In the beginning...
Welcome to our food log, an intimate look into Restaurant Eve - our chefs, our food, our travels and our verve. Each week, or rather when it strikes the fancy, we’ll post a peek into the behind the scenes of our world - both the divine and the diabolical.
Tuesday, May 24
Wednesday, May 18
Friday, May 13
by Meshelle Armstrong
begins with this idea: Prepare for good dining karma.”
- Restaurant Eve Service Manual
How to Give (and Get) ‘Good Phone’ • Part II
By Meshelle Armstrong
Thursday, May 5
by Meshelle Armstrong
When a couple’s body language responds to my reception of, “Good evening and welcome. May I have the name of the reservation please?” as if I’m interrogating them or doubt my sincerity, I know that changing their tune will be an uphill struggle. The guests who will love everything and rave the loudest are easy to spot as well. When I welcome them with the same greeting as the previous couple, their response is completely different. Their agreeable ‘ready to go with your flow’ pheromones hit me; I sense their excitement and willing anticipation. It is infectious. The entire staff gets swept up by their eagerness, and even the couple arguing in the dining room softens slightly. These are the guests we live for, the ones who appreciate the whole experience, the ones who come to us prepared, ready to be delighted and won’t be swayed from their intention. Even if a chandelier were to fall on their table, they absolutely would still have a good time. If you are one of these people, know this: you make everything we do worth it. Keep on keeping on and the dining gods will smile on you from restaurant to restaurant.
My main goal is to make all of my guests as happy as these bon vivants, and I really believe the onus is on the restaurant to please you. But try as I might to get everyone from a #6—our restaurant group’s in-house code for guests who arrived unhappy—to a #1 (the happiest of guests) I can only control what goes on in the walls of my restaurant and not the attitude that you bring with you.
I can’t tell you how many times (and it still amazes me) guests arrive at a fine dining restaurant and have no idea where they are. I don’t mean that they don’t know where they are, physically. I mean that they have not done their research. Or, even worse, one or all of them arrives in a bad mood. Double whiplash if the evil forces converge. Chances are these guests, be they a couple celebrating a milestone birthday, or budding socialites, or highbrow wheelers, will soon be penning those 2:00 am letters, rife with their discontent, or, even worse, drunk-blogging on unmoderated message boards.
“What?!” you say. “Cheeky!” Or maybe: “Research!? Why is that necessary? I shouldn’t have to do homework to enjoy the dinner I’m paying for.”
But you would be wrong.
Everyone arrives at a restaurant with expectations. But unless you know what to expect, your evening will probably turn out very differently than planned. Dashed expectations make for a disappointing experience. You’ll be left wondering what all the hype is about and, more importantly, why everyone else seems to be having such a good time.
My intention is not to diss my own very valued customers or mockingly expose the dining challenged. Restaurants, and the people who work there, want to make you happy. It is also our job to set you at ease and make you feel like we are welcoming you into our home. All right, you may be paying to visit our “home,” but we still want you to be comfortable, relaxed and ready to receive the food, wine and the sequences of service we have earnestly prepared just to impress you.
Whether you realize it or not—and many of you don’t—when you consent to the host’s nod as she leads you to your table, you have just accepted your role in an elaborate choreography that not only includes you and us, but everyone else who is dining in the restaurant.
In a perfect evening all of this is invisible and happens without you realizing it. But once someone misses a step, it throws everyone off. This awareness piece, per se, is my way of reaching out to you and being your host even when I can’t be with you at the restaurant.
I wish to share with you the inner workings of the fine dining world to help you navigate your place in the script so this won’t be said about you: “They just don’t get it.”
Now, if you don’t mind playing that unfortunate role or being on the receiving end of that line then okay, may bliss be with you. However, I’ve been thinking of all the dining issues that often take place through the course of the meal—issues that could have been avoided because you planned for good dining. So consider this your own “how-to,” an insiders’ guide to *enlightened dining though improved restaurant karma (© Eat Good Food Group).
I must confess that at times you may not like what you read, nor agree with me.
But here’s hoping we can keep you from starring in your own “that sucked” restaurant story. And I can hopefully keep your fingers from finding their way to those unmoderated restaurant review boards.
I have my own selfish reasons for being so helpful, of course: if I can help you understand how it all really works, ultimately it will make my job much easier. But there is an even greater benefit to you.
By better understanding how restaurants work, you can better learn to enjoy them.
You can start banking restaurant karma before the reservation. Before making that call or launching that Open Table app, just a little bit of research on your part can save you much annoyance and discomfort. So don’t think of it as homework. It’s a five-minute investment to ensure your experience will be the one you intended to pay for—your happiness and debit cards will be in harmony.
Know Who Is Feeding You
Chef’s cooking styles differ. Some are driven by very distinct inspirations. If the tags, “hydrochilled,” “gastro-anything,” or “foodie-trend,” are the buzz words that describe where you want to be, then it’s best to not to dine with us—at least not this time.
Nope, not our style. But if you didn’t know that, unfortunately you’ll spend the whole evening wondering when the kitchen is going to start their side of the theatre by having a waiter spray some dehydrated food “mist” into the air or pop a “side of crazy” into your mouth. And when it doesn’t happen, there it is: dashed expectation. You expected something different, we didn’t deliver. Not because we didn’t want to, or that we lack ability. It’s simply not our thing. The cooking style of our particular kitchen is ingredient driven, not contrivance based. Gizmos are fun and do have their place. Don’t get me wrong, I like eating bacon suspended from a wire as much as the next “show-me-something-new-so I-can-tweet it-first” diner. But even if the world’s best pork belly—fed only on acorns, massaged by the Queen of England, cooked expertly—were served by the most gracious and attentive waiter on a plate, instead of the high wire act, you would be deflated.
And that translates to a letter, or worse an anonymous online review: “I wasn’t that impressed with the menu.”
And now the team of chefs are grossly offended, the hosts flag a not-so-good profile about you, the managers reprimand the wait staff, the owner begrudgingly writes a response letter, and everyone complains to fellow industry mates about the people who “just don’t get it.”
No one wins.
Except for that everyone-loves-them couple—remember them?—who did their research.
Plan To Dine, Not Just Eat
This, too, might seem like a “huh?” statement, but I promise you it is not. For example, dinner for two in Restaurant Eve’s Tasting Room takes at least three hours. It’s a multi-course menu; the pace is intended to be leisurely. Even if you aren’t indulging in a tasting menu and plan to order a la carte, it is always worth asking the reservationist how much time you should plan to allow. Otherwise you just might miss out on a signature yum-yum that takes 20 minutes to make.
Sadly, I’ve seen too many celebrations cut short, guests trying to rush through their courses because the babysitter has to leave by 9:00 p.m.. No matter how special the occasion or how delicious the food, it is almost impossible to relax and enjoy your dinner if you are dining under a deadline.
All that relaxing during dinner feels like it is just taking forever if a later commitment is on your mind. You begin to glare at the couple next to you as they happily chat up the sommelier about their first trip to Bordeaux, and perhaps they should have him select a grand cru from the region because that’s where they got engaged. The sommelier is happy to oblige and share his knowledge of the terroir because, of course, this is his thing. He recently left your table to allow you time to peruse the wine list, because of course you couldn’t possibly be ready. The wait staff are all smiles as they approach you with the glorious amuse course, Hamachi flown in from so-and-so, and all you are thinking is: “What!? We’re not even on the first course!?”
And that translates to a letter, or worse an anonymous online review: “Service took too long.”
And now the team of waiters are grossly offended, the hosts flag a not so good profile about you, the managers reprimand the kitchen, the owner begrudgingly writes a response letter and everyone complains to fellow industry mates about the couple who, “ Just don’t get it.”
No one wins.
Except for … um, that couple who did the research.
In an ideal world every restaurant would have valet service or a garage next door, and some restaurants do.
Because spending 20 minutes searching for street parking, circling and circling, realizing you are going to get a ticket because you don’t even have any quarters, then hobbling over cobblestones in your fancy shoes after you’ve parked in Siberia, can get any evening off to a bad start.
Now you are agitated. You were already running behind to meet your date, who’s now been waiting a total of 30 minutes, and your heels are scuffed from being caught on the cobblestones. (Which, by the way, a guest once complained was our fault.)
The restaurant, too, is in a bit of a predicament. The timing delay has now caused a significant hiccup in the designated seating choreography—the diners who are to occupy the table after you need a table ready when they arrive on time. The host begins the shuffle dance, so it will be yet another few minutes until you are finally seated.
And that translates to a letter, or worse an anonymous online review: “I didn’t have to run around like a maniac, get a ticket and ruin my shoes, because my table wasn’t even ready.”
And now the team of hosts … Well, you know what happens next.
Any one of these scenarios could serve as strike one against the restaurant. And through the course of dinner, as I’ve seen happen again and again, you are subconsciously preparing yourself to find strike two.
It’s human nature. Being a dinner myself, I’ve done it, too.
These are some of the consequences when you neglect your restaurant karma.
No one wins.
Except for that over the moon, everyone loves them couple who are savoring the perfect oysters, onions and osetra they looked forward to all week, knowing it was a house specialty, not worrying about their ticketless car parked in the nearby garage, laughing with the sommelier and toasting each other with champagne since the babysitter isn’t expecting them until they decide it’s time to go home.
Their perfect evening didn’t just happen. It was a direct result of being prepared and having an attitude that creates good karma.
The day I realized this, all my dining experiences changed for the better. And yours can too.
–Meshelle Armstrong, co-owner Restaurant Eve, Eamonn’s a Dublin Chipper, PX, The Majestic, Virtue Feed & Grain, Society Fair. *Edited for truth and consistency by Kate Ahner, my old reservations manager
Original article published in Northern Virginia Magazine