Front of the House Fail

Categories: My Rant, Sietsema

I was eating brunch in one of today's most popular new restaurants. I don't want to mention the place, so as not to prejudice you against it. Maybe it'll improve. I'm not talking about the food -- that was already solid. A crew of five could be seen in the open kitchen operating with utmost efficiency -- well, not quite perfect, because there was a backlog of unfilled orders, but the line cooks were implacable and methodical, with little wasted effort. The front of the house was another story.

I should have known something was wrong when I saw a knot of uniformed employees around the greeter's podium. A scrum of supplicants waited to be recognized, some with reservations, others walk-ins looking for tables, or diners wanting to sit at the bar. The crowd was swelling slowly, and I couldn't help wondering, What are all those employees at the podium doing there, if not organizing the crowd?

Inside the dining room -- which was exceedingly nicely decorated and perfectly lit -- there seemed to be the same surfeit of front-of-the-house employees: I counted probably 20 waiters, busboys, runners, and others of indeterminate assignment, crossing and recrossing the dining room so often that it came to be a kind of entertainment. Many seemed to only be carrying one thing, or sometimes nothing. I saw one employee ferry a pair of empty water glasses across the room and into the bar four times in 20 minutes, rather than simply making one trip. It was like a Theater of the Absurd play.

Things got gnarly as my guest and I got into our oddly paced meal. Our waiter -- the soul of niceness and sincerity -- was to be congratulated for not upselling the booze, and readily agreed to get us a couple of cups of coffee as an aperitif. Only, rather than simply bringing them to us, he returned to the table again and again to assure us they were on the way. From where? we wondered.

We ordered two apps, two mains, one side, and, later, two desserts. One app arrived, then a very long wait, then two mains, and finally the second app. That was a little crazy, but what bothered us more was the busing style, or lack of it. Several employees attempted to haphazardly perform that function during the course of our meal. In spite of all the attention, the table was constantly littered with discarded dishes and utensils. Sometimes an employee would come over, stare at the table, then extract a single dirty plate, stirring spoon, or rumpled bit of paper -- leaving all the other detritus in place. They were less like bussers than curators maintaining a dirty-plate collection.

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