Pilot Light: May I Suggest…?
Ariane Batterberry - September 2013
Back in June I devoted my letter to the miseries suffered by diners in very loud restaurants. At the time, it was a conversational matter, but it has since become a hot topic for the press. In July, “Why Restaurants Are So Damn Loud” was a feature story in New York Magazine. Adam Platt, their reviewer, didn’t mince words: “…ask any gastronaut about the single most disruptive restaurant trend over the past decade or so, and they’ll give you a succinct, one-sentence answer. It’s the noise, stupid.” And now I hear that Bloomberg News gives decibel levels in its restaurant reviews, which might even cause the loss of a star. You’ve been warned.
You must forgive me for airing a few more gripes while I’m at it, and I want to suggest some ways to improve your guests’ experience at no or little cost. Here are a few of the “dos” and “don’ts” that are on my mind, the result of a great deal of sitting and ordering this last year: Do insist that your waitstaff have eyes in the back of their heads, and respond accordingly. They should come to the rescue whenever possible, even for tables not their own. I recently enjoyed the aroma of my rapidly chilling soup, armed only with a knife and fork. When my desperate gestures finally caught someone’s eye, she came over and sweetly explained that she was not my waitress, and walked away. I was put in mind of David McCord’s epitaph for a waiter: “By and by, God caught his eye.” Catching the waiter’s eye should not require divine intervention. Do tell your waitstaff to accompany any plates to be shared with the appropriate serving cutlery. Otherwise, a dish, carefully prepared by an immaculate staff in rubber gloves and hairnets, may be shared with the greasy used utensils of a guest who has just told the table she is coming down with the flu. Also, with such dishes, do try to have the multiples match the number of diners at the table. Don’t serve two people three dripping mini enchiladas. Be generous—give them four. Do have pillows on hand for every need, from back pain to diminutive stature. Do tell the local phone company to list your restaurant. It used to be automatic, but these days, with so many different carriers, you may not be listed unless you request listing. And while you’re at it, if you request confirmation the day of the reservation, be sure people don’t have to wait on the phone for 20 minutes just to assure you they’re coming. This is a rare instance where a machine comes in handy. Don’t overdo the air conditioning. Refrigerated customers shivering over rapidly congealing food aren’t what you want. I have long felt that a national minimum temperature for air-conditioning would be one of the best ways to save the planet. And do offer a shawl for those who need it.
With regard to the dish itself, our editors urge you to place enough of a dish’s ingredients on the plate to make a real impact on the flavor. A tiny dot of pepper aïoli or Guanaja chocolate sauce, or a mere sprinkling of Himalayan pink finishing salt or ground pistachio as from a fairy’s wand may not do the trick.
Ariane Batterberry, Founding Editor/Publisher