Chef Grant Achatz of Chicago’s Alinea has a great piece in this week’s The Atlantic, focusing on diners’ envy of special dishes sent out by the kitchen. In this case, the special dish wasn’t even any different than what the jilted diner received, it was just plated at the table rather than in the kitchen. And she stormed off in tears as a result.
Now we’ll all agree that diners like to look at the dishes being served at other tables, and there will be times when it appears someone is getting special treatment. And we feel bad, because we all want special treatment. We want the chef to come out and talk to us. We want to try something the chef “has been working on.” We all want to feel special, and when we’re not the recipient of that treatment, it’s normal to be somewhat envious.
Do you expect special treatment? Do you feel left out if someone at an adjacent table is obviously getting something that everyday customers don’t receive? How about if the chef comes out and talks to them, but not you?
I know many restaurants try to make all of their diners feel extra special, but as evidenced in Achatz’s story, even a restaurant that excels at the omnibus VIP treatment can make some sensitive customers feel left out.
It’s funny, I love receiving special treatment, but more when I’m not the reason for that treatment. If I’m with some friends dining at a restaurant where they “know me,” the friends expect I’ll get a special dish sent out or otherwise get the VIP experience. I never expect anything out of the ordinary, and if I do receive it, I’m almost a bit embarrassed. And frankly — and no, I’m not fishing for any type of sympathy here — that silly extra pressure actually makes me anxious.
But when I’m dining with someone else who is the reason for the special treatment — such as a chef — I love it! No pressure, just fun. And there’s something about that fraternity of chefs, where they take care of each other, that just makes more sense. And if the don’t get that VIP care, then they just might have to dash away in tears.