I ate at Canlis the other night. The perfection of the experience stressed me out.
Not the food, which under chef Jason Franey is on a new sustained run of greatness. No, it was the service that ran up my blood pressure.
It came up first when I called for a table, and the terrific (efficient, affable) reservationist summed up with this addendum: “And you are aware of Canlis’ dress code?”
“Uh…well…uh-huh, er, yeah,” I responded smoothly. After I got off the phone I hastened to the website —been to Canlis a dozen times, still don’t know the dress code—and found this: “Casual attire (casual jeans, short sleeve shirts, casual foot wear) is not appropriate.”
Totally fair. Get it, embrace it. Not very Seattle…in a great way. Love that Canlis exists as the special occasion spot that it is, and yes, it needs a dress code to do so. Furthermore, the only fair way to uphold a clothing expectation is to make sure all comers are fully apprised about it in advance. A sartorial ambush at the hostess station does not a lovely evening make.
So I believe that warning a patron in advance of a clothing policy comprises really, really good service. But here’s the thing: it still really bugged me.
So did our hovering waiter. So did the fact that she called me “Ms. Pseudonym” all night, leaving my companion unaddressed. (Not literally; I dine out under a different name than my own and she called me by that name.) So did the fact that about 85 different servers serviced us that night, two of whom brought out my companion’s and my plates and, I swear, bent over at precisely the same moment to deliver them before us. Do they count to three?
Worst, Ms. Hovering came back after every course delivery to inquire as to our satisfaction, sometimes politely waiting until we finished our conversation to do so. It’s a kind person’s way of interrupting, every bit as annoying, and utterly unnecessary. The great waiters learn the art of being available without penetrating.
This waiter’s obsequious omnipresence, though faultlessly polite, was penetrating. And therefore, distracting, making me feel responsible for her in some weird way.
There are diners who appreciate all this attention. There are occasions which may call for it. There are restaurants which specialize in it. And—just as in the case of the dress code warning—it is not in itself a bad thing.
Maybe it’s simply this: That what this brand of “great service” mainly serves is the message that you are having a Very Special Experience.
I think I’d rather just have good service, thanks.