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Sep 3, 2008 04:04 PM

What has happened to service in NY?

My wife and I just returned from our 37th trip in the last 20 years. We go mainly for the theater, shopping and to eat. Of course, shopping has slipped a lot in NY during that time due to the movement into the City (and the proliferation) of big national chains and the demise of so many smaller interesting places. There is little left that is even the slightest bit unique.
However, it was not until this trip that we ever came across the giant corporate chain restaurant service designed to put hicks at ease, that is so commonplace nearly everyplace elsewhere in America these days. For the very first time we got the phony-friendly first name introduction treatment by a waiter (and it happened four times!) at Orso, Trattoria dell'Arte, Keen's Steak House and Del Frisco. And we got even got the "I'll be taking care of you" spiel at the last three. I guess this could be expected to happen at Del Frisco, as I discovered that it was a part of a small national chain. At Aurora in Soho we were called "guys" six times and were told to "have a good one," when we departed. Luckily, we also went to Katz's deli and got the same gruff NY service that we have come to love. We did not try the Palm, which used to be the same way.

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  1. I know what you mean about the stock phrases. My least favourite is "Are you still working?" to mean "should I clear?" I do not consider eating work and find it a gross turn of phrase. Also the "you guys" thing is so Cheesecake Factory. It's what has happened to the eating public, too. Servers don't need to be particularly sophisticated, because the general public is less and less so. NYC diners used to be worlds more savvy and discerning than what walks in the door at most venues these days. The foreign tourists and newcomers to the whole NY scene are rubes for the most part and receive like service.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sing me a bar

      "Still working on that?" goes hand-in-hand with removing plates before everyone at the table has finished, which annoys the hell out of me. And I really don't care to know the server's name. If I need something I should be able to flag down anyone, and "waiter!" should be sufficient to get someone's attention. Unfortunately many customers seem to prefer this behavior and like to think they are "bonding", having long distracting chats with the staff.

      1. re: rrems

        'Still working on that?' goes hand-in-hand with 'Would you like something to wash that down with?'. Ah, food as work and, in fact, so awful, you need to force it down with a gushing torrent of whatever beverage you fancy. Just get it down and done!

        I've always wanted a salad or digestif offered at the end of a meal with a 'Would you like something to push this on through?'

        1. re: greedygirl

          From Encarta:

          rube [ roob ] (plural rubes)



          an offensive term for somebody who is regarded as naive or unsophisticated, especially somebody from a rural area who is not used to city ways ( slang )

          [Late 19th century. Shortening of the forename Reuben]

      2. I note that most of the places you mention are all located in or near Times Square/Theater District. I think it would be fair to say that most restaurants there cater only or largely to tourists (and the occasional business person) and not to locals, so your suspicion may well be right. Of those, I've been to Keen's the most recently, and I find the service there generally horrible (as it is at far too many steakhouses).

        However, it sounds to me like the people at Aurora were friendly and casual to you, as would befit a more casual, downtown place. I can understand how, depending on one's temperament and preferences, being called "guys" could be either engaging, or annoying, but I don't think that is the same thing as the silly canned phrases like "are you still working"?

        I find those stock phrases such as "are we still working on that" etc. very annoying, and think the best places don't train their staff to use them. But, I also see nothing "authentic" about service that is gruff or rude. Katz's is also very popular with tourists, and their "gruffness" may contribute to a perceived mystique or charm of the place. It's also a very busy sandwich shop, versus a fine dining establishment, so it's a bit more understandable that the people working there tend to be a little short (I sure would be if I had to deal with that line every day...). Personally, I don't pay, at any price point, for people to be rude to me, and I don't consider that kind of nonsense to be evocative of "New York" so much as of low standards. As in every city, I think the best New York service is efficient, graceful, helpful, genuine and friendly. I hope you experience more of that - and fewer of the canned phrases - on your next trip.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jonasblank

          We were very surprised by the sudden "hick" treatment because we had eaten at Orso and Trattoria dell'Arte at least a dozen times each previously and it had never happened to us before. Nor had it occurred during our pne prior visit to Keen's. It was like someone had turned on a light switch for this to suddenly happen at four (out of eleven) meals in one visit, when it had never happened before during any of our 300+ NY meals in our 36 prior visits. Maybe NY has suddenly just caught up with the rest of the country.
          True, Orso is on Restaurant Row near the theater district, but it seems popular with locals and celebrities for after theater dining. Over the years we have seen Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Joel Grey, Lauren Bacall, Molly Ringwald, Neal Simon and Frank Langella all eating there.
          Aurora really surprised us because we had a really beautiful young waitress from Bulgaria. We usually find eastern Europeans to be more polite and formal than their American counterparts, but maybe she was just into "hip."

          1. re: jonasblank

            You make a very good point about the restaurants the OP has mentioned being in tourist districts. And I've never had bad service at Keen's, but it's true that steakhouses in general aren't known for their service.

            I also agree that there's nothing "authentic" about gruff or rude service.As a native NYer, I've dined in all sorts of establishments here over the years. Overall, I think the service is pretty good. From time to time, you get a few duds. But the overwhelming majority of my experiences have been very pleasant.

          2. The funny thing is...Aurora is quite possibly the only honest and eager to please restaurant on your short list. If you were solely interested in a "service experience" that would knock your socks off, I could list 50 places you could go right now off the top of my head. But I'm tired, so I won't.

            1. I'm guessing a good majority of the waitstaff in NY consists of out of town transplants. A wannabe starlet from Lawrence, Kansas is going to give you hokey service b/c that's all she knows. Make it a habit of asking your servers where they grew up. I doubt you'll find any native New Yorkers.

              7 Replies
              1. re: pelequero

                I am assuming Jerrysfriend has never been in the service industry by his complete lack of respect for the hard working people in the business. What is wrong with knowing a server's name and interacting with them like a human, like you probably do at your job. There are a lot of us who take pride in our jobs and are somewhat happy with it. If you assume we are phony then your bad attitude and manners will probably cause us to be so. Not to mention for someone who has been to NYC 37 times, pre-theater or not, why are you still eating around Time's Square?

                1. re: noshernyc

                  " What is wrong with knowing a server's name and interacting with them like a human "

                  The server does not know my name and I don't need to know theirs. This is not disrespectful to either of us. A restaurant is a business, not a place for forming temporary friendships between customers and staff.

                  1. re: rrems

                    You should go to Luger's they will put you right in your place and make you feel like your in old Germany...cough cough I mean Brooklyn NYC...

                    1. re: rrems

                      I work in the industry and pretty much everyone I work with feels the way you do rrems!

                    2. re: noshernyc

                      Why so much mid-town dining? Since I work, almost all of our trips have been during holidays-Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We always stay in mid-town (The Berkshire, [the now departed] Drake, Essex House, Park Lane, Regency, Algonquin, City Club, Michelangelo, etc. ) to be convenient to the theater district and much of the shopping, although recently, downtown shopping has been more fun. All of our meals at Orso have been after-theater, as it is close-by and is also open late. Since we are there for so many holidays we frequently eat lunch at Trattoria dell'Arte, as it has regular lunch, rather than just brunch on holidays and weekends. We also like steakhouses and have had top-notch service at the Post House and Wolgang's, but we find Sparks a mad-house.
                      Actually, I have almost always liked NY service until this last trip and was simply inquiring as to why it had suddenly changed. I like "authentic" behavior, so I like gruff and surly old waiters at delis; it seems genuine to me. I do not even mind the distacted young wannabe actresses and models at the Royalton, Town and Brasserie, etc. I even liked the burned-out old French waiters at Le Grenouille and Le Cirque the 4-5 other old-style NY French places that are now gone, like La Caravelle, Lutece, etc. Danny Meyer's places all seem to have exemplary service.
                      What I do not like are robots following the exact same script, apparently insisted upon by management, that I encountered 4 times this last trip. It is just phony hype and salesmanship and is not really "friendly." Only the most unsophisticated rubes could be taken in. Actually, I felt sorry for those waiters because of the way that the restaurants make them behave. They should have been allowed to do their "own thing."

                      1. re: Jerrysfriend

                        You hit it!! I don't think it's the servers who are dying to introduce themselves by name and give you their bio. It's totally on management's end where this chummy crap originates. "Have you dined at_____ before? Let me tell you about our chefs philosophy and raison d'etre" Please bring me a dull butter knife so I can open a vein and die!!!!

                    3. I've not eaten at any of the places you mention, but I eat out in Manhattan 2-4 times a week, and, happily, can't remember the last time I encountered that kind of service, for what it's worth.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: MMRuth

                        That is the whole reason for my thread. What is suddenly happening in NY? I never encountered this type of service before in over 300 NY meals over two decades. Then, 4 times in 6 days!
                        Do you think it is that servers from the Olive Garden, where I assume that that type of conduct is the norm, moved on to places like Orso, Trattoria dell'Arte, and Keen's Steak House, taking their old training with them or is the management at these somewhat more upscale places are now also insisting on this familiar behavior?

                        1. re: Jerrysfriend

                          Honestly, I just don't know. Your conjecture about servers moving on from OG is a logical one, though. I'm also not a fan of this "familiar behaviour" and am sure I'd notice it. And, now that you mention it, I did go to a lunch at a place near Grand Central a couple of months ago (I didn't choose the place) where the server introduced himself by name - but given the place, the name of which I can't remember, I'm not particularly surprised.

                          I'm wondering though if it was just an odd fluke of sorts that you experienced this.