You had me at service

What is it that makes us return to a restaurant?  Is it the comfortable chairs, as our Executive Chef recently wrote about?  Is it the astonishing mouth watering dish that you find yourself dreaming about when pondering where to stop for dinner?  Or is it the amazing service?

VellumAnn Arbor, MI

Ann Arbor, MI

For me, it has always been about the service.  Anywhere from the greasy spoon where the ma and pa behind the counter engage you in friendly conversation, to the six course fine dining back server and front server experience, it has to have great service for me to return.  Not perfect service, no no, I never strive for the perfect dining experience, just something that takes the dining experience from average to extraordinary.  I understand that mistakes happen, and servers get busy, but it is how they conduct themselves in a professional and welcoming manner that keeps me interested.

We’ve all been there, the situations where you try a new place for the first time and you swear you will never be back.  Once a place has a black mark for me, I swear I won’t go back for years!  I don’t even realize how much time goes by…I almost forget the reason why I didn’t like it in the first place…but I won’t choose to give them a second chance unless someone else suggests that we go.

I have to say that my friends and I are a tough crowd, not because we aren’t easily pleased but because we expect great service.  It’s the expectation where we come from.  Most of us are chefs, restaurant managers, servers, bartenders, event coordinators, hostesses, dining room assistants, and just plain foodies!

My foodie friends and I recently met in Ann Arbor for dinner, a mecca of great places to dine!  How can one from out of town even chose where to go?  Well for us, Vellum had us from the get go.  Their website was top notch, and their Chef de Cuisine was from Kalamazoo and a WMU graduate!  We had to check it out once we had read that, and we were not disappointed.

Beer Vellum

For me the experience started with (if you’ve read my past blogs…you could probably guess) that’s right, an ice cold beer.  I was pleased that they had Final Absolution from Dragonmead (one of my favorites) and Dragon’s Milk from New Holland on draft.  They also had my favorite bourbon, Basil Hayden’s in which I enjoyed after my dinner.

But it wasn’t the great beer, bourbon, or even the modern American chow that blew my socks off, it was their attention to providing wonderful service.  We were first greeted by a nice amuse bouche from the chef, they removed all dirt y silverware throughout the meal, and when our entrees arrived they presented us each with a complimentary sample of wine that paired nicely with our entrée selection.  After dinner they surprised my boyfriend with a complimentary upgrade from his VSOP cognac to an XO cognac.  We never wanted for anything, the food was great, and the Director of Operations, Ric Jewell was a real pleasure to meet.  Ric Jewell and our server created the ultimate dining experience for us.  We felt like royalty, and will return because of the service in the near future for sure.

The food at Vellum was a bit too modern for my taste; I like a more classical approach.  Not moth balls classical, but just you know, somewhere in the middle.  While their food was tasty, when I ordered the bone marrow, I expected a bone on a plate with a little demitasse spoon.  Instead we received bone marrow custard, with braised short ribs and cute little root vegetables.  Tasty, but not what I expected.  So while it may not be the food that pulls me back to this modern year old establishment it will be their attention to providing excellent service.Bone Marrow Vellum

So what is it that you look for in a restaurant?  Comfortable chairs?  Great food, modern food?  Or outstanding service?  We want to know!

Alana Fisher
Event Coordinator
Allie and I

What’s your favorite restaurant?

As a chef I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question.  My usual response is ‘I have several, depends on what we’re hungry for’ and that usually satisfies most inquirers.  People rarely ask ‘What’s the most comfortable dining experience you’ve enjoyed?’  That might be a better question.

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Edison Food + Drink Lab

Recently Jud and I had the honor of being in Tampa to receive an award for the restaurant and we were able to eat some really good food in some really nice restaurants.  I’m talking food that we want to do and some we don’t, doesn’t mean it wasn’t tasty, just not our style.  Check out Bern’s Steak House and Edison Food Lab, both in Tampa, Florida.  They had some winners on their menus that we enjoyed.  Great food, really top notch and friendly service, however, they also had one thing in common that we talked about at great length, their chairs.

Bern's Steak House

Bern’s Steak House

At Bern’s we were in a group of fourteen so we were crammed at a table and might have had different chairs than normal diners to save space.  I’d bet the normal dining room chairs are very comfortable based on the atmosphere, the level of service, and the comfort we felt in their atrium waiting area.  At Edison, we were two guys at a table for four, so the chairs were the everyday put your fanny on a space kind of chair.  Both, in my opinion, might have been two of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve experienced outside of a full airplane.  It was sad too, the food was great.  Bern’s has some wonderful dry aged prime beef that was fabulous.  Edison had the best bone marrow I’d tasted in a while and absolutely delicious potato crusted oysters.  The chairs were just uncomfortable.  I mentioned it to Jud and he was quick with his ‘I know!  I couldn’t get comfortable.’ DeluxeBistroChair

I understand back some time some genius restaurateur came up with the North American version of Bistro, tons of tables and chairs, really uncomfortable, with the idea to turn tables quickly and make more money, I get it.  Those of us that have fortunate enough to experience Milan or Paris understand the concept.  The chairs aren’t quite as uncomfortable with the Mount Blanc views or fresh croissants on the Siene.

My wife and I love a restaurant in Kansas City called the Classic Cup.  Pretty good food, really uncomfortable seating, but it’s right on the Country Club Plaza with outdoor seating if you’re lucky enough to get there early.  The person watching is top notch, the buzz is great, and you almost forget your rear end is numb.  There are a couple other spots like that but Webster’s will never be one of them.

Our chairs are comfortable.  We’ve had a guest describe our booth seating as his ‘food cockpit’.  He requests it every time he’s in for a giant steak and twice baked.  Its home to him and his guest, they’re comfortable.  Zazios downstairs in the Radisson is the same way, great chairs, super comfortable.  You don’t want to leave.  We let guests linger, that’s just our style.  We want you to be comfortable and enjoy the experience.Webster's Chairs

Call me crazy but part of the experience of dining out is the ambiance and comfort.  You don’t expect a great seat at the food truck or the luncheonette, but you should at a sit down dinner.  We’ve all experienced the table by the kitchen or the server side station and commented on what a bad table we had, but do we consider our actual seat?

So, here’s the question; is your favorite restaurant due to food or ambiance?  Perhaps both.  I’d argue that comfort has something to do with your answer, be it comfortable with the level of service or relationship (think Norm from ‘Cheers’) or the ability of a kitchen to prepare something you love and can’t recreate at home (that’s me with some Asian places).  Regardless, we think less about how comfortable our seat is than we deserve. Think of your favorite ‘chair’ at your home.  Do we deserve anything less when we spend a buck on a meal????

Stefan Johnson
Executive Chef
General Manager
Stefan Johson Pic

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