Lessons for restaurants

FLINT – Diana Ross the singer was snubbed last week at an upscale Beverly Hills restaurant named La Scala and stormed out afterward.

I can’t say I blame her.

Hailing from the Upper Peninsula, as I do, I have a natural distrust of restaurants with foreign-sounding names. I don’t like feeling dumb for not knowing what the name means. Plus, I figure if the name is snooty, the food will probably be snooty, too, and I hate snooty food.

Also, snooty restaurants never have chili, which is one of the main ways I am able to judge an establishment. My rule of thumb is you can always tell the quality of a restaurant by the quality of its chili, and here’s why: Chili is hard to screw up, and if they can’t get that right, how awful is the rest of the food going to be?

But back to Diana Ross. As the story goes, she arrived early for a lunch with her daughter, so she asked to be seated while she waited. The staff refused on grounds that seating incomplete parties without a reservation is against the restaurant’s policy.

That’s something else that annoys me – policies. Businesses and public schools love to tell you about their policies, as if they’re law from on high or something, which they’re not. They’re internal guidelines, which can be bent or broken if the situation merits.

I would submit to you that a restaurant with a living, breathing, paying customer standing right there should make an exception to its policy. The customer is always right, right?

Well, not these days. Instead the owner of La Scala said: “If people jump the line, our policy is we don’t serve them, and she was told that. We treat everyone the same whether you’re famous or not.”

Ross wasn’t having any of that, though. She walked over and seated herself, which is not something I would have done. I’m all for standing up to authority, but if I were her, I’d have politely but firmly said, “Look, that may be YOUR policy, but I’m the customer and it’s not MY policy.”

It sounds pushy but it works. I use that line on occasion, which is why the lovely yet formidable Marcia is reluctant to go anywhere with me.

But I’m sorry, I just think businesses need to start treating people better, particularly restaurants, which have been getting worse for years. Maybe they don’t realize that but it’s true.

So, helpful guy that I am, I would like to offer restaurant owners this short list of issues that I think you need to work on:

1) If you take reservations, honor the reservation. Don’t make me wait when I show up. I made a reservation!

2) If you don’t take reservations and I come to your restaurant anyway, please don’t tell me the wait is going to be 20 minutes if by 20 minutes you mean 40 minutes to two hours.

3) And since I’m on the subject of waiting, there’s nothing worse than being forced to wait in a crowded lobby when I can see – right there in front of me – a sea of open tables. I asked a hostess about that once. She said, “That section’s not open.” Well, open it! “We don’t have enough staff.” Then hire people!

4) Please lose the buzzer. I hate the buzzer. Everyone hates the buzzer. Waiting for a buzzer to go off is not only undignified, it’s like waiting for a pot to boil. It somehow makes the wait seem longer. Plus, they’re always filthy. Don’t you ever wipe those things down?

5) Train your waiters and waitresses. To wit: Don’t let me sit there for 10 minutes before noticing I exist. Don’t ask, “What kin I git youse?” Diction! Don’t call me “hon.” Sometimes I’m not in the mood for that. Don’t forget what the soups of the day are. You work here, don’t you? Don’t bring my entre five seconds after delivering my salad. Don’t snatch plates away when there’s still food on them. Don’t sigh when I ask you what’s on tap – if your beer list is too long whose fault is that? Don’t curl your lip if I order a steak medium-well. I’m sorry, I hate them bloody. Don’t let me sit there for 15 minutes after it’s clear I’m done eating. Bring the check! And after you bring the check, don’t disappear as if I want to study the thing. Just wait two seconds while I get my wallet out. And please, after glancing inside the little folder, don’t ask, “Need change?” I want to determine your tip at my own pace, based on all the aforementioned factors. As they say in snootier restaurants, bon appetit!

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at andrewhellercolumn@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.