Since I am in the restaurant industry, I prefer to dine under the radar. But with my husband that is a little hard to do but during these dining experiences it has given me the opportunity to observe many different responses and to formulate the response I would hope my restaurant would have in a similar situation. I would hope that our response would be to make the customer as happy as possible without an attitude.
As a restaurateur sometimes I think that I know best what the customer wants and when they start messing with my menu items by changing things around or asking if we can serve something different with a particular item I would like to scream “no”. But then I think about my husband and the various responses he has received; if it is at all possible, I say, of course, we can.
It reminds me of the second time I traveled to France and stayed several days in Paris. I was curious about this whole Michelin Star rating system the French give to their restaurants. I was curious to know what makes top French restaurants so good. This system is so important that French chefs have been known to think their lives are ruined if they do not get a certain number of Michelin Stars. So I made reservations at Guy Savoy and looked forward to an incredible dining experience.
An incredible dining experience it was. From the Champagne Cart they brought to the table for an apperitif to the final Earl Grey Sorbet after the dessert; the wait staff made me feel like I was someone very important. I was. I was their diner for the evening. Several weeks later I was in Los Angeles for a business meeting and thought I would compare one of our best restaurants to the Guy Savoy experience. So I made reservations at Patina.
At that time it was the best restaurant in Los Angeles. I thought, certainly it would be a fair comparison to Guy Savoy. The food at Patina was equal to Guy Savoy but I have to say I did not walk away feeling like I had a dining experience. Our water glasses were not filled; we were left for long periods of time without a wait staff checking to see if we needed anything or if we were happy with the dish that was just delivered. It was the first time I realized the difference between eating out and dining out.
A dining experience is second nature to the French. Every meal is an event. Every meal is a cherished moment of the day. It is enjoyed and savored. More often than not the person preparing the meal receives extreme pleasure out of preparing food that will be enjoyed and savored. I have often found this to be the heart of a chef. A chef not only enjoys preparing the food but desires to give the diner a wonderful experience.
Unfortunately in this day and age, the sheer enjoyment of preparing the meal for diners is often lost to creating a superstar chef. There is no room for a diner to request anything out of the ordinary. The diner is scoffed at if he requests anything that would change the menu item that the rock star chef created.
Even menus today often do not meet the needs of the variety of diners that walk through the door.
Somehow, the dining experience is lost to something novel or to the latest food trend or to unusual food items. Dining rooms become cold and sterile, noise levels are ignored, cocktails and wine lists are all the same. I am waiting for waiters to wear lab coats. The diner becomes the guinea pig.
It is understood that rock star chefs bring customers and customers keep restaurants open. The press, the hype, the awards are all geared to the building of the rock star chef not necessarily geared to the experience of the diner or to making the diner feel like they are the most important person at the restaurant. It is often like the emperor’s new suit of clothes rather than what looks good on the emperor.
As hard as we try, I am sure that at Suzette’s we do not succeed at reaching this goal every day we are open and to every person who walks through our door. It is a daunting goal but it is our focus. I will never forget the words of one of the best French chefs I have ever met. My husband thanked him for preparing his steak perfectly and then for preparing caramelized onions like no other. The chef graciously said,
"You are welcome. Preparing your food how you like it is why I got into the business in the first place. Thank you."