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Jan 8, 2008 02:47 PM

Service with.....? (moved from Boston board)

A general question about restaurant service.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I had dinner at The Dunaway in Portsmouth, NH (thanks to Mr. Bigglesworth for the recommendation – it is indeed worth the trip). We had read on their website that on Friday and Saturday evenings before 6 PM, the “Neighborhood Menu” is offered: your choice of three appetizers, three entrées, and three desserts for $29. Sold!

The Dunaway is located in an old house – excuse me, a restored Colonial house. My partner thought he would have to ring the doorbell to get in. Inside, exposed beams, fireplace, white candles burning on the rafters, slightly In-the-Hall-of-the-Mountain-King in the very classiest way. A Boston Globe review from October 2006 called it “a casual but elegant respite after a day of traipsing around.” It felt warm and homey with just the barest whiff of magical, and chatting with the cheery, affable bartender confirmed these impressions.

The sole discordant note was the service. Our server was truly almost comically obsequious, fawning, speaking like he imagined his words written on the finest paper, backing away from our table, flourishing anything he could. We’re in our early/mid-thirties, not ragamuffins, but hardly swathed in minks. His behavior, in contrast to the warm glowy house setting, made us feel slightly unbuttoned, uncomfortable. This got me wondering. What is his role as a server? If it’s to make the guest feel comfortable, should he have toned down his behavior? If it’s to represent the restaurant, (setting aside the fact that the restaurant is clearly positioned as amazing-food / anti-fanciness), should that goal override making us feel comfortable? I think the question might be restated this way: is the server our host, or the emissary of our host? I guess there are some restaurants that focus on the guests, and some that focus on projecting their own ethos, guest be damned.

And it wasn’t just him – as we were being seated upstairs, all personnel lined up and bade us good evening. It was weird. I certainly don’t see this reduced to the issue of good service or bad service – or do I? What does good service mean to you?

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  1. You stumbled into a taping of the Stepford Wives. Sounds hilarious in the abstract.

    Can't comment, but to offer this quote from the proprietor from the restaurant website:

    The parallels between movies, advertising and the restaurant business are many, as McSharry points out. “Everything is a show, opening night is every night, there is high drama, comedy and passion for a common purpose.”

    1. Sounds like they felt their part was to be "staff" while you were guests at the "Great House."

      1 Reply
      1. re: yayadave

        From an industry POV, I can only imagine that the place has slim pickins for staff when most kids in the area would cut off a digit to have nights off and be working outdoors during the day. At a seemingly seasonable establishment, I don't think expectations should be so high- that being said, good service to me requires a commitment to know your menu, to be enthusiastic about dining in general, and to be an advocate based on my needs (thru server instinct/or common sense) to provide the service that the server would like to receive. I think the best question a GM could ask a new server in an interview would be not "where have you worked" but "wheres the last place you ate, and what happened?".

      2. I loved this story. It makes me want to visit so desperately. I literally would have burst out laughing at the personnel lined up bidding 'good evening'. And I know I wouldn't have been able to contain myself with the flourishing server....backing away from the table? That's hilarious. Perhaps they thought you were the Queen!!

        1. Sounds like what we call in the performance art world - Inivisible Theatre. I LOVE it - how bizarre.
          Very strange - maybe they thought you were a local critic!

          1. "swathed in minks" LOL

            I loved that line. I can see where that would make many people uncomfortable, but perhaps the front of house was reprimanded in a recent critique and were doing a fair bit of "sucking up" in hopes they would not be fired?