I was recently reading an article on hospitality, and, such as they do, it caused me to immediately defend my profession.
Although I will not defend the restaurant discussed in Alan Richman's article, I will defend the industry against the very notion that poor service is entirely the fault of a restaurant, without a thought given to the lack of maturity of the diners themselves.
Two weeks ago Sunday, we had a table of three for dinner that I wish would never come back.
First, let's start this off by saying that I'm 44 years old and have living parents. If they saw me exhibit any of the behaviors of these patrons, I am sure that my father would take me to the garage for a "conversation."
The "guests" were two "gentlemen" and a "lady" that by no means meet the definition of the words, about 50 to 60 years in age. The leader of the party stood out as he walked through the door due to his hair going in every direction and looking like he just woke up.
The server who approached to greet them noticed that the man was wearing a t-shirt with a rip in it that exposed his stomach and pants with "stains." Upon finding out that they did not have a reservation—and we were quite busy—he asked the three to wait while he checked with the chef (me) to see if we could accommodate them.
I, not knowing the extent of the the three guests' total lack of etiquette, informed the server that we do not pass judgement on a guest's appearance, and asked him to please seat and serve them.
The server was my 21-year-old son, who's spend nine years in the restaurant business. He was assisted by Michael, a 20-year-old server who was the food runner/busboy for the evening. Both are very well liked by patrons, and good at their jobs.
I wish I had taken their advice from the beginning.
I won't get into the details of the entire dining event, but I will state that a couple of rules should now be enforced at all restaurants:
Dress Code. Elements policy has always been "please just wear clothes." No longer. Guests are permitted whatever they like but the clothes must be clean and without holes or tears that expose the body areas that should not be seen.
Remember the days when dining out was an event and you were expected to get "dressed" to dine out? I'm not saying we need to return to that, but no slacks with motor grease stains.
Hats. It will no longer be acceptable to wear a hat of any kind at the dining table of any establishment, no matter how casual.
How many times as a child did you come in from playing outside, forgetting that you still had a baseball cap on, and Dad startled you by knocking the hat off your head, saying "No hats at the table!"
Cell Phones. I am attatched like everyone else, but when I sit down in a restaurant, my dining companion has my attention, not my phone. If you must answer your phone, take it outside. No one wants to hear you try to talk over a crowded room on your phone.
Smoking. In 2006 New Jersey banned smoking in all restaurants. In fact, it is $250 fine for smoking for the offender and any employee that allows it to happen.
(And you're not that smart: I only have one unisex bathroom. If you're the last one in and it smells like smoke when you're done, and I find a cigarette pack in my bathroom, I'm calling you out and sending you on your way.)
These are the basic—and I think very common—rules that the table of three broke. Why? Because like most small businesses, I put the idea of making a little bit of money ahead of what's right. I hope I did not offend any of my other guests that evening.
These were three baby boomers that had forgotten what I'm sure their parents had taught them. You have to know it's really bad when two barely 20-year-old boys are in the kitchen expressing disgust at your lack of social graces.
On a side note: it makes me proud as I write this to know that my son did learn something from me. He recogized right from wrong right away and tried to do something from the start.
Fred Kellermann is the owner and chef de cuisine at Elements Cafe in Haddon Heights. He is also the president of SJ Hot Chefs, and urges you to support your local restaurant with your dining-out dollars.