Food Column – Winter 2012

Cold butter, exploding ketchup, and hitting on the chef’s wife

In Portland, food quality is abundant–from our few, true “fine dining” restaurants, to a huge tier of comfortable, excellent farm-to-table gems, to some great dives, food carts, and markets. Our street food ranges from the mediocre to the sublime (i.e. Lardo), which makes braving the elements worth the wait. It also begs the question: Does standing outside at a food cart that is pretty much devoid of service lower the bar for our service expectations?

Portland has some true professionals who provide good service, however, there are days when they do fall short. As long as the food is wonderful most of us will put up with a lot. The server interrupts your conversation to ask how things taste “so far.” Or, she interrupts again as she picks up the check wallet, asking, “Are we all set, or did you want change?” The $15 tip I’m leaving isn’t enough to expend the time and effort to bring the change back? Please, just let ME say we’re all set. Don’t try to cut a corner right at the end. But, no big deal. I’ll be back.

And then once in a while there’s a service problem that’s so egregious it requires contacting the owner. One such owner—when asked on a subsequent visit why he didn’t respond to my email about how their server handled the ketchup bottle exploding over all my clothes—actually yelled at me. “You think we have time to respond to every stupid customer complaint?” Oh. That explains it. How stupid of me for not thinking of that. What do I know? I’m only a frequent diner who started this fun thing called Portland Food Adventures. I’m happy to report that the service at our events is always above and beyond, but then again, part of the fun is that the chefs do some of the serving.

I asked three of our finest chefs to tell us what their pet peeves are when they’re out, and—because we all know it can’t be easy on their side of the equation—to enlighten us as to how just how low we customers can go.

Paul Losch
chef, DOC

Won’t come back: Restaurants that serve cold bread and cold butter… what can you really do with that? I can only assume a restaurant doesn’t like their bread if they want you to tear it apart trying to spread the butter.

Don’t come back: We have a guy who comes in regularly, always pulls out a laptop and peruses Craigslist for a date. He gets his dates drunk on cheap bottles of wine, makes out, and treats the staff like garbage over like four hours of this ordeal. The same guy also had the gall to hit on my wife while I was standing right next to her. Super-creep.

Aaron Barnett
chef/co-owner,
St. Jack

Won’t come back: Crumpled paper towels on the bathroom floor, tarnished silverware, room temperature water.

Don’t come back: Many. I don’t talk about them in interviews—I bitch to Joel, my GM, about it later.

Kat Liebman
chef/owner, Cocotte

Won’t come back: Feeling like an inconvenience to my server at a restaurant. Isn’t this your job?

Don’t come back: A party of people (in the service industry themselves) was twenty minutes late for their very late reservation—on a slow night. They didn’t call. The whole staff had been waiting around just for them. We, of course, welcomed them with open arms and were nothing but hospitable, yet they spent very little money, camped out for hours, and refused to pay a corkage fee for the multiple bottles of wine they brought. And they left an insulting tip. Awesome.

Photos by Dina Avila

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About The Author: Chris Angelus