A Food Critic Intervention

Above My Computer

There have been several instances while writing posts for this blog where I have felt the need to place blame for the things that drive me crazy about the restaurant business.  I have always managed to stop short of that because I do not want this to be a blog that complains about the problems we are all aware of.  My mission is a little different.  I want to help servers make more money by exceeding their guests’ expectations. Whenever I find myself kvetching too much I only have too look at the Woody Guthrie quote that I keep hanging above my computer to get me back on track.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked with some great “old school” waiters who instilled in me a respect for the industry and the way things used to be.  I have heard tales of the days when people dressed for dinner, left the kids at home, and did not ask for ranch on their Caesar salads.  Since I did not cause the mass corporate casual restaurant to become the norm, I do not complain about it.  I try to adapt to a world where anyone with a yahoo username can be a food critic and hundreds of cooking shows allows everyone to consider themselves a chef de cuisine.  I do so because this is an industry that I love and respect.

Unfortunately, it is also one that I must sometimes defend from the strangest of attackers.  I try to avoid this, but when someone who made their living as a server in the same neighborhood as I do now takes it upon himself to make money by criticizing servers, I feel the need to speak out.  This is why today I am officially calling out my local restaurant critic, Charles Ferruzza, for comments he has recently made.  It is time that someone critiques the critic.

A disclaimer is probably in order first.  Mr. Ferruzza writes for the local alternative weekly here in Kansas City.  He is also one of the two main bloggers on their “Fat City Blog.”  I link to their blog on the home page of this site primarily because I am a big fan of their other blogger, Jonathan Bender.  I have mentioned his articles in the past and enjoy many of the topics he discusses.  It should also be mentioned that Mr. Bender did a very nice write up of this blog back when I was just getting started.  I have met him and respect his writing and his opinions.  I am not anti-restaurant critic; I am anti bitter restaurant critic.

Yesterday, during a break between shifts, I surfed over to the Fat City blog to find an article on a neat happy hour app for your smart phone.  While there I ran across an article from Mr. Ferruzza entitled, “Five ways your servers bug the shit out of you.” I highly encourage you to go read it if you can handle your anger productively.  In the article Mr Ferruzza highlights actions by servers that he finds offensive.  These include having to consult the chef about components of a dish that may cause allergic reactions, using a guests name when returning their credit card, and answering their personal question with too much information.   As I said, only read it if you can handle your anger productively.

For those of you not familiar with Mr. Ferruzza from other columns, his primary qualification is that he has waited far more tables than any of you (two years longer than myself, but I digress).  His attitude towards this is similar to watching a football game with your great grandfather who keeps insisting that all of today’s players are wimps because back in his day they wore leather helmets.  He will quickly remind you that back in his day he walked to work five miles, uphill, in the snow, while keeping his uniform perfectly starched.  Obviously there is some exaggeration here, but the feeling remains the same.  In his day servers were far better and he bemoans what the industry has become because of it.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Ferruzza had stopped waiting tables before I began in the mid 90s.  His time as a waiter was a different era in the restaurant industry.  He probably knew Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Robinson whereas none of the servers nowadays have met Mr. Cheesecake or Mr. Factory.  Servers do receive less training today, but that is not the server’s fault.  The training comes at the hands of manuals and not from experienced servers.  Mr. Ferruzza and I have many of the same complaints.  I am trying to do something about it.  Mr. Ferruzza is criticizing it for a laugh and then indignantly claiming to care more than those of us who put on an apron and smile politely when a guest asks for ranch dressing on their Caesar salad.

I have also noticed in his columns that he as a critic does not respond well to criticism.  This is not a post simply to say that he is a pompous jerk.   This is intended more as an intervention.  My intent is not to disagree with him, but rather to ask him to think back upon those days when he wore an apron.  I think if he and I had worked together we would have actually get along quite well.  My purpose is more to point out that servers are as equally victimized by the changes in the industry as diners.  He could use his experience to help do something about this rather than taking pot shots at those who are trying to eek out a living the same way he once did.

Normally this is the part of the post where I say the comment section is open for your replies.  It this case both comment sections are open to you.  I am sure Mr. Ferruzza would enjoy hearing your well thought out and calm responses on his post.  Maybe one day he might even google himself and end up in my little corner of the internet.  If he does read this, I invite him to join with the cause to raise standards rather than criticizing simply to fill column space.

On a final completely whimsical note I will explain the repeated references to ranch dressing on Caesar salads.  Some level of trust is required here, but may I never wait on anything but housewives on their way home from playing tennis if any of it is untrue.  Within hours of commenting on Mr. Ferruzza’s post regarding Caesar salads (and choosing not to point out that Caesar Cardini probably never had anyone executed) I actually served one.  On my next trip to the table I was asked for a side of ranch dressing to put on it.  I fought the laughter at the irony of a comment I posted on his blog.  I returned home to find his comment about how he had served far more Caesar salads than I have and had never gotten such a request.  It truly is a brave new world we all work in.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit www.tips2book.com.  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.

Submit to Best Restaurant Blogs

About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,