Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Farewell to Serving

I can only recall one occasion on which I've been so mad at a waiter or waitress that I wanted to leave a bad tip. Ironically, it occured on the day that I found out that I was hired for a full time job and wouldn't have to serve anymore.

One of my good friends was visiting that weekend, so we went out with a few other people to celebrate, and to try a wine bar that I've been interested in since it opened about six months ago. Enoteca Sogno, a small wine bar on Broad St. in the Fan, is run by the same man who owns Mamma Zu, Edo's Squid, and 8 1/2 - three amazing venues for Italian food. None of them are known for friendly service, but I've never had an issue like I did at Enoteca Sogno.

I have to admit that it wasn't even my issue, nor would I have cared so much if I hadn't spent the past 11 months in the restaurant business. From the very beginning of my time waiting tables, I was taught to never argue with a guest, to always make the customers feel comfortable, and to act as if you were hosting them in your own home.

I never felt fully at ease that night, and I don't think that anyone I was with felt like they were being graciously entertained either. During the process of ordering, one of the members of our table asked for the NY Strip well done, and the waiter flat out refused to let him order it that way. Not only did he insult a customer's taste by saying that the meat would be ruined, he broke what is essentially the first rule of serving: to never, ever let a guest feel wrong.

In my restaurant experience, I was always instructed to gently tell a diner that the chef recommended a dish a certain way, but if the customer didn't change his or her mind, to recommend something else or simply accept the order as it was and move on. If I was afraid of putting in an order for well done steak (which I never was), I might have even put medium well on the ticket in the hopes that the guest wouldn't notice or wouldn't care. Arguing with a guest just isn't part of serving - it's left to the managers.

If the meal had been exceptional and I felt strongly about returning to Enoteca Sogno I might have considered speaking with one of our waiter's bosses, but the food didn't make up for what happened. I had fresh pasta with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, which was was delicious, but the gnocchi pesto (a sad replacement for a steak) was mushy and close to inedible. I tried another pasta dish on the menu that was only so so, and the view onto E. Broad St. isn't the most desirable in Richmond. I'll continue to patronize the owner's other three eateries, but Enoteca Sogno is one home to which I don't want to be invited back.

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