Is it great food or friendly service that determines a memorable eating out experience
The debate rages on: what is more important — the food in a restaurant or the service? It’s an unfair question, yet what would be the percentage that balances the values of food and service when eating out?
A classic Udipi hotel waiter would be customarily cold, unfriendly, aloof and impatient, but will retaliate with quick, accurate and professional service. He will almost always have an elephantine memory; he can not only remember every dish on the 372-item menu alphabetically, but can deliver your exact order flawlessly, within minutes.
Then there is the waiter in an Irani café. His service normally plays accessory on how his morning has been spent with his decrepit Irani owner, who is sitting behind the galla. If the waiter has had an argument with the boss, both the boss and he will be surly, petulant, unhelpful and excessively uncooperative. You, in turn, will be at the receiving end of this spat.
For example, if you were to dare order a sandwich, he will play Twenty Questions with you about the exact sandwich you want. When you finally say, “White bread mutton sandwich, non-toasted, with butter and mustard, but no mayonnaise”, he will stare at you for exactly four seconds and say, “Nahi hain (not there)” and walk off before you have the time to re-think your order. He will return to repeat the same behaviour till you are exhausted and finally order what he wants to feed you that day.
Of course, everybody’s met the overly friendly, annoyingly familiar, know-it-all waiter. He likes to recommend dishes. And eight out of 10 times, the dishes he recommends suck. The perils of being on television is that I often get recognised. There are some great advantages to that, which I will not elaborate here, and a few disadvantages, which I will.
The first disadvantage is that everyone thinks that since you are a food writer, you want to experiment. So, if I tell the waiter, “One chicken makhanwala and butter naan”, he will say, “Sir, you must try our chicken shahi matka emami dahiwalla, with chef special tava mix and roti basket”. But I came here specifically because I wanted to eat a butter chicken. If you protest, he will insist. Finally, just because you want to keep your PR going, and, after all, he is being nice to you, you will cave in to his recommendation. And you will hate the food he has forced you to order. Add to that, he will stand there staring at you while you eat and keep asking you, “How did you enjoy it, sir?”
When you ask him for the bill, he will insist you order a rice dish or a biryani. Then, you will shake your head and insist firmly, “Bill!” The waiter will then persist, “Dessert? Try our kulfi falooda with jalebi and rabdi”. You will now, having reached the limit of your patience, roar, “Bill please”. And that very moment, you will feel like a petty, intolerant worm, because that waiter will smile and say, “It’s with our compliments, sir” And I am too ashamed to tell you how this story ends.
That’s why, when I discovered Mirchi & Mime, a new restaurant in Powai, I was amused. M&M’s menu has been created under the eagle eye of my friend, chef Manoj Vasaikar from London, and is co-owned by Prashant Issar and Anuj Shah. Together, they hit upon a great service idea. Mirchi & Mime’s entire service team comprises hearing and speech-impaired individuals. They run the place with great comprehension, style, etiquette, warmth, friendliness and professionalism. It’s a lesson from which many can learn.
Which brings me back to the question — I’d say it’s a 50:50 proposition, but if the food is unbelievably good, I don’t mind being treated like a beggar.
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar