Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding My Voice, One Restaurant at a Time

If reality television has taught me anything, Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares surely has.  If you are not familiar with the television series which originally aired in the UK and now domestically on Fox affiliates, Gordon visits failing restaurants diagnosing the "whys" of their small business failures.  He then rolls up his sleeves providing the restaurateur guidance including, but not limited to, replacing the head chef, revamping the menu, improving service, analyzing the restaurant layout and strengthening the brand.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Complete UK Series 1Many of the proprietors take his advice and thrive because of the Kitchen Nightmares' hosts visit.   Then again, there are others who do not and ultimately close their doors for good.  The failures, more times than not, reveal owners who couldn't get over their own egos or waited too long to ask for help while running out of money.

How many times had I griped to my dinner companions when some aspect of my restaurant experience was going awry?  But not necessarily to the people who could do anything about it. 

My own armchair analysis would reveal I had fallen into the common practice of a woman doing everything in her power to keep the peace. Look pleasant, no matter the price.  It's social conditioning that many women find challenging when they're failing to be authentic in their relationships with others.  Unfortunately, I discovered, the keep-the-peace strategy would occasionally short change my personal enjoyment at a restaurant.

The final straw came for me several years ago when one of my favorite trendy restaurants served an overly salty roasted chicken.  Hard to do, I know.  Not an in-expensive meal, I suffered through my meal commenting to my husband how disappointing my meal was.  After asking for my third glass of water from the waiter, my light bulb went on remembering Kitchen Nightmares.  I wasn't doing anyone a favor by keeping quiet.  Not me, not my poor husband, not the restaurant.  I decided to speak up.  For the first time in my life I sent my half eaten meal back to a kitchen.

The chef admitted she hadn't sampled her creation.  My conclusion, had I not spoken up, how would she know there was a problem?  How many repeat customers had they lost because of one poor experience that the proprietor now can't pinpoint because the customers hadn't provided feedback?

On the flip side, when the restaurant does an outstanding job, I concluded my positive feedback could help reinforce a repeat performance.  I won't keep it to myself any longer.

The same holds true at the grocery store.  If they aren't stocking something, I remind myself they want my business.  I'm no longer shy of telling them when they ask did I find everything I was looking for that I did not.  It doesn't mean I'm changing my personality.  I'm still polite.  But now I'm honest in my responses instead of hiding behind a veil of pleasantries.  I have yet to come across a recipient of my feedback who wasn't appreciative of my honesty.

What had I been afraid of?  Probably nothing other than being thought of poorly.  The beauty of getting older for me is being more concerned of what I think of myself versus what others think about me.  Thank you Chef Ramsay for helping find my own voice albeit not quite a colorfully as you do. 

Food for thought.... is there ever a time when you shouldn't say something?  What's your perspective?


  1. June CumminsJanuary 31, 2011

    Hi, Sylvia. Thank you for a thought-provoking and lovely post. I'll chime in and say yes, I have become more vocal about my interests and needs in grocery stores and restaurants. This is because I keep a modified form of kosher (not strictly kosher, but enough that there are certain foods I can't eat), and I have learned to articulate to people in restaurants what is possible for me to eat and to ask grocery-store people to see if they can stock certain kosher food products. I am always polite in these instances, and even if I cannot get what I'm looking for, I express my thanks as gratefully as I can to the restaurant and grocery-store staff. I have to tell you, though, as a funny/ironic side comment, that I saw Gordon Ramsay in a restaurant in LA, and I was not impressed with him! He came across as arrogant, self-loving, and snobby. One of the people in my dinner party spoke to him, and he answered in a rude, self-aggrandizing, and snotty way. I think Gordon Ramsay could take your advice! Thanks again, June

  2. Most thought-provoking! I love it. Politeness is the key to all things spoken. So that dish I ate with WAY too much pepper I really should have sent back, even though I don't want to rock the boat. Our last experience dining out at our favorite local restaurant, Leila's, we ordered something brand new on the menu. The waiter asked us how it was (delicious!) and the head chef came out and asked us how it was. No wonder the restaurant has been around for so many years! Thank you for a great post! Barbara

  3. Whenever I dine at Wolfgang Puck's in L.A. Mr. Puck comes by our table and asks us how everything was. No wonder he's been around a little while! Barbara

  4. Your old buddy Steve-O in EulessFebruary 01, 2011

    I totally agree, Sylvia. We were just in a restaurant over the weekend and we LOVED a dessert we ordered and asked the server to let the chef know. She actually came out and appeared really surprised that someone loved her dessert and seemed to take it to heart that she should make it a regular item on the restaurant's menu.

    My grandmother was never afraid to comment on restaurant food ... good or bad ... and when I was younger, I thought that was a bit rude. But the older I get, the more I think that if you do it right, you really are doing the restaurant a service.

  5. Another post well-conceived and well-expressed. I am always reassured on those occasions when a server, or better yet maitre d' or even chef sincerely inquires about my experience with the food I just ate. Where that occurs, the food and service are usually excellent, and I am most likely to return. When I volunteer an assessment and the response seems indifferent, I am not likely to return.

  6. What I love about everyone of these comments is not one of you indicated there was time where you shouldn't speak up.

    Even more interesting, we've all drawn the same conclusions.

    Your thoughts are so reassuring!


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