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2018 Best New Restaurants
Photos: Jeff Marini

Overserved

Reflections on a curious fine-dining trend

Above:Dinner service at the exceedingly well-staffed City Mouse.

My name is __, and I’ll be your server tonight.

It’s hard for me to admit it, but I actually miss that hackneyed phrase. The personal connection it created with my waitperson, as awkward and phony as it was, reassured me. It introduced me and my tablemates to our ambassador for the evening. Learning his or her name was comforting. It felt Midwestern.

What we’ve got now, all too often, feels like speed dating: an endless parade of servers and bussers, sommeliers and managers, shuffling in and out in a blur, delivering dishes, offering advice. They’re all pleasant and interchangeable. And their names are irrelevant.

Over the course of a recent dinner at Proxi (No. 7), at least 10 different employees visited my table. I had a similar experience at Somerset (No. 5).

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“You know, my dad says the same thing,” says Jason Vincent, the 42-year-old chef-partner at City Mouse (No. 4) and Giant. “ ‘Why so many people? Where’s my waiter?’ But maybe people my age want to get rid of that old-fashioned thing.” At his restaurants, front-of-house staffers change roles on the fly, having been trained to respond to any customer who buttonholes them, regardless of the employee’s station.

That may explain the revolving cast of characters who attended my visit to City Mouse. The Boka Restaurant Group (Somerset, No. 2 Bellemore) employs the “team service” model, too. It includes a server’s assistant in addition to the front waiter and runners—ensuring that eyes are on your table at all times so your empty plates never linger too long. In addition to helping the place run smoothly, it gives the sensation of having even more people catering to your every whim. As for Proxi, it’s a big room with a small-plate menu—having more servers on the ground just speeds things up. “That service model fits perfectly,” says assistant general manager Lindsay Uyeda.

I know, I know. I’ve got all these people giving me attention—pampering my entitled ass—and I’m whining that it’s not enough? What are they, my personal court jesters? Are they supposed to tap-dance my skate wing to the table? “If you expect the restaurant to entertain you, and there’s nothing else that’s going to make your evening good, then you should stay home,” says Vincent.

Point taken. But I’m not after entertainment so much as continuity. And that starts with at least one server making a connection and keeping it throughout the meal. So, what’s your name?

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