I wrote this piece for the Sommelier Journal.
A Grown up Restaurant and a Restaurant for Grownups
About a month ago I went with friends to a hot new restaurant. It opened to great press and good word of mouth on the blogosphere. The place is in a rather off the beaten track neighborhood and run by a young and energetic staff. After reading all those glowing reviews, we were looking forward to our dinner.
I arrived five minutes early and they would not seat me until my party was complete, which is sort of inhospitable. The bar was full so I waited in the doorway. The room was a bit noisy but it was not impossible to hear ourselves talk during dinner. Service was very casual. The wine was opened and left on the table for us to pour, as is “their style.” Our waitress was well informed and charming. Although the pizza was a bit flabby, the pastas and salads were excellent. We enjoyed our dinner and said we would return
A month later a dear mutual friend came to town. He is hard of hearing, so for ease of conversation, I cooked dinner the first night of his visit. The second night we decided to take him to this restaurant as our meal had been very tasty and he is a discerning diner and very good cook. We remembered the place as being a bit noisy but as we had been able to converse, we figured that the good food would outweigh some hearing difficulties. Besides it is almost impossible to find a really quiet place these days.
We were seated when only two of the four of us were there, some progress on that front. The restaurant is very dimly lit and the menu is printed on brown paper in a small font. It’s rather hard to read unless you carry a small flashlight or a miner’s lamp.
The room was even noisier than the first time because the music was blasting. Not just loud, ear splitting loud. We asked our waiter if they could please turn it down a bit as our guest was hard of hearing. He said, no, that the sound level was set by a manager. Fortunately a manager stopped by our table to say hello. She had waited on our table the first time and at a cook book signing event where I was a panelist, introduced herself to me as a manager and said to call her if I needed to get in. So I asked her to please lower the music. She did, but ten minutes later the staff had cranked it up to the maximum. It felt like a pretty hostile response.
So we got the message. You older folks are not really welcome here. We are so hot and so busy with a young and hip clientele that we don’t need your business. This place is just not for you and we will not go out of our way to make it comfortable or easy for you. The young staff thinks that older guests are “difficult” diners and too much work: They want more lighting to be able to read the menu. They want us to lower our hip music. And they even want us to pour their wine. Hey, no great loss.
In other words it is not a grown up restaurant, nor is it a restaurant for grownups.
It is a place for the young who don’t care about noise or unreadable menus. The waiter will tell them what’s hot and what to order anyway. They don’t care that much about service refinements, but just want the food and trendy drinks carried to the table.
However, the restaurant staff is misguided. Many older people dine out often and have more disposable income than twenty somethings. Even more important, once older diners bond with a place, they are very loyal, and will show up with regularity as long as they are recognized and treated with some modicum of manners and warmth. These mature diners do not feel the need to try every hot new place in town. They find a place they like and keep coming back. So if they are treated with disdain, they will not return.
What this new establishment does not realize is that they will not always be the brightest star in the local restaurant firmament. After a year or so, when the next round of hot new places opens, and the fickle food groupies move on, the staff may be sorry they did not build a more mature and experienced clientele. Those loyal diners would still be filling the seats if they had not been treated like excess baggage