Make “Nice” The Renewed Normal
This is the second of 6 articles I have been invited to submit for The Chefs of Maine website which provides a free platform for chefs, restaurants, farms, bakeries, breweries, wineries, and distilleries to post information about their businesses, including job listings and events at no cost. It is a service designed to elevate and spread the word about Maine’s dynamic and evolving food scene. I have full discretion over the timely topics I choose to write about and am honored to have been given the opportunity.
Make “Nice” The Renewed Normal
When I started my business, one of my first clients was from Georgia, and I’ll never forget the call I received from him and his wife one day during their visit to Belfast…they said, “Vanessa-when we walk down the street, everyone looks at us and says “hello, how are you. Should we answer them and say “hello” back?”
While it was a genuine question, my initial reaction was one of surprise because as a Mainer, I always thought making eye contact and saying “hi” while passing others on the street was a commonplace greeting. This situation, however, made me recognize just how much we take our “ingrained friendliness” for granted. We waive to complete strangers when they drive down the street as if we’ve known them for decades; we stop to let turtles, ducks, and squirrels cross the road– (even if it takes 15 minutes); we hold doors open at gas stations for the person walking 10 steps behind us because it would be rude to let the door close in front of their face; and in so many other ways we practice random acts of kindness without giving it a second thought because that’s who we are….
So, why is it that our “Mainer manners” outside don’t always follow us into our local bars, inns, restaurants and other businesses? Or perhaps I’m mistaken, and it’s just our friends “from away” that are predominantly exhibiting this “angry August-like” behavior… (just kidding)!
Seriously though, if we’re being honest–I’m sure that we have all been guilty at one time or another of not being “our “best selves” when dining in public. This is an especially sensitive and timely topic with all the residual stress that COVID has caused.
Well, now that inns, restaurants, bars, tasting rooms, and other businesses are reopening, and pandemic-related restrictions are being lifted-we should all consider “making nice our new normal.” This is especially important given how short staffed and stressed many of Maine’s food and hospitality businesses are.
Here are a few examples of situations I’ve observed that illustrate the point I’m attempting to make:
A couple is hungry-VERY HUNGRY-and they are having supper at a local restaurant. The host who just sat them at their table says that the server will be right over-but, despite hearing that, the couple impatiently asks if they can order…this- mind you, is before their bottoms even hit their seats! The host kindly responds: “sure, I’ll send your server right over, and they’ll take your order.” When the server approaches and begins to introduce herself, the couple exclaims “we’re ready to order,” before she gets the last syllable of her first name out of her mouth. Regardless, the “nameless, faceless” server respectfully takes their order.
After 10 minutes of not talking to each other, and staring intently into the abyss of their cellphones, the couple begins the “swivel head” phase of the evening, anxiously looking from left to right in a repetitive motion wondering where their meal is and letting out the occasionally audible sighs for good measure.
Two words- “Be Better.” Two more words- “Chill Out.” Remember-if you want fast food, there are plenty of Arby’s, McDonald’s, KFC’s and Burger King’s on Western Avenue that would be happy to serve you-with no conversation other than to ask, “if you want fries with that.”
The truth is that dining out is going to be a little slower this season due to staffing shortages and other factors, and those of us fortunate enough to enjoy a meal at a restaurant should simply implement breathing practices if we start to feel stressed out for any reason.
A group of friends is psyched to be back out together again after not being able to grab drinks and dinner in over a year since the quarantine began. In celebratory fashion, they splurge on top shelf cocktails, champagne, oysters, lobster, caviar and filet “all day.” Despite their extravagant spending on such a luxurious meal, they act like they’ve fallen on hard times when the check arrives–and leave some paltry gratuity that doesn’t come close to the standard 20%. “Hey ladies and gents-THIS IS NOT A GOOD LOOK. Don’t do it!”
If you have enough money to spend on multiple drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts-you have enough money to tip the staff adequately. Enough said.
A “gentleman” sits at the bar and orders a steak medium rare. He eats all of it but one bite, then motions to the server that his steak wasn’t cooked to his liking and wants the charge taken off the bill.
You can’t make this stuff up, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page- “You ate the whole thing. If you don’t like a dish-take one or two bites and send it back. Don’t consume every last morsel, complain about it, and expect to get it removed from the bill like you won the “D-Bag Lottery.”
When you check into an inn or hotel…try not to morph into a late 70’s rock legend on tour. Breaking furniture and defecating in the trashcan- (as opposed to the toilet) – isn’t covered under your daily room rate– and the housekeeping staff who have more class and dignity than you shouldn’t be forced to clean up after your filth.
If you think the above is hyperbolic, I assure you it’s not. I assisted a team of dedicated housekeepers in their 50s, 60s and 70s who had worked for the same property for decades and was horrified by how some guests left their rooms for them to clean up. It’s not tough-don’t treat the room any worse than you’d treat the house of someone you’re trying to impress on a first date, and you’ll be all set!
Oh—and if you’re someone that doesn’t leave a gratuity for the housekeeping team in your room upon checkout, we can’t be friends.
You’ve decided to visit Maine post-COVID in a season that’s shaping up to be one of the busiest on record. This makes those of us in Maine’s food and hospitality universe very happy. However, we beg those of you acting as if the pandemic never happened to “cease and desist!”
Despite the fact that the face mask requirements have been lifted-some businesses still require customers to wear them while entering for the time being. As such, please don’t embarrass yourselves by wearing them under your nose and mouth like a chin diaper, or on your head citing the literal definition that you are in fact “wearing a face mask.”
“Passive – Agro” was so Pre- COVID! And, choosing to “make nice the renewed normal,” is a much better approach to “living your best life.”
I am no authority on any of these situations. Nor do I presume to represent anyone in the hospitality world other than myself. I’m just a Mainer with an opinion who has traveled the state extensively, eating and drinking at hundreds of bars and restaurants-and observing the behavior of my fellow lodgers, drinkers, and diners- (as well as my own).
I have already seen numerous proactive pleas in anticipation of the busy season from dozens of chefs, bartenders, restaurant owners, caterers and others asking for patience and understanding as they wade back into the uncertain waters of reopening at full capacity. They are excited to welcome us all back, yet understandably nervous about what lies ahead.
I hardly think it’s asking too much of us to do our part to be kind to others.