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Will Your Culinary Concept Kill Your Restaurant?

By Anne Mitchell · March 24th, 2010 · The Dish

“Dear ‘concept’ restaurant: It is not the diner’s responsibility to be in tune with your fad, unless you only want to appeal to the few who knew ahead of time that you have a ‘niche.’ When a customer is visibly uncomfortable with your concept, offer guidance. Or kiss that customer goodbye forever. Can you afford to do that? No, not really.”

This little rant was my Facebook post a few nights ago after returning from a very disappointing dinner. It’s three days later, and I’m still annoyed about spending $77.31 on a bad night out. Yeah, it happens, but it could have been avoided.

I'm married to a fussy eater. I know how ironic that is and, believe me, sometimes I have to bite my tongue instead of shrieking, “You won’t eat ... what ... now!?!” But I keep trying to accommodate his quirks because I love him in spite of his dietary dictates. Imagine, though, if it was my job to make him happy. Because, Dear Restaurant, it’s yours.

Sure, chefs are artists. Cooking is an art! And nobody wants their art to be reduced to paint-by-numbers. Artists have principles and creative integrity. Years ago, I worked in a restaurant owned by a Jazz musician who would stop playing and stare in disgust at diners who had the nerve to talk and interrupt his riffs. As a server, I swallowed hard and tried not to think of the impact on my tips — after all, he was the artist.

Now, I think maybe I was a little naive.

So back to last week’s disaster. We strolled to a place I wanted to revisit. I’d heard that they were offering free food with drinks during happy hour, so that deal — combined with the nice location — sealed the plan.

There were only two tables occupied as we were seated, and I said to the host, “We’re here in time for happy hour!” He replied, “Then you’ll have to go sit at the bar.” Of course, dear fussy British husband equates “getting up and moving” with “making a spectacle of oneself,” so we remained in the booth. Sigh. We ordered wine.

Then, the menu arrived. Small plates. Local food. Quick perusal — he’s going to hate this. I started to ask questions I hoped would get us out of the mess. I asked if there was any chicken, maybe, even though it wasn't on the menu. No? OK, well, that was a long shot.

He asked for “A plain salad.” And I, pleading, came right out and said, “He’s very fussy.”

No, sorry. Well, there was one dish on the menu with gnocchi. He went for that, and I crossed my fingers. When it arrived — a long rectagonal plate with eight gnocchi lined up like a firing squad on a thin line of sauce, garnished with raw microgreens — oh, God. He stared. No good could come of this, I thought.

I saw the chef emerge from the kitchen twice, looking toward the bar and the open door and never glancing toward our table. I devoured my food instantly so that we could pay almost $80 and go. The young server ignored the frost that had descended and chirped, “Have a great night!” Ai-yi-yi! Not bloody likely!

We’ll never go back. I can tell you emphatically that, even if my husband dropped dead, his corpse could not be carried back into that place. And, yes, he’s an awkward bugger — but what if he wasn’t? What if he was allergic, had celiac disease or kept kosher? There are lots of completely reasonable reasons why a guest, a paying customer in your restaurant, might not want to eat goat or wild boar.

So help them have a good dining experience! Offer to combine a few ingredients you have on hand in a different way and make them happy.

Can you afford to lose that fussy guy and his poor, patient wife forever? Then stick to your artistic vision! You have nothing to lose but your livelihood!

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: dining@citybeat.com



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