The Little Dining Things
Wednesday - February 22, 2006
Before the owners of Assaggio’s in Hawaii Kai start freaking out, this is, for the most part, a positive story with a good ending. It’s just the beginning and the middle part that have a few problems.
I like Assaggio’s in Hawaii Kai. I think the food is nice and the staff friendly. And anyway, it’s full almost every night, so who cares what I think?
But the other evening I went for dinner and experienced such poor service that it gave me a really good idea of what can go wrong in a restaurant if just one or two staff members slip through the training process.
We had a reservation for four, but when we arrived, the hostess took us to a separate table from our friends, who had already been seated. Good thing we saw them or we’d have been waiting all night for them to turn up.
Next - and here’s the thing that really got the whole night off to a bad start - I ordered a bottle of wine. Instead of the bottle I ordered, the waiter brought two glasses of Chianti Classico.
No problem, easy enough mistake to make. So, I told him we’d ordered a bottle and not just a glass.
He returned a minute later with an open bottle of wine and said, ‘We just opened this - do you want it?”
He them proceeded to pour - “slosh” might be a better description - four glasses of wine.
Counting the two our friends were already drinking, we now had six full glasses on our table.
“They’ve already got wine,” I told him, wondering if this was a new twist on “up selling.” “Oh,” he said staring blankly at the table.
Then our food came. Playing “auction the plate” is not my favorite game, but that’s what we did. No, the eggplant wasn’t mine. Nope, not the cannelloni either; and no, not even the second plate of eggplant that the waiter tried to put in front of me. Finally I got the only plate left.
The food is usually OK at Assaggio’s, so I’m not going to complain about the greasy angel hair pasta and the so-so chicken. And if I’d wanted to complain about the crunchy eggplant then I should have followed my own advice and done it at the time. But here’s the thing - and here’s the reason for the column - when you go out for dinner at a restaurant that you expect to be good, you, well, expect it to be good. You don’t want to spend the evening correcting the staff, waiting for food, passing the plate to the right person or staring at an empty water glass.
Most of the complaints I get about restaurants are about the service. And they’re from people who are not mad or angry - just disappointed that their evening didn’t go smoothly.
And that’s why, as much as we all love to eat out and support local restaurants, the people in charge of staff training, wine training, servers and busboys need to stay on top of what’s happening. We have an obligation to pay the check and tip the waiters - you have an obligation to give us good service. People are so much more forgiving of average food than they are of poor service. Why? Because poor service makes us feel helpless - unless we make a fuss and complain. And who really wants to do that?
I called Assaggio’s the next day and spoke to the day manager telling her all my woes, and she dealt with them in the most professional manner possible. She listened, she empathized, she apologized and she even explained that yes, they did have new staff who possibly could use a bit more training.
I still like Assaggio’s and I think the way they dealt with the complaint was perfect - but the guy who sloshed the wine into six glasses at the table, topped up my friend’s glass just to “finish off the bottle” and took a wrong check to the next table, needs to pay attention. It’s the little things that make a restaurant work. And when you’re out for a special night, little things really do mean a lot.
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