Industry Standard with Marsha Lynch

Love, War and Restaurant Openings

A few weeks back, someone I worked with briefly at another restaurant opened a restaurant of his own, with partners. They’d renovated and re-fitted an empty restaurant which had been a neighborhood institution years ago. There were playful nods to the original name and re-working of some of the original menu staples, but from what I could tell from the press and promotion it was never meant to be a re-incarnation of the old spot. Folks were excited. After all, nobody likes an empty restaurant haunting their neighborhood like a ghost. (Just ask the people who live near the former Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.)

About a week later, a Facebook friend posted about his experience there. He hadn’t enjoyed the food or the service. His complaints didn’t strike me as unreasonable. After a long wait, after which he pointed out his food was cold, he reported that a server responded with something along the lines of “What do you expect? We’re busy.” Oh, no. A thousand times no. If that sentiment was said aloud to a guest, a certain server needs re-training. It was unclear whether my friend spoke to management at the time or later. Not everyone adheres to my policy of not complaining on the internet until you’ve at least made some mention of the situation to a manager.

Is it fair, a week after a place opens – when they’re still packed with the flush of new customers brought in by the opening buzz – to expect adequate service and good food? Not perfection. Just a decent meal and service worth the tip. The answer is yes, it is reasonable to expect those things. The question is: how should you feel and react when those expectations aren’t met?

Since my friend’s disappointed review appeared on Facebook (albeit on his personal page), of course that left open the possibility that others would hitch a ride on that bandwagon; and the Internet did not disappoint. A couple of people posted short affirmations like “second complaint I’ve heard about this place today” or “we had a similar experience.” Someone said they’ve stopped going out to eat due to the Hep A epidemic, which set off a side discussion about the safety vs. danger of vaccinations (eye roll). Another person, I kid you not, mentioned that they had gotten food poisoning at a restaurant that formerly occupied the building, so she didn’t know if she could eat at that address again.

I kept thinking about my former co-worker, the new part-owner. We haven’t been in touch since we worked together; we’re not close. But I knew him to be a person of integrity, someone who cares deeply about food and by extension, the service that delivers that experience to a guest. I thought about the several restaurant openings I’ve been part of as an employee. The tension and expense of renovation, menu development, hiring and training. The obvious joy and excitement new owners have when they present their creation to the public. The inevitable disappointment when even the slightest thing goes wrong. Do the new owners need to own the service and cooking mistakes they may have made during a busy opening week? Of course. Do they deserve to be tainted by vague mumblings about an unrelated hepatitis outbreak in this state and (possible) food poisoning committed by a completely different business, long ago, that happened to have its mail delivered to the same address? Absolutely not.

Look – if every one of us gave every new restaurant a “chance to get their feet under them” by waiting a few weeks or months to try them out, they’d all fail before they began. Give brand new restaurants a try. Perhaps we could all find a way to lower our expectation of perfection during those early days, and then be pleasantly surprised when a newly opened spot is firing on all cylinders. We should all get in the practice of giving management constructive feedback, maybe not on the spot in the middle of a hectic scene, but after some reflection and a during genuine conversation.

And try not to hold a grudge against an address. That someone once drowned in a lake years ago is no reason to rule out swimming there.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.