I have the unique perspective of being on both sides of the restaurant world pretty much equally. I eat out quite a bit, and have clocked countless hours on the line and the floor.
my Thanksgiving Turkey last year. Not sure why it’s relevant, it just looks good
Often times I see / hear places categorized as “Hipster”, which I believe is most often an unfair characteristic. I think the movement that readily sits at the communal table, wears oversized glasses, really unflattering pants (God please stop that, you wonder why your single), and knows what burrata is are seeking exciting places of innovation. Then again, there are some places that certainly live up to the the title, I myself have worked in a few.
I think that there are three things (most likely a few more) that qualify a restaurant as a hipster dining experience.
1. The waiters are indistinguishable from the guests, and no one is wearing a uniform.
No one is wearing an apron, no one has a pen to write anything down. No one in the kitchen has a chef coat on (the kitchen is almost certainly an open one) nor does anyone wear gloves or hats to cover their hair – that’s just not cool. Almost all the women with longer hair have their hair down.
Yes, I don’t have hair, but personally I feel that hair not touching the collar is sanitary and results in less hair in food. Who doesn’t love when women wear ponytails (it brings me back to those Punky Brewster days). Not so in a hipster establishment. I rarely send anything back because of hair, I just eat it (Like the big black hair on the burger I got today) Hair isn’t going to kill you.
2. Waiters are order takers
It’s really uncool to try have a great deal of enthusiasm, because after all you are waiting to be discovered future Johnny Depp. “Are you guys ready to order?” is the most common thing I hear. Not, “Are there any questions I can answer?”, “May I make any suggestions?” or “Is this your first time dining with us?” Nothing is done to facilitate a conversation that makes a guest feel welcome and warm. You don’t seek to make a connection, ask if it’s my first time here, or glean any valuable information that might benefit the restaurant (critic, blogger, birthday, billionaire who loves Barbaresco, etc) Even if you’ve taken a million orders, you still have not perfected the art of service.
The best server is the one who can anticipate the customer; she knows what all of your expressions mean. She knows what level of interaction you desire during your meal. He knows what look means thirst, what look means I want to see the cocktail list again. (Hipster dining establishments rarely refill water, or refold napkins after you leave the table. Most of the time water is given to the table in a large vessel and never touched again.) Yet even though they know, they ask anyway because they want to establish a relationship of trust with you. The best server is one who has developed such a deep vein of trust (maybe in even 3 mins of small talk) with her guest, that the customer will accept anything they bring to the table, regardless of if it is their correct order or not.
I don’t believe in this notion of invisible service. Invisible service was invented by a chef that harboured some ill will for inept servers in his/her dining out experiences and decided that one day, when he had his own kitchen, that the servers wouldn’t interrupt the transfer of his vision to the table. I’m clearing your plate and I’m not invisible when I make a recommendation. Invisibile service to me is eating at home, by yourself.
3. “No Modifications”, or No ‘something’ written on the menu
The recession is over, and people are eating out more and more often. Restaurants aren’t desperate to get people in seats by any means. Most guests rarely will read the entire menu; human beings aren’t really into reading the small print frankly anywhere. I would much rather have the conversation, or ask if there are any dietary restrictions than have to read, “sorry, we won’t change anything because it ruins our motif.”
A restaurant is a business, and I’ve found that the better a business is at catering to their customer the less painful modifications are/become. Hipster places like to point out their inflexibility in dealing with guest modifications. Don’t give me this, “It’s not how our chef would like it served” or “It ruins the integrity of the dish” nonsense. I’ve worked for some of the most notorious, pan throwing, screaming chef’s who become enraged at a modification request and I would argue that very rarely is that actually true. This phenomena is a direct result of chef’s gaining more control over the front of the house, which has it’s benefits and drawbacks (and is the subject of another post altogether).
In restaurant defense, there is now a plethora of vegan, cruelty/flavor free, fair trade, raw, local.. places to dine. There is no reason to need to go in a modify a whole menu.
I think the problem with these practices is that even though they may or may not be so, they feel arrogant and pretentious. It makes the establishment seem unconcerned if a guest will return.
That’s the point isn’t it, repeat customers?
(Suggested Reading: Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer)