Friday, October 10, 2008

"How Is Everything?"

I never know quite how to respond when servers sweep by to inquire how the food is. Most of the time, I assume the question is perfunctory, like the "how are you" question that people throw at each other in passing in elevators or hallways at the office. No one really expects a genuine answer to that question, but sometimes when servers ask and wait as though they are looking for a real response, I fall into the trap of answering. Call me Charlie Brown.

In my profession, when I can give specific criticism, that means the work product I received is not bad, possibly even quite good in the overall scheme of things. When the work product is in a condition that I cannot identify specifics to fix but instead just need to take the whole thing back and redo it, that is when things are truly problematic. So when my answer to the server's question is "fine," and I'm pushing food around on my plate, it is not good, but what am I going to say? Your food sucks, and I can't even begin to explain everything that is wrong with it? So I don't bother and instead say "fine." Then they walk away, and so do I.

Every once in a while, I end up answering honestly, but then almost always regret it as soon as the words, "the ___ was underseasoned," or "this combination doesn't really work for me," tumble out of my mouth. I may think I'm providing feedback that is being requested, but then I see the look of panic cross the server's face that reads, oh crap, they hate it so we need to replace it, comp it, give them something else, or comp dessert, or some variation thereof-- none of which I want. For the most part, the only time I answer substantively to the question, "how is it," is when I think 90% is good, but it could be better.

From the server's perspective, I can certainly appreciate that their sole objective is to make a seemingly unhappy customer happy, but it is never my intent to make people jump through hoops. I tend to ask if I want something fixed and I believe there is someone capable of fixing it for me. But I also understand that servers have to deal with the quandry of people who secretly want something else but will insist otherwise while continuing to complain (something I have never understood).

So what happens in my case? I tell the server, "the pasta is a little overcooked," in response to his or her question. The server freaks out and offers to give me something else. The manager or front-of-the-house (or sometimes even the chef, eek) comes over to try to "fix the problem." I say no, that's fine, I don't want anything else, things were generally great, I was just answering a question honestly. They don't believe me and give me a free dessert, which I am too full to eat, but I now feel guilty so I try to eat as much as I can (and not say anything about the fact that the dessert is really not chocolate panna cotta as described, but more like a somewhat clunky chocolate pudding trifle). And then I proceed to grossly overtip because I still feel guilty (e.g., $35 on a $90 check). Because for the most part, I really did enjoy my meal; I just thought it could have been better because the kitchen is clearly talented.

You would think I would have learned to keep my mouth shut. "Does this make me look fat?" No, honey, absolutely not. You look fine.

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...