Two households both alike in Dignity….
I have as many of you know, been all over this little world a few times and something I have done in every location I was fortunate enough to visit was eat. I love eating. Eating is a marvelous activity that allows one the chance to be exposed to an integral part of some country or cities unique little culture.
Now, I love a good home cooked meal be it Roast beef and potatoes, schnitzel and Käsespätzle or Kimchi nabe. I also however, love to dine out.
On the topic of dining out, I can say with confidence that the two most impressive cities I have been to thus far are New York and Tokyo. No other locations, including Paris, Los Angeles, London or Berlin have anything that can aid them if they choose to climb into the ring with the big boys, Tokyo and New York. The best of the best in terms of food preparation and overall culinary style seem to flock to these two locations and it shows both in the potential selections of places one can eat as well as in the price for a nice meal out.
What I want to address today though, is customer service. To do this I will be reviewing a few points that comprise customer service and the dining out experience in general and then I’ll throw together some feeble and pretentious ranking systems based on nothing other than my own silly and narrow-minded opinions and call it the word of god almighty.
I am going to babble about the following: Reception, The order, The mid meal service, The check and tipping, The broad spectrum.
When I first walk into a restaurant I want to feel welcome. In this, the Japanese simply crush the competition.
Everything from very high-end eateries to very affordable ramen shops employ very similar tactics in Japan. On entering the shop one is greeted by shouts of Irrashaimase!! which means “welcome”. This shout is often started by one worker and then repeated by the rest of the staff.
You are greeted immediately and either shown to a table or taken to a place to sit and wait. All communication is occurring in a very polite way and even the gestures and body language are polite and subdued, subservient. Hmmm…Subservient style in the Service industry? Good luck finding that in the Big apple. To have someone smiling, bowing, apologizing for asking you to wait 5 minutes, bowing again then coming back to take you to your seat while somehow bowing and walking and apologizing for inconveniencing you is tough to top.
Juxtapose that with either the nasal drone from a “hostess” at a mid-range bistro in Midtown East “uhhh yeah it’ll be about 1 minutes so please wait outside.” Ewwww. The its “Yeah Mr.$%^#?? Come on your tables all set.” Again: Ewwwww. It doesn’t seem to get much better when things get more expensive, just more pretentious. In terms of reception Japan wins.
The little wet towels you get on being seated are nice too. Hot in the winter and cool in the Summer.
Ah… Japan and it’s wacky plastic food. I remember when a friend of my, Jo-Anne visited Tokyo and the two of us went stumbling around Shinjuku for hours just getting into mischief she remarked in her own very particular style that “God damn someone is making a fortune on plastic display food in this country.” Well said.
Ordering in Japan frankly is a little bizarre. At most restaurants be it in America or in Japan, that serve something beyond a Waffle House type menu, the waiter or waitress is likely going to tell you about specials etc after being seated.
In Tokyo this is a lot like having a Member from “Alvin and Chipmunks” come and jabber at you the whole time gesticulating annoyingly not unlike some deranged new age dance major. It is in fact, horrible. All I want here is my drink and I can do without the metro sexual babble fest.
Ordering at a mid range place in the States can have ups and downs for many reasons. Sometimes the staff are distracted. Sometimes they are bored. Sometimes rude. But at least I know I am talking to a human being at not some Demonic Android.
That is the Culture at many of the places in Tokyo. Super high whiny voice and absurdly effeminate “god forbid I be a masculine waiter” gestures.
Next….forget about trying to get something that is not on the Menu. Asking for an adjustment to the dish you want to order or trying to get something that is not printed on the menu is simply too much akin to asking if the Waiter will give you, perhaps, a hand job. The entire situation freezes. The Machine breaks down momentarily and when it finally lurches forward again you will likely be dealing with several staff members mumbling and bumbling around discussing how you have requested that your pasta simply NOT have white sauce on it.
In the end, after 25 minutes of U.N. like resolutions and concerns addressed and deals done your original waiter will come back and explain that your request is actually “Impossible.”
Here the USA stands up and does a really impressive double biceps pose showing its guns in the international food service industry. I would say the majority of the time you can order pretty much anything in any concoction or combination you can come with and, somehow that restaurant will get you something very near your desired item.
You will likely engender hatred amongst the staff and the cook/chef in the back is probably telling the waiter to put drain-o in your after dinner Latte BUT….you are probably going to get that special something you felt so entitled to order. In terms of Ordering “I was born in the USA.”
A note here: Ordering in The South East in the States is pure enjoyment. For example Charleston South Carolina. Those people know customer service and they know how to eat. “Spago’s” it is not, however the soul food runs deep and its fabulous.
The Mid Meal Service
This is tricky because it is largely contingent upon your own tastes. Since this is my article we will be addressing my tastes…yours…no longer matter.
It’s Mid meal and your eating and talking and its all pretty decent. You have eaten all the bread though and want some more along with another glass of wine.
In the states now I would be either A: Immediately helped by the ever present waiter who is hovering just behind me out of sight but essentially stalking me or B: I would be alone. Isolated. Unable to make contact and would have to resort to either the use of a flare gun to get help or I would starve to death. I know that these are the two extremes and that often one can find a happy medium someplace…but I never do.
It is always all or nothing. Story of my life, even at an Italian restaurant in Boston or a fist fight in Kabukichou.
In Japan however they are employing two very good systems. One is the presence of a little button on the table. Press it and Voila, service. This works and works well. I am sure they have this in the States at some places but it is EVER PRESENT in Japan. And if it isn’t there it is culturally OK to employ option number 2: Yelling.
I have reflected with friends that in a society so concerned with “Wa” or the surface appearance and peace of everything, in a society in which the early morning super busy rush hour train is silent like a grave, that I can still yell “EXCUSE ME!” in a restaurant, at the top of my lungs and, that’s totally fine. The end result, in Japan you can always find a waiter. Mid meal goes to Japan.
The Check and Tipping
Getting the Check, at a decent place anyway, in Tokyo is not unlike getting it in New York or where ever. You ask and it comes. The differences occur as the place gets less expensive and at family style places or very “modestly priced eateries” they simply put it on your tables whenever they feel like it,
This often means “Time to go buddy.”
This Often means “Sayonara whitey. ”
In that respect I prefer the States.
One thing however that drastically tilts this entire article in Japans favor is TIPPING.
I hate it.
Like most Americans…I had no problem with it before and I was in fact, a good tipper. But now I have spent 6 years abroad in a country with NO tipping system and guess what? It is BETTER THIS WAY.
Giving tips is nothing short of extortion. I always love to read peoples rants and raves at how expensive dining out is in Japan. Well…just go ahead and subtract between 15-2o percent from your bill then re-evaluate that statement. Ahhh…now it doesn’t seem so bad.
I know all the arguments. “Servers do not get paid much so they depend on tips.” Right. Got it. Get a new job. Or better yet get together and do something about your SHIT wages instead of being bitter and horrid to customers who have already paid, yes PAID FOR the meal. Not only did they pay for the meal but included in that, they paid for your wages. So in fact you are asking them to pay AGAIN. It should be illegal.
And…what happened to 11%. I am fairly certain that when I was in high school 11% was the appropriate tipping percentage. Nowadays its 2o%. What the hell happened?
Look at this bill.
This is a real check from “Nello’s” In New York City. I know…Holy shit. But hey if you have it, you can spend it. My problem, my beef, my rant is the absurd 2o% gratuity charge. So these people go out and have a hell of a good time and drop $4o,ooo at this place. Then they have to pay off some guys car loan with a seven thousand dollar tip?
Tipping is outdated and ridiculous. Japan wins by a LANDSLIDE HERE.
Note, I got the receipt photo from a really decent little blog called Waiter Rant. You can check out the full post there and look around, it’s a fun site.
The Broad Spectrum
I would be hard pressed to choose a winner or loser here. The big reason is that although Tokyo cuisine has become very international and genuinely impressive, often I still feel that the culture of service and design that the Japanese obsess over sometimes intrudes upon the food itself.
Japanese food is amazing obviously, as are Japanese renditions on Italian favorites as well as French dishes that are very popular here. While I think that by and large The French food I have encountered is on par with anything I have encountered in France, the Italian still could use a little work. German food here is far, far behind the real thing and Mexican: Forget about it.
Due to Americas dynamic multiculturalism we simply have more exciting and diverse food choices and it shows. It seems though that what Japan might lack in diversity ,and something is seriously lacking, it is made up for in obsession to detail, even if those details are Japan originals as opposed to the original countries tried and true methods.
I can say however, that dining out in Tokyo is a wonderful experience and one that should not be missed by those that are visiting or those that live here. Get out and try something new.