Miami Food Scene Wish List: A Citywide Service Intervention

Categories: Musings
Photo by Sarah Tyler
Put the bottle down, Santa, and bring Miami better restaurant service.
Starting today, some of the bloggers at Short Order are creating a holiday wish list for Miami's food scene. Click here to read more of our holiday wishes. 

Dear Santa,

Anyone who's known me longer than a week gets to hear me crow about how much better things are in Chicago, which I've made my second home.   I'm learning to enjoy the strange and tropical delights of life in Miami, and I do realize there are things in my adopted Second City that aren't better (weather, Taste of the Nation events, Venezuelan food). 

However, my last trip to Chicago cemented the realization that Miami needs a citywide service intervention and stat.  We are becoming a bigger player on the national food scene.  When visitors or locals visit a restaurant to try out dishes they've been reading about in Food + Wine, shouldn't they remember the food and not the strange treatment?  

My Miami friends and I oohed and aahed over the service in Chicago.  There were elevated touches like a friend getting a black napkin when she wore a black dress at Blackbird (say that three times fast). At Hot Doug's, a take-out bison dog was quickly replaced when my friend accidently threw it out with our dine-in trash.  Ok, that last one was dumb of us, but they didn't make us feel like assholes, which is classy service in my book.  And then there's the general treatment we received in the city: servers' overall knowledge of the menu and polite answers to questions, all with a down-to-earth demeanor.  It basically comes down to being treated like a welcome guest, rather than like a fortunate plebe who was only so lucky to get a seat.

It's like the whole city of Miami grew up being verbally abused.  When we visit other cities--like Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco--it dawns on us that the poor treatment we've learned to live with is actually not acceptable.  I'm not saying all service everywhere in Miami is bad all of the time. But as a whole, the city is inconsistent, even as our culinary star rises, and it's been that way seemingly forever. When you have a bad experience at a place you otherwise love, it can leave you torn, questioning your loyalty, or downright furious.

The examples of poor service can range from indifferent to surly to even gruff.  This happens even at neighborhood joints.  Delicias de Espana is a place where I have great memories of eating with my aunt and grandmother.  They went all of the time to breakfast on eggs with paprika-laden tomato sauce in a sizzling cazuela.

A month ago, my aunt and I returned for the first time in a while.  We sat down at a back table and waited for a server to offer us menus. Five minutes later, we moved up to a closer table. Servers took orders and served beverages and food at tables right next to and behind us, and no one acknowledged our presence. After ten minutes, my aunt finally had to go ask at the front counter, almost venturing into the kitchen, to get us some menus.  It felt crappy to be so blatantly ignored, especially because that's a place I recommend and enjoy.  I understand that everywhere has a bad day, and a server did eventually apologize, but it makes you lose faith in even your faithful favorites.  

And, of course, this can happen at the golden spots too.  At Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, a friend of mine was once told by a server:  "You clearly don't understand the concept," after she tried to order one of each of various small plates.  He felt like she should be ordering two or three plates of every item for her group.  The server was trying to make a recommendation, I suppose, but it came across with the finesse of a splash of cold water to the face.

These are just some random examples of what I feel happens all of the time in this town.  I have others, but you get the point. I'm sure you have your own, too. This wish isn't just for servers either.  It also falls on the managers and restaurateurs who train and set the tone for their eateries.

I met Lourdes Herrera at Rainbow City this weekend. She's an ordinary Miami woman who loves to dine out.  She says it well: "I work hard for my money.  When I go to a restaurant, I'm paying for food, environment, and service.  It's not just the food.  I want the whole experience."

Sounds like basic, FIU School of Hospitality stuff, right? Basic Lemonade Stand 101?  Well, as my mom says when someone cuts her off in traffic, "Tirales el librito!"  or "Throw the book at them."  

Sometimes on the reality show, Top Chef, experienced chefs swoop in to assist the contestants for their final competition.  It's time to fly in masses of managers and servers from Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and Boulder for a week of intervention.

p.s. A mac and cheese truck would be amazing too!

So dear reader, do you beg to differ? Have your own theories on service in Miami? Or have your own bad service "Oh no they didn't" stories?  Please do share.

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