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Oct 26, 2008 05:52 PM

Is the service in Toronto bad?

I have consistently read on this site and heard in conversations with frequent diners that the service in Toronto is deplorable.
I can not understand - why does everyone think it is so bad?

On the other hand, speaking to serious industry professionals, I am told that the dining culture in Toronto would never tolerate the structured service that is utilized in all ambitious restaurant in Europe and everywhere else I've witnessed.
This service that involves:
-a host/Maitre d' to greet you, seat you and offer aperitifs
-then, a captain/chef de rang to take your food order and guide you through the evening
-then, a sommelier to look after your wine
-then, support staff to prep your table and bring your food
You could add to this a specialist for your cheese, dessert, and coffee/tea, but that is flexible.
Seems quite simple but, by all accounts, far too removed from the 'one waiter as your service friend' concept.

I don't actually understand either side of this arguement. Can someone please enlighten me?

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    1. having gazillion people service you does not make it better or worse.

      I prefer having just enough professional waiters that know what they are doing than extra staff that adds up the price of the evening.

      A good waiter (waitress) can do most of the job you listed above, take orders, do a basic wine counselor (and be intelligent enough to ask someone with more experience for specifics), and do prep the table and bring your food.

      Maitre D is often the senior waiter and sommelier.
      I've never seen a "specialist" for cheese , dessert or coffee.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Maximilien

        Sorry for the delay, Maximilien.
        A 'Chef de Rang' (or Captain) is a waiter, but one that stays in his section - ensuring that service is flowing correctly at all times and all of his guests are enjoying the experience. The key is that a new staff member aspiring to reach this senior level must first work through two levels of support staff positions and prove his understanding of the menu, the guests and the service systems.
        This way, if you have a question about the evening or food, the Chef de Rang/Captain will almost always be able to answer it (without any BS). Also, it really limits the chance of mistakes being made or something important to you being missed(like a food allergy or time constraint or special payment arrangements).

        Personally, I much prefer to be served by 'specialists' who know their product and how it relates to my evening.

      2. service in toronto is nothing short of atrocious on a regular basis.

        - surly service staff
        - staff that simply ignore you or disappear
        - hosts that literally look you up and down, assess the expense of your jeans and your yuppie status before they address you
        - staff that argue with you when not even complaints but comments are made about a dish
        - staff that insist you pay your bill immediately as their shift is ending
        - staff that lie to you about the ingredients in your dish when you ask about them and make no attempt to get a real answer from the kitchen
        - second class treatment when a remote celebrity walks in (and canadian celebrities are about as remote as you can get)

        it was an absolute revelation when i went to fine dining establishments in other countries and it wasn't a matter of tolerating the level of service so much as being struck completely in awe by it. diners in toronto seem to accept what we're given and so service staff don't feel the need to try any harder.

        i can potentially see the other side of the argument, in a lot of ways torontonians can come off as very entitled people and may insist they know more than everyone else just because they read the latest article de jour on a specific wine or cheese or whatever... so perhaps it can be difficult to work around this but there is still a severe lack of graciousness on the staff side to even accommodate these attitudes when that's precisely what some diners are paying for.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pinstripeprincess

          Possibly we have been lucky, but with the exception of two really bad experiences, where rhe server actually spoiled our meal to the point of our never wanting to return, I don't find the service much different anywhere else, and I am a business traveler, and a real Chowhound.
          I agree about the "remote celebrity" thing, but see this elsewhere as well, especially in Europe.
          Mind you recently, at Nota Bene, the server almost rolled his eyes when we ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio, to the point that I suggested that we like tasteless wine.
          We found the service to be quite adequate, but remote.
          Didn't write a review on Nota Bene either, as it is my opinion that Toronto does accept average food, as long as their is a great vibe, and much hype.

          1. re: erly

            Totally agree on TO using hype as their restaurant guide.

            Biggest pimp: Toronto Life. They act as if Toronto owns everything. They actually just began effusing how Toronto has become Coffeetown - Seriously, the town that thinks Tim Hortons and Starbucks and couple of coffeehouses serving Intelligentsia (American) coffee consitutes good coffee is now Coffeetown. Unreal.

        2. I wish one of the hospitality schools in Toronto had a course for servers.

          I was dismayed when an upscale restaurant in a private club hired my daughter on the spot only because she was 18 and had her SmartServe certificate and therefore could serve drinks. It was the end of August and they had lost a lot of staff going back to university.

          She had absolutely no experience serving in any restaurant whatsoever. She didn't even know how to open a bottle of wine properly. They promised training. It didn't happen. She quit in tears after a month after she got yelled at once again for doing something wrong.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JamieK

            Thank you for your candid comment, JamieK.
            I believe the lack of education and structured certification is at the core of all the problems discussed here. With a hard earned professional certification comes more pride in your work and a higher level of service all around.
            It may break that ugly cycle of inexperienced staff being taken in with the promise of training - no training of any substance given - abuse from management for mistakes due to lack of training - and, ultimately, a lousy guest experience from a server that no longer cares.

            1. re: drinkmorewine

              drinkmorewine -- (yes!, in fact I'm sipping some now) I agree a structured certification program may help with some issues. However, what I had in mind was a quickie server basics course, suitable for high school and university students looking to work part time.

              My daughter was so happy to get hired right away at this restaurant. I was glad to hear there was training. But she was thrown into the fire. In fact, when another server took the manager to task and defended my daughter by pointing out she had been given no training, that server was asked to leave.

              Just a basic course would have given my daughter the confidence to know at least which side of a patron you serve and where to put the cutlery, etc. A more advanced course would obviously help for higher-end formal restaurants.

          2. Yes, yes, YES, service in Toronto is notoriously bad! This is true regardless of whether the place is high-end or a small hole in the wall. I think this is due to a number of factors: #1 being that we accept it; #2 the high incidence of 'trendy' restos that appear on the scene, only to be staffed with douche-y hungover hipsters; #3 the ubiqitous wannabe actor/singer/dancer who is a waiter because it pays well enough and allows them to attend auditions [and thus couldn't care less about even knowing what's in the daily special]; and #4 unhappy waiters and staff who are being underpaid/overworked/treated shabbily by management [IMO seen in chains and some ethnic restaurants]. We don't need a phalanx of specialists to serve us, just one waiter to be professional, upbeat, and not treat us like we're 'lucky' to be eating in their precious establishment. Over the years I've eaten in throughout Europe and the USA, in tiny towns and major cities, and have never received service as shabby as I have in my hometown. It's really sad. As a more everyday experience, the level of sullenness you routinely encounter at Tim Hortons or any other fast food type place in Toronto is pretty legendary. I was once at a Dairy Queen in San Diego where the gal at the counter was super friendly, helpful, and just made that Blizzard-buying experience taste that much better. She wasn't brainwashed by corporate heads to be bubbly, or just faking it, she just was doing her job to the utmost [you had to be there; it was refreshing to see someone just do their job well. I speak as a jaded Torontonian who pretty much expects a certain incompetence in most service transactions].

            7 Replies
            1. re: Smorgasbord

              I have to protest at least one of your points -- the service I get at Tim Hortons (downtown TO) may be brusque when it's busy but always friendly, helpful, cheerful. Never sullen.

              1. re: JamieK

                Point taken- I shouldn't have said all of them are. Yet, I find many chains [not just Tim's] can have surly, indifferent, and/or incompetent staff. I worked in the retail trenches for years, so I know what's it like to have a service job- and no matter what s%#! day I was having, I always was professional, helpful, and pleasant to the customers, and knew my product inside-out. I may have hated corporate and management, but why take it out on customers?

                1. re: JamieK

                  Man, what Tim Hortons have you been to?! They are always...not rude more like...incompetent, stupid even. They never get a freaking order right and when I ask a simple question it's like I told them to find the square root of a million.

                    1. re: AngelSanctuary

                      What questions are necessary at a Timmy's?

                      Even the washrooms are all in the same place.

                  1. re: Smorgasbord

                    Geez, I worked as a waiter to put myself through university in Toronto years ago. Most of the time, I tried to give my guests a very good night out - if they were out for romance, I left them alone as much as possible, if it was an older couple, I'd try to engage them in chat, etc. Were there ever guests I treated shabbily? Sometimes - people who were shabby to me, or who ordered "fill it migg non" or "shat o newf de Pape" (well, we were a few blocks away from Pape Avenue, maybe it was an honest mistake..or maybe not) or who first cut their entire steak into tiny little pieces before eating it -and that was only after bitter experience taught me that no matter how nice or professional I was, I still wasn't going to get a decent tip. If someone complained about their steak, I was usually mortified at having gotten it wrong, and worked like crazy with the chef and the manager to make things right.

                    I think in many cases, it's a case of people getting back what they give out.. I've seen far too many people treat serving people like they are something to be scraped off a shoe, even at a Tim's. My only complaint is with serving people at "fast food" places who dawdle; I've missed enough buses waiting for a coffee while my server appears to be wading through hip deep snow to provide it.

                    1. re: KevinB

                      I'm sure there are many nightmare customers in Toronto; in fact, I know there are. However, I'm not one of them. In fact, I'm easygoing to the point of ridiculousness- I didn't even complain when I almost choked on a 4 inch industrial twist tie wrapped up in an involitini at a restaurant. I also routinely overtip, even for crap service, because I do know that waiters live on them- but I don't have to like it. KevinB, your intuitiveness and stated professionalism as a waiter is, in my experience, rare in Toronto.