It’s been an interesting few days for Alan Richman, who — in case you’ve been picnicking in a cave for the last 48 hours — published quite the provocative piece about M.Wells in GQ and has been the center of foodie attention ever since. After all the drama, and because we’ve always liked him, Grub Street had to touch base with him ourselves. Luckily, Richman had a lot to say … although, only on the condition that we moved on from the tush topic.
We get it, you don’t want to talk about it …
I’ve said everything I’ve had to say. You know, it’s upsetting. But I really do want to talk about how "casual" now means "careless" in many New York restaurants, like M. Wells. I mean, it’s the front of house manager’s job to keep order … it starts with the management. But it’s like the inmates are running the asylum now! I only know what I saw at M. Wells, but it was like the servers were given a pad and pencil, and told to take orders. Where’s the training?
You’re saying this is a rampant issue, not just there?
Yes. I have this strange theory that at this moment, the New York restaurant scene is for the young, it caters to the young. And that would be great, but with that comes the notion that the customers are "just kids" and you can treat them any way you want. I’m all for New York being youth-oriented, but you can also have that and be well run.
Which restaurants do have that balance?
A few weeks ago, I went to Danji and my service was so good; I was literally startled by it. I said to my waiter, "How the hell did you get to be like that?" And he said, "I used to work at Bouley." See, it was a relaxed meal, but with staff who had knowledge and poise. Also, Momofuku Ssäm Bar has always been run right. Oh, and look at Brooklyn Fare— that’s excellent food and service, yet you’re still sitting on stools. I’m not judging by appearance. At the Breslin, in the morning, the staff looks like they just rolled out of bed, wearing clothes from the night before with flip-flops on, yet they deliver really great service!
So, if I’m your waitress, what is okay and not okay?
There are only two things you need to do right. First, it’s about looking, watching, and reacting to being needed. There’s like this self-centered-ness to some waiters, like their happiness comes first! Second, you need to pay attention. If someone asks you for something, just get it!
In light of this informal youth culture, do you think fine dining is dead?
Well, I hope not. There has to be standards. If fine dining dies, then BLT Steak, which I like and have no problem with, becomes the ultimate high-end restaurant. But, let’s face it, fine dining is for grown-ups and dining in New York is not for grown-ups anymore. Daniel Humm is certainly the young hope in keeping it alive, so I’m excited to see what happens there. But you should ask Danny Meyer that question; I’d be curious to hear his answer. He’s such a lovely, classy man, he really is. And he is the benchmark of service in New York. Does he think fine dining is over? Does he want to open 14,000 more Shake Shacks because that’s what he thinks it’s all about now?