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03.2006

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: David Singer

WHEN MY WIFE AND I WERE LOOKING FOR A CONDO LAST YEAR, we came upon a new development. If you looked up this designer in the dictionary under "stereotypical Frenchman", his picture would be there. In a video introduction about the condos, we saw him talking about this project and the only thing that was missing was a black beret and a Gauloises cigarette. Who knows, maybe he put one on and smoked one off camera. In his pitch, one line delivered in a classic French guttural accent particularly amused me. He kept talking about how he wanted the condos to be more than a place where people would live. He'd say, "I want you to be the Art!"

Pompous and over the top? Absolutely. However, I was recently thinking about this and wondered if he had a point. Wouldn't it be nice to experience more art in our everyday lives? One lost art in restaurants is tableside service; filleting a fish, making Caesar salad from scratch, flaming Bananas Foster, to name but a few. It's a little old fashioned, but it was an art that lent an element of flair to the dining room. The clients felt special to have this performance right before their eyes. Nowadays, even the most upscale restaurants are downplaying formality, striving to create an approachable, more casual atmosphere. I'm fully in favor of making the dining experience less intimidating, but it seems we've also lost some of the art along the way - the proverbial throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I'd like to see some of the tableside service aspects of formal dining make a comeback, not only in formal establishments but also in more casual restaurants in ways that make sense for that setting. I've seen three ways that tableside wine service can be successfully integrated into the dining experience without stuffy formality - recreating the Art.

First Tableside assistance with selections can be introduced with a simple drop-by at the table to let the guest know they can get assistance if interested. This gives a strong impression of a serious wine program, and provides opportunity for value-added interaction with the guest. It can be tailored to the style of the restaurant based on the communication and service style of the wine advisor, but requires strong education of the waitstaff and/or having a wine professional or wine-savvy manager on the floor.

Second Tableside pouring of wines by the glass is a very easy way for all members of the restaurant to create a little flair regardless of experience. Having the bottles on hand to present and pour at the table is another opportunity to enter the microcosm of the table and interact with the guest. This provides the guest with better service, letting them see the product that they're about to enjoy, and increases the level of quality control because servers pay more attention to what they pour when they're performing in front of the guest. Furthermore, by providing a little taste to assure guest satisfaction, you save the loss of a glass if the guest sends it back while again increasing the guest satisfaction quotient.

Third Tableside decanting can improve the wine while giving clientele an impression of expertise in how to serve wines, thus adding value above what they'd likely experience in their own home. It also provides an opportunity to add an artistic touch in line with the restaurant theme by using uniquely styled decanters appropriate to the setting. It is important to note however that decanters really need to have a non reactive material. For example, metal isn't good because it can add a metallic taste to the wine. Glass is the usual medium and as long as it gives good surface area exposure and it isn't difficult to get the last glass of wine out, there are many creative shapes that can be integrated into your establishment.

What separates the good from the great is the attention to detail. This is more than just making sure the linen is ironed or the silver is polished. It is an attitude of being the Art.

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