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Jul 9, 2008 04:46 PM

A must read for Chowhounds!

As I review the various postings regarding restaurants, it seems to me that service issues represent an extremely significant portion of restaurant-goers complaints. I have always thought that excellent and caring service, can make up for many problems which the restaurant kitchen may have.

I have always been extremely fond of Danny Meyer's restaurants in New York. Indeed, Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe are almost always considered to be among the top five most popular restaurants in New York. Although they both serve great food, it is the service that makes these (and other Danny Meyer restaurants) special. I have just finished reading "Setting the Table" written by this amazing restauranteur. This is really a terrific book, not only for those of us who are interested in restaurants, but indeed for anyone working in a service industry. Danny's bottom line is that when hiring staff, he always places people skills way ahead of technical skills. The former can never be taught, whereas the latter can! This is one outstanding book!

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  1. Sounds good for those in the industry. However, good service for me would never make up for problems in the kitchen.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mpalmer6c

      My point is that there have been many times when I have had a pleasant evening when the food has been just good but, the service excellent...however for me, if the service is bad, no matter how good the food leaving the kitchen is, the experience is significantly tainted...bad service can result in cold food, incorrect orders, and an unpleasant feeling that no matter how good the kitchen is, the ultimate outcome is not great.

      I have a feeling that I am not expressing myself as well as I should, but hopefully you will get the gist of what I am saying.

      1. re: josephnl

        >>bad service can result in cold food, incorrect orders, and an unpleasant feeling that no matter how good the kitchen is, the ultimate outcome is not great.

        >>I have a feeling that I am not expressing myself as well as I should, but hopefully you will get the gist of what I am saying.

        Absolutely, josephnl. You are 100% correct. The food can be divine, but bad service from the server, owner or manager is a deal breaker.

    2. I picked up "Setting the Table" after a fellow 'Hound recommended it in a thread after I commented about a restaurant that really seemed to care. I really enjoyed the book. I think it helped that we are both native St. Louisans, so his early biography was particularly interesting. The book did get a bit repetitive in the second half, but it is replete with fun anecdotes and lessons on how to transform mistakes and problems into opportunities to make even more memorable experiences in correcting them. If you go to some of the resellers on, you can purchase the book for little more than the mailing fee.

      For a very entertaining account of serving in several different milieus, from family diner to country club to cocktails to finer dining, I also enjoyed "Waiting" by Debra Ginsberg.

      1. I haven't read the book, so I'll reserve comment on its value. But I just cannot imagine the situation you're talking about, where good service makes up for less than expected food. I've had the best service in the world in business situations and world class restaurants, and have left pissed off about the food. On the other hand, I've had rude waiters that served me the best dry-aged porterhouse ever, and I hardly ever notice how rude they are until later, when I think about it. In my youth, I worked both FOH and BOH and while I honor the hard work that goes on up front, and always leave big tips because I know what it's about, I've never grown to respect a maitre d' or a head waiter in the way I would a chef. I just don't value what they do for my meal as much as what the chef and his staff do. Sommeliers... maybe.

        35 Replies
        1. re: applehome

          Perhaps we will disagree on this, but...

          There is a local restaurant that I frequent regularly which serves dependably good to very good food (not great food !) and where the service is terrific and the ambiance pleasant. I always...without fail...have an enjoyable evening when I go there.

          There are at least three restaurants which immediately come to mind in southern CA where the chef is very skilled and has a wonderful reputation, but where I have had very poor meals (and indeed I will not return) because of bad service. It doesn't matter how well the food has been prepared if the servers let it get cold before serving it, Additionally, at least for me, it is very difficult to say that I've had an enjoyable evening when either I or my guests have been treated badly by a restaurant's management or staff, and unfortunately this happens more than it should.

          Of course the ideal restaurant should have both excellent food and service, but at least for me, without good service it's rare to have an enjoyable experience. You might enjoy reading Setting the Table. Danny Meyer is a very smart man and he owns two of the most superb and popular restaurants in the country.

          1. re: josephnl

            Oh I totally agree with you. We just went to a place last night for the 4th time, and every time we've been, there has been some bizarreness from the FOH. It's just such a turnoff. The food is very good, and we'd like to frequent it, but it's become almost laughable and it ruins the whole evening.
            On the other hand, I wouldn't go to a place only for great service if the food wasn't up to our expectations, but I know what you are saying about those places with dependable tasty food with nice ambiance and pleasant service.
            I've heard about the book you are recommending and it sounds good! I recently read the one by the Per Se waitress (Service Included) and enjoyed it.

            1. re: josephnl

              We'll just have to agree to disagree. I'm sure it's just a matter of perspective. I just don't think that a great service experience is ever a lasting memory - food, on the other hand, will stick in there - either good or bad.

              Some of my favorite food experiences around the world have been at hole in the walls, street carts, and places where American standards of cleanliness have no meaning, never mind anybody's standards of service. I have little concept of service affecting my complete enjoyment of the food.

              In my memory of the best restaurants I've eaten at, sits an experience at Locke-Ober's (pre-Lydia Shire) in Boston. The whitest linen, the fastest water refills or the most smiling and informative waiter's happy responses could not have possibly made up for the burnt, dry, tasteless chop I was served. The kitchen had gone downhill, and the last remaining aspects of their fame was the service - it did nothing at all to make me feel in any way good about the meal. The place has since been totally remade by Lydia Shire, so please don't take away that it's this way today.

              I simply don't understand your desire to frequent a place that has great service but mediocre food. I only frequent places with great food and I don't care if it has great or poor service. A Mexican place near me that was one of my favorites, and that I had touted (here and elsewhere) has gone downhill - they have decided that they can cheapen and gringofy their food and still maintain their clientele by making sure that their waiters are friendly and their margaritas are big and cold. Well - I no longer tout them, and certainly won't bother driving there any more. Without the basic product excellence, service sells nothing.

              1. re: applehome

                Perhaps communicating via message boards exaggerates our differences. I'm sure we are not totally on the same page, but we may not be that far apart.

                I absolutely agree with you that some of the very best food I have had, has been at holes in the wall; street carts in Thailand, unseemly places in Hong Kong or elsewhere, roadside diners and even hot dogs from carts in New York. But at these places, food is cheap and there is no expectation of anything other than good food, and although service may be essentially non-existent, there is no attitude or rudeness generally projected.

                Nevertheless, I can honestly say that in restaurants in the states, no matter how good the food may be, if I or my guests are treated badly, it is very difficult for me to say that I have had a pleasant evening. And conversely, I have had very pleasant evenings at restaurants that serve good, but not necessarily outstanding food, where the ambiance and service have been good.

                1. re: josephnl

                  In the states - in Massachusetts - here in the Boston area - you can go to Chi-chi's, and get standardized waitron service - attentive, clean, well mannered, happy people (presumably), serving you their safe and pleasing (they know because they focus group tested it) quesadillas, nachos and chimichanga burritos (beef or chicken!). Or you can go to Taqueria Mexico, virtually a hut with a wooden floor, 20 year old worn tables, and hispanic waiters that don't speak a lot of English (or don't want to) and will treat you especially bad because you're a gringo (the rest of the customers are mostly hispanic and get treated just normally bad). The table isn't fully set. You have to ask for the missing utensils 3 times and then your modelo 3 more times. The waiter just disappears. Water is not automatically provided or refilled. You have to tell them that they forgot the extra jalapenos. But the menudo is delicious and warms you to the bone - especially after you put in a few teaspoons of the chilli peppers they gave you on the side.. The smell of the small soft tacos, with lengua and incredible carnitas is just making you wolf it down faster than you should. The rice is real! Not instant par-boiled from a box! And the beans... oh the beans... enough lard to choke a horse - but the taste is just amazing.

                  Ok. Your choice: Which is your frequent stop? Service or food?

                  1. re: applehome

                    You all obviously have not eaten in China yet. I mean local Chinese style. Nobody expects any service, and when we do, it hardly seems appreciated.

                    We all want to be serviced in life. Even the best food in the world can lose some of its charm when treated poorly, but not if we expect not to be treated poorly.

                    Which brings me back to ranting about leaving tips for not being serviced more than what we deserve. Obviously, when encountering great service, I feel more generous in my pocket and my palette. But an average service?

                    1. re: applehome

                      Seems like a false dichotomy to me. I don't think anyone (besides you) is arguing that one is more important than the other, but rather that service is part of the overall package.

                      Look, I can cook and serve myself pretty darn good food (including tacos de lengua and real rice and lard-laden frijoles) at home for 1/2 the price of eating out. And aggravation? I can get that for free.

                      So, I don't see the point in paying a premium for the privilege of being abused, insulted, or ignored (unless that's one's kink). Likewise, I don't see the need to leave the house to eat mediocre food.

                      If a sit-down restaurant can't deliver both good food and a basic level of hospitality, what exactly am I paying extra for?

                      1. re: hohokam

                        Actually, the underpinning principle the OP suggests as a reason to post this is that service can make up for, ie be more important than, food issues.

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          Hmm...I didn't read it that way, but I can see how one could get that.

                          My take was that disappointment over the occasional kitchen goof or less than perfect execution of the food can be assuaged by skillful FOH practices, not that a consistently bungling kitchen can be saved by a server's sweet talk.

                          Maybe the OP intended the latter rather than the former, but my initial reading didn't lead me to that conclusion.

                          1. re: ccbweb

                            You have misunderstood me. I am the OP, and if you want a clearer explanation of what I mean...see my posting of 8:37 am today and wittlejosh's earlier posting of this morning. We have gotten far away from my original intention which was to recommend Danny Meyer's book. He is probably NYC's most successful restauranteur, and I think he has it right when it comes to the importance of service. Of course if the food is poor, no amount of service can make it right!

                          2. re: hohokam

                            Got a good recipe for lengua you want to share on the home cooking side? My attempts have been pretty bland - there's got to be a "secret" to good tongue.

                      2. re: applehome

                        >>I just don't think that a great service experience is ever a lasting memory

                        But bad service is. One of my favorite restaurants to hate had decent food but the service was insufferably rude and incompetent both times I tried it. Since the owner was indifferent to the rudeness and incompetence, I will happily denigrate this restaurant until it closes.

                        Service over food. Wins every time.

                        1. re: dolores

                          "Service over food. Wins every time."

                          I can't think of a statement that, to me, has less to do with this site than any I've heard before. From the original Chowhound manifesto (please note the last sentence), "We're not talking about foodies. Foodies eat where they're told; they eagerly follow trends and rarely go where Zagat hasn't gone before. Chowhounds, on the other hand, blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure. They despise hype, and while they appreciate refined ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by mere flash."

                          This site was and still should be about food.

                          1. re: dolores

                            As long as the food is decent, I agree. Hoever, no level of service can rescue garbagy food.

                            Also service is not a consideration for street food where absolutely superb food can be served without any presence or service whatseover. I've had some of my very best foods at night markets in Thailand, and thru window at holes in the wall in the U.S.

                            1. re: josephnl

                              So tell me this - if you're willing to accept "no service" for excellent food, why is it such an issue for eating mediocre food in a restaurant? Is it simply a matter of money - I'm paying for service, and by golly it had better be good!

                              Service is a matter of putting up with someone delivering food to you. As a person that alleges serious interest in food, nothing ought to stand in your way of that pleasure - not even a bumbling food server. If the food is really good, then let the server bumble away - appreciate the food for what it is, and give credit to the people who created it - the chef and his staff. You give way too much credit and power to people who have nothing to do with the food, other than to bring it to you - you allow them to ruin your evening, and if the food is really good, that just doesn't make any sense.

                              KT is right. At the heart of this argument is the basic difference in going out to eat for the pleasure of the experience - the company and the ambiance. etctec., and the pleasure of actually eating something magnificent - enjoying the flavors, smells, textures - enhanced by your knowledge of the skills and creativity used to make that presentation. If the goal is to have a nice evening eating out, service matters, and Meyer's book is important, and restaurateurs and the like are more or equally as important than the chefs themselves. If the goal is to eat delicious food, all that matters is what's on the plate, and the person who put it there. Historically, Chowhound has celebrated the latter. Times are, indeed, changing.

                              1. re: applehome

                                I am getting tired of this. I guess I am not very good at making myself understood, but I'll try one more time.

                                I enjoy excellent food at street fairs, night markets in
                                Thailand, or even some fast food windows in the United States. There is no expectation of service or ambiance at any of these, and indeed the cost generally takes that into account. These can present very enjoyable experiences.

                                I do not enjoy eating at restaurants that serve either mediocre food or have poor service.

                                I have had many pleasant dinners at restaurants that serve good to very good food (7-8/10) where the ambiance is pleasant and I am treated well.

                                Conversely, I have had very unpleasant dinners at restaurant (not street fairs!) where the cost is high, the kitchen very capable of putting out the best there is, the ambiance terrific, but the front of the house rude, uncaring and pretentious.

                                My point is that the very best dining experience can be totally ruined by rude, uncaring servers. On the other hand, good servers can often correct kitchen errors, and turn an otherwise unsatisfactory meal into a good one. If there is a good attitude, these errors can be turned into positive experience for all!

                                This is getting too complicated, but this is how I feel. I'm now regretting starting this chain which has gone far afield from my intention of recommending what I think is a very good book I'm sure others will disagree totally with me, but this is how I feel, and I probably will not reply again on this string.

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  Don't let the flip side of the coin get you down, Joseph. This is just the philosophical give and take that is normal for a group of highly opinionated lovers of food (and service). For what it's worth there are restaurants we go to more for the service than the food. The food is not bad, mind you. It's just not stellar. But great service can make an evening less stressful. And on some Fridays, when it ought to be more properly named "Fried Days" we like nothing better than to be coddled by one of our favorite waiters and go home and fall into bed.

                                  1. re: Servorg

                                    Agree totally...indeed that's pretty much my whole point!

                                    1. re: josephnl

                                      Well, since you posted again, let me try one more time. It is nice that you and Servorg and Delores enjoy great service. I would do nothing to take that enjoyment away from you (or anybody else).

                                      But the real issue here is that you posted A MUST READ FOR CHOWHOUNDS, (which immediately draws attention from chowhound readers such as me), that has very little to do with the actual chowhound philosophy which celebrates delicious food over everything else. Chowhound wasn't created to share nice eating experiences, it was created to share deliciousness. I understand that recent growth has brought about a shift from the original narrow focus, and perhaps it's true that even a majority of folks today actually prefer great service to great food, and would indeed value a book about great service written by a restaurateur as much as one about food written by an actual chef. But even if that's true, and I stand with the older, well-established minority, I stand representing an important tradition - that deliciousness trumps all. To us, service is always a secondary component, like good company or great conversation. Whether at street carts or fine dining places, in eateries in Taiwan, India, Paris or Hoboken, there is no difference in terms of the real goal of the night - delicious food.

                                      To argue that well, it's not always delicious, but it's a good experience anyway, because the service was good - well - that's nice, but it just won't sell to many of us here.

                                      1. re: applehome

                                        I think you're misinterpreting the OP's view. He (?) wasn't saying that the food wasn't delicious. Unless you are implying that Chowhound is only about food that rates a 10 on a scale of one to 10, then the OP's view is right in the spirit of Chowhound. Food that rates a 7 can still be delicious.

                                        Also, Chowhound is a board in which people talk about their food experiences. It's not a cult or a religion in which everyone had better keep their priorities straight, or else risk incurring the wrath of the elders. (Or: Shouldn't be.) Just because sometimes service figures into the entire dining experience doesn't mean it's less a "Chowhound opinion." Good food is not created in a vacuum, and anyone who denies that a nasty-tempered manager doesn't tinge their views on the food isn't very convincing to me.

                                        And besides: You can get good service at a dirty food cart in a parking lot. It's not just about white tablecloths.

                                        Plus, there's no need to be sarcastic and speak for the majority (or older, well established minority, even...). If you're not interested, don't participate in the thread. But I'd say the OP will find many to "sell" his views on service to on this board.

                                        1. re: wittlejosh

                                          Thank you witlejosh! We are on the same page, and I am sure that you will find the book) written by one of the most successful retauranteurs in the country) to which I referred very interesting.

                                          applehome and KT, I would appreciate your referring me to the "official statement/manifesto of chowhound philosophy" which you quote.

                                          1. re: wittlejosh

                                            You should probably re-read the manifesto as well.

                                            "I think you're misinterpreting the OP's view. He (?) wasn't saying that the food wasn't delicious."

                                            He's saying that service always trumps food, regardless of deliciousness. No? Read this from above:

                                            "...however for me, if the service is bad, no matter how good the food leaving the kitchen is, the experience is significantly tainted..."

                                            And back to your post:

                                            "And besides: You can get good service at a dirty food cart in a parking lot. It's not just about white tablecloths."

                                            That misses the point, which is that service is irrelevant in the single-minded pursuit of deliciousness, not that it comes in different forms.

                                            I wouldn't have participated in a thread that advertised a service discussion or a book review of a restaurateur's advice on how to sell food with service. I would have skipped right over that topic, just as I have to skip over so many, many others these days. But instead, I see "A Must Read For Chowhounds", so of course, I was drawn in. I am an avid reader of food books - not restaurant books, or tell-alls by waitresses, but books that can introduce me to the mind of a great food creator, or teach me cooking skills, tools, ingredients, etc.

                                            I cannot agree that this book, and this message, is a must read for chowhounds - even if it suits some. I do agree that this is a big tent - anybody can say anything they want (pretty much), even or especially when they disagree. I just did.

                                            1. re: applehome

                                              "That misses the point, which is that service is irrelevant in the single-minded pursuit of deliciousness, not that it comes in different forms."

                                              Do you really believe that service is irrelevant? No matter the level of dining? That would mean that no matter how inept, uncaring or rude the service was - keeping you waiting an hour or more past the reserved time for your table or forgetting to bring out one of your party's dinners until everyone else was finished eating or seating you at a tiny table by the bathrooms where your chair kept getting run into even though there were other tables available - wouldn't have a significant negative impact on your meal?

                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                They cut another post - I have no idea what I put in that one that caused the heavy hand of the censor to fall... let me try again.

                                                Yes, service is irrelevant if your goal is delicious food. Service is relevant, if your goal is a good dining experience. Meyers is selling good dining experiences, and lots of people are buying it, including many from Chowhound. They'll even buy his book about how he made millions selling people good dining experiences, I'm sure.

                                                But if you follow the basic tenets of Chowhoundism and search for new deliciousness, you may find it before the crowd. You will find it before Meyers has bought it from the chef that created the deliciousness and made it into a great place to find a good dining experience. If not, even if you come late to the party, as long as the food is still delicious - and this has nothing at all to do with scales of 10 - it has to do with your judgment of something really desirable to put in your mouth - then long waits, seats by the bathroom, having to sit all night to reorder, are all irrelevant. These are all things I have endured and quickly forgotten about when the delicious food I sought hit my mouth.

                                                Are there times when the food doesn't come out, or it is simply not as delicious as promised or as remembered? Yes. And then, I squarely blame the chef - no one else. The chef is responsible for deliciousness, whether he's grilling sticks of meat over a hibachi on a cart in Tokyo, or preparing multi-course dinners in NYC or Paris.

                                        2. re: josephnl


                                          last night the jfood went to one of their favorite restaurants. The service was basically non-descript, take the order, ask how everything is and bring the check. The food is 5-star over the top.

                                          But to the point of your OP. This is a 2x2 matrix:

                                          good food/good = great night
                                          good food/bad service = could go either way
                                          bad food/good service = could go either way
                                          bad food/bad service = customer goes the other way

                                      2. re: josephnl

                                        >>My point is that the very best dining experience can be totally ruined by rude, uncaring servers.

                                        Exactly what I meant. Thank you for clarifying. You're 100% correct.

                                      3. re: applehome

                                        re: "As a person that alleges serious interest in food, nothing ought to stand in your way of that pleasure - not even a bumbling food server."

                                        Well, one of my definitions of good service is the ability to tell me what the good dishes are. I want frank, knowledgable and serious chowhoundish advice from my waiter. I want them to know who the best line cooks are and who's cooking at what station that evening. That means knowing if the regular fish guy is out with the flu, and the salad guy is just covering for him/her; that the guy at the roasting station is green and fresh out of culinary school or that the chef him/herself is working a certain station and that's going to be better that usual. I want them to have tasted all the dishes and be willing to make an informed if opinionated decision about what's the most delicious, what the chef considers their signature dishes. If there's an off the menu dish that is awesome, I want the waitstaff to tell me about it. If there's a menu in a foreign language, I wnt them to help me translate and give me their picks. Service at this level rarely happens, it's above and beyond what most people and places expect. But that's what I think of as great service -- optimising deliciousness for the diner.

                                        1. re: limster

                                          Wow. My first reaction was, has this ever happened to you? But then I thought that it has in fact happened to me. Never at a fine dining place, even in Paris, with presumably professional waiters. But at a local Sichuan place - and not by the waiter, but by the owner. He gave me a blow by blow, even describing the skillsets of his staff and the quality of his ingredients. And he was pretty frank - it wasn't just a sales pitch. He is rarely there any more since he's opened up another place, and the woman that takes care of the FOH is friendly but not nearly as forthcoming with the information.

                                          The place gets overwhelmed on some weekend nights - I try not to go there then, but sometimes I'm just nearby or just have to have some great dan-dan noodles. The service is terrible. The wait is prolonged and there is no room to wait. But the food is still every bit as good. Afterwards, I quickly forget about the prolonged wait. (My mouth is still glowing and I can't think about anything else but the deliciousness that was in there not long ago.)

                                          But I never go there on Tuesdays. That's when the chef is off. Even the bamboo shoots suffer - the sauce is just not the same. And btw, I figured that one out without the owner or anyone else telling me.

                                          So ultimately, the insider knowledge is wonderful, but the service doesn't affect the food, and it doesn't change my perspective of why and how I should seek deliciousness. This dream waiter you speak of isn't going to happen except, as you say, in the rarest of occasions.

                                          You're really talking about another source of information - Chowhound is a source, Zagat is a source. These could all be construed as being part of a service function, and valued as such. But it's not at all the same as assessing the real value of service associated with eating at any dining establishment. Optimising deliciousness is still the function of the chef.

                                          Let me ask this. If the waiter didn't provide you with all the information you listed, would you blame bad service for ending up with lousy food? I would blame the chef.

                                          1. re: applehome

                                            Yep, they're essentially all real life examples, although not all in one place and not all one waitperson. To go even further, I've had friends that get phone calls from they favourite restaurants when special ingredients come in.

                                            It turns out that this level of dream service, like my dream dumplings, happens only in rare occasions. Thus, all the more important to seek out. (Although the part about translating menus happens a lot.)

                                            Service doesn't affect the food (insofar as they're brought to the table in a timely manner in one piece), but having a waitstaff who can essentially provide the ins and outs of the kitchen can make the different between getting the chef's best dish or 2nd best dish. That's what I mean by optimising deliciousness.

                                            I have followed one or two great waitstaff from restaurant to restaurant; those with great taste often seek out places with great food to work at, because that's where customers usually go.

                                            But I don't always take their word for granted and I will override recommendations based on personal preferences/cravings. If there's an opportunity, I will try the stuff they didn't recommend (either off a dining companion's plate or in another meal). That's how I assess the value of their service.

                                            That's also how I figure out whether to blame the chef or the waitstaff. (It's also evident that the waitstaff is at fault when I ask about what the best dishes are and get a blanket "everything is good" -- if they're all truly equally good, I'd love to hear what makes each dish good, so that I can decide on what to get.)

                                            And sure, it's not the usual stuff that most people associate with good service, or what they value in waitstaff, but that's what I value and seek out.

                                      4. re: josephnl

                                        Agree, josephnl.

                                        KTinNYC, I have no idea what you're talking about. If you actually think indifferent rude service is acceptable because of a place's good food, I salute you and everyone else who patronize such a place. But thanks for the compliment, I appreciate it.

                                2. re: applehome

                                  I agree with you, applehome, on this one. I was thinking about this in terms of how I'd tell someone about my meal the next day. After dinner at a restaurant with excellent service but less than excellent food (good food, sure, but not special) I'd likely tell a friend the next day something like "it's a nice enough place, but the food wasn't exciting. I'd go back if I heard the food got better or if they get a new chef." If I'd been to a place with horrid service but spectacular food the conversation is more likely going to be something along the lines of "oh man, the service was just comically bad but the oyster gratin was life changing, you've got to try it."

                                  For me, truly great food stands out and sticks in my mind while bad service will fade away. To the OP's idea that good service can make up for problems in the kitchen; I agree insofar as those problems are timing issues or mistakes made that need to be corrected (ie, incorrect temperature on a steak or fish, etc). But if the problem, ultimately, is that the food on the plate doesn't taste great then service can't overcome that for me.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    I sort of see both sides. There are a number of restaurants where the food is about a 7 or an 8 but the excellent front-of-the-house makes me return there more often than a place with 9 or 10 food but less than stellar service.

                                    Places like Eastern Standard (in Boston) come to mind. Subtract the gorgeous ambience and terrific front-of-the-house, you're just left with solid-but-not-transporting food. But the rest of the factors bump it up to one of my favorite places to eat in the city.

                                    By contrast, there have been Ken Oringer restaurants with some of the best cooking I've tried in the city but where the front of the house continually drops the ball.

                                    I also think that some of us aren't talking about the textbook-perfect, fold-your-napkin-when-you're-in-the-bathroom variety when we're referring to great service. At least speaking for myself, I mean knowledgable servers who seem to believe in their product (the food) and who seem engaged with making the meal comfortable and seamless.

                                    1. re: wittlejosh

                                      I am the OP, and you wittlejosh have stated my position mucy more clearly than I guess I have. I agree with you totally. Sure, the best service in the world cannot make up for bad food, but with good, dependable and not necessarily outstanding food (7 or 8), excellent service can go a long way to make the experience very pleasurable. Conversely, bad service and attitude can detract enormously from the enjoyment of food that has been perfectly prepared by the kitchen.

                                      We have gotten far away from my original intention which was to recommend Danny Meyer's wonderful book "Setting the Table" which I think should be a must read for anyone working in the hospitality industry.

                                      1. re: josephnl

                                        Joseph, I think you have expressed yourself very clearly from the beginning and I am amazed at the controversy. I definitely feel that even a great meal can be ruined by poor service. It is the hospitality industry and customers should feel well taken care of from being greeted at the door through getting their coats. That is Danny Meyer's philosophy and one of the keys to his success. I will get his book.