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Mar 19, 2008 09:06 AM

Best Service You Ever Had

Some years ago I was part of a team visiting Los Alamos National Labs, NM reviewing a contract and one night our Lab's host suggested that we go to the nearby town of White Rock for dinner. I can't recall the name of the restaurant but White Rock was quite a small town so this may have been the premier restaurant there. There were about 16 people in our group and after we'd been seated the waitress, in her mid-twenties, came to take our drink order. She never wrote a single thing down. She kept her hands folded in front of her. She stood on one side of the table and started with the person directly opposite her. She simply looked very intently at each diner and nodded her head when the order had been given. The drinks soon arrived on a cart and she flawlessly put every drink in front of the right person. Exact same with the appetizers and then the main courses and last the desserts and coffee. She and a helper arrived with the food plates on a cart and he followed her around the table as she flawlessly served each person. Of course everyone picked up on her procedure which I imagine was some sort of mental association of the diner's appearance and his/her order. Needless to say, she got a massive tip.

So, folks, what really superlative service experiences have you had?

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  1. I once took my boyfriend (now husband) to Jean-Georges for his birthday. I never mentioned that it was his birthday to the staff, but they overheard us talking about it. They brought out a small birthday cake at the end (no singing, thank goodness). While he was kind of embarrassed (he hates a big fuss), it was a nice touch on JG's part.

    1. Mine was several years ago at Aquavit in NYC. Our party was two couples who hadn't seen each other in years and wanted to catch up. Apart from taking our order (and dessert/coffee order) and bringing the check, I don't think we interacted with the servers much because we were so intent on our conversation. Every once in a while I would look down and realize a plate had come or gone. My water and wine glasses were never empty, but I literally never noticed anyone coming or going. It was completely and utterly seamless.

      On other occasions at the same restaurant, when I was less focused on my dining companions, service had been very friendly, even chatty, explaining dishes in detail, talking about different wines, etc.

      To me, that's the mark of really good service-- servers who can read tables and adjust to the needs of individual diners.

      1. One Chinese restaurant lunch in 1990 sticks out above all other meals in terms of best service ever. I forget the restaurant name but it was (is?) on Rt.3 near West Chester, PA. It was almost identical to ThaiNut's experience.

        Twelve of us entered to take the large main table. Once seated and having reviewed the menu, a Chinese waiter with a weathered face who appeared to be at least 70, quietly inquired as to our orders. He intently studied our faces as we talked and stood hands behind without writing a thing. The 12 soups were out within two minutes (with all 12 on his tray) and promptly distributed. The main courses were even more spectacular as he arrived with four plates on each arm and you could hear the stir fried entrees still sizzling. He adeptly distributed each plate and rushed back for the remaining four. We sat with dropped jaws. Tea and water were replenished when necessary and special requests were attended to with just a cursory glance in his direction. He was probably the most professional waiter I've ever encountered and he, too, got a wad of a cash tip from his stunned patrons.

        "Helicopter waiters" make me uncomfortable with their hovering and need to fill my water glass after every sip. Attitude will drive me away for good. But the professionalism of this one elderly Chinese waiter with his astounding memory, physical agility and receptiveness to the slightlest nuance of a patron's needs clearly established his service as "best ever."

        6 Replies
        1. re: Chefpaulo

          410 Bank Street in Cape May NJ last September. Memorable service (the young man was the son of a chef) and the usually incredible meal to be found in this, one of our favorite restaurants -- everything was perfect.

          1. re: dolores

            Yes, 410 Bank St. was another spectacular meal, just about a year after my aforementioned Chinese experience. Superb service.

            That reminds me of the only time I went to Chef Vola's in A.C. The waiter took a full 10 minutes to review the list of specials for the evening, each described in succulent detail. His service and the meal were...well...that's why no one ever talks about it. Great secrets are best kept.

            1. re: Chefpaulo

              Chefpaulo, I've not read of too many folks who know 410.

              Based on the fact that you like them, I'll have to add Chef Vola's to my 'must try' list if I travel down that way. Thanks.

              1. re: dolores

                Dolores, Chef Vola's is a "private" restaurant. There's no phone listing and there's no sign outside. It is in the basement of a private home on a sidestreet of A.C. marked only by some white Christmas lights along the fence. For a summer dinner, you must reserve 4 to 6 months in advance. I know I have a card here and am trying to find it for you. It was a favorite hangout of Sinatra and the Ratpack as well as dozens of other celebrities whose photos line the stairway down to the basement. I hope it is still in business as I was there in late October of 12 years ago. Still, we had to reserve in August.


                1. re: Chefpaulo

                  WOW! I have to eat my words! I just Googled Chef Vola to check in. Chef Vola's is now public and even Zagat rated - 111 South Albion Place in A.C. I guess the secret is out after 12 years but I hope that doesn't mean quality has changed.

                  1. re: Chefpaulo

                    Wow, how funny. Yes, I found it on Google and thought from the picture that the family looked like they meant business, i.e., were serious about their food.

                    Chefpaulo, you'll have to visit again and let us all know.

        2. Chanterelle in NYC. My mom and I walked in by accident not knowing the price point and quality of restaurant we were entering. After gulping and checking her wallet, and taking a deep breath, my mom decided we should have a treat and stay. We were in jeans and this was our first fine dining experience (back when I was in college). Obviously, we had no reservation, but they were able to seat us almost right away with a warning that we might have to finish up in an hour and a half because of existing reservations. The hour and a half came and went and we weren't rushed a bit. We were treated wonderfully throughout dinner despite our outfits and despite our price-staring. We were never made to feel uncomfortable and were treated like any other guests. I still haven't made it back...

          1 Reply
          1. re: Lucia

            We were dining in Chanterelle about 11 or 12 years ago, and I'll never forget it. During the meal, our waiter was stationed some six feet or so away from the table as silent and unobtrusive as a potted plant. Moi, having had a wee bit much of the grape, dropped my fork as I was attempting to replace it plate-side. This guy actually made a diving catch of the thing before it hit the floor, and without a word produced another and receded back into the woodwork. Now that's service!

          2. Of course places like The Inn at Little Washington...service was incredible but that is to be expected. Some 'surprise above and beyond' what was expected were two similar events at two separated restaurants. One was a place called Seasons which is no longer here since the chef moved to NC, but he made a signature dish called Lobster Americana and it was hubby single favorite dish in town. Lobster tail stuffed with crab and scallops with a lovely 'not to heavy' cream sauce. One night the chef noticed our name on the reservation list and saved the last order for Dh and he always made it 'extra special' for him with tons of crab, etc.

            We had a similar thing happen at another local place, One North Belmont, where the maitre'd noticed our name and ensure my favorite Dover Sole would be available.