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!


  1. Bravo. That was a well-written, more elaborate response to my ranting "comment" at the end of your last post. Thank you.