The dumbest question in restauranting - Jay Maynard

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Friday, 6 May 2005


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0756 - The dumbest question in restauranting

I just sent the following email to Jeremy Iggers, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's restaurant critic:

You dine out a lot. (Duh.) Maybe you can answer a question that's been perplexing me for the past year or so. Nobody else I've asked, including a bunch of waiters and former waiters, has been able to.

Where did this fad for asking diners "How's everything tasting?" come from? It's an amazingly stupid and short-sighted question, implying that all they care about is the food - and not anything else that has an impact on the dining experience, like, say, the service or the restaurant's cleanliness or anything else besides what's on your plate.

It seems hopelessly contrived and phony, too. It has the feel of something some bright restaurant consultant came up with over his third apple martini, and honed relentlessly over months with focus groups and other restaurant consultants. Really, now. Until a year or so ago, who in their right mind would have thought to ask what the diner thought in that particular way?

My rooommate and I have taken to answering it with something obviously silly, like "I don't know. I haven't taken a bite out of the table yet." or "I hear the National Petroleum Reserve is a particularly fine vintage this year." If they don't want an honest answer to what they should be asking - feedback on the diner's overall satisfaction, not just the food on their plate - why should I oblige them?


A side note: Somehow, the guy's email address - formed from his first initial and last name - seems appropriate for a restaurant critic...

current mood: [mood icon] chipper

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:michaelmink
Date: - 0000
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Actually, I'd expect his email address to be more appropriate for a bar critic.

As someone who waited on tables for a number of years, I was told that that kind of question was obnoxious, especially if you've only just served the customer. (I've had the question posed to me when I'm literally taking the first few bites.)

Usually, I discreetly watched the diners, and made eye contact. If they needed anything, they would signal me, and I'd go over. But other than that, leave the diner(s) alone to enjoy the food.
[User Picture]
From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
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I don't mind being asked "How's everything?" or similar, as long as it's natural and not contrived. It's the particular question that's annoying to me.
[User Picture]
From:shelbystripes
Date: - 0000
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If it's that particular question you have an issue with, here's a hint: People go to a restaurant to eat. I'm sure that it's not just me, but anyone who values their money, that likes to go to a place to eat because the food is worth the money. Ambience is good, and decorum is good, and amenities are good, but when it boils down to it, you're there for the food, and their #1 goal is to make sure you're satisfied with the food, because if you're not, you're not coming back, no matter what else they do for you.

That said, waitstaff should be on the lookout for signs that someone's displeased with other issues, so that they can be resolved, since if the food is good, those things can still possibly make or break. But while atmosphere can change during various parts of the day, you can always ask for another waiter, the food is the one constant that keeps people always coming back--or leaving. It seems obvious that a place that serves food would care most about whether or not the customer is satisfied with that food!

That said, the question is kind of bizzarely worded, but it's obvious that's what their goal is--to make sure the customer is happy with what they're ultimately there for, and what they're ultimately likely to come back for. There are plenty of reasons someone can come up with to not come back, but at a restaurant, there's typically only one reason to come back.
[User Picture]
From:vakkotaur
Date: - 0000
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The timing is usually, but not always, reasonable. Typically we get asked about things when we're well into a meal. Though at times it is nice to be asked soon if something has been overlooked.

That particular question, however, is grating. It does seem like it's been crafted to avoid getting negative answers regarding service - but it will also never get any positive answers regarding service, either. If I don't have the exact amount for the tip, I round the tip down if we've been asked that stupid question, otherwise I'm willing to round it upward.

[User Picture]
From:vakkotaur
Date: - 0000
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I should also note that at least waiter has caught on but the wrong way and now asks, "How's the food tasting?" which utterly misses the point as it has the same limitations only more narrowly focused. I think my reply to that may become, "I have no idea. None of this even has taste buds."

From:ex_karldorn917
Date: - 0000
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You are funny. :)

Thats all I have to say.
[User Picture]
From:jmaynard
Date: - 0000
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Thanks! I try.
[User Picture]
From:5347713
Date: - 0000
(Link)
"I don't know. I haven't taken a bite out of the table yet."

Excellent~! That's been my line of choice for some time now!

...and no I don't feel like Bob Saget yet. ;)

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