A general question about restaurant service.
A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I had dinner at The Dunaway in Portsmouth, NH (thanks to Mr. Bigglesworth for the recommendation – it is indeed worth the trip). We had read on their website that on Friday and Saturday evenings before 6 PM, the “Neighborhood Menu” is offered: your choice of three appetizers, three entrées, and three desserts for $29. Sold!
The Dunaway is located in an old house – excuse me, a restored Colonial house. My partner thought he would have to ring the doorbell to get in. Inside, exposed beams, fireplace, white candles burning on the rafters, slightly In-the-Hall-of-the-Mountain-King in the very classiest way. A Boston Globe review from October 2006 called it “a casual but elegant respite after a day of traipsing around.” It felt warm and homey with just the barest whiff of magical, and chatting with the cheery, affable bartender confirmed these impressions.
The sole discordant note was the service. Our server was truly almost comically obsequious, fawning, speaking like he imagined his words written on the finest paper, backing away from our table, flourishing anything he could. We’re in our early/mid-thirties, not ragamuffins, but hardly swathed in minks. His behavior, in contrast to the warm glowy house setting, made us feel slightly unbuttoned, uncomfortable. This got me wondering. What is his role as a server? If it’s to make the guest feel comfortable, should he have toned down his behavior? If it’s to represent the restaurant, (setting aside the fact that the restaurant is clearly positioned as amazing-food / anti-fanciness), should that goal override making us feel comfortable? I think the question might be restated this way: is the server our host, or the emissary of our host? I guess there are some restaurants that focus on the guests, and some that focus on projecting their own ethos, guest be damned.
And it wasn’t just him – as we were being seated upstairs, all personnel lined up and bade us good evening. It was weird. I certainly don’t see this reduced to the issue of good service or bad service – or do I? What does good service mean to you?
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