Full-service restaurants are like courtrooms, a microcosm of society.
Once while on a business trip and dining alone at Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago, I really paid attention to what was happening around me.
At one table there was a romantic dinner punctuated with public displays of affection. At the next, five friends vividly discussed the travails of online dating. A business dinner was going on full throttle at the table next to me, while at another; a family struggled with an out-of-control toddler, much to the embarrassment of the mother.
It struck me at that moment what a great documentary film this would make. Capture in one night what was unfolding in a restaurant and how it mirrored society at large, with all its joys, messes and frustrations. Of course, in all likelihood once a camera showed up all spontaneity would disappear.
It’s nice to take a step back and look at the restaurant experience from the guest’s perspective. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the foodservice intricacies and forget how the paying customer takes it all in.
The fact that restaurants are a microcosm of America at large affords operators the opportunity to become real experts in human behavior. Taking that logic one step further, it also provides restaurateurs a chance to learn from others’ mistakes. And with education comes enlightenment, and ultimately improved behavior, or so we hope. While restaurateurs are certainly like the rest of us, which is far from perfect, their proximity to every kind of behavior, both good and bad, allows them to avoid the mistakes they see played out in their operations every day.
So in a sense having a foodservice career allows restaurateurs the chance to be better customers, better citizens, and better human beings.
Being a restaurant patron has taught me a lot about acceptable behavior. It has influenced me and the way I interact with others.
On several occasions, with three different people, I have been mortified with their display of embarrassing antics. I vowed never to follow their lead. I hate to admit it, but all three were women, and their behaviors were similar. Not sure what psychologists would have to say about that.
Usually the ugliness started with a complaint to the waiter or, usually, waitress, and escalated from there. In most instances I felt like crawling under the table, but instead tried to calm my dining companions, usually to no avail.
If something were not to their liking, they would raise their voices and go after the waitress. It could be the speed of service, the temperature of the food, the discomfort of the chair, or the quality of the air conditioning. Sometimes I noted these ladies were in a bad mood before we even got to the restaurant, but that was not always the case.
Obviously, alerting the server about things that concern the diner wasn’t the problem but rather it was the tone and delivery of the message. In all cases it was clearly overkill, with overkill being the operative word. They were nasty, accusatory and, of course, alarmingly loud.
Surely this doesn’t come as any surprise to most restaurant operators, who with experience often say they have seen it all.
Clearly that’s a good thing because seeing it all gives you a front-row seat on what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
Maybe that’s one reason restaurateurs are such a pleasure to be around. After all they are in the hospitality business, and that usually means they have a smile on their face, and a glass that is always half full.