Starting today, some of the bloggers at Short Order are creating a holiday wish list for Miami's food scene. Click here to read more of our holiday wishes.
Anyone who's known me longer than a week gets to hear me crow about how much better things are in Chicago, which I've made my second home. I'm learning to enjoy the strange and tropical delights of life in Miami, and I do realize there are things in my adopted Second City that aren't better (weather, Taste of the Nation events, Venezuelan food).
However, my last trip to Chicago cemented the realization that Miami needs a citywide service intervention and stat. We are becoming a bigger player on the national food scene. When visitors or locals visit a restaurant to try out dishes they've been reading about in Food + Wine, shouldn't they remember the food and not the strange treatment?
My Miami friends and I oohed and aahed over the service in Chicago.
There were elevated touches like a friend getting a black napkin
when she wore a black dress at Blackbird (say that three times fast).
At Hot Doug's, a take-out bison dog was quickly replaced when my friend accidently
threw it out with our dine-in trash. Ok, that last one was dumb of us,
but they didn't make us feel like assholes, which is classy service in
my book. And then there's the general treatment we received in the city: servers' overall
knowledge of the menu and polite answers to questions, all with a
down-to-earth demeanor. It basically comes down to being treated
like a welcome guest, rather than like a fortunate plebe who was only so
lucky to get a seat.
It's like the whole city of Miami grew up being verbally abused. When
we visit other cities--like Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco--it dawns on
us that the poor treatment we've learned to live with is actually not
acceptable. I'm not saying all service everywhere in Miami is bad all
of the time. But as a whole, the city is inconsistent, even as our
culinary star rises, and it's been that way seemingly forever. When you
have a bad experience at a place you otherwise love, it can leave you
torn, questioning your loyalty, or downright furious.
The examples of poor service can range from indifferent to surly to even gruff.
This happens even at neighborhood joints. Delicias de Espana is a
place where I have great memories of eating with my aunt and
grandmother. They went all of the time to breakfast on eggs with
paprika-laden tomato sauce in a sizzling cazuela.
A month ago, my aunt and I returned for the first time in a while. We
sat down at a back table and waited for a server to offer us menus. Five
minutes later, we moved up to a closer table. Servers took orders and
served beverages and food at tables right next to and behind us, and no
one acknowledged our presence. After ten minutes, my aunt finally had to
go ask at the front counter, almost venturing into the kitchen, to get us some menus. It felt crappy to be so blatantly ignored,
especially because that's a place I recommend and enjoy. I understand
that everywhere has a bad day, and a server did eventually apologize, but
it makes you lose faith in even your faithful favorites.
And, of course, this can happen at the golden spots too. At Sugarcane
Raw Bar Grill, a friend of mine was once told by a server: "You clearly
don't understand the concept," after she tried to order one of each of various small plates. He felt like she should be ordering two or three plates of every item
for her group. The server was trying to make a recommendation, I suppose, but it came across with the finesse of a splash of cold water to the face.
These are just some random examples of what I feel happens all of the
time in this town. I have others, but you get the point. I'm sure you
have your own, too. This wish isn't just for servers either. It also
falls on the managers and restaurateurs who train and set the tone for
I met Lourdes Herrera at Rainbow City this weekend. She's an ordinary
Miami woman who loves to dine out. She says it well: "I work hard for
my money. When I go to a restaurant, I'm paying for food, environment,
and service. It's not just the food. I want the whole experience."
Sounds like basic, FIU School of Hospitality stuff, right? Basic
Lemonade Stand 101? Well, as my mom says when someone cuts her off in
traffic, "Tirales el librito!" or "Throw the book at them."
Sometimes on the reality show, Top Chef, experienced chefs swoop in to
assist the contestants for their final competition. It's time to fly in masses of managers and
servers from Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and Boulder for a week of
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p.s. A mac and cheese truck would be amazing too!
So dear reader, do you beg to differ? Have your own theories on service
in Miami? Or have your own bad service "Oh no they didn't" stories?
Please do share.