Just back from a five-day trip -- our third. Something has changed over time. My biggest take-away from our dining experience is that NO restaurants serve meals faster than restaurants in any city I've visited. I can get fast service in my hometown if I tell our server that I have theater tickets and need to be out the door at "something" o'clock. But I've never had dinners served so fast so consistently. We ate dinner at Emeril's, Cochon, August, Stella's, and Galatoire's, and each one served a meal with a break between courses lasting no longer than two-three minutes. At least the successful restaurants pulled off their gastronomic sprint without overlaping the courses. Unfortunately, at both Cochon and brunch at Luke, we were presented with our main dish while we were still eating our first course. (In both cases, we refused the second course. We also made it clear that we didn't want the food to wait under a heat lamp until it was eventually served to us.)
Will someone with some experience in a NO restaurant tell me how the kitchen gets the word to fire up the next course? Does the server monitor the table and send word when diners are nearing the end of a course? Does the server put the entire order in at the same time and someone in the kitchen uses some rubric to pace the meal service? All I know is that the elegant plating and the army of servers and the attentive behavior of the captain at both Stella's and August wasn't enough to establish a gracious experience. It was a delicious experience. It was an impressive experience. But it wasn't the same experience we get when we dine in equivalent restaurants in DC or San Francisco or NY.
Is the business model of NO restaurants to serve lightning fast meals to turn the table more often? Is the business model of NO restaurants a consequence of the huge numbers of visitors to the city? Does a restaurant simply accept the losses that come when the kitchen miscalculates and presents the food very, very quickly because speed pays?
Luke was particularly fouled up. I've already mention our issues. The table next to ours was served their main dish without ever having received their first course. Since a runner brought the food, the diners didn't alert the waiter to the missing grilled oysters persillade for a few minutes. Bringing the problem to the waiter's attention didn't bring about timely results. Their meal was almost finished and one of the guests told the waiter to cancel the order for the oysters. He replied saying the oysters had been prepared. Really? If that's so why weren't they on the table? When we left the restaurant five minutes later, our neighbors still hadn't received their oysters. Was the waiter afraid he was going to have to pay for the mistake at both our table and the neighbor's table and he was sweetly trying to coerce them into accepting the oysters?
And finally, what kind of training are the runners receiving? Do they get penalized if they bring food back into the kitchen? I don't want to have to tell the runner the obvious: that we're not ready to have the next course crammed onto the table to get cold while we finish our first course. (Or, equally unacceptably, that we interrupt our first course to eat the second course when it is optimally hot and fresh.)
I haven't seen anyone write about this overly speedy trend -- one that we did not see on our first or second trip to the city each spaced about three years apart.