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Rant about table space

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Last night, SO and I dined at a fairly pricey euro-cuisine restaurant. Hadn’t been there before. We were seated promptly, according to our reservation time, at a two-top arranged comfortably away from the nearest neighbors. Ordered everything at once since we’d been given plenty of time to peruse the menus.

Appetizer, to share, arrived 20 minutes behind the drinks. Fine. Bread was also placed on the table. We each ordered a salad course; these arrived before we finished picking at the appetizer, not a problem. Once appetizer was finished, plate was picked up promptly. But here’s the problem: moments later the mains arrived. Neither of us was finished with the salads and there was no room for two more plates on the table.

The server whirled everything around, hoping, apparently, that some sleight of hand would produce additional tabletop real estate. He finished, frustrated, with the salad plates askew, the dinner plates hanging inches off the table (direction of our laps), and the bases of the wine glasses tucked inconveniently between salad plates and main plates.

What the heck? I suggested to the server that it would probably be a better idea to serve the mains after the salad plates could be cleared, but he blew me off with a comment about how they prefer to serve the meals as soon as they come up.

We ended up surrendering our unfinished salads---and the bread---in favor of keeping the dinner plates solidly on the table. Am I wrong to have felt annoyed and resentful? Should I have insisted he take back the main plates until we were ready (I shuddered to think what could have happened to them back in the kitchen)? The food was quite good but we won’t be going back.

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  1. You should send the entrees back to the kitchen. Your waiter was unskilled. Poor timing sometimes happens when people eat unexpectedly slowly, like picking at an appetizer for 20-30 minutes, but your server should have figured that out after your salads arrived too early for you, and allowed extra time before firing your mains. The chef is not going to allow anything to "happen" to your food. I swear, I've never EVER seen any staff, at any of the dozen or more restaurants I've worked at, mess with anybody's food or beverage. That stuff might happen at low-end places, I don't know, but staff who do inappropriate things get weeded out or quit long before they become good enough to work anywhere good. The chef also has a lot of say in scheduling servers, a waiter with timing problems won't last long, epecially if s/he causes food waste.

    There are a few restaurants where the kitchen does its own course timing. Palomino is one of them. But your food should have been timed to you, not "sent out as soon as possible". Perhaps your waiter meant that they don't use heat lamps. It's still a timing failure.

    6 Replies
    1. re: waiter X

      While understanding OP's frustration, I really liked your informative response. Are you speaking of Palomino's in Charlotte?

      1. re: Sweet Pea

        Palomino is a chain, within a larger chain, of restaurants. I can only assume that they all operate similarly.

      2. re: waiter X

        In most restaurants, the server has no control over when things come out of the kitchen. The chef will want it to be served hot, and to get it out of the way of the other orders.

        1. re: dinwiddie

          I do not agree with you. in MOST upscale/fine-dining restaurants, the server does have control over how the apps/salads/entrees/desserts are "fired" for the simple reason that guests have different ideas about how food should be "timed" and everyone eats at a different pace. This is part of how you determine good from poor servers.

          1. re: dinwiddie

            not true. in upscale restaurants, one of the server's many jobs is to fire courses appropriately. of course other factors, such as the kitchen being backed up, will come in to play and may cause your food to take longer than expected. in this case, the server never should have put the entrees down on the table and should have brought them back to the kitchen. he was probably just trying to cover his butt because chef's get angry when they see food coming back to the kitchen due to the fact that the server didn't fire his courses appropriately. a lot of times this means the kitchen has to remake the order if it sits around too long, which is just a big waste of money and food.

          2. re: waiter X

            I generally agree with your analysis, and would have sent the mains back, but did want to comment that I interpreted OPs statement about what might happen to the food in the kitchen differently than you did: I'd be worried not that the food might be tampered with (as you imply) but that it would sit around and quality would be impacted...And if that happened, and it came back cold, I'd send it back again!

            I have no sympathy for the restaurant here, regardless of who was at fault: if they are going to ask people to eat at small two tops, they darn well shouldn't put more food on the table than it can hold! (can you tell that inadequate table space is a pet peave of mine?)

          3. Every reputable upscale restaurant should employ an expediter whose job expressly is to ensure that diners courses are served properly paced. Course #5 should never EVER be served while any diner's course #4 is still on the table, unless the diners have specifically so requested.

            If the expediter has done his job, tabletop space difficulties should be minimized. [Notwithstanding, the Grubmeister shares your anger w inadequate tabletop space, particularly in places that compound the problem by using trendy, but oversized, dishes.] For the Grubs, serving more than one course at a time to our table is a cardinal restauranteuring sin & being rushed is cause for considering not returning any time soon.

            1. Suggestion: dump your salad and bread on to your main dish.

              Or when you walk into a restaurant, try to get a big table- table for 4 instead of for 2. Tables for 2 or singles are too small. Sometimes, the waiter will give you a bigger table, depending if it's a busy time at the restaurant.