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The effect of service on the food

Reading sanglier's review on R'evolution got me thinking...I've never really put two and two together per se, but its amazing how often my perspective on the food is drastically changed by my overall dining experience, and/or the level of service. From the sommelier, to the waiter, to the maitre d - every component of the restaurant changes how my palate responds to the food. If the service is cold, if the waiter seems vacant - my impressions of the food that Im tasting immediately change. Had the waiter been engaging, something like a lukewarm shortrib, or an uninspired presentation is somehow overlooked in my mind. First impressions are a big deal, and there are countless restaurants that I now avoid due to one poor service - many of which get favorable reviews from those I trust...am I the only one??

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  1. Not at all. I have a hard time recommending Herbsaint after my last experience there. Our waiter was so coked up that he could barely function. I take that back ... he couldn't function, his co-workers did his job for him. Even though I've had lots of excellent meals, that last time was so not fun that I've had a hard time wanting to go back. I'm sure I'll get over it eventually.

    I've also never had Drago's oysters because the first experience I had at the bar there was so awful I left before getting the chance to order them. It was bad enough that no amount of "you have to try the oysters" would get me to go back.

    Mind you, I'm a-ok with (and often prefer) lowbrow service. It doesn't have to be white gloved to be outstanding. Indifferent is hard to take though, especially when the tip's going to be substantial.

    8 Replies
    1. re: montuori

      As a SF Bay area (wine country) diner, I have been so impressed with wait staff attitude and service over the course of my six visits to NOLA. I chalked it up to a unique professionalism and pride about the dining experience, as well as good CH recommendations that helped me find the gems. My parties have almost always been treated exceptionally well and I wholeheartedly agree it effects the dining experience.

      I agree with montuori that lowbrow is fine... as long as it is not indifferent or snooty. So I hope the NOLA hounders will continue to update me on service factors. It is one of the elements that sets your city apart from anywhere else.

      And tips should not be the sole motivator for great service. Just got back from France where "service compris" is pretty standard and we still received fine service in both budget and pricey restaurants.

      1. re: karendor

        Interesting that you comment on the excellent service, as I just posted in another thread on "professional servers," and could not help but mention NOLA. Are ALL servers there "professionals?" Of course not. However NOLA is one of the few cities in the US, where one is likely to find servers, who are following in their father's (or mother's), and even grand-father's footsteps. In the UK, and in Europe, you see that much more often, than in most places in the US. Here, most servers are screenwriters, or actors, with a script in their back pocket, just waiting for the chance to break out. Too many do not care about service in a restaurant, and expect to be elsewhere in a month, or two. NOLA has so many exceptions to that, that I have taken notice.

        I feel that the service is a big part of the total dining experience, and is often overlooked, or glossed over by too many.

        For a true professional server, the tips are most likely lagniappe, and are NOT the sole motivator - they are determined to do the best, that they can, and take pride in doing so. In but a few cases, none know me, and know that I am a big tipper, when the service is worthy. The true "professionals" do, what they do, out of personal pride. Some people have it, and some just do not.

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Hunt, your first paragraph should be inscribed on the wall of the NOLA Visitor's Bureau . . . or something like that. Never have truer words been spoken on CH.

          Bravo!

            1. re: zin1953

              Thanks for the kind words, though I did mess up my possessives a bit (maybe I declared "Wine-Thirty" too early?).

              Just returned from London and Paris, and based on this thread, I "interviewed" some of our various servers. In about 40% of the instances, our servers WERE following in family members' footsteps, and were very proud of doing so.

              To some, that might be an odd concept, and to some patrons, it might be something that goes unnoticed. To others, however, it can make a very big difference. It certainly did for us. While some young servers (and sommeliers) did a very good job, the ultimate came from 2nd, or 3rd generation servers. It showed, and in a very good way. None were pretentious, and none were snooty, in any way. They all understood service, and had a tradition to uphold. Each was proud of their role in the business, and were highly trained, and highly professional. We greatly appreciated their heritage and their efforts. While I do experience similar in some cities in the US, in New Orleans, I see much more of it. I greatly appreciate that.

              Hunt

            2. re: Bill Hunt

              For any server, tips are necessary, not lagniappe, unless restaurants upped the low low standard base.

              1. re: nolala

                I have never really considered the various possible elements, regarding my servers (NOLA, or elsewhere), but appreciate the true professionalism, often displayed in New Orleans (unlike many other US cities). Pride is a wonderful thing, and I reward such very well - hope that it is adequate.

                Hunt

          1. You pose a very good question.

            For me, dining is about the entire experience - food, service, wines, FOH, even the valet. Those various aspects do NOT affect how I feel (and write) about the food, but since dining is about the entire experience, at least for me, then that entire experience can be tarnished, by other aspects of the evening.

            I have enjoyed some very good food (just the food), when other aspects failed, and have tried to very objectively comment on each aspect, separated from the others. Still, some subjectivity can possibly creep in.

            Regarding R'evolution, specifically, we dined there, not too long after opening. The food was good, to very good, with but a few tiny problems. The FOH was excellent (not always the case, unfortunately), and the service was trying. However, there were some mis-steps, BUT I observed most of those being addressed by "senior" members of the team. To me, that was a very good sign. Higher-end restaurant service is not easy. The higher up one goes, the greater the degree of difficulty. At a Michelin 3-star restaurant, one expects perfection. At a local po-boy restaurant, well not so much. Why do I give a bit more slack to the local po-boy shack, where with Le Bernardin, I would not overlook mis-steps? Well, it might be due to the differences in the tab - say US $ 1,200 for two with some fine wines at Le Bernardin, and US $ 25 for some po-boys and a few Barq's Root Beers.

            Even when most other aspects have turned to ca-ca, if the food is great, I try to review that, as it is. Still, the overall experience is not that good - maybe just the food.

            I also agree about first impressions. With R'evolution, there were a few glitches, and a few dishes, which could have been better (by our standards), but things were good, to very good. Could they have been perfect? Yes, but there was the appearance that most WERE being addressed, and worked on. That observation is reason enough to go back. Not that long ago, we dined at a restaurant, that is a major favorite on this board. It was our first time there. Unfortunately, everything was bad, from the FOH, to the service, to the food, to the wine service. Nothing was even close to acceptable - just flat horrible. I was chided from many fronts for not giving them the benefit of the doubt, over and over. However, as there is too much great food, and service in NOLA, I cannot imagine giving up another dining evening, for that restaurant. Others are welcome to it, but they will never see me again - once was much more than enough. R'evolution showed me enough to go back, and see if the few rough spots have been overcome. That other restaurant? No chance.

            Hunt

            1. Folks, please restrict your discussion to New Orleans restaurants; if you want to discuss this question generally, please do so on the Not About Food board (http://chowhound.chow.com/boards/29 ). We've removed some off-topic replies.

              2 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  Oh you little devil you... ! [Grin]

                  Hunt

                  PS - one aspect of several LV restaurants, that had roots, and history from New Orleans, has been the service, or lack, thereof. When I think of service, I usually think of Galatoire's (or some other similar NOLA restaurants), and hold other establishments to that standard. Heck, even Camellia Grill (back to the original) exhibited such. Maybe not so much any more?

              1. I hate thinking about this, because I do like Chef Scott Boswell. But one evening, within the two years, now maybe longer, stays with me and I find myself still incapable of shoving it out of my brain. It was a Sunday evening at Stanley. The restaurant was sparsely populated (timing only, nothing negative implied). Sadly, the friendly, nice server who took my order did not deliver it. That happened at the hands of a petulant, dismissive individual who literally threw the plate on the table and walked away. Literally. As I was saying "thank you." No acknowledgment of my courtesy to him. The biggest jackass of server eve. Yes, the corned beef hash was good. But I cannot honestly say I enjoyed it.

                7 Replies
                1. re: rouxdauphine

                  exactly the sort of thing Im talking about

                  1. re: GDPhalp

                    Exactly! And -- in part -- it is this type of experience (dating back to BEFORE Katrina) that has stopped me from going back to Stella! for dinner . . . .

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Now, I have only dined at Stella! six times, and spread out over several years, and have had nothing but very good, to stellar (could not resist) service there. On 3 visits, the staff went to a lot of effort to accommodate my late M-I-L and her wheelchair, including the valet. The food has been in line with that level of service, whether the Tasting Menu was ordered, or we went a la carte.

                      However, and just like you, service is part of my total experience, and is part of what I pay for, and hope to enjoy. When things go "off," whether it's the FOH, the kitchen, or all levels of service, I do make note, and that affects how I feel about the experience. There have been many restaurants, where I was displeased enough with the service, that even good food could not salvage my enjoyment, and hence, my patronage.

                      In the case of Stella!, we have had different experiences, but things do happen. I do not begrudge you your feelings, as I have had the same, with other restaurants, around the world. I know your level of expectation, and obviously, that was not reached, when it should have been. I'd gladly exchange one of my very good experiences, for your bad one(s), but that is not possible. I feel your pain, and disappointment, but support your contention that all should be great - food, wine, service and wine service - it is part of the package. I often feel that service is too often overlooked, and try not to fall into the "Soup Nazi" trap. Now, I once completely overlooked the "ambiance" of a particular seafood restaurant, because their fried shrimp brought me to my knees. Even then, the service (no table service) was great, and I felt welcomed by the staff, and OMG, their Fried Gulf Shrimp still occupies the almost uncontested spot as # 1.

                      Hunt

                      PS - We must find a way to dine together. As we are in SFO at least once per month, and can often travel NorCal a bit, we need to make that happen. Now, back to our regularly-scheduled program.

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        I readily acknowledge that I need to give Stella! another shot -- but, alas,it won't be this next trip (leaving on Nov. 7th), but I will *probably* go to Stella! on my trip next April . . . or is it March?

                        And YES -- somewhere in the world, we MUST share a meal! ;^)

                        1. re: zin1953

                          It;s hard to give Stella a second chance at those prices. We were pretty underwhelmed by our experience a year + ago, and while I'm willing to give it another go, my husband is pretty adamant about not being willing to do so. (he really hated the meal he had.) So I think I'll have to wait till a friend from in or out of town needs a date. I dunno, though- I've had an amazing chef meal at Commanders Palace at around the same price point, and it's so easy to get wonderful food and warm service at Coquette, to deal with parking in the Quarter and potentially dealing with the pitfalls we had previously with Stella. And paying so much for the pleasure! Anyway. I guess I'm willing to try again, but in New Orleans, where there are so many wonderful places to eat, it's a challenge to put it back in rotation.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Jason,

                            I completely understand. With all the great restaurants in NOLA, it is tough to fit one, that offends, into the mix. I feel the same way about several others - maybe in 2025?

                            In SF in Nov and Dec, if you wish to be treated. Maybe drop me an e-mail at: bhunt AT huntphoto DOT com. Obviously, you WILL need to make two changes there. Put "Chowhound" in the Subject Line Header, so my MailWasher does not flag, and then delete the e-mail.

                            Hunt

                    2. re: rouxdauphine

                      Ditto bad service at Stanley which leaves me not attracted to Stella. Oh and thanks for the Vegas, zin1953, I was going to pop in with Harahan (to keep it local) since I am one of the offenders. :)