Dear Salty: A while back, my spouse and I made reservations at an upscale restaurant. It was a holiday, so they had two seatings: an early one and a late one. We chose the late one.
For the most part, the meal was great: seated right away, great drinks, wonderful food, attentive service… But one thing bugged me quite a bit. I felt rushed. At the end of the meal, I was surprised when I realized we’d only been sitting for 45 minutes (for a four-course meal). Every time we finished a plate, it was taken away fairly quickly and replaced with the next course within minutes. Even if we tried to “savor” the dishes, they weren’t very large (which is normal for this place), so it wasn’t like there was much to work on.
Of course, we were told to linger as long as we wanted over coffee, but it felt awkward after the first cup (also, neither of us really wanted a second cup or another cocktail). We ended up paying our bill and leaving, feeling a bit unsatisfied.
This wasn’t a cheap evening out. All told, the bill was well over $300 for two people. I would have preferred a more drawn-out experience. Is that unreasonable? Is it okay to tell the waiter that we want to take our time, so it’s okay if the dishes don’t come out right on top of each other?
Wanted To Linger Longer
Your complaint is just as common as its opposite (the taking-too-long, MIA server), ironically. I’m a slow eater myself when I go out, maybe because I do it so rarely. When I get time for that miraculous dinner out, I want to make it last, especially if it’s a fancy, special occasion. If my birthday dinner could physically last a week, I’d be up for it.
So yeah, it’s super frustrating to feel like you don’t have time to enjoy the full experience of a meal out. After all, it’s not just about what’s on your plate—it’s about the ambience, catching up with the person you’re with, etc.
That a $300, four-course meal took 45 minutes is crazy, and definitely disappointing if you were expecting something in the two-hour range. Ultimately, you can’t control how fast or slow your food arrives at your table, but you can definitely make it clear to your server that you’d prefer to eat a leisurely pace. Opting for a later seating—like you did—can sometimes help with this, since there’s less pressure for staff to turn the table over for the next reservation. You can also—as you did—eat a slightly slower pace, if that doesn’t bother you.
The key is to make your wishes clear as soon as you feel rushed, while there’s still (potentially) time for the speed demons in the kitchen to slow things down. If it’s a small plates restaurant, you can say something along the lines of: “It’s alright for dishes to come out one at a time, by the way. We’re trying to catch up with each other and might be doing a lot of chatting.” The server might not have total control over when the kitchen prepares a certain dish, but at least she could let them know you want the courses staggered.
If you’re at a restaurant where food is served in the standard first course, second course, etc. way, your best chance to speak up is as soon as the “rush” sets in. If you get your appetizer the split-second after you order drinks, you can speak up then with a polite “Oh wow, that was fast. We’re actually trying to catch up a bit and enjoy these drinks, so it’s alright if the kitchen wants to take longer with the main course.” (“Enjoying these drinks” hints that you might be slower eaters who will order more booze, a win for the server and restaurant’s bottom line.) Again, no guarantees they’ll respect your wishes, but that’s pretty much your only shot at preventing the tornado-meal situation.
If at the end of the meal you’re not satisfied with the pacing, it’s fair to let a manager know. Maybe it will slow things down in the kitchen on a future visit, maybe you’ll get a voucher for another meal, maybe it won’t do diddly squat, but at least you’ll have said your piece.
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