I’m glad I held off on writing about French servers at any length until I was done with the trip and have actually left France. I touched on it a bit when I compared #38 to Mr. “Un Chapeau”, but there is a much larger story to tell. In general the simplest places were the best experiences, like our stop at the crêperie in Montmarte. We made every attempt to not let the fact that we both work in what I consider one the top service restaurants in the business get in our way of giving French servers a fair shake. I accept the fact that things just happen on a more casual pace in general and that part I rather enjoyed. I understand that the tables are really close to each other because space is at a premium and that doesn’t bother me a bit. Even so by about day 12 of the trip CJ and I both had reached the conclusion that as a general rule, the service at anything other than to top tier of French restaurants is likely to pretty much suck. And face it, we can’t afford the 400 euro dinners so we have been pretty much subject to whatever we wind up with from a service standpoint.
Interestingly, it sucks in varying degrees and with varying formulas. There is the flat out “I don’t give a crap about you” that we got with #38. There’s the “I know you want your check but I’m just going to make you wait because I’m having fun withholding it and I’m eating my lunch” that we got at the famed Robert et Louise. There’s the “I’m smoking a cigarette on the street in front of the restaurant while you sit in the café” that we got nearly every time we ate outside. There’s the “I brought you the wrong entrée but I didn’t notice it until you already ate half of it because I never came back” that we got at an otherwise lovely Brasserie in Montmarte. And then there’s my personal favorite, “For sure there is no champignon in the dish at all Monsieur” only to have me served a dish with mushrooms in it… on three separate occasions (I have a mushroom allergy).
Welcome to a world where people don’t have to work for tips, my friends! I’ve said it before a million times. Working in a restaurant is the purest commission job in the world and the results work. You may not always get the benefit of getting a great tip for giving great service but as a guest you will definitely suffer if your servers don’t have the benefit of making more money for doing a better job.
That being said, day 14 was a flat out win from a service standpoint. We lunched at a little place in Montparnasse at the end of a narrow street lined with food vendors. I figured go where they sell the food and that’s where the locals will eat. We sat outside in the shade even though it was a bit cool. A gentleman quickly brought us English menus and went over the specials in his form of Frenchglish while pointing them out on the chalkboard. He definitely communicated well enough. The food was amazing, one of the best meals of the trip. CJ had a steaming “pot” of Beef Bourginon. I had a delicious piece of whitefish with a Provençale sauce and saffron rice. I of course asked if my fish dish had any mushrooms. His reply, “I’m not sure but I will check.” That’s refreshing! Someone who actually cares whether or not I might die. I’m liking this guy pretty well at this point. The tone was conversational, attentive, downright pleasant. We had thought about coffee after the meal for a jolt but declined saying we might want to nap instead. After that he brought us two complimentary shots of house rum flavored with vanilla and fruits and our check saying in his thick French accent, “Zis will helps you wiz your nap…no mushroom too!” Now that’s what I’m looking for: a little personality.
We dined at a pretty casual place with a typical French brasserie menu in our neighborhood just a up the road on Rue de Grandes Boulevardes. We just wanted some Poulet Roti (roasted chicken that actually is chicken) and maybe some soup. We had already packed and CJ was wiped out partly from the packing, partly from having a bit of a cold, and partly from the energy of her catacomb visit earlier that day. This server was amazing. She ran what looked to be about 20 tables with as many as 50 guests in her area at once. When she wasn’t actively buzzing around her guests she was on the sidewalk, no not smoking, but rather recruiting guests who were looking at menus written on the chalkboards. We had mentioned that CJ was a bit under the weather while our server was squatting at our tableside and she affectionately stroked her arm and brought her some tea. At one point she carried out two full size oval trays at the same time, each with five entrée plates, both hoisted over her head through a tight space. Did I mention she was all of 5 foot 5 inches, adorable, and had the body of a Victoria Secret model? Pretty amazing. A bit later CJ complimented her on her work and she leaned in and kissed her on the right temple and said Merci. Wish I had thought to make the compliment first. Wink and smile emoticons implied.
Fourteen days, about 40-some meals, over a dozen memorable food experiences, three attempted murders via mushrooms, two home-cooked dinners by a French Villa housekeeper and on the final day, one last stand for French servers everywhere to send me home with a dash of restored faith that not every Parisian server is a #38 and nice people are just nice people. Some of them particularly nice and at the exact right time.