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Have a Seat and See What's Going On

Have a Seat and See What's Going On

I recently had dinner in an old restaurant that had just undergone an extensive renovation. The owners were so proud of the place, and rightfully so because the dining room was beautiful and everything appeared perfect. I was with friends and we scored one of the better tables, which has booth-style seating along one side and chairs on the opposite side. The large, heavy rectangular table, with seating for six, was perfectly located to watch the entire theatrical spectacle of a busy restaurant.

Those of us seated on the booth bench quickly realized that the immovable table was located too far away. To eat properly, we had to scoot up to the table, meaning we had no back support. Not the end of the world, but this is the hospitality business and good restaurants try their best to make customers as comfortable as possible.

What became quickly clear is that nobody had taken the time to sit down at that table to make sure if it was properly positioned. But I see this sort of thing a lot. In fact, a lot of diners see it, too. You know why it's so easy for us to see certain flaws? Because we sit in your restaurants. You know why you often miss what appears to be obvious? Because too many of you never bother to do that.

I'm not suggesting for a second that you don't keep a keen eye on your operations. It's just that you're seeing your restaurants from one angle, and certain truths are revealed at seating level. In the same restaurant I mentioned above, I noticed that an aisle along one side of the restaurant was a bit narrower than any of the other aisles. And when servers and food runners were using that aisle, they could not easily and comfortably pass each other while carrying food. One of these days plates will collide and it will rain pasta puttanesca. This I know for a fact because I saw it happening all night long from my customer-level viewpoint.

I saw one other quirky thing that night. There are big columns throughout the restaurant. One server was, let's just say, less ambitious than the others. She discovered that she could cool her heels behind one of the columns, which was far away from the kitchen and the general area where managers observed. I don't know what her deal was, but she knew that she could not be seen behind the column.

On numerous occasions I've eaten with restaurant owners in other restaurants. Boy, what a pain in the ass you guys can be. You sit at the table and you see everything that is going wrong in someone else's restaurant. And you know what's wrong with every dish that comes out of the kitchen. It either drives you crazy or you gloat because you know a competitor is doing a poor job. But it's not so easy in your own restaurant because you're often too close to it all. I'd suggest that every once in a while you take a look at things from another angle — your customers'.