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Odd waiter request at Sportello for dinner?

So a group of us, I believe 10 total, went last Wednesday for our friends birthday, it was most of our first time there, at least for dinner, and had made reservations, so they knew the large group would be there.

Our waiter made a rather odd request when I tried to order some appetizers for our side of the horseshoe. I asked if I could order some appetizers and he requested that we order the appetizers AND our entrees at the same time. I said we were not ready to order our entrees yet, and wouldn't mind getting the appetizer order to get some food in front of us more quickly, he responded by saying he would prefer us order both at once, but that he would take our appetizer order.

I've never been asked this at a restaurant of Sportello's pedigree, or of any restaurant for that matter, so I was a bit taken back. The rest of the night the service was excellent, and when we were the only ones left in the restaurant he spent more time with us, chatting with a few of us about the food and beer choices, which was nice.

Is this type of ordering S.O.P. at Sportello, or anywhere for that matter? Have I missed out on some trend that is developing?

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  1. Something similar was suggested when we dined at West Bridge recently. We were planning on ordering a half-dozen or so small plates for us to share, followed by big plates. We hadn't quite made our final decisions, but we knew a handful that we definitely wanted.

    We asked the waiter if we should order that first round while deciding on the rest, or wait until we had finalized everything. He suggested the latter so that they could group the small plates effectively and to improve the pacing from the kitchen.

    I'd guess waiters/restaurants request you order everything together so that your meal doesn't drag on. They probably figure that an extra two minutes deciding on entrees will balloon to 10 minutes or more if you've got appetizers to linger over.

    1. The waiter probably wanted to make sure that every entree option was available and also to place a holder on the entree selection so no one else could order it if the ingredients were getting short. I'd say the waiter wanted to ensure that you and your guests had a delightful evening.

      1. i have worked for more than one chef who insists on getting guests to do this. however, it may be something specific with some places for big parties because getting the order takes so long anyway.

        most servers need to fire your entrees as soon as the apps are on the table, and they certainly don't want to be badgering you to order while you are eating. so you eat the apps, they need to be cleared and THEN the next round gets ordered. this could add 30 or more minutes to your next course arriving.

        1. The wait staff will approach a party of ten differently then a party of four or fewer. Maybe he should of explained himself better, but I'm sure he had your best interest at heart. As you said the rest of the night was fine.

          2 Replies
          1. re: libertywharf

            I'm pretty sure the waiter had his own and/or the restaurant's best interest at heart, not the OPs.

            I have seen this policy/tactic before. I don't love it, but am OK with it as long as the courses don't get jammed out right on top of one another. If that happens, we've got an issue.

            1. re: Gabatta

              If you've seen this before then maybe there is a good reason for the practice. As long as the wait staff isn't too pushy, then I'm fine with it. Handling parties of ten isn't always easy and sometimes following the "handbook on waiting" is best.

          2. Not at Sportello, but the same thing happened to us last night. We were dining out before a concert in a place that was packed. Our server--who was fabulous--took our entree orders with our apps orders, and assured us that he would time them so that we wouldn't be rushed. He was true to his word and timed the rounds of drinks, apps, entree, dessert and coffee perfectly, and was tipped handsomely for doing so.
            Long story short--I don't mind if they ask for both at the same time, but timing is EVERYTHING with food presentation.

            2 Replies
              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                The Chophouse in Manchester NH, pre The Who.

            1. Sometimes I wonder if after restaurants have had repeated poor experiences with other guests, it makes them jumpy and paranoid.

              I've had several occasions where friends and myself have said "Hey, let's go get something to eat at X restaurant!" and shown up somewhere with empty tables without a reservation. Usually that's no problem, but on a couple of occasions the maitre'd has said "Are you getting drinks or a full meal?" and when we've said "well, drinks, and some apps, and if there's time we'll get a full meal too," they've said "you'll need to sit at the bar, then" or turned us away completely.

              1. What's weird about this request is that in my personal experience...waitstaff are less likely to ask this question of larger parties. In the course of my job..it falls upon me to arrange dinners for groups of colleagues..usually anywhere from 10-15. In these cases, I always arrange for the appetizers to be served during our drink service and will signal the waiter/waitress when the group is ready to order entrees.

                When I am with a smaller group or a couples dinner..the waitstaff will almost always ask if are ready to order entrees when we give the appetizer order.
                Of course..I've never been to a restaurant where the waitstaff insisted on taking both at the same time.
                Maybe he didn't want to make a second trip to the table? I can't imagine it had anything to do with the kitchen since he would be holding the entree order anyhow.

                8 Replies
                1. re: BlueMagic

                  "What's weird about this request is that in my personal experience...waitstaff are less likely to ask this question of larger parties."

                  not sure where you normally dine, but in my 2 decades of working in fine dining getting the order asap is sop.

                  for large parties, there is such a thing as a "prefire" or a "preview". you send the order to the kitchen and they can get all the proteins and sides ready, so that the actual cook time is then minimized.

                  as for a second trip to the table? c'mon! that server will be there about a million times, lol, before the night is done.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Thanks for breaking that down for blue magic. Well said and I can tell you've worked in the service industry.

                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                      Hi Hotoynoodle..
                      Thanks for your perspective and expertise. I think an interesting question would be to ask if this type of thing is more prevalent in a "fine dining" establishment than in a more casual type of place.
                      One of my favorite places to arrange "business social" events is at Burton's...and the waitstaff has never made this request of our large groups nor have any of the other restaurants I use for this purpose. Of course..I am always very clear on the expectations of how the night is to go before all the guests arrive so I suppose that has something to do with it.
                      Regardless..whatever anyone's experience is..it is my belief that waitstaff should not be making requests or insisting that a customer order in a manner that is most convenient to the restaurant. As I am sure you know, in the hospitality industry the customer is #1 ( within reason of course). While "getting the order ASAP is SOP"...it shouldn't come at the expense of a great customer experience. I am sure..being in the business you would agree with that.

                      My comment on the waiter making a second trip wasn't meant to imply that he wouldn't be making more trips..just that he was trying to save himself what he may have viewed as an unnecessary trip back.

                      Of course..the real reason could be what another poster stated. Sportello simply isn't set up for large parties and therefore perhaps the staff was nervous about the size of the order.

                      1. re: BlueMagic

                        sportello is a small, chef-driven restaurant, not a sprawling chain, so methods of management are likely very different. the op had a good time, so i don't see how ordering apps and mains at the same time detracted from the experience.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          When I host groups, I almost always order some appetizers for the table when we put in a drinks order, and then we order entrees when server comes back with the drinks.

                          No one has ever asked me to hold off until we have made all our decisions (which for a large group can take a lot longer than a small group). I would think it offputting, too.

                          1. re: dulce de leche

                            Bingo...that is pretty much how it always flows for us. In addition..having a large party, one has to take into account that some guests may arrive a bit later than others. In addition sometimes it can take painfully long for everyone in the group to make a decision on entrees..lol.
                            Overall..I think large parties require more flexibility on behalf of the restaurant.

                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                            Hi Hotoynoodle...
                            I would tend to agree with you in the grand scheme of things..lol. All things considered it sounds like the evening was just fine. Except..that it bothered the OP enough to write the OP so it must have at least somewhat detracted from her experience.
                            Anyhow..given the variety of responses and experiences I would venture to guess that her last question was answered. It does seem that enough people feel the question was odd and that could lead one to conclude that it is not "some new trend" that is developing. Rather it sounds like different restaurants handle these things in different ways.

                          3. re: BlueMagic

                            To blue magic
                            I guess you've answered your previous statement of why the wait staff has never asked this question to you. You are planning the dinner beforehand and the restaurant is already aware of the size of your group and some of their likes.

                      2. I don't quite understand why this is "odd." Generally, I order my meal all at once, turn in the menus and then the courses are delivered in sequence. The only time I ask for a break between ordering courses is if I don't know if I want an entree.

                        I go to Sportello all the time and it's really not a place you bring 10 people because the set up is for smaller groups. If you were the last people in the restaurant, then it sounds like you were a chatty, slow group that the waiter sensed was going to linger and so he attempted to get you to place your orders so the kitchen wasn't firing your entrees at midnight. Large groups need to be mindful that they are much more work for a waiter and the meals take far longer than the same dinner served to a 4 top and therefore certain accommodations sometimes need to be made. It's not a dinner party.

                        1. For large parties, if often done to assist in getting the entrées timed so that they can all be run out as close to "at the same time" as possible. I've noticed some problems in pacing large parties, where it's more likely to get entrées staggered than smaller parties.

                          1. I think it is quite a common practice (I've experienced that at a least a dozen Boston restaurants recently, Sportello-level). But it drives me bonkers. I'm generally sharing plates with everyone at the table, and imposing the bipartite structure feels rigid to me. Zak Pelaccio does this at his Fatty Crab restaurants in NYC and St. John, and it feels even more artificial and stifling to me there.

                            One explanation I have heard is that, with so many Yelpers poised and ready to complain about things like long lag times between courses, knowing the entire game plan helps the chef pace accordingly.

                            I dunno. I feel like I order less when forced to complete my order at the beginning.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Jolyon Helterman

                              Agree it definitely makes you err on the side order less.