Over the weekend, my wife and I had an opportunity to dine at three different Portland establishments for dinner and/or cocktails. Each place (all fairly new, generally open six months or less) had things to recommend it, and generally, the food at each was good to very good.
I’m not mentioning the names of the restaurants because I generally don’t like to review places unless I’ve been there more than once. Especially if the review is less than superlative.
And in these cases, the lack of superlatives is due in part to the service, which tended much more toward fair or worse. It got me to thinking: we have a whole vernacular for evaluating food. We even have a fairly evolved language for evaluating drink. But what about service?
In one case, for instance, we were having a drink and snack at the bar of a highly-regarded spot on the eastside. There were multiple bartenders, and we ended up with one who was, if not surly, then perhaps sullen. The drinks were well-made, and delivered promptly. But we couldn’t help looking at another bartender cheerfully interacting with his patrons just a few seats away.
So how to rate that? The mechanics of the service were, after all, quite good. The product that was created was good as well. But one of the critical interpersonal elements just wasn’t there, and it impacted the experience.
We certainly have language for when things are truly horrible. But it tends to be sweeping, it seems. For instance, in one dinner, our party of six had everything from a refusal to take drink orders until everyone arrived (we arrived in four groups over a 10-minute period) to forgotten orders to passing food plates family-style down to one diner at the end instead of walking around the table to put the plate down directly. But the server at least seemed earnest, and like he was genuinely trying (ineffectually, but still). So would I call it “horrible” or “dreadful”? No. There’s a bit more nuance than that.
I’m just not sure how to characterize it without describing the detail. And in a world of “unctuous cuts of meat” and “full-bodied red wines,” that’s a lapse in language.