Just to change the subject, what about really GOOD service?
I don't mean they did a perfectly nice job. I don't mean you had a nice time. I mean you walked out of the restaurant and one of the things that crossed your mind was, "jeepers, now that is what service is really about!"
I have two examples, to set the bar very, very high:
Roan Kikunoi, Kyoto
An informal, basically lunch-oriented kaiseki restaurant run by Murata Yoshihiro, chef-author of Kaiseki. Bill was $75 per person, plus sake (inexpensive -- maybe $25 for the bottle), tax included, tipping forbidden. I ate with my wife, who speaks fluent Japanese but is blonde and blue-eyed (the point being, everyone assumes we don't speak a word of Japanese).
First, we walk in and are taken to the bar, where twos are always seated unless they request otherwise (if you ever go to a serious kaiseki place, sit at the bar if you can!). I notice that the older chef behind the bar immediately reassigns his guys so that the man standing in front of us is someone who speaks really bad English -- which is more than anyone else behind the bar speaks of English. My wife politely chats, and it soon dawns on them that Japanese is OK, which is a relief.
Food happens quite magically. We finish a dish, and there's a polite pause before the dish is removed, tidily and precisely, by one of the chefs behind the bar. (They seem to rotate stations throughout service.) Note that this is not a sushi place: they do not cut things behind the bar, but only finish plating. Chatting with the chefs happens a lot, and they are charming and entertaining, as well as deeply informative about the food, which is extremely complicated.
When the sashimi course arrives, the very young chef tells us what the two fish are, but we don't know one of the names (it's a local Kyoto term unused elsewhere in Japan). He doesn't know other terms. The older man, down the bar, says, "that's katsuo [bonito]." I remark to my wife, "funny, it doesn't look like katsuo -- must be a different cut."
The same older man, who speaks very little English indeed, pops down the bar and says, slightly flustered [in Japanese], "oh no, sorry, that's not katsuo, it's baby hamachi, which here in Kyoto we call XXX [I forget the local word, to be honest, which only applies in September, so I didn't try to memorize it]." We laugh and enjoy our food. Next course comes, and it's a few slabs of beautifully prepared katsuo. I say in an undertone to my wife, "now that is katsuo," and the older man, back at the other end of the bar, laughs loudly and says, "yes, right, that's katsuo, sorry about that!" I know, you had to be there, but it was funny, and we and he were having fun. So were others at the bar. Note also that he was paying close attention to everything his guests were saying -- every word.
This whole chatting, entertaining, informing, whatever process goes on for 9, count them 9, courses.
We emerge, stuffed, from the dining room. We go to pay the bill in a little alcove for the purpose, and that same older man comes to say thank you and goodbye. It dawns on me that this is Murata Yoshihiro, the 3-star Michelin chef who runs this place. The guy cracking jokes about katsuo and the like. When was the last time Daniel Boulud served your food?
Chef Murata bows us out and politely suggests that we should come back in a few weeks when some more interesting fish will be really fresh.
Same deal -- kaiseki, at the bar. But this is dinner, full-bore, not casual. Final tally is about $350, including fancy sake and a truly epic dinner for two.
Here's a step-by-step description, with photos.
Throughout the meal, we see almost nobody but Chef Tanigawa Yoshimi. He entertains, serves, charms, does everything. He takes our coats, gives my wife a blanket for her knees (it's December), bows us out, calls us a taxi personally, introduces his wife as we leave.
The finest service I have ever had was sitting at bars. The chefs served us personally. The chefs made enormous efforts to entertain, charm, and inform us. They also worked to make us feel that we were honored guests in their homes.
To me, this is what the very best service is about.
Now you tell your stories of good service!