Restaurant Secrets: Your say

waiter.jpgOkay, so here’s a shout out to the community…

What are secrets from inside the kitchens of Wine Country restaurants you’d
love to know?

– Wondering what happens to that uneaten bread you left
– How much to tip? Is 18% appropriate? And who gets those tips anyway?
– How to get the best service?
– How do restaurants decide what to charge for corkage? And why do they charge at all?
– What’s with the butcher paper thing?
– What is the best day to order seafood?
– What’s the best way to eat alone?
– How can I get the best thing on the menu?
– What the heck is mis en place?

Let me know what you’re clamoring to have uncovered.

{NOTE: This is not a space to air your dirty laundry or just be belligerent. I will delete posts that are off-topic, don’t contribute to the spirit of this post or are just plain ignorant. }

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33 thoughts on “Restaurant Secrets: Your say

  1. As for ice cold butter….it is a Health Department issue if you leave the butter out at room temp! Don’t blame it on the restaurant! They are only following Health Department codes!

  2. i HATE butcher paper on dining room tables. i would never put paper on my table at home for my guests. since i am a paying “guest” at soco’s restaurants, i am insulted that i am not treated like a welcome guest. i understand that it is costly to pay for linen laundry. but i would be happy to pay an extra $5.00 for a tablecloth minus the butcher paper. can’t anyone come up with a solution that would be better than butcher paper????

  3. Care,
    As for the italian eatery in Occidental. Many years ago I heard that they used the ravioli or pastas that were not served from that day in their soup. They make it daily and any unused pasta would make it in the soup for the next day. In recent years they changed the recipe to a thinner more vegetable filled soup. I think they wanted to offer a meat free soup not to mention the cost. I don’t know, all I do know is as a kid finding ravioli pieces in my soup bowl.
    Dessert first is a wonderful idea however the money makers are the entrees.
    Don’t get me started on ice cold butter…….

  4. Ah Yes….eye contact. Avoidance… That is certainly an art.
    Also…..PLEASE when you recite the specials…..GIVE THE PRICE….I always have to ask the price.
    Doesn’t anybody care about the price?????

  5. Why do servers call my fellow diners and I “guys” as in how “ya doin’ guys.”
    Why does the server bring my food and never come back to see how we are, if we need a refill of something or if we are ready to pay our bill?
    Why don’t servers make eye contact when they are in the vacinity of my table? Are you afraid I might ask for a refill or an extra napkin?
    P.S. Check out the Calif Dept of Labor website: tips go to those that provide direct service. This does not mean the manager or owner by the way…

  6. Back to the questions and comment:
    -Why bring out frozen hard butter with the bread? What good is that?
    -Does a well known family style eatery in Occidental use food taken from tables to make their delicious Minestrone?
    -Why not offer dessert first? Eliminates the “no room for dessert” excuse, increases the tab and most desserts just have to be plated, can enjoy while dinner or the appetizers are being prepared.
    -Are house salads put together in advance? If so, why the wait?
    -When telling me the specials, I do not need to know each ingredient, whether the olive oil was made with late harvest Mission olives picked at night to avoid cracking, what ranch it is from, what variety of tomato etc. Nor do I need to know your name.
    -When a server asks “Is everything all right?”, wait for the answer.
    -When did it become chic to serve tiny soup portions?
    -At sit down restaurants that also have take-out. Please have an area for folks waiting to sit. Zin has the nearby bar, but many places have some uncomfortable folks standing around, or hovering over my table while I try to eat.

  7. Amen, “Former Restaurant Worker”. Having worked in restaurant service, the tipping thing was always a toughie for me. I would feel obligated to tip 15% even if the service was lousy. I’ve come to my senses in these last several years realizing that as long as I, and everyone else, was doing this- there would be no incentive to improve service. So, although I still could never totally “stiff” a server, if the service is awful, I now give 10% or so. If it’s particularly bad, I’ll give a lesser tip AND speak with the manager. I also have tipped the busser directly when he/she was offering more service than the waiter/waitress. Amanda- judging by your attitude, I don’t imagine you’re providing “excellent” service to anyone.

  8. As a former waitress of many years locally I can tell you the best way to receive a good tip is to be treated the same way you would like to if you were the diner. Also be informed of the menu, have a good memory, be attentive but not overbearing. They aren’t there to be entertained by you but served. Many years ago we had this one guy who was a regular for take out and after the credit card was rung through (the old fashioned way w/o the electronic machine) he would then order a small soda for 50 cents then having us ring that up on his card. After a couple weeks of this we saw him coming and would not rush to take care of him instead take care of our seated customers. The boss was aware of this too. It took this knucklehead a couple years of doing this to realize why he was ignored. The sad thing is he was the owner of a local italian restaurant. He was rude there too. The word “tip” means “To insure promptness”. Good diners will take note when their service isn’t prompt due to circumstance beyond the servers control and not let that affect the tip. My main grip is being ignored all throughout the meal and then when the check arrives the server is my best friend. I have no problem leaving a small amount when that is the case. Also as Silva and Black Man stated the chefs, cooks etc. get nothing. It certainly doesn’t hurt to kick a few bucks their way at the end of a successful shift. Their skill is part of what your tip is.

  9. Okay, two things.
    1. Please don’t be hateful to Jeff. Although our styles are very different, I respect what he does. It’s not easy. Oh, and I would NEVER want his job, trust me. Way too much pressure and too many rules.
    2. I’m getting so many hysterical anecdotes (only some of which I can actually share publicly…buy me a beer sometime) about the behind-the-scenes of restaurants. Mark Malicki had me rolling in hysterics at what he says to annoying customers. And I like SoCo, P-town and Hburg for the sheer reason that they’re faster to type. 🙂

  10. “And by the way, a good recommendation would be to avoid all Jeff Cox reviews. The man is an idiot.”———-100% AGREED….The guy’s a dolt.
    As to the food servers/chefs doing things to your food, here’s a way to play it safe just incase: DON’T ACT LIKE AN A** and you will be fine! Trying to be a snooty “SoCo” type (bleh just saying “SoCo” makes my stomach hurt) isn’t good for anyone and you just end up looking like a moron!

  11. Sounds like sour grapes from Amanda. Perhaps she is not working at the right resturants, because even in this recession economy I know waitstaff that are making about $2000 a month after taxes. Which works out to approximately $16/hour. It certainly won’t make you rich, but it’s passable income for a single person.
    Try working retail… equally crummy customer experiences, no tips, and unless you’re a lifer, you probably aren’t making more than $10/ hour (and even that’s questionable). However, clothing discounts can make up for it… 🙂
    My point is that all service jobs have their positives and negatives. And its easy to focus on the negatives.

  12. So I was just reading Amanda’s post on tipping. I work as a chef here in Santa Rosa. It is just so like a career server to post something like that. Talking about one person taking up space for a low bill? Throwing away this and that. Amanda you never once talked about giving the customer great service or even having a little heart for the solo diner. Who knows maybe they are widowed, having a bad day, or just plain lonely. It’s your job as a server to give great service and experience no matter how many people in the party. Here you go Heather, here is a Restaurant Secret that most of the public doesnt know. All tips go to the service staff (Server, busser, host, and sometimes dish crew). Kitchen staff gets nothing. Here is what I see on a daily basis. Cooks – get to work from 12-2pm for dinner service and usually leave around 10-11pm. Service staff trickle in about 4-5pm and leave by 10pm. Kitchen staff bust azz for 10 hours a day. Service staff – well I will let you guess what they do after polishing some silverware and glasses for 15 min. Then the payoff. Kitchen staff make anywhere from $8 dollars for dish crew and up to $15 dollars an hour for a great cook or Sous chef etc, etc. Service staff can walk with hundreds of dollars a night, great bartenders at a busy place can make over a thousand dollars. Cooks, dish crew, Chefs well we get the short end of the stick. Yes, it is our choice to be there and most of us enjoy it. My problem starts when service staff start complaining about the tips during service and on this website (Amanda). So next time you sign your check and leave a tip – remember to tip accordingly, and give a peek in the kitchen and let your chef know how your meal was! Because the kitchen staff probably doesnt see any part of those tips we all are forced to pay. I just want to say service staff is a huge part of the business, we need them to make the experience for the customer great. I just dont like it when they complain out loud or in public about how much they take home in a day. Because they are working side by side with people making a quarter of what they take home – but without complaining!

  13. Amanda, I liked to eat alone. I don’t feel that I should rush through my meal just because I am alone, who knows what my bill is compared to other couples. I’m also a vegetarian and find most restaurants are happy to accommodate you, does not go elsewhere.

  14. The best way to eat alone is to do so quickly-you are taking up a table with a low bill!
    The bread gets thrown away-anything that is unwrapped that gets taken to a table must be thrown away.
    18% is good, 20 is ideal depending on the service. Often people will give the ‘verbal tip’, and that’s just not nice. And don’t forget to tip on bottles of wine.
    Servers get taxed on the tips they make, making their hourly wage closer to $4 an hour because they also distribute that among bussers, hosts, and bartenders.
    SO people, ALWAYS tip your waitress!!

  15. i really get grossed out when i enter what appears to be a clean restaurant and look up to see loads of black greasy gunk caked onto the ceiling fans…and i always look up. can’t be that hard to schedule cleaning the blades when the windows are cleaned. has to be some sort of health code violation..or if it isn’t, it should be!

  16. And by the way, a good recommendation would be to avoid all Jeff Cox reviews. The man is an idiot. I have seen him make complete factual errors and take the restaurant to task for something when it was he who did not understand and even when the error was pointed out, there was no correction or apology. I much prefer Heather’s offerings on restaurants (and this is not to blow smoke). The PD should fire Cox and replace him with Heather.

  17. I have spent several years working in high-end dining here and in Napa. To those of you wondering about vegetarian and/or food allergy options: if the restaurant seems off put by your request and/or ignores it, take it to the management. If they still give you problems, leave. It is inexcusable to treat any guest that way. If a dish cannot be prepared without the ingredient in question, an alternative should be suggested. Likewise, no one should be upset if you ask about vegetarian options. That is the JOB of the waitstaff to know the ingredients and preparation of the dish and to ask the chef on behalf of the guest what accommodations can be made. If your requests are more involved, a simple call ahead to the restaurant telling them of your allergy/vegetarian request should be sufficient to allow the chef time to prepare another option. But, if you walk into a steakhouse on a Saturday night at prime time and start asking for things way off the menu, prepare to be disappointed. A good chef will do his/her best to comply with your request, but may not be prepped to do so.
    As for tipping, 15-20% should be the appropriate range. The tip is for SERVICE, so if the server only does the bare minimum, bringing the food, etc., but really does nothing more, 15% would appropriate. But when a server provides insight into the dining experience by recommending wine, cocktails, guiding you through the menu and helping you create a memorable experience, the higher end of the range is appropriate. But if you ask your server about an item on the menu and the response is “it’s good” with no further insight, your server is not doing there job. A server should be able to describe the ingredients, preparation, and presentation of any menu item and be able to provide some insight into the expected flavor components. Furthermore a server should know what questions to ask YOU when asked for a recommendation: do you like beef (or foie gras, etc.)? No sense recommending a steak to a vegetarian. Same goes for the wine list. A server is not a sommelier, but familiarity with a workable portion of the wine list is to be expected. If you ask for a recommendation, your server should be able to provide at LEAST three wines with differing price points, or at least ONE wine if you tell them the price range you’re looking for (and don’t be afraid to place this condition, a $200 bottle of wine BETTER be good, but there is considerable variation in the $40-60 range). And for servers who find this too strenuous: don’t complain about your tips. It is you JOB to provide service and a guest has every reason to expect you to have a degree of expertise in the restaurant in which you work.
    Finally, a note about slow “service”. If your food takes too long to come to your table, then generally that is a slow KITCHEN not slow service. A good server should be aware of the time it is taking, intervene if it is taking too long, and communicate that to the guests and work to provide a remedy if necessary (a glass of wine on the house, a little amuse to get you through, etc.).

  18. Because there hasn’t been an outpouring of support for it from either the public or the industry. Instead, the Food Industry Advisory Forum (made up of health dept staff and food industry folk) created the Recognition of Excellence in Food Safety Award several years ago to encourage food service operators to strive for the highest standards of sanitation and safety. Operators receiving this award get a break on their annual permit fee and a sticker for their door/window. Look for that when you eat out.

  19. OK.. Why does the county refuse to impliment the A B C cleanlieness rating like they do in Southern California. I know you can get the ratings on line on the county web site, but why not post them on the establishment?

  20. How do you politely ask if “vegetarian” food is actually animal free? I’ve asked at a few places, only to discover that the (rice, beans, fill in the blank) in the so-called “vegetarian” food is in fact cooked in chicken broth, made with lard, etc. Yet the servers always seem mad that I ask!

  21. Hmmm. I guess that was kind of idiotic. I had just been talking on the phone to a chef about it. So, here’s the thing. No, I don’t think waiters are doing that in restaurants with good management. Betsy Fischer from the JC just told me that in 30 years of being in the biz she’s never seen anyone do it.
    It’s just one of those things that I always wonder about, so it struck me when the poster made a stupid comment about it.
    Mia culpa.

  22. is saying the wait/kitchen staff can do whatever they want and that that’s the risk u take when u eat out. Seems to me the restaurant and its employees should be happy to have your business. Heather: Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your response (no deletion) to the guy promoting adding special sauce to anyone he determines to be rude, like perhaps Blue, sounds like you are saying that, well, if wait staff deems the customer rude then oh well. Unbelievable response.

  23. Let’s say I have a severe food allergy, the kind where I’ll get violently ill. I politely ask the wait staff if they can leave that ingredient out of the meal [say, leave the cream sauce off the noodle dish]. They say sure, no problem, and take my allergy card back to the kitchen, just to make sure it’s right. When the food arrives the allergen is there anyway. Is it considered ‘ok’ by the restaurant for me to ask for the food to be fixed? I ordered something specifically so I could eat it – and leaving out an ingredient isn’t that hard. I’m not talking about being picky here; only food allergies.

  24. You say you will delete inappropriate posts and then RESPOND to, without deleting, a post that says restaurant employees will spit in/add special sauce to “rude” customers? You are an idiot Heather.

  25. Though it scares me, I consider it part of the danger of the job. But yeah, yeeech. I try not to think about it.

  26. I too, like to eat alone. In fact if you go before the rush hour for dinner or lunch, the food is prepared w/out haste. But also because it can seem awkward if you go on date night as dining alone has a stigma, but those of us who opt to it appreciate the solitude as “loves to eat” put it. And not to mention gives you the ability to really people watch, where dining w/ a companion they almost seem distracted you from it… LOL… anyway it can sometimes be your home away from home. As a regular they try and make you comfortable; maybe they are being nice because you are alone and give you better service, but you’re not lonely…  Because of the attentiveness I’ve received and regularity of my dining, I tip well and they treat me good. Happy dining to those who dine alone and welcome to those who have been inclined to…

  27. What’s the big deal about eating alone anyways? After a long day at work and being with people, I enjoy eating alone. It gives me time to regroup.

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