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How to behave in Michelin starred restaurants?

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Went to the Hand & Flowers in Marlow last Friday. Pretty good food all in all, and much more relaxed than your average Michelin 2 star.

Service was polite, though something happened after our mains. We were given the desert menu, my wife went to the bathroom saying she was absolutely stuffed and didn't want anything else, so my friend and I decided to order in her absence. As we hadn't sat down to eat until 9.30pm and had a long journey back home ahead, and as I'd been told the pear souffle took 15 minutes to prepare, I was conscious that we needed to get things moving a bit.

So I called the waitress over, ordered said pear souffle and a chocolate cake. As she took the menu, the waitress said "We don't usually take orders until everyone is sat at the table, sir, so I'm sorry for not coming over to you before". Given that I had not said anything to her at all, and as far as I'm aware didn't look irritated in the slightest, I took this as a criticism of my behaviour masquerading as an apology - passive aggression for dummies.

I'm by no means an expert, but I've eaten in a few Michelin star/fine dining places and have never come across this before. I'm not particularly cross - I'm just wondering if I did something wrong that I'm not aware of. On the one hand you could say it is good manners to wait for everyone to order; on the other that, as a paying customer and a grown adult, I'm quite capable of sorting out orders for a table of three without much difficulty.

So which is it: am I a boorish fool who shouldn't be let within 5 miles of a beef consomme or was the waitress just a little rude? And are there any other special rules that apply to places charging more than £50 a head for dinner?

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  1. Sounds like she was just being a little too apologetic for needing to be called over rather than anticipating that you needed serving. That's exactly the kind of thing which decides the extra Michelin stars beyond a certain food quality. I shouldn't lose any sleep over it.

    Sounds good though. Is that the place run by the solidly built specimen who comes over so well on the telly?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robin Joy

      I agree.

      1. re: gembellina

        me too.

      2. re: Robin Joy

        Add me to the agreeing list. I read it as a nice apology and explanation for an apparent lack of service.

        But then, only the OP was there and knows the tone in which this was delivered.

        We have a significant celebration in the summer which is going to take the form of a goodly amount of eating. Waterside Inn on "the day". Hand & Flowers on the previous evening. And lunch at the Royal Oak before schlepping back North.

        Three meals...six stars.

      3. Passive aggressive because the waitperson apologized upfront? There's a disconnect here: either evidence is missing or the interpretation is unwarranted.

        There is nothing special about the setting or the menu prices when applying life rules such as "assume good intention." Sometimes an apology is really an apology.

        1. My take is that, in a better restaurant, the server WOULD wait to come over for dessert orders until your entire party was back at the table. If you'd told her EARLIER that you were on a tight timeline I would have expected her to come by the table with people absent. Given no such warning, or other sense of urgency during the meal service, I'd guess her first idea of a time issue was when you called her over. Calling her over is exactly what you should have done, in my opinion, and her apology sounded like a perfectly logical explanation for not having been clairvoyant as to your need right then.

          Of course, there's a lot that comes through in tone of voice, so it's impossible to tell what might have made the exchange less than normal.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Midlife

            It is totally appropriate that the server would wait until you entire table is seated before coming over to take your dessert order. But if you call her over earlier, she should be responsive to your needs without question.

          2. She probably thought that you thought she was slacking by not having come to the table earlier and was apologizing and explaining why she hadn't. She was afraid that you might have thought she messed up. If you can get a do over, I might allay her concerns with a 5 second explanation why you weren't waiting for the lady. Either way, in the whole scheme of things, this was nothing.

            1. Nobody did anything wrong.

              1. on the flip side of this question, I can only imagine the heated posts that would stem from the server coming over to get a dessert order when the entire table wasn't present.

                1. Thanks for the replies. As Midlife says it was as much in the tone of voice than anything that was actually said. I turned to my friend after she left and said "is it me, or was she pissed off with us?" and she agreed that there was something odd in her response. Hey ho, storm in a teacup and all that. Maybe I got it wrong - after all, it was late and I was stuffed.

                  Good to hear there are no rules I'm missing out on, which is sometimes an impression I get in many (though by no means all) of the 'high end' restaurants I've eaten in. One of the things I liked about the Hand & Flowers was its relatively casual approach. You can go there, have a laugh and a good time, and eat some nice food, without the hush-hush and stifling formality of some other Michelin starred places. The age-old Michelin food vs. atmosphere debate again...

                  Robin - yes that's the chap.

                  If heading that way, I would recommend the salt cod scotch egg (great, intense pepper-chorizo sauce), the chicken breast, the salt potatoes (rich, nutty), the chips and the souffle. They stood out from the dishes we tried.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sbdavis1

                    I reckon the old barriers between Michelin food and atmosphere are disappearing with the award of stars to pubs (Sportsman, Royal Oak, Harwood Arms, et al). Now, I'm not averse to pub food getting a star but have to say I was gobsmacked that Tom Kerridge got a second this year. Pub with 2 stars? Doesnt feel quite right.

                  2. I agree with everyone else, she was just explaining why she hadn't come over yet. In fine dining, where the service is a bit more solicitous, one usually doesn't need to flag down a server. Neither party did anything "wrong'.