Anyone who dines out knows that your final opinion about a place is so much more dependent on the kind of service you receive than the actual food on the plate. Unless you have different expectations, like at certain ethnic restaurants, we go out to eat so that we can receive a certain level of service.
The food service industry is called the food “service” industry. In L.A. we know we’re plagued by the ever transient actor or actress trying to get the part, but there are plenty of others who do this for a living, or to legitimately support themselves. I also work in the food service industry, though in a much less serious way – at an artisanal ice ream shop. I still have to interact with hundreds of people a day, and it can become very tiresome. It doesn’t mean, I don’t love what I do, it’s just that I understand the routine that comes along with serving people.
I started thinking about what service really means when we dine out. Last weekend, I was hoping to get a good brunch with some friends on a top-level Westside place that serves amazing food with top-shelf ingredients in a charming space. We did not make a reservation because I didn’t think it was going to be busy later in the service. I checked the hours on Yelp, which incorrectly stated that the restaurant opens at 7 AM and closes at 3 PM. I should have checked the website, which said that brunch was available from 8 AM to 2 PM on the weekend. We had to find parking for almost ten minutes and arrived at the restaurant at exactly 2:08 (I checked multiple times to make sure).
Yes, technically we were late. But there were still many diners seated, some that hadn’t even received their plates. The hostess kindly asked if she could find out if the kitchen could still produce dishes for us. She went to the back, asked the staff, and returned saying that they could not accommodate us. I was disappointed and asked kindly again if there was any way to seat us. I probably should have asserted that we were planning to eat a decent amount and order quickly so that the kitchen (who had probably been there for a solid 8-9 hours at this point) could close until dinner later that day. Even if they weren’t opening for dinner, the kitchen was still in full operating mode, not shutting down, at least from what I could see.
I could see the chef and general manager looking over to us, even after we’d been told that we couldn’t be served. I was definitely disappointed at this point, but what I could do? We wandered around trying to find something else to eat before I succumbed to a baked good at the restaurant’s bakery and left a $2 tip. It was pretty damn tasty. But what I really wanted was to sit down and enjoy a good meal. Would it have been that hard to accommodate us?
We run out of ice cream all the time at Scoops. We have to close early sometimes. When that situation occurs, I’m generally one to give away the little that we have left in to-go containers. If I happen to be at the shop and we have product left, I’m more than happy to serve people after we close. I can see how it’s different for a kitchen that’s full of staff and demands that a kitchen be broken down. Each additional hour is labor expense. The difference between us getting served and enjoying a good meal (actually, I’m quite sure it would’ve been one of the best brunches in the city based on my previous visit) turned out to be eight lousy minutes.
I could have name dropped (though that often fails, and for me, most definitely would have failed – who am I anyway?). I could have appealed further, but they made their decision. But I didn’t feel like I committed a huge error by arriving a few minutes beyond closing. It’s not like getting to a bar past last call (when Alcohol Beverage Control regulations restrict further pouring).
I know I’m going to be returning to this restaurant again, because I’m convinced that it’s one of the best meals to be had in L.A. It’s not like this is a normal neighborhood restaurant – people have to sometimes travel very long distances to eat here. It’s a bit of a destination, so turning someone down was a huge downer. But I can’t help but wonder about a place that purports to be a top-level restaurant, but can’t deliver two of the most basic aspects of service, hospitality and flexibility. I guess that means it isn’t a top restaurant – yet.