New York Times food critic Frank Bruni recently published a very provocative piece on his blog in response to an article in UK newspaper the Financial Times. Nicholas Lander, the author of the FT piece, asserted that, due to a variety of environmental factors, restaurant prices will continue to rise unless major efforts are made to curb them. Lander suggests letting food take center stage and cutting down on the “fuss” and “irrelevances” so often present in the fine dining world. To wit, Lander proposes getting rid of the “charger plate” (the empty plate that is set before diners sit down), curtailing the “array of amuse-bouches, breads and petits fours,” eliminating much of the waiter’s duties (such as “fussing with napkins” and reading the specials), and instituting a policy of “timed bookings” (i.e. if you sit down at 8:00, you’ll need to vacate your table by 10:00).
It is this last suggestion that has caused the most controversy. In the comments for Bruni’s post, the reactions range from “I am unalterably opposed to the “timed” table” to “timed tables are an affront and should be banned by the same Constitutional Amendment that will prohibit parents from allowing their screaming offspring to remain in the restaurant.” We personally feel that two hours is sufficient time for the vast majority of dining experiences, but we’re also inclined to agree with the commenter who said that “If I’m there for 2 hours or more its because I’ve had an aperitif, appetizer, am working on the 2nd or 3rd bottle of nice wine, entree, cheese plate and port, coffee and dessert and then perhaps a cognac or armagnac. They’re getting their money’s worth.”
We’ve always felt that the best service is as unobtrusive as possible. We don’t make it out to extremely high-end fine dining restaurants very often, but when we do, we are sometimes disappointed by how in-your-face the service can be. We agree with Lander that waiters could be freed from reciting the specials and incessantly brushing crumbs off the tables, but we’re not certain that would result in any reduction in the prices.
What do you think? Would you be willing to trade formality for a cut in prices?