A brief statement of purpose

There are already about a billion food blogs, so what might be a justification of yet another one, and who am I to do it?

What I aim to do in this blog is more than simply provide recipes. While recipes of my own will, in fact, be posted, some of the blog will consist of a variety of comments about restaurants and their practices, food preparation tips, personal annoyances (such as loud restaurants and the epidemic of misspellings on menus), and whatever else pops into my head relating to what we put in our mouths (and swallow, I hasten to add). The whole thing is meant to be somewhat provocative. I hope, if nothing else, it won't be boring. I, of course, solicit reader participation.

As for who I am and why I think I might have something to contribute to public discussions on this essential and pleasurable activity - eating - you'll have to click here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do you want prices with those specials? And what was number four again?

   I’ve noticed in recent months - maybe longer - that food-oriented web sites and other types of media like to compile lists of all sorts of things have including annoying restaurant practices. For example, high wine prices seem to be almost always mentioned, although I have some sympathy for the restaurateurs here . . . up to a point. Another type of list consists of annoying practices by wait staff, countered by other lists of annoying diner practices. So who throws the first stone? Well, that question can’t be answered since the stones have been flying for some time now, and I’m tossing yet another one, while acknowledging that others have tossed the same object, or at least aimed at the same target.
   Here it is: I’m going to reference the specific restaurant, but only because a group of four of us dined there on a recent Friday evening (12 November), and it was the most egregious example of this particular type of annoyance. But guilty restaurants can be found almost anywhere. The restaurant is La Grolla in St Paul Minnesota, and the offense is reciting off-the-menu specials without indicating the prices. On this particular occasion, the offense was compounded by the large number of specials - eight, if I (and my wife) recall correctly. 
   I’ve always assumed that wait staff aren’t unilaterally neglecting to tell customers what they will pay; rather, that they’re simply following orders from management, and I still assume this. Ergo, blame must be assigned to management, so most of the following criticism goes in that direction, not to our particular server . . . most.
   There were four of us. When time came to order solid food, our server said, “We have many specials tonight,” and he commenced to recite them, with, as usual, no mention of prices. As he finished with the description of the fourth or fifth one, my wife (to whom this is an annoyance as well) interrupted and asked the price for the last mentioned, which he provided. Oddly, though, even after having been asked, midway, the price of one the specials, he simply proceeded with his descriptions, failing to note the prices of the remaining ones. Was he simply on autopilot and he just couldn’t force himself to interrupt the descriptions with their prices? After my wife asked the price of one of them, why didn’t something click in head? Something to the effect of, “Hmm, these people might be interested in the prices.” (Parenthetically, he was friendly and efficient throughout the meal.)
   The final two specials sounded particularly appetizing to me, so I asked about their prices. Of course, he then told me those two prices,  and I suppose we all should have applauded him for his remarkable memory. Is that what this is all about? A kind of memory contest to impress the clientele? If so, it just might have the opposite effect: On some of those lists of annoying server habits, one finds diner anxiety that results from the server not writing down any orders. Another member of our group thought she knew which special she wanted, but she couldn’t recall the name of the pasta (it was an unusual one), so when the server returned to our table to take our orders, she had to tell him, “I think I want the one that begins with an s,” and asked him to repeat the description.
   All right, as I noted at the outset, this sort of “temporary price secrecy” is commonplace, but it isn’t required by the US Constitution, state constitutions, or any federal, state, or local laws, rules, or regulations. This means the practice can be effortlessly eliminated. 
   In the case of La Grolla, there were eight specials. Many restaurants have a reasonable one or two or three. How can any customer be expected to remember eight? Some diners, no doubt, immediately eliminate some of the specials as soon as they hear them, but if there are, say, two or three or four which are possibilities, this still requires a very good memory for many people, particularly if, as is usually the case, the restaurant’s decibel level is anywhere from rather loud to hellishly loud and one might be straining to hear the recitation in the first place.
   Let’s digress just a bit here and speculate that managers who condone and even insist on this practice don’t see it a possible irritant to the people who are paying their bills. Rather, they assume that diners will simply ask the prices of those specials which they are considering for consumption on that evening. Why would they ask the prices for specials they don’t like, are allergic to, would violate their antivivisectionist or quasi-religious principles, etc? So management is doing them a favor by not taxing their brains unnecessarily. The problem with that explanation is that sometimes diners need the prices of (almost) all of the specials because their final decision may well involve a balance between price and preparation. Maybe a diner will select Special #3 instead of Special #5 even though she thinks she might like 5 better, but 5 is much more expensive than 3. What if the diner likes the descriptions of all of them (as I did, to the extent I could hear them all)? One needs both pieces of information. What if, particularly when there are more than, say, three or four specials, a customer may not recall the description or name of the first one mentioned? In other words, it’s hard to believe managers’ thought processes run along this line. 
   Somebody please tell me the reason.
   So is this little missive all criticism and no solution? If only just some of the world’s problems were so easy and (almost) cost-free to solve! Let this solution be disseminated throughout the land, and let there be pleasantness and good will follow!
   All restaurants have to do is use an ordinary desk jet printer and print the specials, along with a reasonable description of them and their prices. This “Today’s Specials” list, frequently termed “Fresh Sheet”, as most know, would be on ordinary paper stock and free of embellishment; in other words, cheap and quickly produced. This is not revolutionary. At the time the wait staff would ordinarily launch into their verbal descriptions, they would distribute these and inform diners that s/he will be back to answer any questions. The server can still be free to briefly point one or two which are noteworthy.
   Why is this not done? Everyone gains. Patrons don’t have to tax their memories. They see the prices. They don’t have to ask the server to describe again “that pasta special that starts with an s”. Diners have more time to contemplate their choices. The cost to the restaurant of printing the specials is miniscule. The server is spared the possibility (which I’ve seen a number of times) of forgetting or not remembering correctly the specials. 
   I rest my case.    


  1. Yes there is a reason for another food blog and you have just shown the reason. Keep it up. Thanks

  2. Many thanks for the compliment.

  3. I must point out that some of our newly-elected members of Congress would assert that if it is not, indeed, required by the US Constitution, it should not be commonplace. Such representatives, however, might be hard-pressed to recall whether or not price secrecy is required by the Constitution.