Over on the Times’ You’re the Boss blog, first-time restaurateur Bruce Buschel has a weekly column about his quest to open a seafood restaurant in Bridgehampton. Today he comes up with a list of “One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part One).” Dude is clearly aspiring to be the Danny Meyer of the Hamptons with rules like “Do not recite the specials too fast or robotically or dramatically. It is not a soliloquy. This is not an audition.” (Also: Don’t call customers “dude.”) For the most part we agree with his commandments, especially these: “Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials” and “Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant.” On the one hand, when a server sings the praises of a dish that seemed enticing anyway, it might convince you to go ahead and order it, which is fine. But what about when they go on about something you know you don’t want — say, a leek scallop. Then you have to feel all guilty when you’re like, “That’s great, but I’m going to go with the steak.”
Come to think of it, the recitation ritual is where a lot of server-customer relationships get off on the wrong foot (another one of Buschel’s rules: “Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials.”). Why does it even have to happen? If we had our druthers, the specials would just be written down. Not like at Diner, where the server writes them all out on your tablecloth while practically sitting in your lap, and you’re sitting there wondering if they get hand cramps at the end of the night (wouldn’t it be faster and more legible if they brought an electronic typewriter out and typed it up for you?) — but rather just, like, on pieces of paper that are attached to the menu, just like at an actual diner.
That way, you don’t have that weird moment when the waiter is reciting the specials and you’re not hearing a word of it because Guns N’ Roses is blasting in the background (by the way — Monday night at Babbo? A full hour of Axl), or you’re not really listening because you’re sitting there thinking, “Am I nodding in all the right places?” or “Whoa, this waitress’s forehead looks just like Tyra Banks’s.” Plus, it’s much easier to visualize specials when they’re written down — when they’re spoken to you, dinging noises tend to go off in your head when you hear ingredients you like, but you don’t necessarily grasp what the dish is, and you don’t want to make the waiter re-explain that manchego dish, because she looked kind of irritated to have to explain it the first time and you don’t want her to realize you were distracted by her giant forehead. So you order the dish only to find out it’s, like, manchego foam on top of fermented bean curd, and you’re like, “Ugh.”
But maybe that’s the whole point of reciting the specials? To make us feel like, “Well, she put all this time and energy into telling me about these dishes. I guess I’d better order one”?