Thursday, August 15, 2013

What Has Our Restaurant Dining Experience Turned Into?

What Has Our Restaurant Dining Experience Turned Into?

Being in the hospitality business for over 25 years, I have seen some of the best and worst at their trade.
From the hardworking, studious college kid that was very driven and worked as a waiter 6-days a week to put himself through school; the gravelly-voiced divorced mom of 4 grown kids that needed to pay her bills and get her life back on track; the “hot” chick that thought her looks was her ticket to fame and fortune and that being a waiter was only a temporary setback for her; and the overweight nerdy-guy that really couldn’t relate well with his customers, continually came in late and never got a close shave but always found time to play dungeons & dragons.
They all had one thing in common, they wanted to earn as much in tips on each shift as they possibly could! And why not?  That’s why they have a job. 
But whatever happened to customer service?  What happened to the dining experience we used to receive?  Where are all the waiters of days gone by?
It seems like all the “nice” restaurants have been replaced by themed restaurants, ones that think the way to decorate a restaurant is to hang countless photos of actors, sports memorabilia, and even small boats on their walls.  Regardless of the atmosphere of the establishment, service has definitely changed over the years.
With very few exceptions, gone are the days where a waiter will ‘de-bone” a fresh-caught fish tableside.  And frankly, not many people are interested in this anyway.  But don’t they still desire fine service?  Can’t we still tend to the needs, wants & desires of our customers that come to dine in our restaurants?  It seems that very few establishments strive for this.
Now it seems that the primary goals of many restaurants are to “turn” as many tables as possible during their service, make sure that there is no staff overtime and hire managers that are inexperienced and too afraid to come out of their offices and check on their staff, let alone on their guests. More money is spent on designing eye-catching and colorful menus then is spent on training the staff.
We are used to seeing waiters wearing buttons on their lapels, flowers in their hair, not being closely shaven, and waiters that crouch down at the table when they are taking the order.  Then there is my personal favorite choice of tactless behavior; calling all the guests ‘guys”.  “How are you guys today” or “What can I get you guys to drink”, the waiter may say.  These phrases roll off the tongues of most wait & bar staff today and it has become the norm.
This is not service, this is not the way to greet your customer, your guest, at the table.  Does the waiter know the menu inside and out and know what options there are for substitutions of the starch or vegetables?  After serving your food, did your waiter check back with you within two minutes or two bites?  Probably not.  
This is one of the basic industry standards of service, but it’s almost never taught.  Does your waiter continually refill your water glass or bread basket, or does he wait for the minimum wage busboy/busgirl to do it?  But they still want a big tip from you of course!
Today’s waiters are taught to wear the “focus-group determined” uniform, to form a conga line when it’s time to sing happy birthday to some soon-to-be-embarrassed patron and taught that wearing any color of nail polish or multiple dangling ear rings is OK.  It’s OK to come in late, it’s OK to come back from a cigarette break and still smell like a chimney, it’s OK to be indifferent to the very same people that you are relying on for your livelihood.
I seek out restaurants sometimes just to see if their silverware is preset on the table next to a freshly pressed napkin.  But that has been replaced with spotted, cheap silverware rolled in a paper napkin.
Then to make matters worse, customers have been accustomed to this lower level of service and have been willing to accept it.  You waited 10 minutes for a waiter to take your order, that’s OK.  You’re not happy with how your meal was cooked and can’t find your waiter, well “it’s OK, he will be back soon”.  You want a second cup of coffee but all the waiters are hanging around the service station in the back.  You’ll just wait.  This is not why we go out to dine. 
If we just want to fill our stomachs then this level of service is fine.  But if you want more than that there are fewer and fewer affordable restaurants where the average person can go without spending a small fortune.
I just want to be taken care of, to be catered to on those all too infrequent nights out with my family.  Is that too much to ask for?  I hope not.  Is that possible in a restaurant that is less than 5 stars?  I hope so, I know so.
Remember: Only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you make the big tips. All else is not important.
You see, that’s the key.  Any waiter can get to their ultimate goal of making bigger tips but only if the customer service is there first.  Good food can only keep your customers for so long, but good service will keep them forever. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Author Biography
Author Steve DiGioia has been in the hotel & restaurant business, in one manner or another, for 25+ years.
From booking agent to catering sales manager, to restaurant director and director of banquets, he has seen some of the best and worst at their trade.  Using a hands-on approach, he has developed multiple training programs and personally mentored countless employees that have successfully moved on to supervisor and senior management positions.
Still active in the business, Steve has put together this collection of those same straightforward no-nonsense tactics that he continues to use, that will improve the customer service mindset of your employees.  When that happens, the result is bigger tips for the employees and increased revenue and repeat business for your company.
Steve DiGioia is the author of “Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift…Even If You’re a Bad Waiter, available at Amazon.  Follow this link to the book: http://amzn.to/14PDYG2
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The above was a guest post that I was thrilled to be approached about.  I am excited to say Steve has another great article to look forward too and hopefully more to follow.  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.  Your feedback and involvement are highly encouraged!
 
Thank you Steve and you are welcome to return as a guest anytime!
 
Love Food, Live Life!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Easy Family Style Empanda

 
Like most foodies I am addicted to watching cooking and restaurant related T.V. shows of all sorts.  I found one called Made in Spain featuring Chef Jose Andres.  I really enjoyed his energy and he was also very informative.  Spanish food looks exciting and fresh and full of flavor.  When I saw him use a pre-made, store bought puff pastry sheet to make a baked, family style empanada I was floored.  The concept is just so simple and can be the base for so much more, I am thinking quick meat pies!
 
I decided I was going to make my own version of this Empanada.  I started out how I usually do, with a trip to the market for some inspiration.  I often just walk around the grocery store looking at all the products.  I not only look for new and exotic ingredients, I look for deals, cooking as a hobby can get costly!  I found this beautiful Pork Shoulder for $5.00 and knew right away that it was bound for my Kitchen and my Empanada. 
 
 
I am not going to post an actual recipe with this one.  What?!?!?!  Yea that's right.  I want you to build your own and come back and share with me what you did!  Just leave a comment below with the recipe and or a link to a recipe.
 
I started by scoring the skin on pork, and seasoned it with some salt, black pepper, thyme, and rosemary.  I baked it  to perfection then let it cool so that I could pull the pork apart by hand.  In two hours I had the most tender and juicy pulled pork just waiting to be knocked up another notch or two.
 
I decided I would use a chicken stock and simmer the pulled pork with Carrot, Celery, Onion, Red Bell Pepper, and Green Bell Peppers.  When my Veggies were cooked aldente it was time to put this bad boy together. 
 
 


     Be sure to build this on a non stick baking sheet and you need to poke holes in the top to let the steam escape or you will have a pastry that you can't move and will be soggy after baking. 


 
Roll or pinch the edges together, make sure to form a good seal.

 
Follow the baking instructions on the packaging of the pastry that you bought and you are done!

 
You can go all crazy or keep it simple, just get in the kitchen and have fun!  Cooking is only as difficult as you make it!
Be sure to come back and share what you made!
 
Writing this blog has connected me with some wonderful people.  One such person is Steve DiGioia.  He has a wealth of experience in the service industry and has written blogs and has a book published (Earn more tips on your very next shift...even if your a bad waiter).  I have the awesome opportunity to let him do a guest post on Wichita Falls Foodie!  The next post will on this blog will be a guest post by Steve and I think those of you who are passionate about the service industry will find it very entertaining, interesting and informative.  Come back soon and check it out and follow the links above to take a look at Steve's LinkedIn profile and his book on Amazon.
 
Love Food, Live Life!
 
 
Wichita Falls Foodies Group Page where everyone can share their favorite recipes, restaurants and anything food related, anywhere in the world.  It is not limited to Wichita Falls residents.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rustic Sausage and Pepper Sandwich, a mobile post!

Hello!  :D Wichita Falls Foodie.com goes mobile! I am posting this from my phone! Here is a quick easy sandwich idea and it is one of my favorites.  I always try to find the stand at the County Fair that serves these.

For every person you need 1/4 red and green peppers sliced lengthwise.  Equal parts sliced onion and at least one Italian Sausage link per sandwich.  Sautee onion and peppers with salt, pepper, thyme,  & rosemary.  Bake sausage at 450 for about 10 min. Make sure internal temp. is 165°.  Slice sausage and add to your veggie mix with your favorite red sauce and bring to a simmer.  Let simmer until your happy with the temp. and texture of your veggies. Spoon onto your favorite bread or roll and in 15 minutes you have a hearty sandwich bursting with classic Italian flavor!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Guide to Modern Dining Etiquette part 6: Your Server

Well we went through the long wait in the restaurant lobby.  We made our way to our table.  Did you ever think so much was going on just to get you to that table?  Most likely not.  If you have not read the first Five Modern Dining Etiquette articles you may want to do so.  We have been making our way from home to the table and learning all the subtle nuances and work it takes to get you there.  I started this series because I have served food to the public for more than 16 years and it never ceases to amaze me at the lack of manners from the guests and the lack of professionalism in the Food Service Industry.  So now you know where I am coming from and where we are headed.  Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below, I would love to hear some of your own story's!
 
OK back to the story.  You are all seated and even the kids are tucked into their seats and momentarily distracted by the new surroundings.  Your server has greeted you and went over any specials or offers and is now asking for a drink order.  This is where as a diner you need to consider where you are and how busy it is around you.  Nothing is worse for a server than being busy and getting held up at a table.  Even if it is slow it is terribly awkward to stand at a table in silence.  "What the heck?  I just got triple sat,  and now you are holding me up!  Just tell me you need more time!"  As a guest I understand that you have undoubtedly had bad service somewhere. You asked for that side of dressing but now your done with the salad and the server shows up with the dressing as you push the plate to the end of the table.  Did you notice that the sever greeted a table just after you asked for the side of dressing and that table kept them there for five minutes?  Probably not, you should be enjoying good company and conversation.  Just keep in mind if it is busy service slows down.  If you want a more slow paced and engaging meal you should eat early during the week.
 
 
After quickly deciding weather to order drinks or asking for more time, it is time to get to the menu.  Now as a server if you are busy this is where knowing your menu can come in very handy.  When suggesting dishes at your introduction or if asked to recommend a dish, recommend a quick and simple one.  I takes pressure off of  you and the kitchen.  As a guest don't walk into a full service restaurant on a Saturday night order a well done 20 ounce steak then tell the server "We have 20 minutes to make a movie."  If you are in a restaurant to slow down and enjoy yourself don't let the server rush you.  Let them know you want to relax.  A good server will find a way to ask what kind of service you are looking for. 
 
Hopefully if it is a new restaurant for you your server can guide you through the menu and help you make some great dining choices.  You should not be afraid to try something new.  Some establishments will be happy to replace the meal if you did not like it.  Some will not though so it is always best to ask. 

Now for the dreadful order error.  It happens.  It seems to happen to me every time I go to a certain McDonald's location here in Wichita Falls.  I don't eat fast food if I can avoid it but sometimes I just want a Quarter Pounder and Fries.  Now I could get all angry and be rude and snobby but I don't.  I think to myself am I just the unlucky guest or do they mess up all the time?  More likely I am just that unlucky guest so I deal with it with manners.  It does no one any good to freak out.  It's just going to raise every one's emotional level and you wont get the fix any faster.

 
As a server I always own my mistakes.  I also own the kitchen mistakes.  I mean that in two ways, I claim them personally, and get blamed for them.  It has been my experience that the guest never believes the kitchen is at fault.  Most of the time it is a server error but the kitchen messes up just as well, just not as often in a good kitchen.  As a server you need to own it as I said.  You can not abandon the table out of fear or embarrassment.  That is the worst thing you could do.  I shows a lack of care or concern and a lack of confidence.  Get your manager involved and continue as if nothing ever happened, once you start that downward spiral it can be near impossible to pull back up and end the shift on a high note.

A good restaurant will take care of you and do everything in their power to insure that you come back!  The restaurant I work for goes the extra mile when mistakes are made and we do our best to make sure you leave happy and have forgotten all about the speed bump in your dinning experience.  I guess it just rolls right around to the same point as before, use your manners.

If you handle a mistake with class the server is way more likely to make sure the correction is made promptly.  No one needs to have a their blood pressure raise a point or two and cause a scene.  If you make the mistake admit it and move on, you are a professional after all. 


Love Food, Live Life!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Classic American Cooking: Braised Oxtail

 
America is a mixing pot of cultures.  This makes for a diverse style of cooking.  I have been thinking about this a lot.  What are the roots and classic styles of American cooking?  Now that is a really difficult question to give you a direct answer to.  We as Americans have developed our own style borrowing techniques and recipes from around the world.
 
One of the most classic styles of cooking is Braising.  I am sure most of you know what braising is but for those of you who don't, then read on!  World wide people eat parts of animals we throw away as delicacies.  Depending on what part of the globe you are on Oxtail is one such cut of beef.  It is a tough cut so it requires time and love to cook properly.  I chose to start a Culinary Journey through American history and then beyond so I thought Braised Oxtail was a great way to start.
 
I just went by taste on this one.  I started by flouring and browning the Oxtail.  I used red wine and beef stock as my braising liquid and for flare I topped the Oxtail with fresh thyme and basil.  I braised the Oxtail for four hours then added Potatoes, Onions, Celery, and  Carrots and braised for another hour.
 
 
The result is a fork tender flavorful delight!
 
 
I intend on doing more with this one so keep and eye out!  What  is your favorite Braising Recipe? 

 
I also roasted some Beef Marrow with thyme and basil.  It is very rich and so I served it with toasted cibatta bread topped with tomato vinaigrette and a side of roasted tomatoes.
 
 
So this is part one of my new Culinary Journey! I am excited to see where it takes me and I hope you will join me from home!
 



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cookin' With Mom! Chili Verde and Lemon Tarts

 
As early as I can remember I was in the kitchen with my mom.  I was boiling water for my Ramen Noodles by age 5 and cooking hamburgers by age 7.  I was always curious and watching.  I am so glad I took such and interest at an early age for several reasons.  Reason one, only one of my Ex girlfriends could actually cook, and I can have Mom's cooking anytime now that I know the recipes!
 
One of my favorite meals growing up was Mom's Chili Verde.  (Yes I am aware our Chili Verde is brown and not green lol!)  Her Chili Verde is different than any I have ever had.  It is my go to dish in a new Mexican restaurant because it is normally just pork cooked in a green salsa.  On a trip to Lake Isabella in Southern California my parents stopped into a small hole in the wall Mexican restaurant and she ordered the Chili Verde.  She was served Chili Verde in a gravy and she took the idea home with her.
 
This makes for a rich dish packed with flavor. The salsa and gravy are slow cooked with the pork and it just melts in your mouth.  There is a lot of room to play with too.  You could add an array of veggies and it would still be just as good!
 
Here is what you need:
Serves 6-8
 
3 pounds diced pork
1 cup plus 2 heaping table spoons of flour
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic salt
16 ounces of Salsa Verde
3/4 cup of vegetable oil for frying
1/2 oil for the gravy
2 cups hot water








 
 
 
Add your garlic salt and black pepper to 1 cup of flour and coat the pork with the flour mixture.  Brown your pork over medium high heat.  For more texture you can brown the pork really well.  As your pork browns remove from stove to a plate with a paper towel and let the excess oil drain.  Now for the gravy.  Add the remaining oil to the pork drippings and turn up the heat and slowly add the remaining flour and water.  The gravy will thicken and any may not use all the flour or water.  Be sure to taste the gravy because once you add too much flour it is really hard to fix.  Pour the gravy and pork into a slow cooker and cook on low heat for at least 5 hours.  And done!!!!
 

It was my turn to teach my Mom something in the kitchen. She loves lemon deserts so I decided I would show her how easy it is to make a classic Lemon Tart.  This meant a lot to me being able to share what I have learned with my Mom.  Keep in mind I am self taught and just have a passion for food, but it felt awesome to be able to teach her something I know she will enjoy.

Here is what you need:
serves 8
 
1 cup Lemon Curd
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Phyllo Dough
 1/4 cup butter
 

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl except for the dough and blend until nice and creamy.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let it set up.


 Pre heat your oven to 350 degrees.  I used 3
layers of Phyllo Dough for each tart.  Buttering each layer makes it flavorful and more manageable to work with.  Butter you mold and place the Phyllo Dough in the mold and feel free to play around with making different shapes and patterns.  Bake the dough for 6 to 8 minutes, I have had to watch the dough carefully, my Mom's oven bakes really fast and mine bakes really slow, so just keep and eye on them so they don't burn.
 
 
I topped mine with fresh raspberry and powder sugar but you could get really inventive at this stage, make it your own by adding your favorite fruits, nuts, or even breakfast cereal, Fruity Pebbles just seems like a natural topping and would add color and texture.
 
So I realize that some of you do not know what Lemon Curd is.  It is an old fashioned Lemon Jelly of sorts that originates in Europe, very popular in the British Isles.  I found it with the other preserves but you may need to go to a speciality store of sorts to find it.  I fell in love with it!!! I eat it on my bagels in the morning, Blue Berry Bagels and Lemon Curd were born for each other!
 
What is your favorite childhood meal? Do you know the recipe?
 
LOVE FOOD, LIVE LIFE!
 

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Julian Pie Co. Apple Cookbook's Pork and Apple Pie

 
     This is a special post for me.  This is where my journey with the Restaurant Industry began.  The Julian Pie Co. in Julian/Santa Ysabel California.  Little did I know then the seed of my passion for making great food and making people happy via that food was planted.  I began working there in the summer of 1997, the year I graduated High school.  At that time is was the perfect job for me.  I was terribly shy and prone to mischief.  If you have ever worked at a bakery then you know the hours.
 
     Start at 3 A.M. peeling apples so bakers had fresh product to work with when they arrived at 5 A.M..  Those hours really put pressure on my partying.  I thank the heavens for that, because damn, I don't want to think what would have happened.  Julian is a small town 60 miles north east of San Diego, the most amazing place to grow up.  I wish I had known then what I was doing and where I lived was so unique.
 
     In this day and age of processed foods and  rapidly expanding business models Liz Smothers, owner and master baker has done everything to fight to keep her family run bakery local. She refused to compromise quality for expansion.  So unless you are in San Diego county, where they do wholesale pies to major and smaller markets like Albertson's and local deli's, you will have to get on their website and order one.  The Smothers family was part of a revolution though I doubt they realize or would admit it.  Local food, made from scratch, with the most available local products.  Keeping local means giving local.  I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Smothers family.  You all have done so much for the community you are a part of and I thank you for all the positive influence you have had in my life.
 

     The Julian Pie Co. has the apple lovers dream of a Cookbook.  The Julian Pie Company Apple Cookbook.  I love this book.  It is a collection of local recipes from appetizers to deserts including a "Specialties from and for children" chapter.  This is the first of many recipes from this book I plan to blog about.  Pork and Apple Pie!
 
Here is What You Need:
 
1 pound lean ground pork
 1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 medium onion chopped
Dash of black pepper
3 cooking apples, I prefer Granny Smith for this recipe for a sweet/tart balance
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Two 9 inch round pastry or pie crust
9 inch baking tin
1 table spoon melted butter
Non stick spray or butter to prevent crust from sticking to pie tin
 
     Pre heat oven to 400 degrees.  Get your onion chopped and apples peeled and cored. Rub the peeled apples with lemon juice to help prevent oxidation of your apples.  Start browning your ground pork and onion. While that is working you can move on to finishing the apple prep.  Slice two of the apples and chop the last one. When your pork and onion mixture is done browning remove it from the heat.  Toss the chopped apple in 1/2 table spoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.  Add the chopped apple, chicken broth, salt, black pepper, bread crumbs and mix.  Toss the sliced apples with the remaining cinnamon and sugar.  Line your pie tin with whatever it is you have chosen to help prevent sticking then add the bottom pastry.  Spoon in your meat mixture and top with your sliced apples.  Place the top pastry on and flute the edges, brush evenly with the melted butter for a nice brown finish to you crust.  Place in oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until pork has reached at least 165 degrees and your apples are cooked thorough.
 
     This is a family and friend favorite.  A classic American style dish with harmonious flavor profiles.  The paring of pork and apple is a beautiful sweet and savory combination.  I have made this recipe my own, if you want the original recipe by Rheta Kar, you will have to order the book from the Julian Pie Company yourself! See what I did there, trying to kick some business your way Liz!  If you are an apple addict like I am then you will not be disappointed in your purchase. 
 
     I made this for my new roommates, this was our first dinner together at the house.  Of course I was nervous even though my family loves it.  They had never really experienced the pork and apple combination and were skeptical.  They LOVED it!  The next day at work John had told everyone about it and all my co-workers are trying to order one from me.  So here you all go, here is the recipe, make it and enjoy!  I served mine with butter roasted herb potatoes and sweet carrots.  This will  be sure to impress and pleasantly surprise your guests at your next dinner gathering or pot luck.
 
Love Food, Live Life!