Front of the House

“You can get away with bad food, but you can’t get away with bad service,” said Ken Aretsky to me years ago for a piece I was doing on restaurants.  Mr. Aretsky used to manage “21” and owns Patroon, a terrific steak and American restaurant in Turtle Bay with a first-rate, hidden bar.

The cool thing about good service is that it generates income at no cost to the restaurant.  And it’s not related to the type of place.  Sure, the high end restaurants employ as many as a half dozen servers per customer who shuttle to tables and hover.  But even a hot dog stand, like Sullivan’s, in East Boston, on Castle Island, excels at making its customers feel welcome.

It’s a shame that most restaurants in Boston don’t have a front of the house that encourages people to come back.  Not much in the way of greetings or goodbyes, servers who don’t know what they serving, a real lack of enthusiasm, an inability to sell, and a kind of foggy outlook on the customer, a willful forgetfulness.

Think of dining as going into a new car showroom: Frankly, there’s not a whole lot of difference between cars within the price range you can afford.  Customers return to dealerships based on how they are treated: Friendly, as honest as possible, engaging.

Servers are salespeople who work on a commission basis, it’s as simple as that.

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