to recently wherein the server said “Awesome” at the end of every interaction — it just felt a little off. Just a couple of things — change of wording, mostly — could have elevated both experiences leaps and bounds.

At check time, the server said, “I assume two checks.” Fail. Yes, the LSF is a bit younger and better looking than me, but never assume. I would have been fine with “One check or two?”

It’s the little things, servers. And they can be so little, but so important.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro and Café Lou Lou.