Monday, July 8, 2013

Bistro at the Square

48 Jefferson Square Plaza
DeSoto, Mo.

Today's lesson kids, is about mistakes. Not big ones like invading a country based on bad intelligence, or leaving a loaded gun unsecured when the grandkids drop by, or forgetting an anniversary. No we're going to talk about the more costly ones, the compounded little ones, the completely avoidable ones. The kind of mistakes that are so small, that they are only really of concern if they are repeated or piled up among other small mistakes.
Like forgetting to take extra batteries for your camera. Rookie mistake. I've done it before, I did it this time, again. Thus we have one picture and only one picture and it is of the appetizer.
Sorry. I am a professional, I should really know better.
Then there are other professionals that with a little more attention to the simple things could easily turn a pretty bad review into one more deserving of the place being reviewed. Case in point:

The Place:
Inside the main building on Jefferson Square. It's not obvious, the signage is modest. Jefferson Square may have once been a mini mall, it now contains a couple of offices, the restaurant and the Jefferson Inn. The Bistro includes a bar area, an atrium that fills out a corner of the open main floor, and a large banquet room.
We always sit in the atrium, non-smoking. A summer squall was building over Hillsboro as we headed south. It rained on us in spurts, we went into the Bistro ahead of whatever was building. The bulk of the storm stayed north. DeSoto was sunny, but being on the edge of the squall, we watched the sunshine-backlit rain from our seats in the atrium for the entire meal.
There was only one other table filled in the atrium, a middle aged potato-shaped couple. The female seemed bitter about almost everything. We were seated by a well dressed and clean cut young man. He barely  mumbled and rarely in complete sentences. He handed us the menus and asked about drinks. Tea, tea and Pepsi/Coke.
Angel and Adam decided to get the requisite appetizer, the locally ubiquitous fried ravioli. I'd skip it and save room for the meal.
The tables were all nicely arranged, white linen tablecloths with hunter green place mats and paper tape around the silverware. Each table had a small vase with a tasteful arrangement of fake flowers. Music emanated from a boom box by the Bistro's entrance, I couldn't quite make it out, the lyrics seemed Italian, but the accompaniment was more mariachi. It could have been Mexican ballads, or bad Italian music. At one point it sounded Hawaiian, though Hawaian as being by four guys in sombreros playing giant guitars.
The Food:
Most things on the menu looked pretty good, pasta, steak, fish, salads and soups. Though called a bistro, the fare was not uniquely Italian, not even close. But it all looked pretty good. It also looked large. I think I've mentioned this before, my appetite ain't what it used to be.
Angel decided almost immediately, Adam shortly afterward. I sent the waiter away twice before deciding. Like I said, it all looked pretty good. I just wanted to get the most satisfying bang for the buck for my one weekly 'go-for-it' meal. It's like a kid with five bucks trying to decide which of the twenty things he wants that each cost five bucks, would be the most fulfilling.
I finally decided and  ordered the pork chops. The only reason I had hesitated had been because there were two chops in the order. I knew I wouldn't be able to eat both. So I thought ahead to scrambled eggs and chopped pork chop for Sunday breakfast. That sounded pretty good. I asked for the baked potato and corn on the side.
Angel had fallen for the catfish special, two big filets, along with fries, slaw and baked beans. Adam surprised no one on the planet by asking for the Buffalo chicken sandwich.
We ordered, the ravioli arrived shortly, I took the first and last picture of the evening.  The ravioli looked extra crispy to me, not the good kind of extra crispy like KFC serves, rather as in over-fried-crispy. Angel confirmed this suspicion after having a couple.
When I'd ordered my meal, 'Sparkles', as I internally named him with a huge measure of irony, asked me if I'd like butter and sour cream with the baked potato. My first inclination was to ask him if anyone ever said no to that, but I let it go. I know better than to mock the staff before the food arrives. This is important for later.
The ravioli disappeared except for the crispiest bits. I watched the rain outside as Angel and Adam played some form of shape arranging game on her cellular telephone.Another phone rang loudly, full volume, the annoying default tune.
The sour, potato shaped lady took the call on the third or fourth verse of the hideous tune. It was her mom. Yes they were at the restaurant out of the storm and she didn't know why they brought her a baked potatos and that tomato crap when she didn't order it. She'd clearly told them when they wouldn't allow substitutes to just skip that other crap. But no, they brought it to her anyhow. Oh the humanity!
Fortunately it wasn't a long conversation, just an angry and loud one. I jotted down the parts I'd heard thinking how rude it was  to complain about a restaurant publicly like that. Then I noticed the irony of my indignation, as I wrote down more notes to build a public, on-line and potentially scathing review.
'Potentially scathing' because I was already getting frustrated with Sparkles. He'd stopped by a couple of times, first to ask if we wanted saucers for our appetizers instead of dripping marinara all over our laps, and again when he came by to clear the plates and ask about refills, he called me 'Bud', twice.
I was raised in the south and then immediately spent the next nine years in the military. Ma'am and sir rolls off my tongue as easily as saliva. I wasn't sure why 'Bud' bothered me, but it did. I expect to hear it in a locker room among long-time pals whilst snapping towels at each others glistening sweaty bodies. . . Sorry about that unfortunate imagery, but it seemed a little too familiar and casual for a nice place with white linen table cloths. Also the mumbled and exasperated questions, still not phrased in complete sentences. 'Take these plates away Bud?", "Refill on that tea Bud?".
When the meals did arrive, they looked pretty good. Two large, thick chops, a foil wrapped, medium sized potato and a wilting kale leaf. To the side a small bowl of fading, soggy looking corn, not near as bright and perky as what you see on a can of Nibblets.
I tried the corn as he placed Angel and Adam's meals. Yeah, as I'd suspected, this corn was long past prime. I scooted it aside. "Bring your roll in a sec, Bud, need anything?"
"Butter and sour cream?"
"Oh yeah, k."
He fetched the missing items quickly enough. I squeezed the roll, it was cold. Not just not warm, it felt refrigerated. The butter packets were about the same temperature. This is fine for butter, but it meant that the roll would not even begin to melt it. I passed on it. I'd spend my 'allowance' on the potato, which seemed perfectly hot and well cooked.
The chops were thick and thoroughly cooked. They were slathered with a brown sauce, which I tasted and decided was simple woostershire. . .worchestershire. . .westchestershore. . . you know what I mean. It wasn't bad, but hardly interesting. The Bistro's saucier must have had the day off.
I shredded the potato, folding in the butter (margarine) and sour cream. It was a decent size, which meant too big to finish so I ate mostly the tasty skin and a little of the meaty parts. I love baked potato skin.
Angel lopped off a  corner of her fish and slipped it onto my plate. It was nice and flaky, perfectly cooked but the breading seemed a bit salty. She liked it okay.
Adam wouldn't give an appraisal of his sandwich, only much later did he give it his two-thumbs-sideways: "It was okay."
At forty three bucks the Bistro is appropriately priced for a nice restaurant in DeSoto. Add to that the incredibly small tip I tacked on, it was quite affordable. The food was pretty good for the most part, but not great. As with the service, a few little things could have made a big difference. Warm rolls, fresher veggies, a more interesting sauce, little things.
The service was bad. Not just my words, Angel agreed. Earlier we had been discussing Adam's upcoming job interview and I had made a point that he should put on his 'customer face'.  We are introverts and not just a little bit. It is actually a struggle, an aerobic exercise to look into another person's eyes and cheerfully engage them. Seriously, it's hard.
I told Adam that I had developed a 'customer face' when dealing with my customers, those for whom I provide service. I told him that it is not always easy to do, in fact sometimes it's very hard, but it is absolutely mandatory to be successful in any form of service industry. You have to set aside the lousy day, the foul mood, even completely justified ambivalence or apathy, just set them aside. Be polite and respectful always, even if it's just an act. Reign in the sarcasm and snarky comments. All that dour wit will not be appreciated by near strangers that just want you to do your job.
Sparkles can fix this. He needs to put on his customer face when serving the public. Even if it hurts. Cheer up, be respectful, speak up, articulate in complete sentences. Most of all he needs to keep his mind on the task at hand. This is vital. Serving diners is a skill, it's much more than just showing up and pushing plates on a table. A few minutes a day, just put on your customer face, buck up and do the job like there are a hundred people lined up to take it from you.
 We don't expect much, we don't need astute advice about wines or silver capped serving dishes, just the basics. Fast food places mostly get this part right. I can prove it, just step into a Waffle House sometime, anytime. You are greeted and seated with cheerful politeness and respect, it's almost as if they are happy that you picked their humble establishment to have a meal. Even McDonalds and Burger King usually emphasize respect and cordiality from their minimum-wage staff. That's all we ask, just simple courtesy.
This dining experience was not awful, but it was certainly below our expectations. But it was all simple, easily fixable stuff.

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