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!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

late night bar etiquette - taking a pass

Imagine yourself lined up at a busy bar, you've been waiting a few minutes which has given you a chance to notice the bartenders working hard and fast behind the bar in hopes of serving everyone all the alcohol they could ever want.  You notice that the person to your right has been waiting just a few moments longer than you.

Now, you consider yourself to be polite, you don't butt in line, you hold doors open for old ladies.  That's nice.  But when the bartender turns to you, nearly frantic with the movement of multiple orders swirling in his/her brain, ready to take your order, DO NOT offer your turn to the person to your right.  Unless of course you aren't ready to order or intend to wait for your next turn, which could fall somewhere after everyone else already waiting at the bar.

You see, giving your turn to someone else is nice, but it DOES NOT mean that you will then in turn be served next.  The time it takes for you to pass your turn to someone else is the time it could have taken you to say "coorslight bottle" at which point the bartender would turn to the next person anyway for a multiple order.  You don't know if the next person is going to order a round of shooters for the whole bar along with a couple of pints for his friends and a cocktail for the pretty thing at the other end of the bar.  You have essentially made yourself wait quite a long time.

And don't go mentioning to the bartender that you were next.  We have a loose idea of who is next, it is at our discretion and though it may not be 100% accurate, we are the booze gods so what we decide is pretty much the law of the universe as far as alcohol consumption goes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

smoking gun...

May I begin with a question?

Does it bother you when a server approaches your table with the smell of cigarettes lingering?

A few questions perhaps...

What connotation do you relate to a restaurant whose kitchen/wait staff are sitting outside, in uniform, smoking?

In the restaurant industry breaks of any kind are few and far between, so I understand the want to slip outside for a quick butt, but where do you draw the line?

Is it okay to pop out for a puff while waiting for your table's entrees?  Do you then deliver their food while the smoke lingers?  Should you greet a table after smoking?  Does the level of cuisine or time of day have an effect on the guests' perception?

I recently experienced a situation where there was a rather long delay in the middle of dinner; when the server returned he smelled so obviously of cigarettes, I understood why we had been forgotten.  His tip declined rapidly.

There have been times in my life when I have been a smoker and times that I have not.  Let me tell you something: smokers stink.  This is especially true when the persons doing the smelling are not smokers themselves.  It is fairly well known that smoking mutes your sense of smell and taste, therefore you do not notice your own stench, but the people you are serving can smell you 'loud and clear'.

So many topics that I bring up are directly related to timing and discretion, as is this one.  Neglecting your section to take a smoke break is unacceptable; serving food in a fine dining atmosphere while reeking of stale cigarettes is disgusting and unfair to the people spending the money on a high end experience.  But alternatively, if your tables are well cared for by a co-worker in your absence, you cover your uniform so the stench doesn't linger and wash your hands afterward/use mouth wash or gum, go ahead, smoke your lungs out!

Friday, October 28, 2011

who doesn't love boobies?

Everyone loves boobies, it's true, you can't deny it.  But here's a question for you, do breasts ever make you uncomfortable?  

Sure sure, the response from most will either be, "Nah, I have a pair of my own", "Actually I find the bosoms of a woman to be a natural and beautiful part of our world" or "BRING ON THE TITTY SHOW!!!".  But I'm sure there are a number of people in the world who are somewhat off-put at the sight of naked flesh of any kind - think Amish and ankles.

Why in the world would anyone want to tackle this topic? I guess I just don't have enough controversy in my life at the moment, surely this will divide many of my readers into two camps.  1. We support breastfeeding mothers, it's natural, they should be welcome everywhere!  2. We don't want to talk about it, we will pretend to agree with whoever is the most vocal.

Now, as with many issues that I have tackled here in the past, location and discretion are of utmost importance.  The etiquette in a fine dining establishment is different than a fast food joint - and varies in between.  But you will argue, IT'S NATURAL, a mother should be allowed to do this anywhere.  Not true, pooping is also natural, making sweet love to your significant other - NATURAL.  There are many wonderful natural things that exist in our world that I do not want happening at the table next to me in a restaurant.  

I personally feel that breast feeding is an intimate moment shared between mother and child that need not be broadcast to everyone in the vicinity.

However, with all that being said, if I may quote someone who prefers to remain anonymous - but who contributed to the dialogue regarding breastfeeding in restaurants - "timing is everything'".  Perhaps the moment while your server is taking your order and you are describing to them that you'll have the caesar salad but with no crouton, light on the dressing - here's my boob coming out and here I go hoisting baby up to suckle, got a good look at my nipple didn't ya? - oh and extra bacon; this, maybe, is not the time.

Discretion is the other thing.  I have to admit I do have a soft spot personally for breastfeeding women.  There's a warmth and tenderness to the vision of a baby held close to its mother's breast (so long as the child is not toddler sized or beyond! Another topic for another post).  But, perhaps it could take place under a blanket, or one of the cute hats in the picture at the top of the page?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jesse's Deli disappointment

I feel saddened.

While out running errands I thought I would stop in to the newly opened Jesse's Deli, located where the William's Coffee Pub on Ontario st. used to be.  Though this is a new spot in town I have heard very little about it, they haven't created much of a buzz to launch their new venture.  Despite this, the place was quite busy - almost full - and I felt a little excited as I was seated and given the menu.

The menu itself is the highlight; filled with breakfast options (served 7am-3pm): regular bacon and eggs, 'ecceptional french toast' (yes, I spelled it wrong but took it straight from the menu) which is served with cream cheese and fresh strawberries topped with strawberry sauce, and a variety of eggs benedicts (hollandaise not made in house but should be equal to Features).  Lunch items are available from 11am until close and consist of mostly sandwiches and wraps in a variety of styles - great for a reasonably priced quick bite to eat in the afternoon.

The execution of the menu is where things start to fall apart.  I really was hoping this could become a new staple as a breakfast joint to widen the variety in my life but the food is rife with disappointment.  My breakfast sandwich has some shell left on the circular formed rubbery egg, the sausages beneath are greasy and overdone, like little pool-shrunk wieners.  The square of cheese is desperately trying to be a sharp cheddar but leaves me actually longing for Kraft singles.  Homefries seem to be an attempt at boiled potatoes, mushy texture, little seasoning - like my grandma makes at every family dinner (note: my grandma is a terrible cook).  The side of cottage cheese tastes as though it has spent the last few days making love to the fruit cocktail, not completely unpleasant but certainly strange.

The coffee is undrinkable.

I want to like this place, and will consider giving it one more try but with so many strikes against it, there seems little reason to make the trek.  Please, if you have had a good experience here do pass it along.  Should I give it another try?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

beat that clock

(photo taken from Molly Bloom's Stratford Website)

I have woken to find that it is Thursday yet again.  What should I have for dinner on this dreary Thursday?  There is a simple and delicious answer to this question that you may not be aware of; In my own life this is a newly found treat.

Every Thursday Molly Blooms Irish Pub offers its guests an opportunity to "beat the clock".  But what does that mean?  Well, basically it works like this: starting at 5:00pm you can purchase an 8oz striploin and potatoes for $5.00.  As the clock ticks by, you may place your order at 6:15pm - how much is your steak then? - it's $6.15.  Whatever the time on the clock is the price of your steak.

But man can not live on steak and potatoes alone!  

That's okay, go ahead and add sauteed mushrooms and onions to your steak (generous portions for about $1.00 each).  Can you make it a loaded baked potato? Of course.  Feeling like you haven't had your veggies today?  Add a side of mixed vegetables for $1.29.  A little known secret suggested by a staff member - get a side of aioli for your fries for only $0.49

You are required to purchase a beverage with the deal but they've made the choice easy - besides practically giving away their hand cut steaks - Thursday also means $3 domestic bottles.  Bring on the 50.

The staff at Molly's are always friendly and capable and the food has never failed to impress me far beyond average pub-grub.  I would challenge you to feed your family a steak dinner at home that is this good, for this price, with good service and someone else does the dishes!

Note: steaks can sometimes be a little over their intended temperature, order your preferred colour one step down from normal (ie. if you like Medium try Medium Rare).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

am I wearing service-repellent bat spray?

I do my best to spread my dining dollar around to the different restaurants in Stratford, but admittedly, I have a few favourites, don't we all?  I'm beginning to think that it will be necessary to seek out some different places to get some decent service until the old stand-bys give their heads a shake and perhaps fire the less-than-stellar staff they are currently employing.

Two of my most favourite joints: Pazzo Pizzeria and Foster's Inn, seem to have lost sight this summer of the whole 'offering their guests good service' thing.  I know this has been a tough year and servers and disheartened and unfocused but it's not going to help the bottom line to be slow and discourteous toward guests.  The core staff have maintained a level of service that would have, in the past, brought me back time and again but there are servers cropping up in these restaurants that are giving them a bad name.  Thus the service is bad as often as it is good and my dollars are going elsewhere.

Now, I'm not talking about a busy night, run off their feet, can't keep up, bad service.  I'm talking, only table in the place (or one of two), lazy, uncaring, bad service.

Here's a little pat on the back for two other places in town where I can't help but get better than good service  every time (you may find me here more often than I'd like to admit):

1. Down the Street offers great service consistently.  Whether you're grabbing a quick lunch on the patio or being indulgent late night for too many cocktails and shots of whatever; I have yet to experience a miss from Susan Dunfield's team!  (Awesome aside to the girls working the bar who gently-but-firmly prevent guests from driving after having a few too many!)

2. The Boar's Head also has continuing great service.  The long-time staff (like DTS they seem to last) are quick, appropriately surly and incredibly capable.  I never sit without a drink in my hand, the food is prompt and I am always 'quality checked' for excellence.

I guess for me it is about consistency.  I want to be able to return to a venue that gives me the same level of product, both in food and service, every time I go.  The trouble seems to be in the variety of service staff at some of these locations.  There are some very capable servers, but there are some serious weak links as well.

Bravo to those maintaining a high level of service, and I hope my old favourites will pull themselves together so I can return to delicious comfort.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I know the owner!

This is one of my favourite statements that immediately gets my ire up.

This comment always arises when you tell someone that they cannot have/do something.  A perfect example is a fully booked restaurant where someone arrives without a reservation and is told they cannot have a table.  "But I know the owner!  Surely you have room for US!".


Everyone thinks they know the owner, everyone wants to feel special, but the reality is, if the owner of the restaurant is any good at all, the patrons should know them.  This does not mean that you are entitled to any kind of special treatment.

You are not going to get a discount, you will not get a better table, better service or better food.  In fact, as soon as the words leave your mouth you automatically get placed into the irritating, pretentious category of customers and the quality in your service will decline sharply.  After all, your server is not saying 'No' just for fun.  There is a reason, that reason trumps you knowing the owner.

If you truly know the owner, they should know you are coming.  They will have already informed the staff that you deserve extra perks while dining, you don't have to tell us.

Remember, you may know the owner, but so do we.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

my name is not martini

If you've ever served tables in your life you have probably experienced this strange phenomenon.  Guests who feel that their wait staff are more servants than service professionals, not even worthy of a hello!

I like to lead off my service with a greeting.

"Hello, how is everyone today?"
"Hi there!"
"Hello, my name is Chew, how are you enjoying your day so far?"
"Good evening, nice to see you again!"

Most often the response is a pleasant conversational greeting, often followed by brief small talk then leading into a request/offer for a beverage.

However, it seems that some people leave their common courtesy at the door and ignore my pleasantries.  They skip the hello altogether and go straight for a demand of service.

Me: with a smile "Hello!"
Guest: sternly "Get me a martini, gin, rocks, olives."
Me: standing agape "I'm doing quite well actually thanks for asking!"

The tone is what makes the difference really, and it is hard to express it properly through text.  I could forgive the desperation of someone in need of a stiff drink - perhaps they just saw Grapes of Wrath - but being outright rude for the sake of it is unacceptable.

We, your servers, are not robots and how you treat us makes a difference to the overall enjoyment of your meal.  Try a smile, a quick hello, and if you need information/cocktails that urgently, at least try to be considerate while inquiring.


And Thank you!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

my perfect weekend at Savour Stratford - Sunday

Great to see that sunshine! (I'm thinking positive, right?)

So here we are, anticipating the Sunday of Savour Stratford and again I must plan my day to make sure I don't miss too many wonderful events!

8:00am sharp, Breakfast with Connie, don't miss it.  Even if you're not a morning person, it's Sunday, have a nap later.            [Buy Tickets]

10:00am, full belly, time for that nap.

Now that I am rested and well fed, a stroll through the market sounds nice, a wave to my friends from yesterday in the Craft Beer and Wine Pavillion, I'll be back later.

A few minutes' walk takes me to the Culinary Stage where Chef Denis Cotter demonstrates creative vegetable usage - local vegetables even.

Back to York st. for the main event: the Savour Stratford Tasting.  At $75 per person (general admission) it's a steal: 30 culinary teams, craft breweries and VQA wineries delight the senses.  Savoury and sweet, hot and cold, many different creative talents displayed in one place for you to enjoy.  Favourites from last year to seek out: Uptown 21, Bijou, The Parlour and The Prune.  Don't miss this event, you'll regret it!       [Buy Tickets]

I miss Chuck Hughes a second time, I guess I will have to console myself with delicious cocktails, again prepared and served by local bartending stars.  If only every culinary event had a 'beer tent' like this!

What a great weekend celebrating local food!  I'll see you at the after party back at Molly Blooms for a little risque food related burlesque, I hope the product is local!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

my perfect weekend at Savour Stratford - Saturday

You are of course attending our city's greatest culinary festival this weekend, I have no doubt.  I too shall be there, and with so many things to do I've narrowed down my options and created a kind of schedule for myself.

I will start the day with a wander through the market, maybe a Brit's Apple Frit for breakfast...

Sometime around 10:30am I'll swing by the Culinary Stage to peek in on the 'Best Chef Challenge'.  It's good to keep up on the talent in the city to help decide where to eat dinner later on.

A hard choice to make whether to stay and watch the chefs battle it out to the end or skip on over to the Tasting Tent East to sample some Monforte Cheese and Chateau des Charms Wine?  It's never too early for a little booze, warms the heart and the gullet, but I can't miss Antony John taking to the Main Stage at 11:30am so I'll wander toward the 'Beer Tent' instead.

Perfect location:  the Craft Beer & Wine Pavillion located across from the main stage allows me to sip a tasty beverage and still catch Antony John's crooning sounds.  I skip straight to the cocktails - designed and served up by local bartenders, this is not your average beer tent!  I've heard rumours about hot toddy's.

I have to be honest, I may remain in the Pavillion for some time, why not? I am entertained by a continuous stream of local talent on the Main Stage (Dan Stacey - foot stomping Irish tunes, Montina Hussey - curious to see, Yellow Bird and the Open Cages - eclectic folk that's right up my alley) and great people to see and chat with.

I'm not a total lush (that may be a lie) so after sampling one of each cocktail and feeling quite warmed from the inside out I will meander back into the market for some fresh produce and a pie, you must not forget the pie!

Hmm.... troubling.  It's now 2:00pm, do I continue my foray into beverages at the Tasting Tent West with Sommelier Jamie Drummond, or delve into the gastronomic delights at Tasting Tent East?  Oh, right Connie DeSousa and Fred De Martines - charcuterie at it's finest.  Decision made!                               [Buy Tickets]

No time to make it to see Chuck Hughes today, so over to Market Square for a southern BBQ rib dinner, starts at 3:30pm-6:00pm and look Creemore Springs draft, you know me so well!

Can I still make it to work on time?  I think so...

Thanks Savour Stratford, and all you friendly volunteers, for the 1st day of culinary adventure - I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, September 19, 2011

diet soda

I had an experience a number of years ago that has stuck with me.  I see it often - though to a lesser degree - day to day as I serve people.

A young man sat amidst a group of his peers, he was displaying a medic alert bracelet and sporting a high tech insulin pump - he was a portly lad, certainly over his preferred weight.  He politely ordered a diet coke and I promptly served it to him.  A few moments later while taking the table's order, he asked again, could he have another diet coke.  But of course.  I served it at my next available moment.  The next time I visited the table to see if anyone needed another beverage, he asked again.  Then about 10 minutes later, again.  This young man consumed 12, count them, twelve pints of diet coke over the course of an hour and a half meal.

At this point in my life I had not done research on this particular topic so I couldn't help but think that after so many 'diet' pops he probably was not reaping the benefits of reduced sugar.  I was both right and wrong.

I understand that some of us struggle with weight; obesity, after all, has become one of the leading preventable killers in North America.  I can appreciate the plight of someone trying to cut back on sugar consumption to better avail themselves to lose weight, for personal or health reasons - hence drinking diet soda.  But after a great deal of time making assumptions about diet cola I finally decided it's time I do a little research.

This is what I have discovered:

Now, I was under the impression that diet pop simply had less sugar than regular pop, this is not the case at all.  There are 0 calories in diet pop which is caused by the removal of all natural sugars which are replaced (in most cases) with aspartame.  At first glance one would think that this means it is a safe beverage for diabetics and for those who are trying to trim a few (or many) pounds.  This is not the case, in fact the more I read the more dangerous it seems - though not for the reasons I had originally thought.

The problem comes from the substitute sweetener.  Though it does indeed have far fewer calories than glucose it has an entire set of dangers unique unto itself.  Consuming diet pop causes something that is called “cephalic phase response,” which is basically your brain jumping the gun and telling your body that it needs to produce some insulin and right quick because there are calories on the way!  The sugar never shows up, no calories, no additional energy and the insulin is left waiting, hanging around hoping to be picked up by the dirty old men at Cadance.   This obviously causes major problems for someone with diabetes but also for someone trying to lose weight, it actually makes you want more food and more sugar and then slows down your ability to process fat.  (This info is easily found on the web, but here's an article from Men's Health about the subject.)

Anyways, before I try to get too technical, I just hope that parents reconsider the volume of diet pop their children consume because fat kids are more and more prevalent in restaurants in this city (and others) and poor unsuspecting dieters are being fattened on the diet coke dollar.

Save yourself the bloating, drink water!

Thank you for laughing at the picture, it was too funny to pass up...

Monday, September 12, 2011

dining etiquette + children part 4: dirty diapers

I must apologize in advance for the severity of this post, I am outraged by a scene I witnessed this past week!

If I may help you envision what went on:

Here we are in restaurant X sitting down to a nice evening out (it could be wing night or a casual dinner, heck imagine yourself at McDonald's or even Rundles if you want).  You place your order and food arrives at the table.  At the next table a baby begins to cry quietly.  The mother (I presume) lifts the child, checks the back end and pronounces "ooh that's a stinky one!".  You wait with baited breath, assuming the child will be whisked away to a bathroom facility to be changed, but wait... there's a cloth going down on the table, drinks pushed to the side to allow for the make-shift change station to be laid out.  Baby is put on its back, pants removed, and that velcro/tape combo-sound grates down your back like nails on a chalk board.  That's right!  They're doing it!  Right there in the middle of the dining room, RIGHT ON THE TABLE.  You look down at your own table and wonder...  Brown stained baby wipes are stacked atop the soiled diaper - a scent wafts on the air...

You awake from the horrible nightmare right?  Wrong!

I was frozen in shock as I witnessed this scene unsure whether to ask the couple to leave the restaurant or just go out back and off myself from sheer embarrassment!

There is absolutely, without exception, no possible excuse or explanation for this event taking place in a dining establishment.  I don't care if it's a diner or a pub or a fancy restaurant.  It doesn't matter if it's just a peed in diaper, just a quick change, or you feel outraged because there is no change table in the washrooms.  Urine and feces do not belong in a room where food is being served.  Period.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

a little information about handheld credit card machines

It seems at first like a godsend.  No more coaxing guests from their seats to join you at the credit card machine to process yet another chip card.  Often hard-wired machines are located in service areas that the guest rarely sees up close.  These areas tend to get messy, cluttered and generally unpleasant to behold during a busy service.  The last thing you want is to force your guest away from their conversation to stand in a line-up to process VISA cards en masse at 7:30pm.

Onto the scene arrives the wireless, handheld, credit card terminal!  Hooray!  Now you can approach the guest and stand awkwardly over their shoulder while they fumble through the options and hopefully leave their intended tip (god forbid they miss the decimal place and leave $0.12 instead of $12.00).

First let me start off by letting you in on a secret: the average server is not out to steal your card, you do not need to snatch it from the machine like you are saving a half-naked swimmer from a JAWS attack!  Be patient, these things take a moment to process - especially when the airwaves are bogged down pre-theatre and everyone in the city is racing to the show.  The card has to come out AFTER it says approved, so hang on to your socks, you can have your card back in a moment.

Unfortunately, instead of causing a decrease in the credit/debit card processing time, these little joys of technology have actually increased the time overall.  This is not due to the fact that they take longer to process, it's because of the human element.  People for some reason have an inherent problem following directions, instead they press the keys they assume to be correct which results time and again in a cancelled transaction or the need for correction.

The best advice I can give to those unfamiliar with these machines: FOLLOW THE PROMPTS!

You'll be amazed, if you'd simply read the information on the screen the process is quite simple.  Here are a few extra bits of information to make it even easier!

There are 3 coloured buttons on most machines: green, yellow and red.

1. Consider the green button to be the 'Go' button.  It will move you forward in situations where the machine prompts you to press 'enter' or 'OK'.

2. Yellow is the correction button (backspace) - have you left an overgenerous tip worth a few thousand dollars?  Press the yellow button to delete the last number entered (this works if you mess up your PIN number as well).

3. Don't press the red button!  There is rarely cause for a guest to use the red button.  This is the cancel key and will cause the entire process to be started over - so unless you are refusing to pay the amount listed on your bill, don't touch it - please!

Now the technical stuff - if you're a pro already you can stop reading...

The other important buttons are the F keys.  Most machines will start you off by showing you your total (press 'OK') followed by a prompt to leave a tip in either $ (dollars), % (percent) or $0 (nothing) - each of these options will have an assigned F key (F1, F2, F3).  You must first choose one of these options before proceeding.  If you choose $0 you will jump right to the final totals, press 'OK' (green button), enter pin, press 'OK' (green button), hand terminal to your server.

With a percent option simply key in the two digit number to make up the percentage you would like to leave and press 'OK'.

If you prefer a dollar amount, choose that option then key in the dollars and cents you'd like to leave and press 'OK'.

I hope this helps, both for the confused patron and for the server peeking over their shoulders waiting for the terminal.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

please, feel free to adapt the menu to your liking

When someone goes out to dine at a restaurant I like to think they choose that particular venue because they like the concept/menu/atmosphere.  To willingly pick a restaurant where these things don't appeal to you is nonsensical.

Why then are there so many guests intent on re-writing the menu to suit their needs?  Bear with me, I'm not talking about allergies here, I understand the difficulty of living with dietary restrictions.  I'm talking about the 'choose your own adventure' guests who think the menu is a free-for-all that can be switched around until it sounds good to them.

"Um, I'll have the pork loin, but with the sauce from the salmon plate - on the side of course - and can you add the goat's cheese from that other dish and I really like the sounds of the vegetables that come with the beef and can I switch the mashed potatoes for a side of gnocchi with lentils too!"

God forbid they don't like their own creation and try to get dinner for free!  Trust me, if you want to be your own chef, you are going to have to pay for it!

There are a number of reasons why menus are decided upon before service, not the least of which is that the Chef decided that he/she just prefers the food presented in the manner described.  In most cases the kitchen staff will even see the plating and learn the cooking style of each dish so they are prepared to do it in a timely manner for all you lovely guests out there trying to get to the show.

Most kitchens are divided into sections.  Certain cooks do certain jobs and have their mise-en-place all set up and ready nearby.  When you redesign a dish it may require an item from another station, or something that is created in equal parts to another element of its original dish.

There is also food cost to think about.  You may want the chanterelle mushrooms from the risotto dish - why can't you add them to your steak?  Because the steak costs more than the rice and the mushrooms aren't cheap.  Be prepared to pay if you want to alter a dish, even if you feel you are making it a cheaper plate, that is not for you to decide, don't bother trying to get a discount by removing an expensive item, it makes you look cheap, and quite frankly, rather dumb.

If you really like something from another dish it's not the end of the world to ask for it.  But don't be haughty and arrogant thinking that you can have whatever you want and NEVER say "they did it for me last time!".  That was last time, and it feels like you're trying to pressure us into doing it again.  Sometimes restaurants do things during a slow period that they cannot execute as well when it's busy.  Ask politely and we'll do our best to accommodate you.

And don't forget to say 'thank-you', sincerely, after all, we did something extra just for you!

Thanks to Carly for inspiration!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

huevos over easy

Ah breakfast... easily my favourite meal of the day, and as they say (whoever they are) "the most important!".  Perfect for any time of day, whether it's an early morning - getting the day started off right, a late afternoon hangover recovery or midnight snack; it's hard to resist eggs cooked how you like them with some kind of greasy pork product, potatoes and toast.

For years Features was a breakfast staple for me and mine, it is "where Stratford meets for breakfast" after all.  But over the years the prices have jumped - often in the winter? - and the service has started to slip a little (not to mention the decreased size of my bacon portion!).  I feel the overall value has decreased to a point where I have ventured further afield to find a great diner breakfast.  Two of my current favourites are Joe's Diner on Erie st. and if you're feeling ambitious, or have a ride from some generous individual, you can trek to Dave's Diner located in the Sobey's plaza for great tasting, perfectly greasy diner fare (try the local water buffalo lasagna sometime for lunch!).

But here I plan to speak of breakfast beyond the early bird special.  I truly believe that the best breakfast in the city is an ongoing battle between Foster's and The Parlour.  Unfortunately for the latter they only serve their really interesting items on Sundays so the availability is incredibly limited - making it much easier to enjoy the Foster's uber breakfast more often and become quite fond of it.

I place here, for culinary judgement, the Huevos Rancheros, Eggs Benedict and French Toast from both restaurants.  After a large amount of gluttony and a spike in my cholesterol - but also a great deal of Omega 3's and 6's - I have consumed all three of these, times two.

It breaks down basically like this:

Foster's Huevos Rancheros:  In my opinion, this is the best breakfast item in the city.  Spiced hash browns are tossed with house-made beans and local bacon, smothered in cheese, placed into a flour tortilla which is then baked until the edges are just a bit crispy.  Over easy eggs perch atop the deliciousness beneath, finished with Pickles Eh! salsa and sour cream.  A prick from your fork sends the warm yolks cascading down, the perfect testament to a well cooked egg.  If you think you might want to omit the bacon and beans I would encourage you to choose something else, if you're vegetarian, at least get the beans, they're the best part!

The Parlour Huevos Rancheros:  A great bit of spice from the fresh sliced jalapenos (a wonderful addition to the dish!) is the highlight here for me, along with a perfectly flavoured guacamole.  I find the potatoes, etc. on the inside of the tortilla to be a little under seasoned but the eggs are impeccably cooked, like little spheres of gooey sunshine!

The Parlour Stuffed French Toast:  If you like the sweeter side of breakfast then this is for you!  Blueberry cheesecake is decadently sandwiched between two generous pieces of house-made brioche.  The bread itself is eggy and fluffy with crunchy toasted edges - perfect!  Final additions of fresh blueberries and real maple syrup round out the plate (and my waistline), and I happily sop up every last drop.  It's dessert for breakfast, and you deserve it!

Foster's French Toast: Apple pie without cheese is, well, not a concern with this sweet/savoury breakfast item.  Thinly sliced, lightly caramelised apples adorn thick cut, dense white baguette (made in house) that has been covered in aged cheddar and baked to golden brown.  Add a few slices of bacon for an extra salty kick and drizzle the whole plate in pure Canadian maple syrup.

Foster's Eggs Benedict: Classically prepared with peameal bacon or enjoyed as one of the variations available on the menu (smoked salmon, crab cakes or portabello mushrooms - great for gluten allergies), this is a breakfast that keeps me coming back.  There is just something about watching a chef/cook whisk your made-to-order hollandaise right in front of you in the open kitchen that makes breakfast taste that much better.  Served with a lightly dressed green salad to help prevent a coronary.

The Parlour Eggs Benedict:  I feel nervous saying it out loud but this is probably the best eggs benedict I have ever had!  A benedict is something that is hard to achieve at a really hot temperature - the physics of the dish usually hold it at 'really warm' - much hotter and the hollandaise will split, the eggs will be poached hard and generally, all the things you love about a benedict will fall apart.  I'm not sure whether it was purposeful brilliance or just serendipity but Max has achieved a wonderful thing.  In place of the peameal stands a quarter inch piece of ham which is served piping hot, this lends itself to the rest of the dish, maintaining the hollandaise intact  and the soft poached eggs but heating it all as you eat it.  Add to this a house-made sourdough english muffin and there is nothing more to say.  Dig in!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Canadian servers have it best

Servers are whiners.  It's true, we complain when we don't get tipped, when it's too hot, that our wage is too low...etc.

But in the grand scheme of servers in various other parts of the world, Canadian servers have it pretty darned good.

We model our tipping expectations against the US.  Our generous neighbour to the south whose service staff get paid an average of $3/hr.  After taxes there are a large number of servers in the States that receive a paycheque that totals less than $10.  They truly survive on the generosity of their guests, and I for one feel that this makes them appreciate their customers more sincerely than we Canadian counterparts.

Travel a little farther abroad to somewhere like Australia and you find that servers get a more standard wage and the concept of tipping is basically discarded.  An Aussie server can expect to bring home a wage of $16-17 flat.

In destinations around Europe things vary, but it is more consistent to find truly professional service staff making professional wages than to find poorly paid servers clamboring for tips.  This is why people with European accents are so scary for Canadian servers.

Back at home, we find that yes, servers are paid below minimum wage but, 'alcohol and beverage server' minimum is currently pushing $9.  If you consider that we are actually taking home a moderately sized paycheque more like the Australians, yet still raking in a high tip percentage like the Americans, well you can see how we are a little spoiled.  Not that I am complaining ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taj...crown of Indian flavours?

Very few cities with a small population like ours can boast a really good Indian restaurant, let alone two very good Indian restaurants located right around the corner from each other!

Taj has recently opened at a location that has been renovated and updated to the tune of almost a half a million dollars (or more!) so I thought it would be a good idea to compare it to Raja, which I have to admit is a favourite of mine for take-out when I just don't feel like cooking, or when I'm in the mood for something spicy.

Now that I have tried both places a couple of times I have to admit that the decision is a very difficult one to make, but quite frankly, I was impressed with the food at Taj - though the price is more than a little frightening.

Even with the enticement of a 25% discount, lunch was in the $70 range, plus tax and tip (for two).  I always enjoy the value at Raja for lunch, you can get away with a delicious and filling lunch for under $35 (also for two).  Perhaps the two places are better compared at dinner time - as the menu at Taj seems to be the same all day.

Service at both places is incredibly attentive, I always feel treated like royalty at Raja and the young woman serving at Taj is quite capable and charming.

As for the menu: for the less adventurous types, the Butter Chicken at Taj seems to have more depth of flavour than Raja but in turn I prefer the Korma at Raja - maybe it's the cardamom in the rice that intensifies the flavour?

Tandoori chicken is good in both places but I think Taj's wins with increased moistness.

For those more adventurous palates I would certainly recommend the vindaloo at Taj - great balance of spice and flavour, and the heat certainly builds as you get farther into the dish!

Overall, I feel that I will most likely stay loyal to Raja, and I have to admit that this decision is heavily weighted on value for dollar and naan.  The naan bread at Raja is more tender - though if you prefer somewhat crispy naan then Taj is for you.

Perhaps I was also swayed by the washrooms at Taj which seem to have been a last minute thought in the massive renovations that took place this spring.

Good luck to Taj, competition raises the bar for all of us!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Robin's hotdog fail

I demand the return of Mr. Dog.  His awesome cart with the fold up top and a wide variety of condiments available to enhance your street meat experience!  These are the visions in my dreams.

But I must awake and face the reality that our new hotdog man and his shoddy condiment-less world are all we have for street food (besides delicious vinegar soaked Ken's Fries of course) - this sub-par hotdog experience is taking up incredibly valuable real estate, and even more valuable: the only available street vendor permit available at the moment in our fair city (why exactly there is only one available, I am not sure!)

Street food is something that has come to the forefront of the food world of late.  Our own Shawn Hartwell of Simple Fish & Chips has made a recent appearance at the Food Truck Eats revolution in Toronto.  There is another event scheduled August 20th for those of us who missed the first round.  Food trucks are popping up in unexpected places.  Offering reasonably priced food that is full flavoured and delish!  Just turn on your boob tube and find Eat St. on the Food Network for guaranteed salivation (and download the app for road-trip satisfaction!).

Stratford has a rather unfortunate foray into the world of street food.  The new Robin's Dogs is a disappointment.  His buns rest on the ground, a card table set up for your basic ketchup, mustard and relish.  Where is the wide variety of interesting mustards, the sauerkraut, pickles, hot peppers... 

There are better dogs at Molly Blooms: Nathan's Famous Hotdogs that are far superior to the ones available street side.  The buns are pretzel-like, perfectly chewy and you can top your dog with an array of condiments including spicy deep-fried jalapenos!

Why is our city - a culinary destination - so far behind the times?  Give me street meat with interesting condiments, or give me death.

Friday, August 5, 2011

late afternoon patio lunch at The Parlour

The other day between working a week full of split shifts I took a quick moment to myself to have some lunch on the newly re-vamped Parlour patio.

Asian influence has turned into the main focus on a majority of dishes at the Parlour (though you can still get large saucy chicken wings on Thursday nights!) which feels a little out of place amidst the English Pub surroundings. The menu for me seems contradictory to the space but that doesn't make it any less delicious - Chef Max Holbrook has a solid background in Asian influenced cuisine (remember Menrui?)

I tried the 'Shaking Beef' for lunch which is accompanied by fresh lime juice.  Beef and lime wouldn't be my first thought for combination but I am pleasantly surprised, it brightens the dish making a hearty/beefy lunch a great summer option.

Service was fantastic: attentive and friendly.  With a good selection of beer on tap and wines by the glass this would be a great spot for a variety of tastes to be satisfied.  I do have to mention that my pint was a little flat, which I have experienced here before - but overall it was a great midday repreive from the work week for this tired server.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

i'm afraid of Americans...and their cash

We all know the American dollar is in trouble.  For quite a number of years now it has bounced around par with our dollar, spending a good deal of time uncomfortably below ours - quite the turnaround for what the American's were used to! (We wont even talk about the trouble they are in currently that could tank their dollar completely and permanently and the effects that would have on the Stratford economy!)

This poses a problem for servers - and restaurants - often the American doesn't realize how far below our dollar his currency is.  I'm not sure if this is ignorance or just blind optimism.

What this results in is a serious decline in the tip, to the point of non-existence, often to the point of dropping below the price of the bill causing the server to have to pay for the remainder, and then of course still tip out on the overall bill making it rather expensive to serve Americans who pay cash.

American cash used to be a blessing, Stratford saw more American tourists overall when their dollar was stronger than ours, they spent more money and were more generous because it didn't cost them nearly as much.

I miss those days...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

customer profile: the power couple

This duo can appear in nearly any age group, but usually falls in the 30-55 range - and they are a dream come true for any server.

They are always impeccably dressed, he often wears a suit that is tailored perfectly (or a shirt that you and I could never pull off) while she floats gracefully in impossibly high heels.  There is an air around them of absolute confidence, but you'll notice a distinct lack of pretension.

They are out to dine, not cram a meal in prior to the theatre, they have all the time in the world and intend to enjoy the chef's culinary talents in full.  These two don't need any suggestions yet they graciously accept direction from their server.  They know more about the wine list than most of the staff and are often generous enough to leave the last half-glass of whatever outrageously expensive wine they decide on - for the service staff to taste.

Conversation at the table is intelligent and inviting, you can't help but wish you were dining with the duo, instead of serving the table.  The end of the meal finds the server almost embarrassed by the size of the tip (if the couple received great service of course).

Here in Stratford we wave goodbye and hope to see them again next season... Or look to our own Des & Bryna for a great example of this customer genre.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

everybody wave to the Sysco truck...

We are incredibly blessed here in Perth County, surrounded by a sumptuous bounty of farmland, protein, produce, cheeses - a 'veritable pantheon' of local producers offering superior products to the array of Stratford restaurants.  Yet, I find myself, weekly (if not more often) watching the Sysco truck parade brazenly around the city delivering its wares to sub-par kitchens and restaurants of every ilk.

For those of you who are not familiar with what I am talking about, Sysco is a massive over-produced food company that will provide you with less-than-quality ingredients at 'bargain basement' prices.

Note: Flannagan's is a similar company, much like shopping at Target instead of Walmart.  But Sysco claims the 'Walmart of food products' place in my heart.

Now, some restaurants use Sysco products for things like: canned goods, bar stock (cherries, straws, mini-swords, etc.) and that's okay, even necessary.  Not every joint on the block can afford the caraffa olives from Pazzo bakery.  But other restaurants are using these foreign products to make up the bulk of their menus, from the very expensive lamb at the Church Restaurant to the eggs on your breakfast plate at Features, some restaurants think it is okay to offer cheaper, low quality products at prices that would be understandable for a hand raised local product.

To extend the olive branch: I'm not suggesting that every restaurant can nor should source everything locally - I understand it gets expensive, I want to eat things like lobster and oysters as much as the next guy, and some restaurant price-points don't allow for every product they serve to be of superior quality.  Let's be honest, we all eat hotdogs right?

Basically I'm just suggesting that the next time you're out dining in a fine establishment (or what you consider to be one) ask your server a few questions.  Where do they get their beef?  Is the fish sustainable?  Are they using local produce?

We the consumers should encourage our dining venues to use products with integrity wherever possible.  Then maybe we can wave good-bye to the Sysco truck altogether!


I feel some of the wording in this post came across harsher than intended.  When I write, it is with a certain inflection in my head, often meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

I understand that there are lots of reasons to use large suppliers and have worked for establishments that do so conscientiously - and I applaud them for this.

I have also worked for establishments that don't have to use large suppliers (they have the liberty of a higher price-point/smaller space)  Some of these establishments still use Sysco products but charge prices that reflect a high quality local/specialized product.

It's great to see the comments below because it means that this post has people thinking - and responding intelligently - which is kind of what this blog is meant to do.

Thanks again for reading!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the woes of 2011 in Stratford...

It's dead in town...I find myself pondering the necessity of a job outside the service business.  What has happened to our fair city this year?

Everyone held out through May and June "It's always slower than you remember" we said to one another.  But something is different about this season.  Aren't we supposed to be re-bounded from the recession?  Yes, our dollar may be a little too strong for the average American tourist, but they'll still come right?  The line-up of shows is perhaps geared too heavily toward 'theatre buffs' and not enough to the general populace, but that shouldn't matter!  Even our best selling, most raved about show, Jesus Christ Superstar, is selling out - though that just means it's impossible to get tickets.

Stratford cannot live on one show alone!

There really isn't much to be done about it, but it has made the entire business of restaurant-ing a little extra tough this time around - this creates a situation where everyone's stresses start affecting each other.

Owners are stretched thin, working longer hours than they'd like to save labour costs and still coming up shorter than they can afford;  Managers are feeling the pressure from bosses breathing down their necks forcing them to tighten their labour and cut more servers more often; Servers are significantly down in income over-all, schedules are a nightmare - constant cuts and on-call shifts that often turn out to be duds even when you get to work them!  Servers then in turn put pressure on bosses, everyone wants better shifts, morale is way down and the service suffers, ultimately hurting the bottom line.

I think this season has upped the ante - and our restaurants are not delivering (a topic for another post).  This will be a tough year for some of the best restaurants in town but it will certainly separate the 'wheat from the chaff' where the weaker venues are concerned.

If anyone has any insight I would appreciate the input!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

whatever happened to uniforms anyway?

A number of years ago, it's hard to say exactly when, maybe 5 - let's be honest, it's more like 10 years ago - restaurants decided that the whole white shirt, tie, black pants, white bistro apron thing was over.  The entire industry recoiled from those 'stuffy' tie wearing waiters of yesteryear and embrace a new exciting 'all black' vibe that they felt was more chic, cool and relaxed.  White button ups gave way to black button ups, even allowing some female staff to wear a 3/4 sleeve - how daring!

It worked, people felt they were dining in trendier places when they saw servers in stealthy black.  Ninja waiters everywhere!  Service staff themselves liked the new rules, less bleaching of dirty cuffs (black hides so many imperfections), less embarrassing red wine stains that are impossible to disguise.

Fast forward: here we are, it's 2011 and nearly every restaurant in Stratford is populated by black clad wait staff, but like the goth memories of your high-school years, they're faded.

Crisp black dress pants have given way to ever shorter skirts, skinny jeans, and yoga pants!  Shirts range from black, to grey and every faded shade in between.  White tank-tops and technicolour bras peek out from under black t-shirts and open back tank-tops giving young service staff that 'well-put-together' look (please, generously slather sarcasm on that last statement).  Shirts are buttoned lower (on both men and women) exposing cleavage and chest hair (though thankfully not in that order).

I for one would like to see some professionalism from the service staff in this supposed 'culinary destination'.  Tuck in a little.  Hem your pants maybe?  Use Woolite Zero if you have to, keep those blacks looking as sharp as the day you bought them!

Basically, try to avoid going to work looking like it's laundry day and you didn't have anything else to wear!  I for one would like to be taken seriously in this business, it's hard to command any kind of respect when you look like you don't even own an iron, let alone know how to use one.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

a refreshing pint of...

Shock Top Belgian Wit

A new beer has graced the taps of our fair city. It's called Shock Top and it is a great summer beverage, the perfect compliment to everything from deep-fry to citrus dressed salads (try Molly's Lemon Pepper Chicken Salad for a light and satisfying combination) or any BBQ'd treat.

Available at the Pour House and Molly Blooms, this wheat beer is done in the belgian style brewed with coriander and citrus (the latter packing a refreshing punch!).

Try it with a slice of orange or lemon, in place of your Rickard's or Keith's white and you'll be impressed by this American microbrew.  You'll find it a bit cloudy but don't be alarmed, it's unfiltered and meant to be so.


Friday, July 8, 2011

all together now...

Some comments on the previous post have once again inspired me to respond.  First, if I may direct you to my first post regarding large groups.  I think it will give you a little insight into where I am coming from.

This may be a bit of a rant/ramble due to the fact that this is a multifaceted issue with many different points of view and necessary things to be mentioned.

First, large groups (parties of 10 or more) are simply more difficult to execute in independent restaurants than the same number of people seated at smaller tables.  It may seem easier to do everything all at once but that is not the case - a large party basically grinds the kitchen to a halt while that table is being plated (meaning the rest of the tables in the restaurant suffer).  

Try it for yourself at home: first, plate two different dinners for yourself and a friend, repeat 5 times over every few minutes.  Then plate 10 dinners at the same time, 3 salmon, 2 pasta, 1 steak medium, 1 steak rare and 3 chicken fingers w/ fries.  Did you find that you ran out of room?  Was it hard to keep everything hot while you waited for the fries to finish?  Can you feel the eyes boring into the back of your neck as the server impatiently waits while the rare steak turns to medium-well on the plate? Did you have time to start anything else while plating the 10 dishes?

If you successfully executed both types of service, I applaud you!  Perhaps you should take up cooking professionally!

The flow of a restaurant is designed to handle smaller tables (up to 6 or 8 max) effectively.  Larger chain restaurants can execute things faster because their size matches that of your group.  10 cooks can more effectively cook for large groups than say 4 chefs/apprentices.  With 10 staff, you can divide your kitchen to focus some on the party and others on regular service, with 4 this is an impossibility.

Now regarding service;  I have both served and dined with large groups and I have to say that over 50% of the time it is the fault of the group, not the server, that the service seems lacking.  It is much harder to get the attention of 10 people at the same time.  You may feel you're being neglected when really your server was at the table a few moments ago trying to politely get your attention but you were engaged in conversation and now that you realize you need something and your server has gone to get drinks for your friends you feel your server is 'too slow' or 'not attentive' etc.

And to answer a question from my reader, the justification for the auto-grat is based on the fact that, like it or not, restaurant service is a tipping environment (if things change, I'll let you know) and too often large groups don't tip.  This results in servers having to pay out of pocket to serve a large group (see my post on tip-outs) which results in unhappy staff, which results in the refusal to serve large parties, or to tip out on them, which causes problems for the restaurant, hence an auto-grat!

As for what is wrong with separate cheques, well (again my post on separate cheques) it basically boils down to timeline.  I know that isn't what you wanted to hear but it's true!  And unfortunately as technology advances, it doesn't get faster it gets slower!

It used to go something like this:

swipe card, enter amount, press enter, print, tear, present to guest

Now it goes something like this:

enter server number, enter amount, insert chip card, verify acceptance, pass terminal to guest, guest muddles through asking the server questions (which button now? how do I go back? I've put in the wrong pin, I don't remember my pin), pass terminal to server, connect to wireless, process, print, tear, present to guest

You can see how it is somewhat more lengthy now than before!  The other problem with separate cheques for large groups is something you may remember from childhood - a game called musical chairs. We your service staff don't know you, we are not familiar with your faces so we number you by seat, if you move from that seat you no longer have an identity which means it's hard for us to [a.] serve you the right plate of food and [b.] charge you appropriately for what you've had.

Any other issues with separate cheques are mostly related to un-trained/disorganized service staff, but I have literally witnessed emotional breakdowns happen from servers trying to separate a cheque for a seat switching large groups.  The poor girl couldn't work the rest of her shift - and imagine someone else trying to separate the bills!  Not to mention if you don't work in a restaurant that has a POS system, every cheque has to be written and calculated by hand.

Whew, that was a lot to take in all at once!  As always, thank you all so much for reading and remember, intimate table or giant group at the end of the day I love to serve you and hope we can accommodate your needs, whatever they may be!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


First, allow me to define the term: Autograt (automatic gratuity): an involuntary service charge that is added to your bill at the discretion of therestaurant.  Often applied to large groups (or in some cases parties of 6 or more?!?)

I personally have mixed feelings regarding this concept.  As a server who has been badly burned by guests in large groups who think either [a.] they can get away without tipping and no one else will notice because everyone else is tipping OR [b.] their friends are taking care of the tip!  I appreciate the option to add a service charge to large parties so that I don't end up paying to serve the table.

But, on the other hand, when dining out myself I feel that I am a fair tipper.  Though I don't always over-tip just because I'm in the business, when I receive great service I tip accordingly.  The same goes for when I get poor service!

Though I'm sure every server in the world thinks they are perfect, but sometimes large groups get poor service.  In the event of this possibility I think it is unfair to tack on a 15% (or more) gratuity to a bill.  However, there are some customer types that are a higher risk than others and therefore I'm not opposed to autograt-ing a party of, say, 10 or more? (especially if they require separate cheques!)

Having a policy regarding auto gratuities means that you feel your staff are entitled to the tip.  I wholeheartedly believe that tips are earned not  deserved (though I too feel indignant when shorted).

As a floor manager in a restaurant you should evaluate each service individually, know the strengths and weaknesses of your servers and autograt appropriately - or not at all in some cases.

All things considered, I've gained more than lost by letting my guests decide for themselves what kind of tip they feel is appropriate.  It's kind of like gambling, except you're betting on yourself and if that's not a good bet, perhaps you should re-evaluate your own service abilities!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

dining etiquette + children part 3: throwing spaghetti

Parents, I challenge you to clean up after your children while in a restaurant!  I know it is nice to be able to walk away from a floor littered with crayons and pieces of paper, bits of food and spilled pop, but the server should not have to be responsible for such a mess.

You certainly wouldn't let 'little Johnny' throw his spaghetti at home, or would you?  The atrocious mess that is commonly left behind after a table with children leaves is unacceptable.  I've actually had children throw food/crayons at me and the parents just laugh!

Thank you but I am not a janitor, nor a babysitter (I was once, but not anymore) and I don't want to have to crawl under your table after you leave to scrape crushed crackers out of the carpet.

I have served a few families that are tidy and pleasant, the children have great manners and are cleaned up after when they make a mess, but unfortunately there are a great many rotten apples spoiling the pot.  So please, to those who don't usually clean up after your children - not only are you being uncouth but you are setting an example for your children that will be perpetuated with their children!

At least leave a big tip so the time we take to clean up the mess isn't totally wasted...