When I lived in upstate New York, there was a diner I used to patronize almost every morning before heading to my office – because it was in the same building as my office. It pained me to stop going there, but the short order cook apparently thought that the food should please him and not me, the customer.
I overheard the server and the cook characterize me as “hard to please,” so I took my business elsewhere.
What amazed me was that the owner of the diner – he was the fourth one in four years – would see me almost every day but he never asked why I no longer patronized his restaurant. I found that odd, but as I’ve observed over the last several years, service – read that, good service – is fast becoming obsolete. This is not just in restaurants. It’s everywhere. But for our purposes, since this is a column about food, let’s talk about restaurant service.
First, to waiters and waitresses alike: I and the people who accompany me are not “guys,” especially if we’re in a better restaurant or fine dining place. When I’m with my friends on the golf course or the poker room, then we’re guys. I’m really tired of waitpersons calling me a guy. Call me sir, call us folks. Don’t call us guys. Casual informality has its place. The upscale restaurant is not one of them.
When I inquire about an item on a menu, I really don’t care which item is the waitperson’s favorite. Chances are, our tastes are not the same. Just describe it to me and leave out the editorializing because, frankly, it doesn’t matter to me what your favorite is.
If food is not prepared to your liking or your taste and if you’re not sending it back, you are doing yourself and the restaurant a disservice. Professional chefs need to know if they haven’t met your expectations. Let him or her make it right. If you don’t tell the chef through your waiter that your meal wasn’t prepared to your liking, chances are you’ll be telling all your friends. And that will hurt the restaurant. I promise you 99.9 percent of all chefs (unlike that short order cook at the beginning of this story) want to know if your food wasn’t cooked right.
Space limitations prevent me from going into greater detail, so let me mention just one more thing: When I pay the bill, don’t ask me if I need change. We all know that waitpersons rely on tips for the bulk of their income. Asking me to leave all of the change from whatever amount of cash I give you to cover my bill is arrogant and just plain bad manners. Having worked once as a waiter, I’ll tip a minimum of 20 percent for good service. Don’t campaign for more because that invariably will lead me to leave less.
I never did get to tell that short order cook that I’m really not hard to please. In fact, I’m very easy to please. Just give me my food the way I ordered it.
Here’s my recipe for a diner staple – Meatloaf, but instead of beef gravy, I make it with a sweet and sour glaze.
Meatloaf with Sweet and Sour Glaze
2 large eggs
1 cup quick cooking oats
1/3 cup ketchup
1 envelope onion soup mix
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 cup shredded potatoes (available in the refrigerated case)
1 ½ pounds ground beef (not too lean)
½ pound ground pork
1 large red onion, diced
For the topping:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
Beat the eggs lightly, stir in the oats, ketchup, soup mix, water, Worcestershire, pepper, onions and the shredded potatoes. Add the ground beef and mix well.
Pat the mixture into a large loaf pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
While the meatloaf is baking, prepare the glaze by mixing the ketchup, brown sugar and mustard together. When the meatloaf has finished baking, pour the glaze over the top and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
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