A Learning Experience -Emily B

15 05 2008

It was around 5:15 on the evening of Monday, May 5th, that I arrived at Chataigne to find Chic’s student run café already bustling with activity. Glass and flatware was polished and set, the service station was stocked, coffee was brewed, a cash bar was prepared, and imitation candles were burning brightly on every table. All of this preparation had been done without the assistance of myself or my classmate; the two who technically should have been responsible for front of the house set-up in its entirety for any event hosted by Chataigne at that time. However, this particular event was thought to require additional assistance. We were preparing for a private party of 65, as the big red reservation book informed us, and there were banners hanging in the windows to illustrate that this shindig would be attended by supposed big-wigs of the culinary world, so students and instructors alike were putting efforts in to make sure everything was ready. This was by far the largest group we had prepared for yet in the 6 days that I had been engaged in Chic’s Restaurant Guest Service practical course at Chataigne, and though I did my best to keep a cool head on the task at hand, my nerves were certainly a bit jittery.

After much hustle and bustle, and frantic preparation in both the front and the back of the house, our guests arrived, all 20 of them that managed to attend. As the first of them began to trickle in, two chef instructors and I tended the bar, where I found myself privy to conversations that seemed unseemly for such an event. Perhaps it was the fact that I had never tended bar before, which as I understand it tends to involve interaction with intoxicated persons, but the lack of consideration exhibited by members of the group surprised me. As the evening wore on, a meeting of sorts was called to order, and the word was given to start service. I was surprised again as we served the menu specially created by the chef for this group, by how disconnected and discourteous my interactions with the individuals seated around the dining room seemed; drinks were spilled, demands were made, older men made passes at the young female servers, and if someone did not get what they asked for, one was apt to hear comments comparing our establishment to a refugee camp.

My frustration mounted from mild to severe as the night progressed. I typically think of myself the kind of individual that applies courtesy and respect to every social relation wherever possible, and I tend to expect the same from every person with whom I interact. The prospect that there lies underneath our society’s daily superficial social interactions a small thread of real compassion and respect is dubious at best, but in my view the least we can offer to one another is mutual consideration. What I saw transpiring in Chataigne’s dining room on that cloudy Monday evening seemed to me fairly dissimilar to mutual consideration, and a bit more like mutual detest. Suffice to say, though based on truth, my point of view on the situation was slightly skewed, and that after taking some time to mull my recollection of the event over, my initial frustration came to shed light on few things hither-to unknown to me about the industry I work in.

First of all, it had not previously occurred to me that when an individual or a group of individuals patronize a food service establishment, most especially in the case of more upscale operations, they expect not only to be served acceptable if not exceptional food, but also to turn themselves over to the staff for the length of time that they spend. This suggested itself to me first when I realized that there is no clock in the dining room at Chataigne, possibly to add to the guest’s perception that time and effort disappear within the walls of the restaurant. It seems to me, that a patron of a restaurant like Chataigne anticipates a nearly effortless dining experience; they enter the dining room, are seated at a table, and their every whim is realized until they are satisfied, when they pay the bill and leave. If the point of the restaurant guest’s experience is to be that the dining be thought-free on their part, it seems only natural that from a server’s standing guests might at times appear thoughtless.

Next; it was to me something of an epiphany (no matter how simplistic) when I realized one of the most basic rules of human interaction: attitudes are contagious. This notion can apply easily to my entire front of the house experience. In particular, I can now see that many of my previous less-than-pleasant interactions with patrons were made as such initially due to my own bad attitude. If I approach a group of guests with a disagreeable, jittery attitude, it is more than likely that disagreeability will spread to my guests, and everyone involved will inevitably develop objectionable attitudes. To ensure that one’s patrons remain comfortably at ease, one must first ensure one’s own level of comfort and agreeability.

I’ve found in most cases, that all one must do to allow for agreeable, efficient interactions with one’s restaurant guests, is appear as if one cares. If the first impression an individual has at the outset of their dining experience when they enter the restaurant is that the wait staff does not have care and consideration for them, their experience will from then on be tainted, and it will not matter how exceptional the food may be. If however, the members of the front of the house staff present themselves properly and politely, and appear to the guests to be earnestly considerate from their first to their last impression, the guest will then be able to feel they have placed themselves in the hands of the staff, and it will hardly matter if the food is less than acceptable.

After just three short weeks observing and working in the front of the house at Chataigne, I have learned a great deal about myself and others, as well as social interactions as a whole, and I believe that I have grown both as a food service worker and an individual. I now better understand myself and my fellows, and can more effectively approach and assess my everyday life, and although I may not manage to uphold these values constantly, I have reinforced my belief in the unique ability to grease the gears of human interaction inherent in respect, consideration, and compassion.

-Emily B

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