Originally Posted by kennethpollock
I haven’t looked at this thread for several weeks. I do not speak French in American restaurants. One-two years ago, in response to a slur that everyone in Georgia only knew barbeque, I jokingly said in my neighborhood in Georgia, nearly everyone wore bespoke Savile Row to restaurants and spoke French there, as did the Russian aristocracy during the Czar.
I still must say that I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.
Obviously, some of you just do not know what you are talking about in saying that waiters at the French Laundry come up and tell guests their first names or that this is done at Michelin ** restaurants in Spain. This is simply absurd and false. Fine restaurants do not allow such behavior.
The issue is whether or not giant chains’ hick service, hereinafter “the treatment,” is just wrong or is just another type of service, instituted because their very particular type of customers want it. In the past, 30-40 years ago, no restaurants gave their customers “the treatment.” Not grand or modest ones here or abroad. It is still not done in fine restaurants here, in ethnic restaurants here, or in any other country in the industrial world. If “the treatment” is what customers at American chain restaurants really like and want, one must wonder why. If this is what they want, then one has to wonder why these customers are so unique. However, I submit that these customers of chain restaurants are not really a unique species and that there is spill-over. I submit that many of them also eat in fine restaurants and in ethnic restaurants. Take me. Although I mostly eat at better non-chain or ethnic restaurants, I also eat regularly at a Ruth’s Chris in Atlanta and have eaten at Morton’s and the Capital Grill about two times each. If the customers of chain restaurants are not so unique, but have tastes similar to the patrons who eat in fine restaurants here, in ethnic restaurants here, and in the restaurants in all of the other countries in the industrial world, then one must wonder why these other places do not give their customers “the treatment” too. Why do not all of these other places give their customers the type of service they really want, that is, the phony, high-pressure, hyped, hard-sell, hick treatment? Is it because they do not do surveys, do not read restaurant trade magazines, do not try to please their customers, or are just mean? I submit they know about as much about restaurant diners as do American chain restaurants, but have a more accurate idea of what most people really want.
So why are chain restaurants, in giving their customers “the treatment,” giving many of them a type of service that they do not really like or want? Why do they think it is profitable and why do they keep doing it? Lots of bad business practices are profitable, so big business here keeps doing it, such as telephone solicitation. I doubt that many people really enjoy telephone solicitation, but it must make money, or they would stop doing it.
I submit that “the treatment” results from the corporate mind-set of American business; push and push, hype and puff, sell and sell. They simply cannot restrain themselves. They cannot recognize that what might work once in a while for the lowest common denominator (a phrase first used by Alexis de Tocqueville in his book in 1835, “Democracy in America,” which expressed both a great deal of praise and horror about what was going on in this country) might offend many others.
It is amusing to see America hyped business tactics abroad or to suddenly re-discover them after being away for a while. About a dozen years ago, my wife and I went to France for three weeks, but flew back from Brussels. We stayed in French-owned hotels in France, but at the Hyatt for our last two nights in Brussels. During the three weeks in France, we ate the same continental breakfast daily, which was always described on a short card as consisting of orange juice, croissants, a small baguette or rolls, jam and coffee, tea or hot chocolate. However, when we went to breakfast at the Hyatt, we were surprised to be handed a huge laminated menu depicting smiling and dancing farmers, cows, chickens, etc. We read, in French, English and Flemish, the florid descriptions about the freshly squeezed juice from the finest oranges, the hot freshly baked breads from their own ovens, the marvelous creamery butter, etc. We expected something really terrific! Unfortunately, we got the exact same breakfast that we had been eating for the prior three weeks. The only thing extra that we got was the good old American puffery, hype and sales-pitch. It was funny. We had temporarily forgotten all about it.
Your view of European dining is overly romanticized. While it is available in finer establishments, it is by no means the norm in Europe. In fact I would classify your idea of dining as a rarity outside of Michelin circles. The majority of restaurants may not give the “treatment” as you call it, but have their own faults which can be many and more disturbing than their American counterparts. If you wish to make comparisons between American and European dining, I request you to qualify them with the category of establishment that you are referring to.
I also find something wrong with your reference to “ethnic restaurants”. I know of very few good ethnic restaurants in which the staff are not extremely friendly and shall we say “familiar”, (overt familiarity appears to be the underlying theme of your criticism of the “treatment”). That is the joy in them, that the Greek owner will not follow your formal dining rules, but will invite himself to your table to pour you ouzo and teach you his favorite songs. Or the lady at my local Cambodian restaurant who always brings me little treats because she says I don’t eat enough. I would ask you not to spoil the joys of these ethnic restaurants for readers because you need or want them to fit into your view of service.
This brings me to a question. I am confused as to how you continuously mention the good service in ethnic restaurants followed by the reference of dining in the industrial world. Ethnic restaurants are generally cuisines not of the industrial world, so I would view these two groups as exclusive of each other. Care to elaborate?
Actually, I would take Asian service any day over your great “Industrial World” / European service. Wait staff Beijing can have a deference and efficiency unparalleled by European wait staff. Indian waiters can be so unobtrusive that you would think things appear by magic. The specifics and particularities of Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies far surpass your selection of wine glasses to carry with you to your local Ruth’s Chris.
Let’s not even get into the actual food. The complexities of south Indian food and the delicacy of Cantonese cuisine…. Come to think of it, you seem to be missing out on a lot in the area of culinary experience Mr. P.
Ohh, you seem to use experience and dining credentials to discredit the views of others. To preempt, maybe you would like mine. American raised, 5 years in the service industry through university from bartending in dives to relatively fine dining (and Mr P, this was in Atlanta). Ohh, and I have been living in your bastion of the dining experience, Europe, for the past 5 years, have traveled extensively throughout Europe for the past 15 years, and eat in a wide variety of restaurants about 4 times per week. I also travel extensively though South America and Asia spending 2 months at the beginning of this year in China, India and Thailand. I trust this satisfies any concerns on my restaurant and dining experience?