Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Art of Waitering

I have alluded before to the passive style of Asian waitering. It can mess with your experience. Say, for instance, you misunderstand the menu and order a plain steak with no sides. A Chinese waiter will happily serve it, no comments. One of those friendly American waitresses would no doubt say something like: "just so you know, the steak doesn't come with anything." A Danish waiter would say: "Det giver sgu da ikke nogen mening, prøv nu lige at tage dig sammen."

Today I experienced some world-class dining in San Francisco, with professionally trained waiters. Though I prefer Asian to European food, I think the European tradition has the waitering art down. Food was served, cups were filled, plates removed, etc, with no interruption in conversations and you barely even noticed. With the best service, you don't have to flag, your needs are anticipated.

I once saw a movie about a young man tending hospitality school somewhere in Switzerland. He was doing well, but his friend had been there for years and failed several exams. By the time our hero takes the exam himself, he is doing it with the laggard friend. The referee poses the question: to which side should wine be served. They both agree that wine should be served to the right of the guest. The referee then asks if there are any exceptions. The laggard cannot think of any, but our hero says that you can serve wine to the left of the guest, if he or she is leaning to the right in conversation. Our hero passes and the laggard fails again.

It is a fictional movie with a dramatic story, but I believe they correctly showed the expected attention to detail in the high-end waiting profession.

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