Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Service of Ambiance to Enhance a Mood, a Meal–Even Health

Tuesday, September 7th, 2021



Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Two recent articles reminded me how important ambiance is.

Visit a Museum and Call Me in the Morning

Artnet.com‘s Caroline Goldstein wrote “In Brussels, Doctors Are Literally Prescribing People Trips to Museums to Help Them Cope With Pandemic-Related Stress.” She reported “The scheme is part of a three-month trial carried out by doctors at Brugmann hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Brussels, to treat in-patient residents as well as other individuals suffering from stress. Those who are deemed eligible for the program will have the opportunity to visit five public art institutions across the city free of charge. The institutions include some quirkier offerings, like the Sewer Museum and Mennekin-Pis’s Wardrobe—which holds more than 1,000 costumes—as well as the Contemporary Art Center.” Results of the study will be shared next year.

The Brussels program is modeled after one at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts conducted three years ago. Wrote Goldstein: “The Quebec-based program offered patients and caregivers or family members free admission to the MMFA as an extension of the museum’s Art and Health Committee, which it founded in 2017 to study the effects of art on patients suffering from a range of conditions including eating disorders, mental illness, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Homer at the Metropolitan Museum NYC

Anecdotally, a visit to a museum always cheered my husband when he was quite ill.

Ambiance and Food in Equal Parts

Pete Wells in his New York Times review of Vallata, “Searching for Italy at Tom Colicchio’s New Restaurant,” loved the food but he had a lot of trouble with the ambiance and design. He described the restaurant’s decor as “an awkward pastiche of bland, vaguely corporate design and odd decorative hand-me-downs that have served time in other Colicchio restaurants.”

Referring to a cliché I’ve often used, “I thought I was in Italy or France,” after eating in certain restaurants, Wells wrote: “You don’t believe for a second that you’ve left New York, but you do start to think the restaurant itself could use a vacation.”

Colicchio’s heart doesn’t seem to be in it by Wells’ observations. The Vallata sign on the door is hard to find he wrote and the cooks “look like contestants on a game show set in the breakfast-buffet area of an upscale chain hotel” because of where they are stationed in the room in sight of customers. He described the music is “as if Mr. Colicchio had brought in a mix tape he found inside an old Walkman in his basement.” The “playlist,”reported Wells, “shambles from Paul Simon to Billy Joel to Echo and the Bunnymen to David Bowie.”

Back in 2015 I wrote about a restaurant ‘s decor that “sported hints of Asian décor mixed with cheap eclectic and leftover bistro. In short, it had no personality.” There were many other reasons than decor for which we couldn’t wait to leave the place, even though the overpriced food tasted good. The post’s title was “Service of Atmosphere: What Your Instincts Tell You When Entering a Restaurant.”

Do you visit museums or other places because they cheer you when you feel down and/or ill? If the food is good do you care about a restaurant’s ambiance?



Image by Divily from Pixabay

Service of Here We Go Again: Phone Snubbing

Monday, August 30th, 2021


Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

At lunch with three friends last week my phone pinged a few times signaling the arrival of a text. One pal repeatedly asked if it was my phone. It was, but I didn’t look. We were eating.

Dan Ariely just covered the subject of “Why We Ignore Friends to Look at Our Phones” in his Wall Street Journal advice column “Ask Ariely.” The subject falls in my “Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose” series. When mobile phones were new, some diners chatted incessantly even when facing a date or friend across a restaurant table, often disturbing neighboring diners while disrespecting their dinner companion.

Ariely responded to reader Alan who asked him why people “engage in such rude behavior,” that the columnist called phone snubbing or “phubbing” which he claimed could impact “the level of satisfaction in a friendship.” He attributed it not to lack of interest in the dialogue as much as to the personality of the phubber.

Ariely reported: “In a 2021 study of young adults, the authors found that depressed and socially anxious people are more likely to phub their friends. This is likely explained by the fact that people with social anxiety find online communication less uncomfortable than in-person conversations.”

He continued, “On the other hand, phubbing is less common among people who score high on ‘agreeableness,’ which psychologists define as striving to avoid conflict. Agreeable people make an effort to be polite and friendly in order to maintain social harmony.”

His suggestions for those who can’t stop looking at their phones is to disengage text and email message notices or to put the phone on airplane mode. That switches off the phone’s connection to Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

There are exceptions when being a phubber is legit but I think you should announce your reason when you sit down. If you’re expecting to hear from a client, customer, sick friend or relative or colleague about a deadline-driven project say so.

Do you care if your dining companion keeps checking his/her phone? Do you apologize if/when you do it?


Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay

Service of a Summer Saturday in New York

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

This door was open at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday
Cosmetic Market wasn’t open even though the sign says it should be

On a short walk this Saturday I found one door open–that hasn’t always been lately–and one closed, that shouldn’t have been; an empty space where there had been a building last I looked; a Swiss chocolatier with enormous slabs of candy and an outdoor restaurant that looked like it had been transplanted to Manhattan from Europe decades ago.

I don’t blame Cosmetic Market, [photo top left], for being closed until noon on a summer Saturday. Who is in the city anyway? However it might have noted the revised schedule on the website.

I’ve tried to drop in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the afternoon during the week and its doors have been locked. As with Cosmetic Market, there is no information on the website or posted outside the cathedral about the hours it is open. However I could enter when I passed by two days ago and a security guard told me it shuts weekdays around 1:40 pm but should increase hours after Labor Day.

Läderach chocolatier

There’s a huge amount of construction going on in the city yet it’s always a surprise to come upon a cavernous hole on a major artery, this time on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street [photo bottom, left].

I’ve passed branches of Läderach chocolatier before. The slabs of sweets always catch my eye. I wonder if anyone buys an entire block, how it would be packaged and if they’d ever finish it.

I love walking past Avra Estiatorio restaurant on East 48th Street. The lush landscaping on both the restaurant and curb sides make it one of the most appealing sidewalk eateries I’ve seen. Management pays equal attention to the trees and flowers next to the street in view of diners as they do to the immediate surround. The sidewalk in between is immaculate.

In August folks expect to see photos of ocean, lake, or mountain views–all wonderful. My city escapades are fun too.

What has caught your eye this summer as you took a stroll or a ride either near home or on vacation?

Avra Estiatorio restaurant
Fifth Avenue and 46th Street where a building used to be

Service of What’s Going On? We Were Nice to One Another for a While

Monday, July 19th, 2021

Image by Methawee Krasaeden from Pixabay

Certain friends would reprimand me when I complained about service. They’d say, “The person is paid so little. What can you expect?” That was never a viable excuse for me. I don’t think that clients or customers should be penalized for that reason.

Today there’s a new excuse for bad behavior or flaunting the rules. Some say “Oh, but the poor things have been cooped up so long because of the pandemic.” So? I should be put in danger or yelled at because somebody is sick of social distancing or wearing a mask and is asked to do so? I feel no pity. And there’s another difference: The perpetrators of grouch and grump are customers.

We are so spoiled. If this was a traditional war would these people go for a stroll during bombing while whining that they’d had enough of being stuck in a basement or subway platform? This is a kind of war–against a silent enemy we can’t see.

We’ve recently seen fisticuffs over mask-wearing on national news between passengers on planes.

Apt Cape Cod friend’s comment on the restaurant’s Facebook page: “Please let your staff know that there are more nice people in the world than not-so-nice ones! Jocelyn”

Neil Vigdor wrote about “The owners of Apt Cape Cod, a farm-to-table restaurant in Brewster, Mass., [that] drew a line in the sand against customers’ rude behavior since being allowed to fully reopen.” In his New York Times article he reported “The verbal abuse from rude customers got so bad, the owners of one farm-to-table restaurant on Cape Cod said that some of their employees cried.” All one waitress had done was to tell a customer that the restaurant wasn’t yet open so she couldn’t submit his takeout order. He blew his top.

Vigdor wrote: “So Ms. Felt Castellano and her spouse, Regina Felt Castellano, who is also the head chef and co-owner, announced on Facebook that the restaurant would close for part of that same day to treat the restaurant’s employees to a ‘day of kindness.'”

The attitude is spreading like a rash. Here’s an example of what another industry is faced with. An excerpt of a comment by Liese Swann on Apt Cape Cod’s Facebook page follows: “My spouse works in home improvement retail, part of management. The stories he comes home with now are simply unreal. He hung up the phone on one abusive customer, and his staff looked at him wide-eyed and said “We can do that?” They were mightily cheered when he said yes. Some of these customers threaten to call the state AG’s office because the manufacturer can’t supply their order fast enough! As soon as that phrase comes out of their mouths, management has no choice but to cut off the conversation and refuse their calls…..they cannot comprehend that their kitchen cabinets or new washer and dryer set simply can’t be conjured up out of thin air. And they throw temper tantrums at people who have no control over manufacturing and shipping. It’s completely unacceptable.”

Nasty bares its ugly teeth where I live too.  I was sad to learn that tenants in my apartment building are acting badly. We had been so good for so long!

We have received almost daily notices from building management requesting that we please continue to wear masks in public spaces because of the rampant Delta Covid-19 variant that, wrote the manager, is up 23 percent in our neighborhood. Another reason he gave: so many tenants travel internationally. [He didn’t mention our proximity to a major NYC hospital and its many specialty satellites.] In one reminder the manager wrote: “Some residents have cursed at others for asking them to comply. This behavior is unacceptable. We all want to feel safe.”

Are people continuing to keep their cool where your life takes you or have you begun to see fraying at the seams of good behavior? Do you excuse the short-tempered people because Covid 19 has confined them and they are fed up? What else do you think is going on?

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Service of Worker Shortage

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Have you been impacted by worker shortage? The answer would be “yes” if you were trying to renew your passport. Debra Kamin reported in The New York Times that it could take 18 weeks to renew by mail vs. six to eight before the pandemic. Appointments at one of the 26 official passport centers around the country–if you hope to fast track a renewal–are almost as hard to come by as winning lottery tickets.

A shortage of Transportation Security Agency (TSA) workers has created inordinately long Airport lines.

Photo: Hudson Garden Grill

Yet service was perfect at the Hudson Garden Grill located in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx last Sunday. One of my friends asked the waiter if they were serving monkey bread and he explained that the restaurant is short-staffed and not fully back to where it was before the pandemic, so not yet, but soon. [I’d never eaten, seen or heard of this bread. Next time.]

I was happy to find an item that was out of stock at the three CVS stores within walking distance of my apartment when I happened to be on East 72nd Street. The store was clearly short staffed as it took too many minutes to get someone to free the item from behind locked doors. And then there was trouble with an express checkout machine and only one cashier. A valiant very young man was trying to answer questions, assist at checkout and open locked items.

CVS usually sends a “how did we do?” query after I buy something and I gave my experience an 8–because I was so happy to see the hard-to-find item. There’s space to explain your score. I was blown away when the store manager wrote the day after my response. Here’s an excerpt of his email: “As the Store Manager, I deeply regret that we were not able to meet your expectations regarding the items you wanted being locked up and your checkout experience.

“Good news or bad, feedback from our customers helps us understand the experience for all, and when necessary, make improvements to meet your expectations. We will continue to get better at unlocking items. I truly apologize for the inconvenience. In terms of your checkout, we do have some new hires that we are training and it takes some time to get them up to speed. They will get better as well. I hope next time your experience is a 10!

“I would like to personally invite you to let me know how we are doing. Please respond directly to this email with the best date, time, and phone number to reach you.”

Now that’s customer service!

Has the worker shortage affected you? Have the businesses and services you frequent been able to work around it?

Service of Dog Owner Etiquette at Outdoor Restaurants

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

Image by ttwan from Pixabay

My friend grew up with beagles and loves dogs. She takes photos of all sorts she meets on her travels and posts them on social media. So when one lunged and barked at her at the outdoor section of a restaurant where she was having lunch with her family she was all at once shaken, scared and later angry. “I thought I was going to be bitten. I’ve never had a big dog jump on me and bark like that. She wasn’t wagging her tail.”

This is what happened: She was returning to her outdoor table when she passed the dog and said “hello.” That’s when the canine reacted. The owner, who was seated at a table, pulled the dog off of her and responded, “I know,” when my friend said “I didn’t touch her.”

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

“The woman never apologized or asked how I was. When we left the restaurant I dropped by her table and told her she should have done and only then did she say she was sorry, although she claimed to have said so earlier.” In addition my friend told the woman that if the dog can’t behave she doesn’t belong in restaurants.

She overheard the dog owner tell another restaurant patron that the dog was a rescue and becomes aggressive if anyone comes near.

In a previous post, “Service of Will Your Pooch–or Parrot–Pass the Scrutiny of a Co-Op Board?, I mentioned that when we bought a co-op apartment decades ago a board member interviewed a tenant of the building we lived in about our dog’s behavior. Today I see docile pooches on the street with muzzles and assume the precaution is required by a landlord, condo or co-op board. Some buildings make dogs use service elevators to avoid potentially nasty confrontations with other tenants in passenger elevators.

Restaurants have spent a great deal to create attractive outdoor spaces. They are not shutting down as NYC increasingly sheds its pandemic restrictions that caused them to crop up in the first place. In fact Governor Cuomo just extended for a year permission for restaurant outdoor dining structures that take up parking, sidewalk and driving spaces in the city. Do you think that there should be protocol for pet owners who bring their canines to outdoor restaurants as clearly some take no precautions to safeguard other patrons even when they know their pet has aggression issues?

Service of Thanking Before Dining is Over

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

Last weekend I sat outdoors at a restaurant in the Village. The only way to get food was by downloading the menu, signing in to their website, ordering online and paying by credit card. No smartphone, no luck.

As with any restaurant credit card purchase there was the TIPS line which I filled in. I know, I know, I should have left a cash tip. But I didn’t. Next time.

I wasn’t thinking clearly. My mind was spinning from the unusual–for me–ordering process. After I clicked our choices, my first attempt didn’t go through; it took me forever to find ice tea–only coffee choices were evident. Intensifying by the second were my feelings of being a super all thumbs Luddite klutz which slowed me even further.

So I wrote in a generous tip–the percentage I would calculate at a standard restaurant. In retrospect all the wait staff did was to deliver the order and clear the plates. Turned out that they were forgetful in delivering our standard requests. We were sharing a giant luncheon salad and asked for a second plate. We had to ask two waitresses a few times. With temperature in the 90s, the water in a bottle left on the table, soaking up the sun as were we, warmed quickly. We asked for ice–several times too.

I’ll be better prepared the next time, with reading glasses at the ready, immediately locating the SEARCH icon [which is how I found iced tea as it wasn’t one of the upfront choices]. And I’ll have cash–which I don’t carry in significant amounts–on hand.

I suspect the do-it-yourself ordering process is in our futures at less expensive watering holes especially if the staffing shortage persists. It’s not a new concept. I have belonged to clubs at which the member wrote the food and drink order in the casual venues. It seemed easier.

Have you been tripped up by technology? Do you feel foolish when it happens? Have you, too, encountered such an ordering process at a restaurant? Is this a welcome trend?

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

 

Service of Peeking Out of the Pandemic

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Image by bridgesward from Pixabay

Last week represented a few firsts for me since early 2020: I took a short ride on Metro North to have lunch with my sister and a few days later I went to a bustling landmark Manhattan restaurant filled to the gills.

As I exited the train in a Northern NY suburb the air was clean–different from the cocoon  Manhattan had become. There were no homeless people sharing the sidewalk by the railroad. In fact, there were few people around as most in this commuter town were probably at work either at home or in the city.

Image by analogicus from Pixabay

A few days later staff took guests’ temperature at the Manhattan brasserie. The room temp was warm and merry. Exhilaration of wait staff and guests practically levitated indoor and outdoor tables. I felt the same wonder I’ve felt as a tourist in a wonderful foreign city, but I was in my hometown.

Alan Burdick wrote that while exciting it felt “slightly nerve-wracking” as “social life has begun to bend toward a semblance of normalcy: dinner parties, restaurants, spontaneous encounters with strangers, friends and colleagues on the street or in the office.” I didn’t find it “nerve-wracking.” Joyous and grateful was a closer description.

And I didn’t experience “a period of heightened anxiety as we meet people face-to-face,” as Adam Mastroianni predicted people would in a phone conversation with Burdick reported in the latter’s New York Times article “So You Want to End the Conversation?” Mastroianni is at Harvard working towards a Ph.D. in psychology. For one thing, we each knew the others had been vaccinated so there was no worry there. And we were so glad to see one another.

I admit I’m not in a rush to attend a gathering with many people and I did have concerns about the safety of public transportation I needed to reach my destinations.

Were you apprehensive about first in-person gatherings or experiences after an overlong intermission?

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Service of Regional Food

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Steak de Burgo Photo: dmcityview.com

It all started with a Facebook review by a friend complaining about the Steak de Burgo she’d been served at a restaurant. New to me I looked it up and soon learned why I’d not heard of it. Seems the butter topping, with herbs, garlic and wine in one version, has been a specialty in Des Moines–where she lives–for 60 years. It appears to be an adaptation of beurre maitre d’hotel [butter, parsley and lemon juice] and other herbed butters the French put on steak.

Ess-a-Bagel Photo: yelp.com

For New York–the city anyway–I think of bagels and dirty water hotdogs, the latter sold by sidewalk vendors, and giant soft pretzels often combined with mustard. My favorite bagels are from Ess-a-Bagel. And we used to specialize in fat deli sandwiches with pastrami or corned beef. My favorite haunts–like Carnegie Deli–have been out of business for years. Health and diet conscious customers opting for smaller portions–or no meat at all–dealt a blow to these establishments.

A friend from New Jersey told me about Italian style hotdogs served either on an Italian roll or pizza bread, with bell peppers, onions, and potatoes.

Another pal shared some Rhode Island specialties. Autocrat is a brand of coffee syrup made in Lincoln, R.I. used to make coffee milk. She told me about a milkshake known, in the Ocean State, as a cabinet. When I lived in Boston we called it a frappe. In R.I. they serve a creamy clam chowder–no doubt a version of what we ID as the New England variety–and celebrate the dish at an annual festival. Local clams are Quahogs. And Del’s lemonade, a frozen concoction, is sold from trucks especially in summer at the beach.

A cabinet. Photo: spoonuniversity.com

David Landsel stuck out his neck in Food and Wine Magazine when he selected the best pizza by state. I bet noses of many pizza aficionados flew out of joint at his rankings. The winners, in order, are New Jersey in first place followed by Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts,  Ohio and Missouri. I’ve not tried the famed Razza pizza in Jersey City but I have often been to Pepe’s–Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana–in New Haven which my husband had been going to since college. Landsel mentioned John’s of Bleecker in NYC–opened in 1929– which I’ve never tried.

What are some of your most beloved regional drinks or dishes made either where you grew up or where you have lived or do now?

Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana. Photo: tripadvisor.com

 

Service of Memories II

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

I passed Pete’s Tavern [photo above] on Tuesday and was relieved to see that it was still in business, looking buff. Landmark restaurants and favorite retail hangouts of my long life in NYC had already gone well before the pandemic but since it began, too many others, some that evoked recent memories, have suddenly bitten the dust.

My father loved Pete’s. In addition to their killer garlic bread there’s another memory that makes me smile. In one week Dad had invited for lunch my mother, a client and me, then a young adult. I was his last date. He looked so pleased with himself when the host, who knew him, teased him about his popularity with women given the assortment of his female guests.

Flying Tiger Photo: timeout.com

In the mile+ walk at noon on a weekday I was shaken at how empty the Manhattan streets were as I headed south on Lexington Avenue to Irving Place to Third Avenue and 14th Street. You’d think it was a sunny Saturday in August in a normal year. I again refer to the photo of Pete’s above center: Not even a dog walker in view. This does not augur well for the remaining businesses in the short term.

From way back I still miss the Goody Shop in Mount Kisco with its killer chocolate ice cream; the fruit tarts and croissants at French bakery Dumas, about 88th Street on Lexington Avenue; the chocolate sauce from a NJ store Grunings; stationery at Kate’s Paperie and Loehman’s that in its heyday pretty much filled my clothes closet. I liked the one on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

Then there are the pandemic-shuttered businesses such as retail store Century 21, especially the one on Dey Street in Manhattan; Flying Tiger a fun place for kitschy gifts and Jasmine, a super Chinese restaurant on East 49th Street, just three that made my heart sink when they closed.

Memories are great but what can we do to for the employees of some of these businesses? I checked out on Charity Navigator organizations that help restaurant workers that are listed in a range of articles and none were rated no doubt because they are new. If you supported any please share.

Have your favorite haunts survived?  Do you remember any that are long gone or more recently erased from the scene?

Photo: downtownmagazinenyc.com

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