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Not so Fine Dining

Like most of us from time to time, I enjoy a nice dinner in a fine dining establishment, however, I get extremely perturbed when the restaurant staff have an arrogance about them and try to belittle me. There have been a few occasions when this has happened, and I find dealing with the situation to be quite challenging.

I recall a new restaurant which opened near Yonge and Eglinton, in Toronto which I went to, with some friends for a new, dining experience. The service was good until I ordered my steak and asked to have it well done. The waiter returned a few moments later, only to explain that the chef does not `do` the steaks well done. I was confused by the statement and must have had a puzzled look on my face because he repeated himself.

I explained that I liked my steak well done and although I did not say anything, I was after all the person ordering and paying. The waiter nodded and left no doubt to confront the chef, or so I thought. He returned with our dinners and as I cut into my beef I watched the red juice pour out onto the plate. I saw the waiter and politely asked him to take it back and cook it a little more. He did, however, the steak returned the same as before. Not wanting to create a stir I left it and ate the rest of my meal.

The bill arrived and being my turn to pay I checked it and changed the amount, deducting my entrée from the total. Now it was the waiter`s turn to look puzzled. I explained to him how the chef doesn’t `do` well done and I don`t `do` paying for unsatisfactory results. He called the maître `d who fortunately sided with me. He apologized and comped our entire dinner, which was certainly not my intent. He explained how the chef was very fussy and I just stared in disbelief as he admitted in his restaurant the tail wagged the dog.

Another time I visited an establishment on Duncan Street in Toronto, and asked for the salmon entrée, but with potato cakes instead of rice. I was told they could not accommodate my request. I looked surprised and asked why not, as they had potato cakes with the chicken entrée. All I received was an arrogant `sorry` with no explanation. I pushed it a little wondering what the reason was. I asked if they were out of potato cakes and was simply told they only have enough for the chicken entrees. Surely they did not create these culinary masterpieces days in advance and microwave them upon order.

Not wanting to cause a scene (those who know me are probably chuckling to themselves now) I ordered the salmon with rice, but ordered a second dish of chicken with potato cakes. The waiter, without flinching, took the order and walked away. When he returned he placed both plates in front of me and left. I could feel a smirk on his face, as these were after all, not inexpensive courses. I took the rice from one plate and exchanged it with potato cakes from the other. Quite angry I placed the second plate on the floor. There is seldom room for the meal and utensils on the small tables in restaurants so there was certainly no space for the second entrée.

A few moments later the maître `d walked by and I began to quietly laugh when he stepped on the plate, left on the floor beside me. He looked down and then at me in total confusion. I explained what had happened and he shook his head. He called the waiter over and told him to pick up the mess on the floor. I smiled as the smug look was now gone from his face.

The maître`d apologized, however, offered nothing in the way of compensation. After I paid the bill he presented me with a free entrée upon my next visit. Did he really expect me to return?

Fine dining should be a memorable experience to celebrate an occasion or simply to be pampered. The price for the experience can be quite steep, consequently it should be perfect. Anything less is disappointing. I make a point of telling restaurant staff my opinion, for if I do not they will never know and three months later wonder why they have no patrons.

For a restaurant to be in business having good food is a given. Service is the one area where they can excel and I am constantly amazed at how little attention is paid to this very essence of a culinary establishment’s existence.

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