It’ Not Just a Meal Out – It’s a Restaurant Experience

By TOM MEREDITH | Apr 11, 2018

The older I get, the more jaded my opinions seem to become. I guess by writing this I am little different than most other retired people in this lovely part of New Jersey, as I am about to pontificate about my past career, hopefully in a different way.

I spent my entire career in the hospitality industry in one form or another. My very first job as a teenager was helping the owners of a new restaurant in our town. They were very hands-on during construction, and I did whatever types of things needed doing that only a kid wouldn’t question. In fact, that became my nickname: the kid. After the restaurant opened I stayed on as a dishwasher and busboy and eventually wound up six years later running the kitchen during the day and bartending at night.

The people there took wonderful care of me, teaching me things you don’t learn in school. They encouraged me and gave me confidence and a real sense of belonging. At the restaurant I saw positive examples of behavior toward others and a true understanding of the meaning of teamwork and, in a strong way, a feeling of family. Some of our closest friends today I met then.

I became a great believer in the hospitality industry. The work is hard, but the camaraderie is great. The satisfaction of a job well done is immediate.

The pressure of a bottom line outweighing hospitality and quality, however, took its toll on me and eventually I became overwhelmed and threw in the towel with a feeling of sadness. Of course, you need to make a profit in business, but I am a firm believer if you take care of the top line of sales and are careful with expenses, you get there with guest loyalty. I became exhausted fighting the tidal wave of bottom line-driven thinking that ultimately kills the top line. So we moved to the Exit 63 area.

Still, since I’m a restaurant junkie, my wife and I go out as often as we can to a wide variety of places chosen by our mood and company. I enjoy watching the excitement of a busy shift and the precision of a well-run one. It is like a ballet to me.

While we have not had any bad experiences in any of the restaurants the area has to offer, some, of course, are better than others. When we finally decided to take the risk of a long wait at a local seafood restaurant, we finally had a knock-it-out-of-the-park dining experience.

We did have a long wait, but the staff and other customers alike struck up pleasant conversation to make the time go by, which it did nicely. This included the culinary staff when one young man came “out front” to refresh the water pitcher. He did not act as though he was invisible. He made eye contact and said hello, and gave a nod that said it will be worth the wait.

The restaurant is small with very limited seating but still a challenge for only two servers to cover. They help each other and the hostess/manager, I suspect a part owner, jumps in to assist whenever possible. How refreshing to see people working together so hard to ensure a pleasant experience! Food quality was exemplary, service terrific, professionalism was very welcome. The most impressive thing to me was how much they all seemed to enjoy providing a great experience for each guest.

I hesitate to mention the name of the restaurant outright because this is not meant as an advertisement. Suffice it to say, I am very glad I moved to the Exit 63 area.

In these days of being bombarded with bad news, tragic events and selfishness of so many people, it is encouraging to know hospitality is not dead and still many people in the industry and around us are sincerely friendly. You would think it is a minimum requirement, but I assure you it is harder and harder to find.

I often rant about the “world of me” so many people live in by giving no thought of any kind to those around them. The aura of hospitality within the four walls of this particular restaurant rubs off on the customers, whom you can see enjoying conversation with neighboring diners to their table and enjoying the company of those all around them, not just their table companions. This brings back such pleasant memories for me that I feel my soul is recharged when I leave.

Dining is not about the food, the décor, the service or the price. It is a complete experience created by the combination of those things equally to be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. It takes a team of positive people to create that for us.

Do what you can to be empathetic to your server’s job. Try to understand it is so much easier to give great service to someone who is pleased by it instead of ambivalent to it. Don’t judge service harshly if you have never been responsible for providing it. If you do not believe in the American custom of tipping, try to remember it stands for To Insure Prompt Service. It is a way you can help someone else make their way in the crazy world we share.

Tom Meredith lives in Little Egg Harbor.


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