Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Terrific but Iffy vs Good and Consistent? Consistent Wins

September 15th, 2008 · 2 Comments

We have a lot of choices for restaurants in this area. An awful lot — too many, if you ask me.

You’d think with all that competition they’d have it so together to keep you coming back — repeat customers are revered in some parts. Some just don’t care — especially in the summertime.

 I want to shake the managers and tell them, “We’re your potentially LOYAL customers. The snowbirds and tourists are fickle. We can be your best friends and support you in these summer doldrums. I still go out to eat in August and September — your hardest months. I’m here for you if you give me just a little attention. Even normal attention: A glass refilled. A fork without having to ask. The check without my having to track down a waiter in the kitchen. Is this REALLY too hard?” I’m begging you managers to respond.

One that gets it right: Cantina Laredo, in Midtown in PB Gardens. It’s not the best casual Mexican food around (that’s at a hole-in-the-wall Zapata in Lake Worth) nor the priciest (Rosa Mexicano in the Gardens), nor the most unusual and exquisite (Eduardo de San Angel in Fort Lauderdale: go!). But it is consistent. 

I know what I’m getting. I can talk to the manager. The staff is friendly enough — they don’t gush, though — and brings me another glass of my drink or asks if we need more chips — or if everything’s OK so far. They don’t rush you. Their chips are warm and pico de gallo good. The enchiladas are fine; portions more than ample and the menu has several choices so that everyone can eat here.

I’m happy to recommend them — even if they’re a chain — a rare thing for me.

 It’s because I don’t have to be talked into going here, remembering a bad experience. I haven’t had one yet.

Tags: Talking Tables

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jordan // Sep 17, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I know what you mean, and completely agree – consistency is king. I have seen so many restaurants with great food and hideous service close in the last few years.

    Now that I’ve been in South Florida for four years, I think I’ve resolved myself to the fact that good service is a rarity. I realize this especially when I’m dining in another city and I wonder why servers in other cities are so nice (then I realize the better question is, “Why are most South Florida servers so clueless?”)

  • 2 ajs222 // Sep 20, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Jordan-

    Sadly I too feel that ‘good’ quality service is hard to get in Florida. I am often a little disappointed when i get the opportunity to dine out and as a result I stick to my few favorites, and I know to use a grain of salt when trying a new restaurant.
    But that could be the answer to the quandary. This area is loaded with new restaurants. Every ten seconds someone is opening a new french-Italian-sushi bistro with an upscale twist in a bad location. That is to say there are too many restaurants and to few of them are any good to begin with.
    If you want a good meal and good service, you need to get local. You need to get away from the mega chains and the 500 seat Mexican-Chinese-top-chef wannabee-fusion restaurants that are inevitably a fly by night operations run by a faceless corporation or 100 ‘investors’ who mistake that for ‘owner’.
    I work for La Sirena in West Palm Beach and they have been there for 25 years. My first day on the job I was blown away by the staff’s knowledge of the regulars. Because it has 55 seats and a lot of history, a small place can keep track of who is who, if they like bottled water or tap, expensive french burgundy or an inexpensive Chianti. They have even more recently added an new weapon to the customer service arsenal. Open Table. Open Table is a computer reservation system that we use to not only organize the tables, but it allows us to look and see how many times a person comes in (are they a regular or, like, a super-regular?) and allows us to make notes on what they liked and didn’t like in the past. An example? You loved our panna cotta? We can hold one for your table when you make a reservation. Allergic to shellfish? The whole staff knows. etc, etc.
    The bottom line is that it pays to be a regular. start showing up to a place once a week, even twice a month, and you will see a big change in the level of service you receive. And go where the locals go.
    As for servers being clueless- trust me its not easy doing what they do. Even for the good ones. This market is seasonal, transient, and one of the most demanding in terms of customer base. It is also one of the most rewarding in terms of pay, and therefor attracts servers, cooks and others from all over the world, so there can be massive variation in how staff is (or more commonly is not) trained.
    Many restaurants in Florida, and the rest of the country for that matter, treat a server for what they are, a $3 an hour wage slave with no union, contract or benefits that can be thrown away at a moments notice, and replaced almost instantly by an seemingly endless supply of new faces (known in the biz as the Waiter Pool). Its no wonder that many act so clueless.
    However, the established places usually have a cultivated core of veterans who do care. They have a steak in the game and do a great job.
    Servers are not mind readers. Some eye contact, a please and thank you will have the staff of even the most backwards restaurants falling all over your every whim. Ask and You shall receive. That’s what we do.

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