Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Getting Great Service

What makes restaurant service great? I appreciate a server who answers menu questions easily and/or knows how to find the answer for me, and mentions specials - or special options such as a buffet in the back room - before I order. Or quick changes of a food or beverage item when the first is unsatisfactory, and removal of the item from my bill before I ask.

I appreciate frequent refills of 'bottomless' beverages or bread, details remembered such as no salt on a margarita glass, quick clearing after courses, and bills that arrive soon after I finish eating. I like it when servers are easy to understand and understand me well, and when ethnic restaurants offer authentic preparations and atypical dishes - such as horchata or menudo in a Mexican restaurant.

What makes a great restaurant customer? I asked my older daughter who has served in three different chain restaurants in two cities, during the last six years.

"People forget what their parents taught them about manners when they go to a restaurant," she says. "Be gracious and treat us like we're hosting you at our home. If you're nice to us we'll go out of our way to do something nice for you" - such as when my server in a Kansas City-area restaurant artistically arranged the lemons I requested, on a small plate.

"Don't be rude, and interrupt me during my introduction. Don't snap at me, or act like it's the end of the world if something arrives 30 seconds after you want it." And good tipping is a must when 90 percent of a server's income is based on tips. That's why, "The standard should be no less than 15%, but 18-20% all the time, if service is good."

The next time you dine out, try thinking about service from both sides of the table. You - and your server - will be glad you did.

Year-Round Grill Guy

My husband is a 'grill guy' extraordinaire. Throughout the 18 1/2 years we have lived in this house, he has grilled every Sunday night during all seasons, unless there's a lot of precipitation or incredibly low temperatures. Sunday has always been one time when he knows his plate will feature an entire piece of meat versus meat cut in pieces as part of a larger dish - or a vegetarian entree. And, sometimes, he grills several times in a week.

By 7:30 last night our temperature stood at 23 degrees, but he fired up the grill to cook his ultimate burgers. We've long used a ground meat mixture that is one pound of turkey plus one pound of 85-90% lean beef so we don't need any fillers - which yields about six large burgers.

Seasoning/flavoring varies, depending on our mood, but always includes about a tablespoon, each, of minced garlic flakes, minced onion flakes and liquid smoke, plus liberal shakes of salt and pepper. Last evening we added a couple tablespoons of a cheese/herb blend from our last pizza delivery and we recently added green chile powder to another batch of burger meat.

These moist and juicy burgers hit the spot when paired with a slice of cheese (choose your favorite), ketchup, Vidalia onion mustard and a soft, fresh, whole grain bun. They also added a little taste of warmer days to a chilly winter night.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kansas City's Plaza Lights

It's been almost 30 years since I visited the Kansas City area to interview for my first job. Although I knew only one person here beforehand, I immediately liked my potential supervisor. He then took me on a tour through some of the city's best known neighborhoods, and the Spanish-style Country Club Plaza shopping district immediately captured my heart.

But I discovered the Plaza's true magic during my first holiday season as a resident. Imagine a Spanish village replete with multiple hand-carved fountains, dozens of brightly painted ceramic wall murals and red tile roofs on every building - and then line them with thousands upon thousands of twinkling holiday lights. When I took a carriage ride with a friend as lazy little snowflakes dusted the street and buildings, the Plaza truly resembled a fairyland.

Each Thanksgiving eve since my first, a local celebrity has flipped a single switch so that 100,000 lights sparkle in the darkness as the holiday season begins. Then, as Plaza visitors buy holiday gifts and lift glasses of champagne at the New Year, the lights add magic to each moment.