Ups and downs on dining in New Detroit

Is it just me or is this what food in Detroit looks like now?

Is it just me or is this what food in Detroit looks like now?

I’m not a foodie, I loathe that term, but I do like keeping up with the new restaurants in and around the city, and I like trying new things. And let me also say that even though we have a lot of new places to eat, I’ve been dining out and dining well as long as I can remember in Detroit. Family dinners at Fishbone’s and Giovanni’s, outings all across Mexicantown…we’re not new to this, despite writers fancying this place as an experimental playground for up-and-coming chefs.

Sometimes eating out isn’t always the best experience at some of the newer places. It can be tricky to criticize restaurants. For one, I’m not a food critic, and anyone who’s not doing this for a living is never going to be taken quite as seriously. Two, there’s immediate backlash for even thinking of complaining about restaurant service considering how little servers, dishwashers, hosts and other staffers earn. (I tip well, though — let’s be clear on that.) And, of course, criticizing anything in New Detroit is frowned upon by the booster crowd.

But, I’ve got air a few grievances on some service quibbles I’ve experienced lately.

1. Rushing me out the door even when it’s not crowded. Yesterday I had breakfast at Brooklyn Street Local, a fine place that I usually enjoy. It wasn’t a thousand degrees yet, so I ate on the patio. It was also super early, so barely anyone was there. So after I finish up, my server hands me my bill and says “you look like you’re ready to go.” Um, WTF? Didn’t ask if I’d like anything else. Didn’t ask to refill my iced tea. Maybe I wanted to chill out a little more and enjoy the sun? Have to admit I was caught off-guard by that. And yeah, I get it — a restaurant is not your personal lounging place or whatever, but just the assumption that I’m “ready to go” even when I’m not? Come on.

2. Not asking “Can I take your plate?” when you’re done and just taking the plate. It’s happened more than once at some of the newer places. I dunno, I think it’s just bad manners when you just whisk it away from me. (Worse: Constantly asking if I’m done, even when there’s still food on the plate.) Once I was having dinner with a friend at Punch Bowl Social when our server came up to us, said “I can take that from you if you’re done,” dumped my can of fries onto my plate before I could even respond and walked away. Rude much?

3. Generally being a dick about your house rules. Looking squarely at you, Green Dot Stables. So yeah, we’ve got the whole “entire party must be present before seating” concept down pat. I got that. And the “no separate checks in big groups” thing, got it. Annoying, but got it. So I was part of a large group that had hit up Johnny Noodle King and also wanted to go to Green Dot, but none of them were from Detroit and I told them about the Green Dot rule since we were all driving separately. After making them sign a blood oath to arrive at Green Dot on time, lest we face the penalty of death for not being there together, we get there and we’re put in the back patio until a table clears because it’s really packed. And since it’s packed, it’s extremely loud. We didn’t hear the server calling for a group party over the din, until someone looked up and realized he was calling for us. We hustle over to our server, who’s very clearly annoyed that we didn’t hear him over 3,000 drunk people yelling about the Tigers or whatever. He then reminds us that it’s a busy night and we’re lucky to have this table — um, did we ask for all this attitude? On top of that, our table was one chair short of the total number in our party, which meant Mr. Annoyed was even more ticked off when we asked for our missing chair. We did not separate the checks, but of course there was confusion when it came to running the cards for specific charges, as there always is with the one-check rule. Wanna bet that our server was annoyed by that, too? Yup. Bare minimum tips all around.

4. Hovering over the meal waiting for us to be done eating. OK, almost all you new places do this, big and small. It’s not just happening here in Detroit, either. Please stop this.

5. Community seating. Hello, Selden Standard. If I wanted to eat in my middle-school cafeteria, I would. So I had lunch with a friend there and I was praying that we’d get a table, but we got stuck at the community seats in the back with strangers. I’d rather not tussle over elbow space or play accidental footsie with a Grosse Pointe matron when I dine out. The community table is always louder than the rest of the place somehow, making it tough for casual conversation with the person you’re dining with. Bench seating is uncomfortable. And even though lunch was great, I found out way too much about the private lives of the people we were sitting next to. Sorry your sister is stealing money from dead relatives, lady.

6. Asking “how’s the food” three nanoseconds after setting the plate down. Bitch, these noodles are hot! I can’t even taste it without burning my tongue. Lotta places are guilty of this.

7. Reprinting a tab over and over. I see this a lot at the craft cocktail-type places — Wright & Co., Craft Work come to mind as places I’ve seen it recently. So if I order one drink, and you print out the receipt immediately and put it in a little cup in front of me, and you keep doing this every time I order another thing, isn’t that a waste of time and paper?

Now, tipping my hat to some pleasant experiences.

1. Making a good meal recommendation. I love when a server knows their stuff on the menu. I had an excellent porchetta sandwich at Ottava Via, something I never would have considered if my server hadn’t pointed me in that direction.

2. Making accommodations in less-than-ideal dining situations. My friend and I were sitting on the roof of HopCat when it suddenly got windy. Our guy asked if we wanted the shields let down to block the wind. Any other place probably would have asked us to move. (Although it’s insane that HopCat checks your ID at the door, and checks again when you order a drink…)

3. Always being professional during crowded times. La Dolce Vita is not new, but I keep coming back because I’ve never had a bad experience there. All restaurants should aspire to be like LDV. Another friend and I went to brunch there and our host told us they were expecting a huge family party to basically take over the place right around the time we showed up. They sat us anyway out on the patio and said don’t worry about it.

Okay, I’m ready for everyone’s lectures and corrections about working in restaurants!


8 thoughts on “Ups and downs on dining in New Detroit

  1. Mary Ann Gualtieri says:

    Forgot to mention that La Dolce Vita has First Class music! Toty Viola on guitar and Greco Freeman on percussion jazzing it out!!!

  2. Carol Fisher says:

    I hope you reviewed your bill at GDS for your large party. Often times a server will Grat the check and if you didn’t notice or they didn’t inform you of the charge added, you may have double tipped the server.

  3. BETTY SAPUTO says:

    Love the article. Pretty much right on. I would add that I HATE when a waitress …any waitress.. but talking “New Detroit”…the Wright & Co. Waitress says ” do you need change with that?” When taking the bill. The bill was $60 and I gave you a $100 bill!! YES I would like change from that….and her tip went down to 18%

  4. tami f. says:

    I totally second your opinion on LDV – that place makes so much deliciousness, and their staff seem to really know what they are doing. Always appreciated!

  5. ina garten davida says:

    totally agree that “do you want change” is not a classy thing to say. “I’ll be right back with your change” works perfectly.

  6. eebelz says:

    And then there’s the term “New Detroit” in itself…

    Detroit does have a pretty decent reputation for being friendly and hospitable – let’s hope the restaurant community takes note of what you’ve written here, and combines their amazing food with that good “old” Detroit soul!

  7. First and foremost, I would like to be upfront about the fact that I am an employee at Green Dot Stables and have been so for over three years. With this experience, I can say with the utmost confidence that what Green Dot is trying to do is to offer the best dining experience, in other words, to bring back the best things about “Old Detroit,” to the neighborhood. By this, I mean:

    #1: Make good food
    #2: Offer a space for neighborhood drinking, dining, overall having-a-good-time
    #3: Encourage patrons of all colors, creeds, etc.
    #4: Provide jobs for local employees
    #5: Keep prices affordable for ALL

    I can assure you that Green Dot is still all about making these things happen, with immense – and yes, sometimes overwhelming – success. We have become an incredibly popular restaurant, allowing us to do one thing that “Old Detroit” could no longer do; that is, play a part in reviving much needed interest/revenue/investment in this city.

    In order to maintain all the good things about “Old Detroit” – and to succeed in the so-called “New Detroit” – yes, we had to create the Stable Rules that are referenced in your post. We have a small eating space and an even smaller kitchen. In order to ensure that the most people have the greatest experience possible, yes, there are certain formalities our very modestly sized establishment has to enforce. That “wait until all people are here” rule? That’s so two people aren’t taking up a table of 10. A table that could have been used in that time for other people to dine. When tables are half empty, people are kept waiting, which certainly gets in the way of us doing #1 and #2.

    Those “3,000 people yelling at the Tigers game”? Green Dot’s support for the Detroit Tigers – among other Detroit sports teams – is part of the reason that #3 happens. Sports, and I would argue especially baseball, often brings a hugely diverse group of people under the same roof. Not to mention that it is at least in part to these Tigers fans that we are able to do #4. (Not to mention that I thought pride in our home sport’s team is an essential pillar of “Old Detroit,” not something to whine about in your blog post).

    And not hearing your name being called? I’m sorry, we are far more invested in #5 (as well as other things, like providing local, quality ingredients in our food) than a fancy pager/buzzer system a la Buffalo Wild Wings. Maybe you should have been paying closer attention. It’s something you’re typically good at – I’ve read your work on Jalopnik. I know that you know that Detroit is changing. And many of these so-called inconveniences that these restaurants are implementing are their way – even in the face of growing crowds, suburban influx, and longer wait times – of keeping the best parts of “Old Detroit” in their business.

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