Last week, I asked a simple question: What's the worst meal you've had in a restaurant that was supposed to be good?
I posed the question because I was feeling a bit pissed off myself. Because I have had more than my share of terrible experiences in restaurants where I should've walked out the door. Matter of fact, I've had my share, your share and the shares of everyone you know. True, I have also had some of the best experiences of my (eating) life while on this job, so I'm not complaining. At least, not much. But jesus... Chi Bistro? Sparrow? How about Christmas at the Denver Aquarium restaurant?
And there was one point where doing this gig almost killed me. Those of you who've read Cooking Dirty already know that story, and trust me: I wasn't exaggerated a bit. If anything, I was less gross than I could've been just for the benefit of those who'd already hung with me through 300-some pages.
Still, I was a little surprised by the responses I got to that Ask the Critic question. Sure, there were the standard three-days-on-the-toilet horror stories, tales of bugs and frozen polenta and one hilarious one from a bartender remembering Mary and Lou's from the '80s, when he went for some corned beef hash, got sick, then went back for more corned beef hash (which, unsurprisingly, made him sick again). But the overwhelming majority of the comments were complaints about service.
Solera got kicked around. So did Mizuna and Brooks Steak House and Pizzeria Colore and Black Cat Bistro and Fruition and Ya Hala and Nine75 and Piscos and the Cherry Cricket and Piscos again. Slow service and rude service, argumentative service and just plain creepy/weird service (one woman told a story about getting yelled at for laughing, while her husband was lectured for not finishing his iceberg lettuce, which I loved) -- Colorado seems to have it all.
And all of that put together does sort of beg the question: Is there something wrong with the service side of the service industry in Colorado? Is there a lack of serious, professional servers in the area? Are even our best restaurants being forced to dip into the well of part-timers and college kids just to get their floors staffed?
Personally, I say yes. I think that Colorado--with its casual, laid-back approach to the dining scene--has begun to suffer from a lack of service professionals capable of being anything but the sort of mid-range, chain restaurant, "Hey, how you guys doing tonight..." kind of waiter or waitress. I think we have a lack of serious training houses where skilled floormen, captains, managers and head servers can be taught the tricks of the trade. And I think there is a mindset out there that says a "service" job of any sort is automatically demeaning -- which is just 180 degrees wrong.
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Service is a noble calling. Welcoming someone into your dining room, seeing to their every need, making them comfortable and relaxed and happy? That can be a wonderful way to make a living. Granted, being a cook is better, but this industry wouldn't run without FOH staff. Plus, a good server in a good house can make some serious bank. Probably a lot more than the (much cooler, wiser and better-looking) cooks in the back are getting. And all for carrying around some soup...
But enough of that. I want to hear what you have to say. Is Denver better or worse when it comes to service than other places you've lived? Do you think the problems with restaurant service here are endemic, or were those comments just sour grapes from people who caught otherwise good houses on an off-night? More important, will one bad service experience turn you off of a restaurant forever, even if you have had good experiences before?
I'd love to hear from some industry people as well. Are you really as sucky as the people of Denver seem to be claiming, or are the people of Denver just a bunch of over-pampered pussies who lose their shit at the least provocation? If you are now or ever have been a waiter, waitress, bartender or floor manager yourself, shout it out proudly.
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