Dean Clough

December 14, 2022

Portico Darwin: Outside Tables and Downside Service


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What better place from which to pass pretentious and privileged judgement on the entire American restaurant scene than New York City?  Because I think we've all experienced, in every location large and small, the overall drop in the quality of service at restaurants.  And something happened here this past weekend that helped me understand why.

Let me start by saying I am foursquare behind restaurants and those that work in them, at every level, full stop.  Some of the most memorable moments of my life have taken place in and around restaurants of multiple ilk, in a variety of locales.  And I was all for doing what it took during the pandemic to keep most of them open.  So it is with respect that I posit:

The service sucks at a lot of restaurants now because they've been allowed to keep their outdoor COVID space, yet can't find the people to properly staff these real estate bounties.

There.  I said it, and I mean it.  I will use Café Luxembourg here in NYC, where we lunched this past Saturday with the jet setting legal mind Geisha Beverly, as the example.  They simply have too many tables to handle. 

Now, let me clear:  when I say f'ing Textbook Upper West Side French brasserie, this place could easily be the posterchild.  Those small, white octagonal tiles.  The nattily attired servers - those working indoors on Saturday were wearing fitted black sweaters over white button-down tops.  All with a buzzing and very happening upscale Manhattan vibe. 

But that's inside.  While our outdoor accommodations were warm, cozy and white table-clothed, it wasn't the same.  And the service we received was not up to snuff, nor up to the spend.  The food was fine, but what I ended up eating was mostly not what I had wanted, and the wine I selected for my never-delivered oysters (a stellar white Burgundy) was completely wrong when all that was delivered to me was my steak tartare (which was excellent). 

I panicked and ordered the French onion soup (also excellent) when the waiter first fessed up that he blew my oyster order.  And the white Burgundy didn't go with that, either.  Yes, my life is indeed a living hell.

Now - the waiter apologized profusely any number of times, and it was all fine.  We had fun, the food was excellent and even our little outdoor hut was classic NYC:  we were flanked by two tables of pretty thirty/forty-somethings, and one table had not one, but two overly-pampered creatures.  For the record, they were French Bulldogs and not the swish women.

But they don't have enough quality people to staff and service all of these new tables outdoors.  From what I saw, this restaurant is easily twice its original size, pre-virus.  I think this is now a post-pandemic problem in a lot of places and it's as bad or worse in SF - where outside tables don't require arctic-ready enclosures. 

So I am no longer certain it is just The Great Resignation as the cause of poor restaurant service.  Perhaps it's also The Great Table Addition?


Loving the travel tips from the Tiburon socialite Rikki Aurich!  She turned me on to MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village and is encouraging a return to The Whitney Museum.  She's not wrong and I will report back.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


On a Killer third album, here are Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Armed Forces.  A lot of great tracks on this, including one entitled "Senior Service", which seems about right for today.

Fun Fact:  in the mid 1990s, David Letterman did his show for a week from The Palace of Fine Arts Theater, and we won tickets to see a taping.  That week, on other nights, the musical guests were Green Day and Elvis Costello, among other heavyweights.

Who were we lucky enough to see perform?  Keanu Reeves and his vanity project band, Dogstar.  Yes, it was as memorable as it sounds.

About Dean Clough