Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the rumour mill grinds out a few tall tales

So winter has finally arrived to our little Hamlet, seemingly missing its cue throughout the past few months.  But despite the balmy temperatures, this fall, and indeed the season we just 'weathered', took its toll on more than a few "culinary destinations" here in Stratford.

Read on for a brief synopsis of the changes coming to our fair restaurants, some have already seen their demise but perhaps will be born again with new life.

Disclaimer: not all of the following information is based on fact, quite frankly it's pretty much based on nothing at all, other than the word of mouth from our fair citizens.  It is peppered with a little research, but, reader discretion is advised!

1. Ellam's may finally close its doors after what anyone would have to fairly call a good run.  Health and fire safety restrictions have already removed part of the shanty at the back of the building, expect more demo.  On the brighter side of things, we look forward to watching the transformation into Canada's first cockroach museum.

2. Duelling Thai; Stratford can't seem to embrace having just one of any kind of ethnic food downtown, we like to double down.  Two Thai restaurants will be opening this year a mere footed jaunt from one another, perhaps it was planned this way to allow for the rumoured sumo wrestling events between owners that will take place bi-weekly in Market Square.  Inflatable Sumo suits provided generously by the Party Supply Store.

3. Erie St. Kitchen; that's right, everyones favourite little sandwich shop tucked away on York st. will be giving up its name and possibly its popularity to venture across Ontario st. to a new address.  Alpha Beet, Veg Out and Menrui were all so successful I can understand why someone would want such a prime location.

4. The Church Restaurant, a name synonymous with dining in Stratford, may not open this year at all.  After 30 odd years as a restaurant they're going back to their roots.  Word is that Tom Cruise and John Travolta will be launching the new Canadian headquarters for the Church Of Scientology at the corner of Waterloo & Brunswick. This is what caused them to finally tear down the old eyesore next door.  Only the best of everything for the thetan cosmic life force.
(Tom Cruise slated to reprise his role from Tropic Thunder as a cameo appearance in various productions at the theatre this summer!)

5. Fear not, lovers of fish and chips done simply, Shawn's little venture may rise from the ashes as a gourmet wedding cake shop, seafoam green is this seasons colour afterall.  Details to follow...

6. A personal favourite of mine will be seeing some changes this year as well, Pazzo, both ristorante and pizzeria are on the hunt for new Chefs.  Perhaps Jeff and Larry can take over their respective kitchens to see the world through chef whites, they certainly have the fortitude for the job.

7. Taj Mah-Fall; unable to compete with its Indian focussed counterpart around the corner, Taj will be embracing its size this year and opening Stratford's first curry themed bowling alley.  Bahji will remain available as bar snacks for hungry bowlers.

8. Tango has closed and is rumoured to re-open as Cha-Cha's: an all male dance club reminiscent of Chippendales. Hoping breakfast will still be served, only now with extra sausage.

9. Whispers around the city suggest that Rundles will be raising its prices this year, pre fixe dinners will crest the $5000 mark for the first time in Stratford history; rumours of a new Mazzerotti purchase by Jim and Richard are apparently unrelated.

10. Big D's Demise; as forseen difficulties are associated with the location at 104-108 Downie st. it's really not a big surprise that this awkward space has defeated yet another restaurant.  Starbucks is eyeing the location.

11. Speaking of Starbucks; the giant coffee conglomerate has snuck into the core on the wings of Subway, now you can get a $5 footlong alongside your Venti-skim-soy-caramel-frappu-macciato.

If you have any additional rumours, or can lend truth or falsehood to these, please join the conversation below...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

please remain seated

Ok people.  This is a simple concept, when you are dining in a restaurant (perhaps with the exception of a diner or Cora's breakfast) you should not get up from your seat to pay your bill.  You may have noticed that your server has brought everthing else to your table throughout the course of your dining experience, there's a good chance they will also take payment while you are seated.

You may think that you are making it easier on your server by 'coming up to the machine' to pay.  This is not the case.  Here is why: your server is keeping an eye on your table and knows that he/she has just dropped off the bill and will come by in a few minutes to sort out payment.  When you vacate your table your server can lose track of you which will probably result in you asking another server to process your card/make change.  This may seem simple but servers have a list of things to do in their minds and for someone who is not taking care of your table, processing your bill is not on that list.

This is even more important when you are in a group of 6 or more, especially with separate cheques.  You may not notice in your oblivious bubble but crowding around the service stand (often where the debit/credit machine is located) makes it difficult for the servers who are using that area to get around you.  You were well situated around your table and now you are congesting the thoroughfares of the restaurant; blocking servers and guests alike.

This type of scenario also makes it more difficult for a server who is processing your multiple cheques to make sure that everyone has paid.  Again, everything is much simpler to do while everyone is seated so that someone doesn't skip on the bill.

The worst part of all of this is when you leave your table prior to getting your bill at all.  You then approach a random server and say "I'm ready to pay!" well that is so nice for you, I have no idea who you are, what you have eaten or who was serving you in the first place.  We then engage in a game of charades, "oh she was about this tall, about your height, hair down to about here, maybe blonde?"  Great, just a moment while I go find your server, ask what table you were at, try to describe you to your server in a similar charade fashion, borrow their swipe card to access your bill and then come back and print and process.  All of this takes more time than if you had just remained seated at your table until your own server had time to process your bill and though I'm sure you're not concerned about the other guests, I have to ignore my tables while I sort this out for you.

Now as always there are exceptions, if you have been waiting a really really really long time for your card to be processed then I can kind of understand.  But 6 minutes does not count as an eternity, have a little patience.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

please erect your tent if you intend to camp

Two ladies sit together in a booth, dinner has been ordered, served and cleared; coffee and dessert are long reduced to crumbs and rings on the table.  The bill has sat untouched for almost an hour and the conversation rages on...

It's been so long since you've seen each other, I know, you just want to relax and catch up and enjoy each other's company, I get it.  But what you are not considering is that you are reducing my income significantly by taking up a table long after you have eaten.

You see, in most restaurants each server has a section which is comprised of a specific number of tables.  Those tables represent the potential income, not only for the establishment in which you find yourselves, but more directly for the server in that section.  When you forge your way past lingering into the realm of camping we begin to get upset.

As with any industry there is an assumed amount of time it takes to process an order or deal with a client, the same goes for the restaurant biz, there is an average amount of time that it normally takes to 'turn the table'. Some other occupations charge by the hour so that they do not have to concern themselves with potential campers, we don't have that luxury.  Restaurants do not rent you a table for a specific fee but they do expect that once you have finished dining and enjoying the offereings of said restaurant that you will pay your bill and be on your way so that the next table may be given the same opportunity.

If you are planning to stay for the duration of an afternoon or evening it would be courteous to inform your server and perhaps include a little extra when it comes to paying the bill so that he/she does not lose out on a significant amount of income from that table.

Stratford is filled with lovely independent coffee shops that provide an atmosphere to linger in, have a few lattes and catch up on the last 20 years of your life there perhaps?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the 12 bars of Christmas

Now that I am somewhat recovered from my 2 day hangover and shamed that I participated in such an irritating bar phenomenon I would like to offer you a Christmas carol, it being the week before Christmas and all...


At the first bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
A gin and tonic with lime

At the second bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the third bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Three pints of bud
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the fourth bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Four heineken
Three pints of bud
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the fifth bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Five jager bombs
Four heineken
Three pints of bud
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the sixth bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Six shots of rye
Five jager bombs
Four heineken
Three pints of bud
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the seventh bar of Christmas my server gave to me...
Seven white wine
Six shots
Five jager bombs
Four heineken
Three pints of bud
Two tequila
And a gin and tonic with lime

At the eight bar of Christmas my server cut me off...
No more to drink
I'm falling down
Maybe I should go
Five jager bombs!!!!
Just one more drink
I'm not driving home
I'll tip you lots!
One last gin and tonic with lime!

Thank you to those who sang along!  Now, I did not successfully complete my twelve bars, though to be fair there are no longer twelve bars within walking distance in the downtown core.

At my count there are 10: Dominion House, Foster's, Pour House, Parlour, DTS, Bentley's, Boar's Head, Molly Blooms, Backstage and Cadance. And that is the order I attempted to hop in.

I feel that my hangover of monstrous proportions was karma giving me a nudge, reminding me how much we bartenders hate to serve the droves of "12 bars" groups frolicking around the city at this time of year.  They flux in, demand quick service all at once for a group of 20 people or so, then flux out, often without much 'giving' that is so popular during this holiday season.

Please, if you participate in these events, try to drink responsibly and be kind to your service staff, patience as they say is a virtue...

Next year I will just stay in and sip Christmas cheer at home!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

how to make a reservation: timing

I have to ask, do you consider your timing when you call for reservations?

Prior to my adventures working in restaurants, this would never have crossed my mind.  You think, "gee, I forgot to book a table for date night next weekend, I should call now".  And you do.

Simple enough, right?  And for the most part it is that simple.

However, if you've ever watched a restaurant manager dash for the phone mid-service, servers and runners darting out of the way, while he/she desperately tries to catch the call before it stops ringing you'd understand my concern.

You see, restaurants have service times, and they have down time in between.  Those in between times are the best time to call for reservations as you will encounter a much more focussed individual on the other end of the line.  I'm always curious when the phone rings off the hook between 5 and 6pm, but I guess knowing better is something that I take for granted (like so many other things relevant to only restaurant workers).

If you are interested in adjusting your reservation habits, read on:

Lunch in most restaurants (particularly in our theatre world) runs between 11-2, dinner 5-8.  These are times when the person recording your reservation request is somewhat distracted, which can result in bookings taken on the wrong days, at the wrong times and under impossibly ridiculous names.  During these peak hours you may find that the individual receiving your call seems like they just want to get it over with and get off the phone, they probably do.

You might think, why should I care?  The restaurant staff are there to serve me, why should I have to consider their timing?  Well, you don't have to, but remember this the next time you see your server on the phone while your dirty plates sit in front of you: they just might be dealing with a special needs reservation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

customer profile: the regular-non-tipper

"Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name..."

Being a regular is nice.  A cheerful hello awaits your arrival.  Smiles from staff members, handshakes from management, you are an important part of a successful restaurant make-up.

I love regular guests.  They get to know you, they seem to care about the establishment as they continuously come to spend their hard earned money.  But, something I will never understand is a regular who doesn't tip.  

I am forever feeling like I have to clarify my points as they are so often taken out of context.  I too have locations I go on a fairly regular basis and my tip varies based on the service.  Bad experience = bad tip.  Good experience = good tip.  I'm not saying just because you go often to a particular restaurant that you should have to become a philanthropist.

What I am referring to are the certain people who return again and again to the same venue and just don't tip. Period.  I don't get it, they can have the greatest meal of their life and service to match and still no tip.  I personally would have trouble being a repeat customer knowing that some poor server is paying to serve me.  Yes, it's true, we pay out whether you tip or not (to better understand this concept read my previous post on tipping out).

Perhaps I'm so bothered, not by the lack of tip, but by my lack of understanding.  I've often wanted to approach this type of guest and ask, genuinely ask, why?

Suddenly your entrance turns into a twilight version of 'Cheers', smiles become frowns, handshakes become accusatory looks and the servers are doing rock, paper, scissors to figure out who gets stuck with you.

The last thing you want is being pegged as a non-tipper, your quality of service will be greatly decreased.  And trust me, we peg you, as soon as a regular-non-tipper walks through the door every server who knows alerts every server who doesn't know and we all scowl inwardly.

If anyone out there can enlighten me on the thought process of this type of customer, it would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

o Christmas tree

Welcome to the holiday season, a time of warmth, generosity, togetherness, and 'Christmas Parties'.  Every year between November 15th and December 24th I want to quit my job, crawl in a hole and weep until it's all over.

I've posted before about large groups but that does not even begin to express my feelings about restaurant filling, pre-booked, pre-ordered, set menu monster-sized parties.  I'm crying a little even now as I anticipate the coming month.

First off, if you ordered in advance for your dinner, DO NOT switch at the last minute.  Just because your friend's choice looks better than yours does not entitle you to change at the last moment.  This will result in someone else getting the wrong meal (imagine if half the people in your group did this?), which will cause the kitchen to back-up and have to re-cook a dozen meals and throw out the dozen they already made.  Not nice, eat what you ordered for the love of Santa!

Second, drink in moderation.  Yes, you're spending time with a bunch of people you don't like at the best of times (family/coworkers) so you may want a little social lubricant.  But be careful, too many candy cane martinis could result in serious tongue-wagging embarrassment.

Third: as mentioned in the other post, pay attention to your server.  Make a mental note of who they are (note: the young thin blonde and the older brunette are not the same person) and pose your questions and requests to that server.  Be patient, there are a lot of you who all want things at the same time; The night is young there is plenty of time to get drunk.

Inevitably, most Christmas parties get a little rowdy and by the end of the evening the ever present guest list breaks down like this:  There is, without fail, at least one male in the group who feels it is his calling in life to get impossibly drunk and inflict himself on the female staff.  There is often a puker - who of course never reaches the bathroom in time and leaves their festive present "discreetly" in a napkin or under one of the tables.  Don't forget the unhappy employee/unrequited lover who ends the night loudly complaining about their boss/lover to anyone who will listen - inevitably ending in tears and drama and refusal to get in the cab to go home.  Of course the lingerers are a common occurrance as well.  These are the people who hang on to the bitter end after everyone has left, they keep the staff, who try to reset around them without much success, hours later than necessary.  Last but not least, the boss/coordinator/head of the family who is in charge of paying the bill has always overspent on the event itself and cheaps out on the tip.

This year at your Christmas party, get into the spirit of giving; give the gift of good behaviour to your restaurant staff this holiday season!