Is Great Service in Restaurants Another Consequence of Covid?

In the first season of the Emmy-nominated FX series, The Bear, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) leaves a Michelin star restaurant to return home to Chicago after the death by suicide of his brother to run the family’s sandwich shop. By season two, Carmy aspires to open an actual restaurant, leaving a window in place for the establishment’s famous steak sandwiches.Trying to teach fine dining to his rag-tag kitchen staff is a challenge. So Carmy sends each one out in the field to learn from the experts. Richie (Ebon Ross-Bachrach), who was best friends with Carmy’s brother, hoped to inherit the sandwich shop and is the most recalcitrant of the workers. Carmy arranges an internship for Richie at one of Chicago’s finest restaurants. Richie’s first job? Drying and shining forks. When Richie makes disparaging comments about this low level assignment, he’s dressed down by a manager who points out that every detail, even a clean fork, matters and is a reflection of the restaurant’s impeccable reputation.

I thought about that episode when dining recently at a high end restaurant in New York City. Owned by a famous chef, who, I have no doubt, shares Carmy’s standards for excellent service, we enjoyed wonderful food and lackluster attention by the wait staff. After finishing our appetizer course, a server removed our plates and returned our used silverware to the table. As Richie learned, a clean fork is not insignificant. When we looked startled, the server balked, but took the dirty silverware and returned with clean ones. He placed each one on the table with emphasis, sending a message that we were being difficult. (That was just one of many faux pas during our meal.)

Restaurant Week in New York City will run through August 20. Locals and tourists may enjoy a two-course lunch or a three-course dinner with lower prices allowing them to visit someplace on a wish list, perhaps to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. Restaurants, post-Covid, are still struggling to hire and retain kitchen and wait staff. In some cases that special occasion may not meet expectations. During the pandemic, restaurant workers were considered essential and given priority for vaccines. Patrons were grateful to those continuing to work, risking becoming ill, to keep eateries open. Now that the pandemic is over, however, paying guests expect good service and, if that service is less than acceptable, should the tip reflect what is delivered?

Ebon Moss- Bachrach as Richard “Richie” Jerimovich in The Bear (Photo: Courtesy of FX)

Of course, most restaurants strive to maintain high standards, but with staff turnover still a problem, essential training is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be. Even the best food cannot make up for haphazard service. 

At the end of the The Bear’s “Richie” episode, he encounters the chef/owner of the restaurant where he’s finishing his time as an intern. He finds her peeling mushrooms, a tedious job if there ever was one. “Peeling mushrooms?” he asks. “Yes,” she responds. “It’s just a little fun detail so that when the diners see it they know that someone spent a lot of time on their dish.” (If you haven’t watched this episode yet, I won’t spoil the surprise by identifying the Oscar-winning actress who plays the chef. It’s seriously one of the best scenes in the entire series.) “Do you want to have a go?” she asks him. Why, he asks her, do you do this? Surely you have underlings that could do it for you. “Respect,” she answers. “Time spent doing this is time well spent.”

That one-on-one exchange gets to the heart of work, whether in a restaurant or anyplace else. No job is too small not to be done well. Perhaps that should be a sign put up in all workplaces, but especially in restaurants.

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (677 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.