Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(bi) weekly linkage: liquor laws, eating local, iron chef uptown finals and more!

Shall we dive right in?  I get a little over-excited sometimes and want to get straight to the new things that I have been enlightened by recently.  The internet is a vast place filled with useless information, here I boil it down and let you know about the things you may have missed of late - and shouldn't have!

First I must beseech the local decision makers to get on the band-wagon that our provincial government has decided to jump aboard!  I look forward to strolling the garlic festival and Savour Stratford with a frosty beer in hand!

As food trends come and go restaurants are always looking to the future to see if they are making the right decisions for their guests.  You decide: has eating local become annoying?

Finally BBQ season is upon us, with a vengeance.  I look forward to warm evenings spent grilling something delicious!  But besides all the great things to eat we of course need some suggestions on what to drink with BBQ deliciousness.

To get everyone in the mood for some sun and remind us yet again why we love this great abundant countryside in which we reside, how about a video?

In case you haven't been paying attention: there has been a great event re-occurring just down the road in Waterloo at Uptown 21.  Iron Chef Uptown was hosted Wednesdays for the past 2 months where a number of Stratford's own chefs were featured battling against the best restaurants of the Waterloo region.  Tomorrow night is the final and it features one of Stratford's greatest chefs: Aaron Linley.  If you can't make it to Waterloo (tickets are $5 with all proceeds going to the food bank) then watch from home and cheer really loud so Aaron can hear you! (link is live in real time so if it's blank for now, just wait until tomorrow night @ 9:30pm)

To get you psyched for what the secret ingredient could be please enjoy a ridiculous video from our 'honourable chairman'...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

playing favourites

I am often inspired by those who read this blog and particularly by those who comment.  Most recently a comment on my post regarding 'late-night bar etiquette: the waiting game' gave me a moment's pause.  I examined my own behaviour as a bartender and the habits of those bartenders that I have worked with; and to be honest I must give credit to 'Anonymous 7:41pm' for pointing out a rather glaring flaw in the service in this town.

We play favourites.

Now, I was not writing the other post for someone like 'Anonymous 7:41pm' who says "I am polite, tip well, wait patiently and generally understand the plight of the server/bartender".  The people I am writing for are the loud, impatient, mouthy, catcalling, belligerent people, who unfortunately seem to make up the majority - especially during late night.  I am trying to educate these people so that people like 'Anonymous 7:41pm' can get better service from their bartenders.

You sir/madame, are not an inconvenience at all and do not deserve to be overlooked.

Here I arrive at the point I plan to make.  Bartenders play favourites (though I am not totally opposed to this scenario - after all, if you know someone is pleasant, friendly, quick and a great tipper why would you not serve them first?).  But, often bartenders cross the line, they begin to outright ignore paying guests for one reason or another.  Perhaps they're enjoying some beverages behind the bar themselves, hence slowing their reaction time/motor skills so that they are less efficient.  Maybe they don't like the way you look, or you don't tip 'enough' for their liking.  These are unacceptable reasons to give poor service.

Finding yourself somewhere between the bad customers and the regulars a person can tend to get lost.  I myself have experienced many times the 'brush-over' particularly when I'm out at a bar where I am not recognized.

I would like to apologize on behalf of the bartenders out there who skip the average guests in favour of their friends every time.  Unfortunately with it being such a small town there is little to be done other than perhaps on a slow night, sidle up to the bar and make friends with the bartender, then perhaps next time it will be you getting served while those average souls around you wait!

Friday, May 27, 2011

late night bar etiquette - the waiting game

Patience is a virtue, one that is uncommonly exercised by bar patrons when it gets busy.  I encourage all of you who like to go out and 'tie one on' to learn a little, it will get you ahead a lot farther than shouting rudely and waving money at the bar staff.

First, to avoid being the object of the bartenders' loathing just bear in mind that we really are working hard (and fast) to get you drinks.  This is a bartender's main goal.  It's good for everyone, the bartender makes money, the establishment makes money and you get to go ahead and get shitfaced.  Everybody wins right?

To help reduce your own personal wait time please refer back to my previous posts on ordering and tipping.

Be patient with the bartenders!  Don't think you're smart and spout off about how long you have been waiting; How for some reason, out of all the individuals waiting for a drink, you deserve to be first.  We have a system, and we're getting to you.  In fact, you might be your own downfall, at a busy bar you must be diligent while waiting!  Don't turn to have a chit-chat with your friends or a quick make-out with your girlfriend/boyfriend because in that moment, as Murphy's law would dictate, the bartender will come over and try to make eye contact, if you are otherwise distracted, well, too bad!  You are no longer a customer who has been waiting a long time, you are back to the bottom of the lineup, now you must wait until the bartender has helped those in line ahead of you - which is now everyone else.

Sucks doesn't it?

But it's not the bartender's fault, though you feel slighted; If we waited until you were done your conversation/make-out we would be wasting valuable time that could be otherwise spent serving someone who is paying attention and also waiting.

Also, be prepared.  If you're planning to order for the group of people surrounding you, KNOW WHAT THEY WANT!  Do not wait until the bartender stops then turn and ask everyone what they're planning to have, if you're not ready to order, you're not really waiting are you?

To help further reduce the length of time you'll have to wait: have your money ready.  No, this does not mean you wave a 20 dollar bill at the bartender, catcalling like he/she is some kind of stripper.  What it means is you have you wallet out of your pocket/purse and you have your dirty little fingers on the money - before you order!  It saves us a trip, we can take your money in advance and bring change and the drinks at the same time!  This allows us to make sure you don't have to wait as long.  Rocket surgery, I know.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

who is J. Mahoney?

I must give a great deal of credit to Ni Chrome (go ahead and follow @ni_chrome) for the initial inspiration for this post which ultimately led me on a fascinating trail of restaurant review sites, which in turn led me to a curious profile on the dinosaur that is restaurantica.com.  I certainly have my opinion regarding the answer to the question asked in the title of this post. But I could be wrong so I will let you make the deductions for yourselves.

Here I am getting carried away though, I've gotten ahead of myself completely.  To understand what in the world I'm talking about you must first take a little time and read the reviews posted by one J. Mahoney.  The following link will take you to his/her profile.

If I may direct your gaze to some points of interest:

1. First, the dates of the reviews are interesting.  They are all done on February 10th/11th.  Now if you have any knowledge of the restaurants being reviewed you will know that none of them would have been open for quite a number of months by February of each year.

2. In the first two reviews, after scathingly insulting both The Prune and Bijou, J. Mahoney directs readers to "my favourite spot in town: Rundles"

3. JM became a member of Restaurantica on Feb 10th, promptly reviewed restaurants that were closed for the season in Stratford but has nothing to say about restaurants in his/her supposed 'home town' New York?  Because there are certainly no good restaurants in that city, right?

4. If you still have questions regarding J. Mahoney's identity: compare the photos on the Restaurantica profile to those on the Urbanspoon profile; such striking similarities.

I like to think Stratford is a community of food.  Many restaurants share suppliers, they share ideals and though there are some less-than-spectacular ones in town I don't think it's nice of one restauranteur to stage a falsified profile to slander his prime competitors.  Especially considering how sensitive that person gets when their own restaurant is placed under scrutiny.

Yes, yes, I'm sure someone will comment 'but you're anonymous and you say mean things about some restaurants, isn't that the same thing?'

It isn't.  The main difference is, I'm not lying and I'm not over-exaggerating the negative points just to undermine one restaurant in favour of another.  I'm being honest!

We recently were quite upset with Breen Bentley for placing an add that slagged a competitor, but at least he had some humour and was willing to put his name on the thing.  J. Mahoney, tsk tsk to you, I believe the jig is up!

Monday, May 23, 2011

the perfect glass of...

This is going to be another ongoing type of post, similar in time-line to the linkage.  Basically, I will consume (often in copious amounts) a beverage offered at a local establishment or a new exciting wine/beer/spirit that makes its way to our humble LCBO and then tell you all about it so that you can try it too! 
So raise your glass, let us toast to... 

le clos jordanne village reserve chardonnay 2008

Now, my affinity for chardonnay varies.  A great deal of favourites fall directly in the Chablis territory, or those Canadian versions that mimic the crisp minerality of their French cousins.  This is not such an example - though it may have brought me to the 'dark side'.

This chardonnay wafts from the glass in a capricious display of oak and fruit, delicately balanced between a buttery mouthfeel and fresher citrus characteristics.  A generous dose of pear and perhaps even a remembrance of apple pie on the nose mingle with a more floral tone.  At $25.00 (LCBO) this wine certainly delivers for the price point.  The complexity of flavours and aromas suggests it best enjoyed with simple yet classic foods allowing the wine to showcase its depth.

It looks like I shall have to try 'Le Grand Clos' or the 'Claystone Terrace' chardonnays as well if this is the quality!

Friday, May 20, 2011

why we should never eat out...

Things get dropped.

I feel like I could ultimately stop the post here, but I shall continue.

All those lovely pre-arranged pieces of protein and starch accompanied by perfectly cooked vegetables and drizzled sauces.  They're delicious aren't they?  But I have to tell you, servers and cooks have dirty little fingers that touch things, and though uncommonly, things do touch the dirty floor in restaurants.

"The HORROR!" you say!  "This doesn't happen in Stratford, where our illustrious chef school teaches only the best habits and our seasoned servers provide world-class service!"

Well it's true.  It's not often but it does happen.  What a customer doesn't know wont hurt them, right?

Imagine you are a line cook, it's pre-theatre service and granny has ordered a well-done tenderloin.  Finally after 45 minutes of cooking time (a thick steak can take even longer to get to well-done), the rest of the table is ready and it's your big moment.  The server is standing at the pass tapping her foot, panic written on her face - which has been translated from the guests asking again and again 'where's my dinner?'.  You ready the plate and as you turn with the steak in your tongs, you're bumped, and in slow motion the well-done-45-minute-cook-time-steak flies through the air.  As it hits the floor you are there to scoop it back up...now what?

Extra flavour right?  Back on the searing hot grill for a few seconds to kill any bacteria right?  Your other option is to tell granny that she doesn't get to go to the theatre with food in her belly (or butterfly and deep fry).

We would all like to think that everything we ingest is absolutely clean and sanitary, but the truth is...things get dropped and touched by 'money fingers'.  From the cloth that polishes your wine glass to the steak perched atop your confit potatoes: many things are subject to the 'five second rule'.  It's horrible, and we all like to turn a blind eye and pretend that everything is 'kosher' but think of yourself at home, have you ever dropped something while preparing dinner?  Does it go in the garbage every time?

So accept it, or stop eating out, because even the best in this town are guilty!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Why I Choose Blogger but Hate Walmart" aka "An Ode To Anonymous"

Apologies for this post as it is not directly regarding food/service industry.  It is, however about Stratford and specifically about a conversation between myself and an Anonymous commentor regarding my facetious statements about Walmart.  I'm making a post about this because it's both topical and interesting, regardless of which side you're on.  Am I right?  Am I a hypocritical idiot?  Am I both?  You decide!

The original comments:

Anonymous said...
     Your blog is not hosted by a local company... it's not even Canadian. So I find your statement regarding Walmart to be hypocritical.
    May 16, 2011 4:26 PM

The Chew said...
     Dear Anonymous,
I don't see the connection between Blogger and Walmart (in fact I think Blogger might be offended by the comparison). Blogger does not contribute to a world of low wages, huge carbon footprint and targeting local independent Stratford stores to put them out of business. However, if you are aware of a blog dedicated, Canadian/Local webhost please let me know and I will happily look into using it!
    May 16, 2011 10:23 PM

Anonymous said...
     There are many Canadian companies that provide web hosting. There are a couple here in Stratford. I'm shocked that you didn't bother to investigate your local options.
    "Supporting foreign products is pretty much my mantra."
You probably shouldn't be so critical of Walmart supporters, when you are guilty of a similar offence.
    May 17, 2011 4:48 PM 

My final response:

Dear Anonymous,

Perhaps you are right, I just might be a hypocrite. A quick look in the mirror/examination of my life has confirmed the possibility.  As I look around my workspace, I see foreign products everywhere: a cigarette lighter made in France; some books printed in the US; a cellphone made in China (the computer I'm typing on is too); my undergaments say they are made in Bangladesh!  I even eat foreign food sometimes!  My orange juice isn't local; I have some canned tomatoes and Arborio rice from Italy; my paprika is from Hungary and Spain.  I'll even ashamedly admit that way back, in the darkest recesses of my freezer, exist some store-bought perogies (I have no idea what country they're from and am afraid to look).

The point is: though I am not perfect, as often as I can, I purchase local ingredients, items and services!  I am conscious of what effect my purchases may have on the local economy, and (as I would consider myself a friend of many of the small business owners in Stratford) I try to support it as much as I can with my meager buying power.

Blogger, you are quite correct, is a foreign company (owned by Google).  There are three main reasons why I choose to use it (and will probably continue to do so):
1. I know very little about computers and Blogger is the host most commonly used by pretty much all the blogs I read (including many local ones).
2. Blogger is free.  Contrary to what some seem to believe, I am in no way a professional writer.  I do this as a hobby and nothing more.  I do not get paid by anyone and will not pay to blog.  If Blogger begins charging money for its services, I will simply stop blogging.  This is not my life and I'd rather spend my money on local food and drink.
3. Blogger is relatively anonymous.  This is key to what I am doing.  I am trying to remain objective and couldn't do so as effectively if I was not anonymous.  Anonymity makes it difficult to process payments with a local company.

(I am aware that there is both Canadian and local webhosting - what I asked for was a BLOG DEDICATED local webhost, of which I don't believe there is one that matches my needs.  I would sincerely love to be proven wrong here.)

Using Blogger is very different from choosing to shop at Walmart!  A dollar given to the latter corporation enables it to continue on in its business model (ie. squashing local businesses by offering products at prices far below that which a small business can; creating those prices by offering local suppliers far less than what their items are worth and/or taking their business to other countries).  Personally, I do not want this type of business to exist in Stratford and will speak out against it whenever possible. I will not shop there.  Ever!

I promise you this, Anonymous, I will make a conscious effort to improve the percentage of local products that I buy.  This will probably not include switching from Blogger, though I will continue to have my computer serviced locally.  I guess I could be called a hypocrite but I'll take solace in the fact that I am not a Walmart customer as well ;)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Weekly Linkage! Horse Meat, Flavor Flav, Walmart in Stratford and more!

So happy Walmart's coming to town.  I enjoy purchasing food from Chinese farmers.  Supporting foreign products is pretty much my mantra.  "Out of work yet?  Keep buying foreign!  Who cares?!?"  I also enjoy the idea that I have a large carbon footprint (it makes up for other, smaller body parts that I may or may not feel inadequate about).  If we can lower the average wage in our city, decrease the quality of product and kill a few local businesses while we're at it, all the better!  As long as I can buy my ketchup, hemorrhoid cream and Wrestlemania videos in one place.  Plus now we can be part of this!

On to the links!

One thing Walmart doesn't sell (yet) is horse meat.  Good thing too, or people might get as upset at them as they are with Monday's Top Chef Canada episode (which features a challenge in which one contestant must use horse meat to create a dish).  I'm not going to touch on the potential health risk of eating a poorly regulated animal like horse (note: guess I just did).  What I don't get are the people who are upset because they feel eating horse is offensive, and yet eating beef is no big deal.

The amount of food we waste is absolutely shocking.  For those of you who won't click on the link, the most appalling number: North Americans waste 200lbs of food/year per person.  This does not include food loss (food that vanishes during the production and distribution process), but only refers to edible food that we throw away because we don't want it, or we've let it go bad.  This equals about one third of the food in the world.

McDonald's, ever the bastion of minimizing waste and small carbon footprints, is attempting to fool you into thinking that they care about creating healthy food for any other reason than to increase their profit margins.  The Walmart cafeteria is launching a 'Made Just For You' menu.  It's awesome how even the 'chef' says it's not about getting rid of the negatives, it's about the 'presence of positives'.  Next time I get a double Big Mac meal, I'll be sure to offset it with a Mango Pineapple Real Fruit Smoothie, which I'm sure won't have much sugar in it at all...

Flavor Flav is doing his part to not contribute to crappy food, albeit only by failing in his attempt to open a fried chicken spot in Las Vegas.

A profile on Canada's only female master sommelier.

The locavore movement has made it's way to the cocktail community.  Not sure if we have any distilleries anywhere near here, but we certainly have access to garnishes.  Some pickled ramps in a caesar perhaps...

Obika has opened in Toronto.  Sushi spot you might ask?  No, it's Ontario's first mozzarella bar.

The Toronto Sausage League had its inaugural competition this past wednesday.  No, it is not an all-male bowling league, it's an event in which two chefs go head to head, determining which one can make the best sausage dish.  Over the next five months, the challenge will be held weekly, eventually crowning someone champion and giving them the proud title of Sausage King.

The Local Come Lately has a stop by stop recap of the Delicious Stratford Debut Stroll, for which he was a guide.  It looks like this summer will have some pretty amazing dishes offered by some of our incredible local chefs.  Can't wait to start eating!

Please follow the chew on Twitter @chewstratford or be a friend on Facebook.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

would you like some water with your lemon?

This is for Sara, who has obviously served an old lady or two - though the lemon with water phenomenon is not relegated only to the elderly.  Students and middle-aged women are pretty equal in their lemon consumption and perhaps even bolder when it comes to tea-bagging (please excuse the other connotation of this term) or make-shift lemonade creation.

Nothing in life is free - except lemons?

Perhaps the lemon request began in tropical sea ports where an abundance of this cheerful, tart, yellow fruit found itself a delicious addition to any beverage. 

As the America's populated, though there was scarcely enough food to provide for crew and passengers, surely the prevention of scurvy on the ocean crossings was important enough to warrant everyone being given enough lemons to avert such disease (as other unpreventable diseases ran rampant, they had to fight what they could).

So here we are in present day; evolutionary forces have created in us a need for free lemons, right?


Let me tell you how I really feel.

There are many things I could say about the cheapness of guests, indeed I have mentioned the basic concept of the cheap guest here.  But this post is about lemon consumption specifically.

I believe there should be a surcharge for lemons: to be applied when a guest is sharing his/her dinner with someone else at the table (or having an appetizer for a main course) and purchasing nothing else.  This is not unreasonable, as lemons - contrary to the average persons thinking - are NOT free! 

Even a small token would be an interesting experiment.  How outraged would these guests be if they were charged $0.05 or $0.25?  I would love for a restaurant to find out, any takers?

Beyond being cheap these lemon chasers are rude and irritating; Asking for lemons separately, as the server returns again and again with side plates of lemon wedges, they request sugar/sweetener (and more lemons) squeezing and stirring vigorously until they have achieved lemonade of a sort.  "Uh, that'll be $2.79 ma'am.  Lemonade is not free even if you make it yourself, in fact, that lemonade is 'freshly squeezed' so it's gonna run you closer to $5".

As for the experience regarding secret tea bags (Thank you Sara for bringing this to light!) I must admit I have never encountered such a thing!  Though I have to admit, I'm in no way surprised by the gall of people.

Friday, May 13, 2011

dining etiquette + adults part 2: sexy time

Food is sexy, so I understand when a great dinner might get you a little hot.   But food/sex combos are perhaps better suited to sitting at home in front of one's refrigerator (you may recall the Kim Basinger/Mickey Rourke scene from 9 1/2 weeks).  It is really quite inappropriate to embark on a sexual adventure while sitting at a table in the middle of a dining room.

I have been privy to a number of these encounters: from a good old semi-discreet hand-job behind the tablecloth on Valentine's Day to a continuous 2 hour make-out session complete with slurping sounds (the ice in their drinks melted to nothing and tables surrounding them requested to be re-located!).

As cognitive adults we have the ability to decide when and where we will display our sexual advances.  Why some people think it is okay to do so in a restaurant is beyond me.  Now, I'm not talking about an intimate evening between lovers, this is perfectly fine as long as it does not get out of hand.  I'm talking about groping, slurping, fondling, tonguing, etc.  A daring sojourn to the bathroom notwithstanding, let's just all do our best to keep restaurants somewhere around the PG rating.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(Bi) Weekly Linkage! People's Food Policy, Wine and an App for Stratford

Ugh...so the last 2 weeks have been a little hectic/crappy as I've started a new job/been sick off and on.  Sick days in the restaurant industry are kind of frowned upon, despite the obvious and valid reasons why it's probably the one industry that you should never show up sick to work for.  Alas, tight profit margins lead to tight labour costs, which lead to cooks and servers working with the sniffles.  What it's meant for me is less blogging as, alas, I am not a professional blogger (despite the suggestions of some), and need to favour real-life commitments over the blog sometimes.  I'll definitely do my best to restore this to a weekly post over the next few weeks, apologies for missing last week.
Enough whining!  On to the links!

A question that likely wasn't asked on yesterday's Savour Stratford Industry Wine Tour: "Is there fish bladder in this wine?"  The answer is: "Probably not."  It is commonly used in the final stages of wine filtration though and Health Canada wants it to be listed as an ingredient.  The trouble is, they're stupid.  The reason for that is, none of the bladder (or egg-white or milk solids) used actually remains in the wine.  Think about a consomme, which chefs often use egg whites and other protein-rich items which collect the fat and other impurities at the top, allowing the clear consomme to be drained out the bottom of the pot using a spigot.  Same basic idea.  Health Canada is being paranoid.

 Ramps are almost done, but asparagus is here!  If you want to learn how to forage (likely not for asparagus), go here this weekend.

Have a million bucks?  Then you can buy this anonymous person's sweet wine collection.  (Sweet as in 'awesome', not 'sugary').

A mouth-watering recount of one man's dinner at Noma, the top restaurant in the world (according to San Pellegrino).

When religion and food collide: a Toronto Star article on a few chefs who create delicious food while conforming to some strict religious beliefs.  A very interesting read, regardless of your beliefs.

10 Things That You're Doing Wrong at Restaurants.  Adam Roberts speaks the truth!

I believe one of our fine chocolatiers and The Milky Whey should get together and do this.  Or something like it.

Have you ever heard of the People's Food Policy?  No?  That's a shame and you should read this.  Why?  To help us avoid things like this.  Skip down one screen after you click on the link and read their 'context', 'process' and 'proposal' sections.  Then go sign their pledge.

The James Beard Foundation Awards happened on Monday.  Jose Andres won outstanding U.S. chef.  Here are some cool clips of chefs being interviewed all Oscar-red-carpet-style.  There's something funny about chefs in fancy suits.  I don't know exactly what it is.  It doesn't seem natural, like if you patted them down, you'd unload a bunch of Sharpies, a thermometer, a peeler and some spoons (just in case they need to taste a sauce at the James Beard Buffet).

A STRATFORDIAN WAS INVOLVED IN A DOCUMENTARY THAT WON A JAMES BEARD AWARD.  Sorry.  Just wanted to make sure you kept reading.  Seriously though, the winner for Television Special/Documentary was called Milk War and was narrated by Stratford's own Colm Feore.  It's a film highlighting some of the controversies surrounding the Canadian government's regulation of locally produced foods.  Pretty darned cool.  (Tying into an earlier link: what's Health Canada's problem?)

Sticking with exciting local news: Stratford's Slow Food Market will be outdoors in the market square this summer.  Apparently there were some questions, but I think there is no question that this is a great idea to get people into the downtown and to enhance the sense of community in general.  Now, if only I could wake up before 2 on Sundays....

Last but not yeast: Stratford has an app!  It's called Visit Stratford and it's available on iTunes, totally free.  It has a handy GPS locator to help you find all the cool stuff in our fair city.

Bonus video just because, it's Anthony Bourdain talking about celebrity chefs:

As always, feel free to friend the chew on facebook, or follow on twitter (unless you're Steve Walters, he hates me).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

dining etiquette + children part 2: running about

The landscape of a restaurant may resemble a playground to some; pathways amidst tables trace exciting mazes, while overhead danger looms as gargantuan servers weave to and fro carrying plates of hot food and trays of cold drinks.  Even the terrain, littered with past broken glassware (swept up except for the minute shards), the dirt of a hundred feet, and bits of long forgotten food, speaks of a safe and joyful place for children to frolic.

No, wait!  It's dangerous for small people to run unattended through a restaurant, busy or not!  That sounds more like it.  I understand as a young parent you feel the overwhelming joy every time little Susie takes a step, my concern is, that you should realize how badly hurt little Susie could end up with a bowl of scalding soup dropped on her head.  Allowing your, (admittedly adorable) little toddler to waddle their way through the restaurant is not okay.  Children who are slightly older are even more dangerous because they move faster!

You see, the problem is: we can't see them!  When you're carrying a tray filled with drinks or balancing six plates you have what is commonly referred to as a 'blind spot'.  That spot settles exactly at the height of a small child.  Even if the server is deft enough to manoeuvre around the child, it can still result in spillage.  Are you the parent jumping out of your seat to offer to pay for the lost product?  Probably not.

Beyond the danger: one must consider the other guests.  A large number of people who have children spend their money selectively when dining.  They leave the children with Grandma and head out to have a little quiet time to themselves.  Their careful planning is thwarted by other parents allowing unruly children to run in circles around the restaurant - this is unacceptable.

Well behaved children are a rare delight in the restaurant industry.  But for those parents who let their children run rampant, please, the by-ways in a restaurant are not for playing in - keep your child safe and out of harm's way by keeping them in their seats!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

customer profile: the verbal tipper

I certainly have mixed feelings regarding this type of guest.  On some levels it really is refreshing and pleasant to have someone describe to you personally how wonderful you have made their evening instead of counting on the tip for compliment.  However, when someone gushes to you, grabbing your hand to shake it and thank you over and over for such an incredible dining experience, beware, there's probably very little money left for you in the billfold.

It's always those who are over-the-top with their warmth and thankfulness that leave no money, I'm not talking 10% here, quite often if someone takes the time to find their server and over-exaggerate the UNBELIEVABLE FANTASTIC MOST INCREDIBLE service, they usually leave 1 or 2% or sometimes nothing at all.

This type of guest feels that their praise replaces the need for a tip.  Unfortunately, kind words don't pay my mortgage.  You could try swinging by my bank to chat with the manager and see if maybe, this month, they'll take some compliments instead of cold hard cash?  I'd appreciate it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

dangerous liasons: lunch at Ellam's

At risk of life and limb I have indeed ventured to Ellam's to seek out the gastronomic 'delights' that are experienced by few!

These are the perils of an individual on the quest for truth about the Stratford food scene but let me tell you, don't follow in my footsteps.  I will refrain from describing the aftermath and stick to the experience itself.

At the prompting of the rather pleasant, but english-challenged wife of 'Ellam' (let's call him this for fun, I believe his name is actually Peter), I seat myself.  A menu is placed in front of me - THE ORIGINAL - from a time period straight out of Leave It To Beaver.  The vintage pricing has been whited-out and/or pasted over with ever increasing amounts, decades of inflation pass before my eyes like a series of long-forgotten faded love-letters.  Perhaps I'll have the Salmon $1.85 or start with a glass of orange juice $0.30 maybe I'll splurge and get a milk-shake $0.75 - if only I had an extra straw and someone to share it with!

I order coffee; that's safe right?  But deny the cream which is pungent.  The dark haired old woman approaches to take my order, she props herself against the table - seemingly to keep her standing upright.

I order the 'Ellam's special'

"NO, no, no," she replies.
Perhaps the 'Jelly Omelette'
"NO, no, no," she replies.
The salmon?
"NO, no, no, you have, um," scanning the menu for something she feels is safe/available she finally points at the: "chicken club with fries" she says, "you'll have that."
How can I argue?

Ellam shuffles around behind the open kitchen, wanders to the chest freezer, props it open with his head and begins to rummage.

Bacteria is killed through freezing right?  I wont die!?!

Time passes, though not quite enough for the fryer to reach an appropriate temperature so the fries come out golden-soggy-brown, completely saturated with oil that I know is not trans-fat free.  The club is somewhat edible (thankfully there is no mayo), until I crunch down on a rather large chicken bone and get to the fatty parts.  I try the ketchup, surprisingly not fermented at all, and choke down a few oil-laden fries.

A trip to the bathroom reveals a health-code nightmare, I can't bear to walk beyond the threshold.  The incandescent lights illuminate a golden-yellow hue covering the floor, I assure myself, "it's just fryer oil".  Glancing at the sink I see I'm not alone, though my friends have more legs than I do.

I head to the register, tip generously and glance at Ellam again with the freezer door propped on his head.  Perhaps he is remembering his mobster days, heck, maybe that freezer has seen more corpses than tater tots, and maybe that's the way it should be!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

'Le client n'a jamais tort'

There is a debate regarding the origin of the phrase "the customer is always right" but whether it was an American concept or an English one, we must give credit to Cesar Ritz, a familiar name to those of us in the hospitality industry, who said it first, kind of: "the customer is never wrong".

Though Ritz was a wildly successful hotelier there are certainly some limitations to his concept.  Some guests live their lives intent on wielding their perceived 'always right' power over their service staff.  This is where they cross the line and become most certainly WRONG!

Any restauranteur (or business professional of any kind) knows that it is easier to keep a current customer than it is to gain a new one.  So just how far should a business stretch to accommodate those who are obviously out to have a bad time?  How much effort can be reasonably dispensed to satisfy a guest before that person is deemed expendable?

Often these demanding guests not only provide a difficult situation for their server and the kitchen staff who often have to re-make food or change orders entirely (all because they perceive some horrible injustice has been wrought upon them). But, they also influence the other guests around them, sometimes beyond one section to encompass the entire restaurant.  They stop the flow, and it is often unnecessarily about the lighting in the restaurant or the price-point - these are things that cannot be changed during service.  Call ahead next time and ask to meet with the owner/manager at a more appropriate time if these things are so important.

As an aside, this too lends to my dislike of corporate restaurants where the focus is almost always on the guest, often at the expense of the server (even the server's job is forfeit on occasion due to an un-satisfy-able individual).

There are some great stories to be heard in this town of small independent restaurant owners approaching tables of impossible people and asking them firmly (to say the least) to remove themselves from their restaurants!  This is why I love the independents, they believe in their concept and their staff (BRAVO!) and realise that there are some people who cannot be helped.

So for all you customers out there, bear in mind: these people helping you choose items from the menu, bringing your dinner and/or cooking it, these people actually serve and cook FOR A LIVING!  And though from time to time mistakes are made (don't worry, we know you are perfect in real life) we apologize, but that in no way makes you always right.