Good Grief

Banish it, I say, along with removing plates before the entire party is done with a course -- that's just plain rude. Another good rule of thumb: Take away appetizers before attempting to serve main courses. Back at Two Chefs, the server moved my friend's salad while she was still clutching her knife and fork, set down her "rissotto," then pulled the knife reproachfully from her hand. "You have a clean one right there," he chided, pointing to the side of her dinner plate. "This one is dirty."

Finally, every waiter in an upscale establishment should learn how to sweep off a table. My mother was so annoyed by the amount of debris that had accumulated between courses at Grove Isle that she swept it into the center of the table herself so the server couldn't pretend not to notice it. He saw it all right -- he put our dish of banana-chocolate chip ice cream squarely on top of the pile to hide it.

"Would you like to see our dessert tray?"
How anybody could find a puddled mass of unrefrigerated desserts appealing is beyond me. But although the dessert tray should have gone the way of shoulder pads and big hair, especially here in steamy South Florida, it has managed to linger, even in places like the Armadillo Cafe in Davie. Worse, the trays there are kept so close to the open kitchen that it's only a matter of minutes before they begin to melt. It doesn't do justice to the pastries -- the slice of chocolate pecan pie with fresh whipped cream was delicious, exponentially better than the soggy mess it appeared to be on the platter.

But then, the Armadillo could do with some other updates as well. Butcher paper over the tablecloths (accompanied by little jars of crayons) isn't even faddish in coffeehouses any more.

"How's everything?"
As far as I'm concerned, "Don't ask, don't tell" isn't just for the military. First of all, not everyone answers honestly. (I usually don't, because in my position I don't want to draw attention to myself.) But if servers are going to insist -- "No, really, how is everything?" -- they should at least have the decency to absorb the answer without rationalizing it. At one tiny Cuban cafe called Black Beans and Rice, we were asked what we thought of the honey-garlic chicken cutlet. Too sweet, and tough, we told our server, whereupon she (1) suggested that perhaps we didn't like honey and shouldn't have ordered it in the first place, and then (2) blamed the chicken press, which had allegedly crushed her two-year-old's fingers to a bloody pulp just the day before.

There are some things the diner simply doesn't want to know.
Better that the management unobtrusively attend to the customer's welfare throughout the meal: A positive experience is the only kind that induces a patron to return. Armadillo Cafe forgot that little fact when we dined there not long ago. In spite of our reservation, the hostess stuck us in the back banquet room, far removed in atmosphere from the vibrant, noisy dining room. Still, we didn't request a table change until the staff began preparing the rest of the room for a group of twenty.

"Is it going to be just one large party and us back here?" we asked our server.

"Yes," she answered, "but you'll be fine."
I begged to differ, and requested that we be moved to another table -- which is my prerogative. You'd have thought I'd asked for a complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon. After spending a half-hour at the bar, buying our own (delicious) watermelon margaritas, we were finally led to our new location.

"You'll probably think this is a bad table too, because it's near a door," the hostess tossed over her shoulder as she seated us. "But it's not."

Oh yeah? It's not a table I'd feel comfortable occupying again -- not as long as that sort of attitude comes with it.

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