Can't Anybody Here Serve A Table?

I've touched on service issues before in this column, but the topic deserves another crack.

Back in March I addressed a series of slip ups constituting what I thought was a frustrating downward trend in the quality of service at Dallas restaurants. For instance, on a couple review visits wait staff forgot at least one of our orders completely. At the start of another, a waiter took my drink order and disappeared before my companion could place hers--a very un-Texan display of bad manners.

During my stint in Prague, while suffering through some rather astounding service lapses, I had longed for the comparatively stellar treatment offered in Dallas restaurants. But maybe Central European malaise made local wait staff seem all the more poised and considerate, for several people responded that service in this city had always been spotty.

Trend dismissed, right?

Well, thinking back to pre-recession Dallas, I recall only a few occasions (at suspect restaurants, mind you) where I had to ask for a new set of silverware after finishing off the appetizers. Over the past eight months, however, I've noticed wait staff trotting off with first or second course plates, leaving dirty forks behind for our reuse, at a number of different places with high-end pretensions.

The frequency of this at reasonably upscale restaurants is alarming. Sitting at a white tablecloth destination waiting for the entree while catching not-very-appetizing glimpses of drying sauce and bits of cilantro slathered on your old knife spoils at least part of the dinner. You know, eventually, that same utensil will slice into a slab of rare tuna, trailing detritus behind.

It's one thing for wait staff to leave used silverware for the next round at, say, Joe's Crab Shack but another at Cibus, Nick & Sam's Grill or Maguire's. One of the perks that should come with $100-plus tabs for two people is the provision of clean utensils--without having to plead.

So when did this start? And, more importantly, why does it seem to happen on a regular basis? The restaurant isn't really saving money by leaving knives and forks on the table because they have to wash the plates from each course. Perhaps the practice allows them to get by on a smaller stock. But that plan falls apart as soon as guests start asking for replacement silverware. In recessionary times, it behooves restaurateurs to treat each guest with even greater care, as well--so instances where they leave dirty stuff on the table makes little sense.

If it's not just a case of faulty memory on my part, I'd say that training has slipped. Then again, maybe my time in a world where wait staff practiced the art of avoidance and waiving for attention just made them angry made me forget about service lapses during my previous Dallas stay.

Obviously there are places that continue to provide near flawless catering and others that have always been rather careless. But I still think the overall dining experience in this city has slipped a few notches.

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