Tagged: restaurant business

Service 101: Why Restaurants and Diners Need Restaurant Critics

Clearly, food is big business. More and more people—big corporations and media groups—want in on the current obsession with food. The Huffington Post has food coverage, the Food Network is looking to expand to a double network, and CNN just added a dedicated branch of its online division to culinary news.

But as the power of the food as entertainment grows, the force of the critic recedes. Yesterday on Time’s online magazine, Josh Ozersky wrote about the fleeting life cycle of newspaper critics and warned food lovers that web site forums like Urban Spoon and Yelp minimize the power of the newspaper critic and threaten to end the lifespan of the professional food criticism.

What’s in it for the restaurants and the diners?

Read More to Find Out Why Critics Are Important… »

Service 101: Why Servers Don’t Get Any Respect

I respect restaurants. I respect people. So why is it that so many diners don’t respect me when I’m dressed in a waiter’s uniform?

The answer is simple: many customers don’t believe waiters to be professionals and therefore don’t merit their respect.

As a server and bartender, I am expected to be friendly, courteous, and skilled at my job–regardless of how poorly my diners treat me. If I greet a table with a smile and they glare at me with hate, I must pretend that their attitude doesn’t affect me. If a guest barks because they feel uncomfortable not understanding the menu, I am required to empathize and respond with kindness. If a patron interrupts me while I am helping another guest, I am obligated to defend the other diner’s right to service while maintaining good communication with the impatient one. If a dish comes out of the kitchen that a particular guest doesn’t like, I am expected to apologize and assuage their anger—regardless if I am accused of intentionally trying to ruin their big night out.

Fine. I’m a professional. I can handle big expectations. But what is expected of the guest? Surely human kindness should be on the list.

Continue to Find More on Why Servers Don’t Get Respect »

Service 101: Restaurants Are Not Picnic Tables

Welcome to Service 101: a behind the scenes look at the food service industry. Today’s topic: restaurants as a business.

Lots of people pay for the luxury of eating out.  But how is it those very same diners don’t think of restaurants as a business? Though the average diner understands the concept of paying the bill at the end of the meal, many see restaurants as a kind of public service for their neighborhood or city. For them, the restaurant is a public space put there to serve their culinary and social needs—rather than a place of business that is designed to assist them in getting sustenance in a pleasant atmosphere.

Take for example The Angry Late Guy. He books a table for four on a busy Friday night at 8 pm, but doesn’t show until thirty minutes after his reservation time. The restaurant holds the table for the gentleman and his guests for 15 minutes, but when he never arrives, the restaurant does what it must do: they give the table to someone else. Why? Not because the restaurant is spiteful, disorganized, or uncommitted to serve their guests. It is because they are a business, and empty tables cost restaurants money.

Continue Zucchini Bread Recipe »

New Year’s Culinary Tradition: Caviar

New Year's caviar

Culinary traditions are handed down, borrowed and created.  I bake my grandmother’s Finnish Nisu (cardamom sweet bread) at Easter and Christmas. Favorite chefs and images like Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving influence my Thanksgiving day spread.  Now that I’m married and living thousands of miles from my bi-coastal family, I find I need to create new culinary traditions to celebrate my life with the man I love.

Since New Years is a working holiday for most restaurant industry folk, I’ll be saving my celebrating for the next morning. As many in Los Angeles wake with new-decade hangovers, my husband and I will be enjoying a celebratory morning with caviar and a bottle of bubbly.

Continue Reading for a Simple New Years Recipe for Caviar! »

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating

Zingerman's Roadshow

“I’m craving American food!” said no one, ever.

I’ve lived in the US my entire life and never have I heard anyone exclaim such a thing. But now that I’ve eaten at Zingerman’s Roadhouse—an Ann Arbor, Michigan restaurant that celebrates the culinary traditions and artisan food makers of the United States–I’ll be saying that phrase a lot. Zingerman’s Roadhouse makes me proud to be an American and hungry for its regional specialties.

Where else can a discerning food lover enjoy tasty buttermilk fried chicken, savory Southern Carolina BBQ, sweet Hawaiian Pineapple Chicken Salad, meaty Maryland crab cakes and earthy-sweet Pennsylvania Dutch Creamed corn in one glorious location?

One trip to the Roadhouse and you’ll save yourself a three thousand mile cross-country culinary tour. The masterminds behind Zingerman’s Roadhouse studied the nation’s gastronomic traditions with the care of scholars and created a menu that celebrates the nation’s best dishes all in one central locale.

Zingerman’s puts Ann Arbor on the culinary map

Zingerman’s may have started in 1982 as solitary delicatessen dedicated to serving great sandwiches, but it has since grown to include six other establishments that consist of a bakehouse, creamery, training branch, culinary press, and an impressive mail-order artisan food company. The Roadhouse—the seventh establishment in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses—is a tour de force where elements from all of the culinary outposts can come together.

Welcome to the Roadhouse

Enter the Roadhouse and Zingerman’s friendly staff is always happy to help. Past the blur of the busy open kitchen, beyond the colorful signage announcing daily specials and the glass cases filled with vintage salt and pepper shakers, you’ll find diners tucked away in backroom booths, bellied up to the bar or lounging outside at tables adjacent to the barbecue pit.

My husband and I sat at the bar so that we could study the names of the Michigan-local brew taps. We were impressed by the extensive selection of rare Bourbons, jars of house made maraschino cherries and containers filled with freshly squeezed juices. Unlike many restaurants across our fair country, no mixers are used and only fresh ingredients are stocked behind the bar.

Our barkeep, Adam, greeted us with an uncommon enthusiasm and excited menu descriptions that had us wishing we could order everything. Adam told us how Roadhouse Chef/Partner, Alex Young had such a commitment to fresh ingredients he started a three-acre organic farm to supply the restaurant with all its seasonal produce. Located in Dexter, Michigan, the Roadhouse’s dedicated farm produces lettuces, radishes, scapes, morels, asparagus, and almost thirty different heirloom varieties of tomatoes for the restaurant. Roadhouse food wastes are composted and trucked to the farm to improve the health of the earth.

While still mulling over the menu choices, Adam presented my husband and I with a sample of the Roadhouse’s famous barbeque. On the plate were mouthfuls of pulled pork topped with three different sauces: earthy, eastern North Carolina vinegar, sweet Memphis tomato, and spicy South Carolina mustard. Adam explained how Ed Mitchell, a North Carolina native and pit master, moved to Michigan to teach the Zingerman’s crew how to smoke free-range, heirloom-breed hogs over oak for over fourteen hours and prepare the meat southern-style.

To drink, we ordered the Jolly Pumpkin “La Roja, a sour amber craft beer that gets its tart, food friendly acidity from naturally occurring yeasts found in the brewery. Within seconds of sampling the beer, a smiling server named Brian dashed over to enthusiastically approve of our beer choice.

“Cool!” the young man with the long side burns exclaimed with unsolicited enthusiasm. “You guys picked the best beer we have!”

We paired our sour beer with Zingerman’s Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes ($12.50). More Maryland jumbo lump blue crab meat than anything else, the cake’s sweet flavor was enhanced by a dollop of Zingerman’s ultimate tartar sauce*.

While waiting for our next course, the bartender poured us a sample of Zaison, a Belgian styled beer Jason Spaulding, the Roadhouse’s bar manager (and former New Holland Brewery’s brewmaster), created for the restaurant. As we enjoyed the beer’s zesty flavors and light style we had the good fortune of meeting Jason, and happily listened as he explained how he came to make the food-centric, single-batch brew with orange peel and black pepper.

If it isn’t clear yet that the Roadhouse isn’t your typical restaurant, it’s time to point out an important aspect that many people don’t realize is a key to Zingerman’s success: an unrivaled commitment to service. From the minute you walk through the door, every employee goes out of their way to make sure that they can help give you the best possible experience. Want to have creamed corn instead of coleslaw on your entrée? Sure. Want a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on inside Zingerman’s Roadshow (a free standing take out “trailer” designed for speedy breakfast, lunch and dinner to-go orders)? Come on inside! At Zingerman’s, “no” is not in the employee’s vocabulary.

In preparation for the arrival of our entrees, we ordered the Dragon’s Milk Beer. This gloriously dark and hoppy beer from Michigan, gets its vanilla and mocha flavors from being aged in bourbon barrels.

The beer paired perfectly with the sweet, Niman Ranch pork ribs ($19 for a half rack). Cooked for nine hours in Alex’s Red Rage Tomato BBQ sauce, the ribs were served on—thanks to Zingerman’s yes-we-can attitude–a generous portion of South Carolina corn grits and mustard coleslaw. The sweet and meaty ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and chewy from the long, slow cook. The grainy texture of the grits and the sweet crunch of the coleslaw made the title “side dish” seem like an insult—these were must-have bites that required our full attention.

We enjoyed the Southern Carolina mustard BBQ pork entrée ($11.50) with Pennsylvania Dutch Creamed Corn and Southern-style braised collard greens. The mustard vinegar sauce (a favorite in western South Carolina) enhanced the moist and flavorful pork without overpowering the meat’s natural flavors. The earthy sweetness and playful texture of the creamed corn played perfectly against the tart collard greens.

Had we more room for food, we would have ordered the Buttermilk-fried free range chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and coleslaw. But we had enjoyed that dish and many others on a previous visit, and thought better to save room for dessert.

Thank god we did, because the Roadhouse brownie sundae is not to be missed. Zingerman’s bakehouse brownies are crave-worthy on their own. But served warm, with the Creamery’s fresh vanilla ice cream, a perfect amount of hot fudge and a house-made maraschino cherry—we were in heaven.

As a fan of one of America’s greatest liquors—Bourbon—I decided to try a Roadhouse specialty cocktail. . A perfect American cocktail to end a perfectly American meal, the Kentucky Bed Warmer is made with Knob Creek and Blenheim ginger ale. It’s a delightful tippler that aids digestion and makes you smile.

It’s only been a day since I visited the Roadhouse, but I can already feel a new kind of craving coming on. I turn to my husband with a smile.

“Hey honey, guess what I’m craving…”

Kentucky Bed Warmer
From Zingerman’s Roadhouse

2 ounces Knob Creek
1 ounce Orange Curacao
2 dashes Orange bitters
Blenheim ginger ale
Orange zest

Add Knob Creek, Orange Curacao and bitters to a Boston shaker filled with ice. Stir until chilled. Add to bucket glass and fill with Blenheim ginger ale. Top with orange zest and serve.

*Zingerman’s Tartar Sauce is a delicious blend of mayo, Dijon mustard, minced cornichon, minced red onion, diced plum tomatoes, Quebec cider vinegar and sugar. Try making your own version at home!

NOTE: Thank you so much to the generous people at FoodBuzz.com for their support of this blog and helping fund this food adventure.

Food Blogging News Weekly Round Up: May 29

When burning books might be a good idea
Librarians are quick to defend freedom of speech, but a handful of them aren’t afraid to talk about the need for current titles. Proof that librarians really know when it’s time to pull a book from the shelf. Here at Awful Library Books.

Keep your hands to yourself
A regular feature at Chronicle Books’ blog is this 7×7 column that offers a restaurant insider’s view of what it takes to wait tables. Her most recent post offers this advice: Hands off! *And since the general dining public doesn’t seem to understand this concept, here is a simple reminder:

Touching your waiter is a real no-no! If you don’t know what I mean, ponder this: when was the last time you reached out and tapped your bank teller on the shoulder for service?

Burgers for everyone

Clinton loved em. Obama likes ‘em too. Our new president loves his burgers.

Follow this
Ad Age thinks there are 25 people you really should be following on Twitter. Here are twenty-five cutting edge social media people you should know about.

Service 101: Waiting tables IS an Honorable Profession

professional waiter
Waiting tables IS an honorable profession

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of so-when-are-you-going-to-get-a-real-job-attitude for the work that I do in restaurants from friends and acquaintances. I’ve taken that attitude with a grain of salt. But frankly, I’m tired of it.

I do have a real job. I am a professional server.

There’s definitely a misconception in the minds of people outside of the service industry that restaurant work is something that’s easy, good for a fast buck and a vocation for unprofessional types. Though restaurant work is not a 9-to-5 job and doesn’t require the fabrication of cubicles or the purchase of slide projectors, restaurant workers ARE professional.

I’m not sure what it will take to change people’s mind about this…but let me be clear:

There is nothing fast nor easy about restaurants. Restaurant work is mentally challenging and physically exhausting.

When will America’s dining public start treating servers with some respect?

getting bad service getting good service
Waiting tables requires many skills, talents and virtues.

A typical day

It’s Friday afternoon at 2 pm I’m at the ironing board pressing my dress shirt and apron. While I nibble on a late lunch, I scan the pages of three-ring binder filled with food and wine notes for knowledge retention. I listen to a recording I’ve made of myself reading tasting notes on domestic and international wines. I listen to myself describe a California chardonnay so that when a table asks me about that bottle, I already have a sound bite response.

It’s 4pm and my car is parked. I tie my tie before I cross the threshold of the restaurant. A double check of my uniform for any last minute adjustments, and then I give myself a moment for a deep, cleansing breath. It’s time for service.

By 4:30 I’m in a staff meeting where changes in the menu, service issues are discussed, and guest information is shared with the front of house staff. By 6, hundreds of napkins are folded, glasses are polished, and stations are stocked for the flurry of service that is about to hit.

7 p.m. the restaurant begins to fill up. By 8pm service has kicked into high gear. Tables are sat and resat. Orders are taken, menu items described in minute detail. Food is cleared and silverware placed. Dishes are run to the back kitchen for washing. Glasses are refilled and silverware is placed before courses hit the table. Menus are dropped and egos massaged. Checks are tallied, split, cashed out and rung up.

By 9pm–after 5 hours without food or drink—I’m dehydrated. A quick sip of water and I’m back on the floor with smile. Business roars. There’s a problem that needs attention, a table needs clearing, a manager is needed to help fix an error. I push through service like a boxer at a speed bag. My mind races with details. Did I deliver that wine? Check. Did I place that steak knife? Has that entree hit the table? Did I find out what city in France that cheese was from? Check, check, check.

No night is flawless. Something goes wrong. The only thing I can prepare for is my attitude, stamina and mental preparedness. Seven hours have passed since I stepped inside the restaurant. By 11 pm service begins to slow. Full dinner guests lounge in their seats and enjoy another glass of wine. Maybe they’ll have some dessert. Or another after-dinner drink. A back-waiter prepares a double espresso, giving me just enough time to drink a full glass of water and chew a handful of nuts. There’s still a few more hours left of work. I have to keep my energy up. I adjust my tie, tuck my dress shirt into my apron and hit the floor with a smile. There’s another cocktail to deliver, a menu to drop, a table to clear, a story to tell…

By midnight I’ve handed in my cash, tipped my support staff and clocked out. By 1 am I am in my car driving home. I’m starving, craving a glass of wine and wired from a night of speed walking 7,000 square feet several hundred times.

My mind races with the cruel barbs from a guest I artfully dodged, the selfish behavior of a co-worker that made my temper flare, the European tourist that gushed verbal compliments but only left a handful of dollars on a large bill, the joke that had me quietly giggling all night, the fiscally generous guest, the out of sorts guest that went out of their way to be rude and the sweet guest that went out of their way to be kind.

Every night is different. But every night ends the same way–with my head spinning from the millions of tasks and service issues. If I’m lucky there’s a glass of wine in my hand by the end of it all.

It’s true, there are other things I would rather do on a Friday night with my time. I’d love to write full time and have my nights free. But the fact remains that as an artist there are other things I have to do to pay my bills. And I love restaurants, the food culture and the people that work doggedly day and night to put food on the table. There shouldn’t be any shame in saying I’m a server at a restaurant.

Yes, I work in the service industry. Yes, I’m a writer AND a restaurant professional. And I take my job seriously. Very seriously. I’m a professional. Respect what I do.

Other Service 101 Posts can be read here.