Thursday, July 30, 2009

why servers should pay attention at line-up and in tastings

true conversation from dinner last night...

me: we'd like to get dessert but we can't decide between the corn crepes with blueberries an the pink peppercorn vacherin with strawberry ice cream
server: well i'd really recommend the vacherin. it's a meringue cookie topped with strawberry ice cream and pistachios and there's strawberries too, and we make the ice cream in-house
me: you don't make the corn ice cream in house?
him: no, we do, we make all our ice cream in house
me: well how do you prepare the blueberries for the crepes?
him: we render them down in the pan
{at this point i shoot my friend a worried look. i don't believe the word "render" should be used in connection to food unless it's meat. it sounds kinda gross otherwise}
me: how's the lime caramel
him: zesty and delicious

It went on like that for a bit longer before we ordered the vacherin. The server did send us the crepes on the house, which was a nice touch especially since we hadn't complained about any aspect of the meal. Seems like he was just being nice.

Servers don't seem to realize that the restaurant actually makes a lot of money on dessert. Compared to that dungeness crab or rabbit meat the cost to the house of preparing a plate of dessert is very, very minimal whereas the cost of the meat, vegetables and other ingredients going into a main course is vastly pricier. The server, likely, is thinking that $8 on a dessert won't make a lot of money on his tip whereas that $12 app would be a bigger upsell.

What the average server does not realize is that most people get happier when they eat dessert. They relax, they linger and they're in a more generous mood when they're putting that tip out. Plus, the dessert money does add to the bill. It's the role of the server in this course more so than others to really sell the food. Whereas you might sit down in a restaurant and "be in a fish mood" and have two choices, you'll not likely be "in a pie mood" or "in a bread pudding mood" when it comes time for dessert {chocolate mood, maybe? but there'll always be warn choco cake for you}

Patrons are often more indecisive when it comes to desserts and they'll look to you, lil server. Do them, do your tip, do your boss and do the kitchen a favor and steer them toward something that'll taste really good. Do you need some tips on how to do this? Ok, well for starters:
1. Don't tell them to get the last thing the kitchen put up for you at line-up because it's the only thing you remember the taste of. This is silly. If you tried something new and it was awesome, that's fine, but if you can only remember the one thing then you're not doing your job because there's likely 4-5 other menu options.
2. Learn a new vocabulary. Words like "render" and "zesty" and (yes, even) "housemade" don't actually communicate anything at all. They don't tell me what it's going to taste like. Tastes like homemade? Great! For these prices I'd hope you actually make it. Seriously...
3. Learn how to describe something unique about the option. I should get the vacherin because you make the ice cream in house and it's got strawberries in it? Would you urge me to get the heirloom tomato salad because it contains purple tomatoes? Would you have me eat the scallops because they're pan-seared?

What you can do is say "our crepes are made fresh to order" {which they're probably not} or "the blueberries have an awesome flavor right now" or "the vacherin is coming off the menu soon so you might want to try it." Do you see how these phrases are different? They communicate something to me. A freshness, a quality, even a sense or urgency {try it NOW, it's going AWAY}. If nothing like this comes to mind and someone asks you to help them choose between two options, tell them why you like A and why you like B. Here's an example: "I love how crispy the meringue is, but the corn ice cream is unbelievable and you should really try it."

1 comment:

Connie said...

"Rendered blueberries" just takes the cake! Love this post. I wish every food server would read it. If a waiter can't show passion, knowledge or interest in the food being served, its hard to be interested as a guest. Its potentially subversive to the staff in the kitchen too, like when a server fails to properly describe a dish and the guest doesn't get what they expected. Makes everyone look weak.