Hosting, Party of Over It

Imagine you’ve got guests from out of town staying in your home. There’s quite a few of them, but fortunately you’ve been planning for this visit for a while so you’re prepared to comfortably situate everyone. It’s the evening of their arrival, and everything is set. You’re not very excited to see them, they’re kind of a needy bunch, but you know you can handle them. Then comes the long awaited knock and you make your way to the door, putting on your most gracious smile and trying to feel welcoming.

Now imagine that when you open the door, there’s two people on your step. But these are not the people you were expecting. Maybe they’re acquaintances from high school. Maybe coworkers. It’s hardly relevant. What matters is that there they are outside your door, and they’re telling you they need a place to stay. But it’s not just them, they’ve got more people on the way. When you ask how many more, they kind of shrug and look at each other for the answer. One says “seven” and the other says “three”. They shoulder their way into the house and all you can do is step back so as not to get trampled. You say there’s really nowhere for them to sleep, every square inch of the house has been claimed already.

They start poking around the house, pointing out empty beds and saying “Well this looks just fine we can squeeze in here.” Your protests that those beds are for someone else are met with disdain. There is another knock on the door and you leave your uninvited guests to their snooping. Here at last are your long-awaited visitors, right? Wrong. Outside are three more people you haven’t seen in years, and they have the same story. They need a place to stay. They’re not sure how many of them there will be. Maybe 10?

You can’t say no to any of these people. There’s just no way. And they keep coming. Groups of five, eight, fifteen. You can’t keep up. They’re leaving their things everywhere, blocking off hallways, perching on any available surface. And they all want things from you. They’re thirsty and hungry and tired and in need of a shower. As you start on one task, someone interrupts you and gives you three more.

In that situation, how would you feel? Like a trapped animal? Overwhelmed? Would you be fighting back tears? Probably. Welcome to the life of a host.

I’ve worked in the service industry for two years. In that time I’ve filled many positions, all of them frustrating in their own way, but I can safely say that being a host in a restaurant is one of the most thankless and defeating of jobs. And if anything can make you lose faith in humanity, it’s going to be hosting.

For some reason it’s very difficult for guests to grasp that if you have a large party, it’s probably best to make a reservation several days in advance. A restaurant does not have infinite seating, it’s not Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. And there’s a good chance that if you come in on a weekend, it’s going to be packed already. You’re not the only people that have the day off, and you’re not the only ones with something to celebrate.

If, however, there’s just no way you could have picked up the phone and let us know that your entire extended family has a burning desire to eat our food, could you at least have some idea of how many people you’re bringing in? It’s very simple math, I’m pretty sure they taught you how to count in kindergarten. Saying that there’s going to be somewhere between two and fifteen people doesn’t help me and it definitely doesn’t help you.

Once you do decide that you and all your friends and relations simply must go out to eat, and you know how many of them there are, let me do my job. When you come in and I have to seat you, there’s several factors I have to consider. Keep these in mind:

  • If there’s more than one server on the floor, each of them will have a section. That means there’s a limited amount of tables they have to attend to, and they’re all in the same general area.
  • If there are sections, we’re probably seating in rotation. For instance, if there’s three sections, I have to seat the first section…wait for it….first. Second section gets seated second, then the third. Again, very simple. I know who’s next in rotation, you don’t.
  • A busy restaurant means the servers are overwhelmed and the kitchen is probably overwhelmed. If I don’t immediately seat you but there are tables available, it may be because I’d rather you wait to get the service and food you came for than having you dissatisfied with your experience.
  • Empty does not mean unclaimed. If I tell you that there’s a waitlist, don’t point to a table and say “Well, what about right there?” I know it’s there, but somebody with slightly more forethought than you called ahead and reserved it. It’s like dibs. And dibs have to be respected.
  • Servers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Customers have to be able to move around the restaurant. Bussers have to be able to move around the restaurant. There are set pathways, and four of you trying to sit at a table meant for two will definitely mess those pathways up. I don’t care that you’re okay with squeezing in together, how comfortable you are with your personal space makes no difference to me. You’re going to be a fire hazard.
  • This also means that your stroller, luggage, etc. cannot be in the walkway. There may be a table available in the back corner that would fit you comfortably, but I cannot put you there because then your baby would be in the direct path of our hot plates and giant trays. I do actually care about your safety.
  • If I put you on a waitlist, you’re on the waitlist. I’ve taken your phone number and you will receive a text when we’re ready for you. Checking in every thirty seconds just distracts me from being able to find you a spot.
  • On a slightly unrelated note, if you tell me you’re in a rush we’ll try to do everything we can to help you out. But keep in mind that full service restaurants usually have to actually cook the food before we bring it out to you. And full service restaurants that are full upon your arrival are probably making the people who’ve come in before you a priority. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure you’re wonderful, but the guy at the table next to you has been waiting for his food for twenty five minutes and everyone is stressed out about it. He’s getting his meal first, no matter how many planes you have to catch. If you wanted something quick, you’d have been better off going to a McDonalds.

Now, I realize that all of that was a little harsh. It’s not that hosts hate their customers, it’s not that customers are terrible. But as with all things, a select few bad experiences will ruin it for everyone. So just keep in mind when you visit a restaurant that hosts are people too, and that there has to be a level of respect and consideration for the people working for you. That’s really all we’re asking for. Unexpected large groups are unavoidable sometimes, but if you really must come in, at least be polite and understand that we’ll try our best to accommodate you but it may take a minute.

Respectfully yours,

Arina

Advertisements

aMa Bistro

What more fitting subject for our first review than the place that started it all? aMa Bistro is a relatively new, well-decorated café hidden on State Street between CVS and The Getup Vintage. Our first visit, during the restaurant’s infancy, left us so dissatisfied with the quality of service that the idea for this blog was conceived somewhere between our forsaken coffee cups and lukewarm food. We left with no intention of returning, but after getting wind that aMa had sought out a professional staff trainer, decided to give them a second chance.

We arrived expecting a turn around, but our hopes were quickly dashed. Our first inkling that this second visit might be as disappointing as the first presented itself as an empty host stand asking us to wait for seating. Although all but two tables were empty, it was a whopping minute and a half (yes, we timed it) before we were brusquely greeted and instructed to pick any seat by the only hand on deck. Those that followed behind us were met with the same tactless reception. Once seated, it was another several minutes before we received waters; unaccompanied by menus or the offer of any other beverages. Several guests ventured in after us, but all remained ignored and thirsty while the server disappeared into the back. It soon became obvious that apathy was the guiding principle of service here.

When the server finally arrived with the menus, she did not stick around long enough to inform us of the daily specials or soups and again assumed that we were satisfied with water. To our chagrin, the lackluster server did not seem to care that we had entered the establishment first and proceeded to take orders at random. This gave us time to look around the restaurant and notice that a majority of the tables were not set with silverware or the proper condiments. Once the server found the time to come take our orders, it was done almost mechanically. No pleasantry nor personality were provided.

After placing our order, a small eternity filled with awkward silence passed before our pre-meal soups reached us. At this point, Tucker pointedly asked for a soda, receiving a curt “sure” in return. Our server scurried off into the back, once again shunning the dining room. Whether or not she went back there with our soda in mind we may never know, as she reemerged several times without it in hand before fulfilling our request. In the meantime, we discovered that Tucker’s soup was lukewarm, bordering on chilly, whereas Arina’s was piping hot. Tucker’s dissatisfaction and subsequent request for the soup to be reheated were received without concern or apology. By the time the soup was returned (haphazardly presented on a soup-splattered saucer) Arina’s empty bowl had been deliberately placed on the edge of the table. The reheated soup was anything but, and was indignantly pushed aside. The soda finally arrived at our table but the dirtied dishes did not depart, leaving unappealing clutter and further accentuating the server’s inaptitude.

Entrees came sooner than water refills, and the used dishes remained at the edge of our table. We aren’t sure of our server’s methodology, but we can assume from her confusion that it was not intended to keep track of who ordered which dish. We dived into our food, not overly impressed but not terribly disappointed either. Our server didn’t seem too concerned with our opinion of the food, as she spent the duration of our meal flitting about the restaurant in a panicked disarray. While we understand the stresses of an understaffed dinner rush, a quick scope of the restaurant revealed the potential for an efficient trajectory for such instances. The tables are organized in a loop, providing a missed opportunity to effectively attend to every guest. Forethought clearly was not a part of the training process at aMa.

About half way through our meal, we were told that we would receive our check shortly. At this point, we had grown weary of the experience as a whole, yet were still relatively offended, although unsurprised, that our server’s top priority was to empty the dining room as quickly as possible. Her attitude toward other patrons was similarly apathetic, as evidenced by the palpable discomfort surrounding us. During our meal, we witnessed a customer next to us being cut off while attempting to order, another looking disgruntled at the temperature of his soup and several tables rubbernecking in a vain search for service. It quickly became clear that the server was no longer concerned with providing hospitality, but was instead inconvenienced by our presence.

Our check was presented separately, though we had made no indication that we would not be paying together. For the first time in our hour-long experience, there was a glimmer of interest when Tucker could not justify paying for a half-finished soda that had taken an exorbitant amount of time to reach our table. Even then, there was no apology or acceptance of responsibility for her lack of timeliness and our dissatisfaction. Fortunately, our change arrived quicker than anything else we’d requested. Unfortunately, this only served as an emphasis of her indifference towards the unwelcome occupants of her domain.

It saddens us to say that the refinement we had been hoping for was neither present nor something we foresee happening in the near future. There is no satisfaction in receiving poor service, and there is especially none in writing about said poor service. However, we feel it is our self-appointed duty to report the truth (as pompous as that may sound). We want to emphasize that we have been in her shoes, but she’s not the Cinderella we were looking for. We deeply feel that as a server, even at the point of extreme stress, it is not just a courtesy, but your obligation to assume responsibility for anything that goes wrong during your shift. Were we to focus our reviews on the food itself, we may have a more positive outlook on aMa, however, until the servers are properly trained and the management makes the appropriate staffing adjustments, we regret to say that we would not recommend dining at this establishment.

We hope that this review has been enlightening, and that our next will be less of a downer. Thanks for checking us out, look forward to our next post this Wednesday!

Your Humble Servants,
Arina & Tucker

A Sampler

While sitting in a recently-opened bistro in Ann Arbor and trading criticisms about the hostess, we came to the realization that among the hundreds of restaurant review blogs, very few take the time to focus on the customer/service experience. We understand the need for reviewing food – people want to know what they’re getting into before they order – but as servers, we know food is only one ingredient in a very delicate recipe.

Although neither of us are veterans servers, we’ve quickly discovered what it takes to make the dining experience gratifying for the guest as well as the staff. What started as an idea for a service review blog quickly developed into a guide for fellow servers and those they serve. Our purpose is not only to give honest and accurate descriptions of dining experiences in the Ann Arbor area, but also to give insight into the life of a server. In this blog you will find service reviews, interesting anecdotes and complaints about all aspects of the Industry.

We’re really excited to embark on this journey and see where it takes us. This is our first project together, so bear with us while we work out the kinks. We intend to post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but a server’s schedule is constantly shifting so we might be a day late every now and then.

We hope to see you back and don’t forget to tip your servers!
Arina & Tucker