Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big Myth: "Bad night" at a restaurant

 By Jane Feehan

A disappointing restaurant meal can’t be chalked up to a “bad night” any more than an enjoyable one can be credited to a “good night.”

The imperative of any restaurant – any business for that matter – is quality control. It should be embedded in the business plan (hopefully there is one) and carried over to operations and culture - the whole enchilada - of an establishment.  That means quality control of staff (and chef), recipes, ingredients, menus, facilities, cleanliness and much more.

I visited a popular local cafĂ© a few months ago and was turned off by garbage on the floor: straws, empty sugar packets, napkins and the like. Then I looked about the room, saw piles of dirty dishes and left. I heard the food was good, but what was in it? I happened by their outdoor tables the other day, six months hence, and there it was again, garbage strewn about and tables laden with piles of dirty dishes. No quality control – there never was.

Another example: I ordered marinara sauce a few meals ago at an Italian place I used to dine at (and enjoy). It didn't resemble their former version or any that I've seen or eaten elsewhere. This is a staple of any Italian restaurant. And the pasta was mush. Something happened here and it wasn't a bad night. How can the basics be served like this? Is a dirty, sticky salt shaker a sign of a bad night? No quality control. I won't be back.

Can a server have a bad night? A good manager or host should be on top of things to prevent bad service. That’s service from the kitchen to the table and beyond to the check. If the server isn’t up to the job for one night or not trained well enough for the front lines, it’s management’s fault. No quality control.

Some meals may not be enjoyable because one isn’t familiar with the ingredients, was comparing it to someone else’s version or - and I see this a lot – it was more expensive than the diner was comfortable with. It doesn't mean it was bad food.Was it cooked properly and served hot? Plated attractively? If you don't like one course of a meal because it doesn't appeal to you (but seemed to be prepared right), return the food for something else. Good restaurants have no problem with “switching out” a meal. How they handle this request is also a sign of quality control.

But if a meal is truly bad one night, eating at the place is a matter of chance the next. I’ll save gambling for the casino or track, thank you, not a restaurant.

Tags: restaurants, restaurant service, principles of restaurant management.

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