This post was triggered by a meal we had at Bistro du Midi last night, but applies to most of the better restaurants I have eaten in across the US, with the exception of New York. Our server last night was polite and friendly, knowledgeable about the food and offered us several useful suggestions. Bistro du Midi uses a team approach, so other servers, the wine guy and the front room manager were also at our table at various points. They shared the server's positive qualities.
However, there were some other aspects of the service that were bothersome:
1. All the staff used this stilted, formal language when talking with us. "What will you be having?" "Tonight we have available ...", and my favorite, "How are your items tasting?"
2. They cleared used dishes and glassware 3-4 times as we finished our entrees rather than all at once, with a request each time.
3. The person who cleaned and prepped our places after the starters were cleared was so intent on his job that I found myself looking at the top of head as he whisked the crumbs away.
4. Several of the dishes were placed in front of the wrong person.
I admit that these are not huge issues, and my dining companions called me a snob when ti tried to discuss them afterward. But I encounter them so consistently in many restaurants in many cities that I have to conclude that the staff is purposefully trained to do 1.-3. and that 4. is a problem of immense complexity that resists a solution.
Regarding server-speak, the people who serve at most high-end restaurants are carefully selected and trained, and their performance is monitored and improved. I guess that the great majority of them are articulate and able to express themselves naturally and accurately in normal conversation. So, clearly who decides that they should use future plural language when talking with customers? Is it somehow considered more formal and gracious than more direct sentences? Is it a way to insure that all servers speak grammatically and courteously?
The decisions behind the other issues really puzzle me. Why would a restaurant decide that it is preferable to interrupt dining conversation several times during a course, rather than when everyone was clearly finished? A server wouldn't need to ask permission if they waited. Cleaning each diner's place between courses is nice, but it adds yet another interruption, in this case a physical presence in front of the diner.
Finally, I know that it is possible for a group of servers to know who ordered what and deliver the right dish to the right diner. I just don't understand why it happens so infrequently.
The goal of great service is to be informative, anticipatory and unobtrusive. We know it when we experience it. Part of it is instinctual, I believe. However, many of the core elements can be designed, taught, and implemented consistently. So, who decides on approaches that seem, at least to me, to be inconsistent with this ideal?