Fancy stuff gets a bad rap, I think, for being snooty. And there’s a fine line, to be sure: The point to a fancy night out is to embrace the formality, including certain standards for appearance and behavior. On the other hand, if you feel as though you’re not meeting those standards—and other people judge you for it—then it’s no fun, and frankly, that’s really not a fanciness to be admired. And I think that’s where great service sets itself apart from good (or just well-heeled) service.
So at the restaurant, we’re seated by a young hostess. I sit down by the clean, all-white linens, and she hands me a menu; CCB sits down, and she snatches his napkin away before setting down the menu. It just barely caught my attention—I thought for whatever reason she realized she wasn’t supposed to set the menu on the napkin or something.
A little while later, in between courses, CCB wipes his mouth and sets his napkin down—and it’s black. My brain struggles to compute why he has a black napkin when everything else seems to be white. Are there other black napkins I didn’t notice? Is this some uncharacteristic MoE linen oversight? Did he win a drawing?
He catches me staring and notices the napkin discontinuity. “Oooooh,” he says. “That’s what she was doing.”
I’m like, “What? Why did they give you a black napkin?”
“Because I have black pants on,” he says matter-of-factly.
DUDE. I have never seen that before and it Makes. So. Much. Sense.
(OK, I’m sure many of you are well aware of this little linen ceremony, and you’re thinking, Oh PLEASE, of course that’s what it is. How have you never seen that before? Poppycock. And I could get all defensive and start correcting your grammar and reciting the English monarchs in chronological order, but no: I’m secure enough to know that I’m plenty fancy in many other ways, and yes, the napkin thing totally blew my mind.)
So yeah, MoE has that next-level service going on, but here’s the real touchstone: Our waiter was awesome. He was almost excessively friendly, but laid back and jokey. There was not a moment where we felt judged—not when we chose our wine because it was the cheapest; not when I panicked because I couldn’t identify the colorful mesh-wrapped, ribbon-tied mound on my plate of oysters. (It was a lemon; the mesh kept the seeds in. I know, right? So clever!)
And most of all, we didn’t feel judged for going there specifically to have the $25 Savor Sarasota menu, which is a major discount for that restaurant. The menu was right there up front, and the waiter told us about it, too. (It is a shared pet peeve that some restaurants don’t give you Savor Sarasota menu when you sit down, so you have to request it specially—like a penance for your cheapness.)
I mean, it’s not like we’re not trying. The fun of fancy is to try–not to flaunt your flip-flops in “their” snooty faces, but to make an effort to be a part of something different.
So that’s the thing, I think. I mean, I’m a theater-going, hockey-playing, Shakespeare-reciting, sailor-swearing lover of language, and I think there’s no reason flip-flops and foie gras should be mutually exclusive. But I do sometimes like a fancy experience to go with my fancy food, and I know I’m no cotillion all-star, but you can’t learn good wine unless you get to try it, and you won’t know upscale dining unless you get to experience it.
I have a feeling that all real fancy restaurants understand that this kind of comfort–and not condescension–is the goal of their service. But I want to give a shout-out to their awesomeness anyway: Kudos to the servers who give you full points just for trying.