A Foodie’s Life after Covid

Welcome to a rebranding of The Montreal Foo Foodie’s website post Covid

You have to agree that lots has changed since 2020. The shut down of Quebec restaurants off and on for the last two years has made it difficult to write any reviews. Restaurants worldwide took a hard hit during the pandemic and Quebec was no exception. It has been only been four months since the re-opening of restaurants in La Belle Province. Many have closed due to bankruptcy and many are still having a difficult time surviving. Exacerbated by the high cost of food, gas, rent and the lack of manpower. It seems unfair to give anyone more grief by giving them a bad review. We are all trying hard in these difficult times.  If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be kind. The hospitality industry is also going through a sort of rebranding. This week, most of restaurants I tried booking require a credit card deposit to secure reservations. Some have put into place tasting menu for groups 6 and over. Some are keeping their reservations to 6 and under. Restaurants have had no choice to stop the bleeding after two years of severe losses and implement rules that would benefit them. My goal when I started writing this blog in 2014 was to call out those restaurants that did not have good standards and promote those that were above standard. Covid had changed all the rules. Reality is a harsh critic and some things are beyond our control.  I will leave it up to the Michelin guys to give out the hard knocks, especially now that they have arrived in Canada. My standards and criteria still remain the same and if you are going to be competitive in this field restaurants still have to aim for that high bar. The only reviews you will see occasionally on this blog are those that are a worth a favorable mention. I will still call out on the delinquents with my anecdotal sarcastic humor and biased opinion, of course.  Reviews will be based on overall ambiance & décor, food quality and price, service and originality.  My take on Montreal’s food scene will be different moving forward, with a combination of recipes, food writing and historical perspectives on Montreal restaurants of the past mixed in with my humorous anecdotal adventures that only I seem to experience.

Now, because today is all about being kind to people in the hospitality industry.  It’s not always the restaurants that are in the wrong. Sometimes it is also the clients. I always try to be polite, friendly and diplomatic. But there have been times when I have lost my cool.  I can think of a several times like the time at La Sapiniere when the waiter dropped a tray of mimosa’s all over my white Dolce & Gabbana outfit. The time at L’Ancestral, when one of our guests, who was recounting some hair-brained story with her hands, hits the waiters’ tray carrying hot coffee. Starting a Cirque du Soleilesque balancing act for the waiter, to which we all laughed hilariously…not kind.

The time a restaurant split a peanut butter and foie gras sandwich four ways and charged us twice on the bill for each person. Not willing to remedy it because their point-of-sale system was coded that way. Which is still a practice at their new restaurant (Name undisclosed at the time).

The fiasco at Da Emma’s, where the maître d’ never told us they did not take debit cards, then called me a liar in front of my guests and refused to split the tab. There have also been numerous times, I got very sick on a meal, minutes after stepping out of the restaurant. Seriously, this can kill someone who is old or immune compromised.

But many times, it is the patrons themselves who are difficult. Keep in mind, a restaurant is a business, it is “in business to make money”. It is a well-oiled machine that has its own rules and functions. The higher up on the echelon the restaurant is the more complicated it gets. Your meal is made to perfection from people who are highly skilled in the industry and have mastered the art of fine dining. You pay for what you get. Restaurants are not the Mission Brewery dispensing free food. So, costs are factored in not only for the food, but rent, cost of employees and that Executive chef who has gone to culinary school. They will go out of their way to make it a pleasurable experience to have you coming back. If they don’t, you can always go somewhere else. You have a choice.  But if you insist on complaining, then do it kindly.

Restaurant Etiquette 101

Eating out is supposed to be fun. The majority of diners would rather walk away from a bad restaurant experience and not return rather than complain and cause a fuss. Some patrons just love to cause a fuss even if everything is done right, these people are called chronic complainers.  It is a restaurants or waiters’ obligation to ask you if you liked your meal. Especially if, they notice that you have not touched your meal.  Restaurants appreciate feedback, whether they appreciate negative comments is another thing.  My experience in some high-end restaurants is that sometimes it is better to keep quiet especially if the chef is a bobble head. Any comment that gets back to the kitchen will bruise his ego and not be received well or constructively.  Always compliment without fail if you have enjoyed your meal. It is the right thing to do. In case, there are table tensions or any misgivings to what is correct here is a simple guide to help you diffuse situations.

  1. Late or No reservation– Always make a reservation if you want to be guaranteed a table. If you have none and show up, be prepared to get turned away. Do not beg for a table, or slip the hostess a ten-dollar bill, it looks tacky. If you arrive between-15-20 minutes late and they have given away your table, politely apologize, give your excuse (usually traffic in Montreal) and ask if they can accommodate you at the bar. You may have to wait for a while till something else becomes available, but don’t pull a shit fit. If you are declined entry, politely walk away, no amount of stress is worth it and there are many restaurants that will be willing to accommodate. This happened to us at a restaurant called Chao Praya in Outremont back in the late 80’s (now defunct). It was a dinner for my husband’s birthday when a couple attending dinner arrived 20 minutes late. Most of us had in fact arrived on time and were told to wait outside by the snobby hostess till all our guests were present. She then preceded to tell us we were 20 min late.  What ensued was begging, a loud discussion and flipping the bird not only to the hostess but the entire restaurant.  We had no choice at that point to walk away and go somewhere else. It was such a bad experience that it remains implanted in my memory some 30 years later.  Just remember that restaurants have different grace periods for how long they will hold a table. You can always call ahead of time if you foresee being stuck in traffic to let them know you are on the way. A big faux pas is to make a reservation and not show up at all, especially for a large group. Always call the restaurant and cancel. This will allow them to book someone else in your place. Do not assume they will not remember you the next time you call. You may get refused; it’s called the blacklist.
  2.  Wait Lines –Some restaurants are really popular and will still have a wait line even when you have a reservation. There are many reasons this will happen. Overbooking is one reason and then there is those first come first served basis restaurants.  Make sure before you leave home, check all your facts.  Many casual and busy restaurants these days are moving to first come first served basis and do not take reservations at all. They chose this method because it is more profitable for them. As for overbooking, restaurants will never admit to it, but they do this in case they have cancellations or no shows. It becomes a vicious cycle because there is no longer any honor system, the restaurant overbooks in response to what the patrons are doing and then the inevitable happens, everyone shows up at the same time. Usually, they will politely ask if you want to wait at the bar. But remember you must order & pay for the drink. It is rarely complimentary.   It is also a way for some restaurants to increase their profits on alcohol. A little shady ya think!  Just remember you will have to factor in the cost into your meal. Always be prepared and bring enough money or make sure your credit card is not maxed out. Another factor that causes line ups is lateness, which leaves restaurants to try to accommodate everyone. Restaurant plan on a turnover for each table to maximize on their profits. Lateness throws off the whole schedule. These days, a good restaurant informs their patrons upon reservation that they have a margin or window of 2-3 hrs to dine, before the second seating.  Which means it is not kosher or acceptable is to sit there all night and expect it to be your living room. If the restaurant is not busy, I am sure they will appreciate you ordering as much drinks as possible and spending the evening there. On the reverse side, being asked if you want dessert 10 minutes before the end of the meal and then expected to gulp it down because they need the table is a misjudgment on their part and very unprofessional. This happened to us at Restaurant Park in Westmount after a $ 350.00 meal. I blamed it on the inexperience of the waitress. We paid our tab but left the hot tea on the table. I have not returned in 10 years and don’t plan to.
  3.  Slow Service- The reason for slow service is usually never disclosed to dinners. But post covid, everyone tells you that it is hard to find staff. Many restaurants have also not re-opened their dinning rooms as of yet, for lack of manpower. I was refused entry at Da Mangione last night by the waitress that said she was not able to accommodate us because she was alone and the restaurant was already at half capacity. She seemed very stressed, but always is and not very chirpy either. We walked away and went further down to a neighboring resto that served pizza as well at half the cost. Many waiters and waitresses who held jobs pre covid just did not return to the industry. Some changed fields altogether as the business became very volatile.  The other reason service can be slow is lack of manpower in the kitchen. Who knows maybe the chef is alone and has a hungover? The sous chef called in sick. Everyone is feeling overwhelmed these days. If you find you are waiting 45minutes to an hour for a meal, just ask the waiter or waitress politely if it will be much longer. Sometimes your order was forgotten.  Sometimes restaurants are aware of this and will give you complimentary appetizer or amuse bouche, while you wait to keep you happy.
  4. Don’t be rude – Just because you have money to dine out, which is a privilege these days does not make you a god and above everyone else. Remember to be humble.  Just because the staff is waiting on you does not mean you can be rude or demeaning. They have chosen this field of work; it doesn’t mean they are unintelligent. Many waiters have gone to special schooling to do this type of job Some do this type of work to put themselves through school or to make extra money. Talking down to them or being rude just makes you look like a jerk. Overly flirtatious behavior is also not called for. Complimenting their looks or big bosom is not polite and downright rude. Also hollering at them when they pass you, tapping on the shoulders or pulling their aprons is not something that will make you look classy. The best way to get their attention is by making eye contact or by putting up your hand, if they happen to be passing your way. You can always say “excuse me”. But if you see they are rushing to another table or are at the table next to you, never interrupt. The other diners are as much entitled as you to get the waiters full attention. So, mind your manners, you are not more entitled than anyone else.
  5. Not on Menu– The rule is if it is not listed on menu do not ask for it. A restaurant weekly menu is based on what they have purchased and what is in stock for the week.  If you are invited to a friend’s home for dinner, do you ask the host or hostess to make you a totally separate meal? If you do, you are being rude and ill mannered. You may let them know that you have specific food allergies.  No one wants you to go into anaphylactic shock and drop dead in the middle of the place. The same rule applies in a restaurant.  If you go to an exclusive seafood restaurant and ask for a steak, they will not have it. There is no point in getting upset and causing a fuss, the error lies with you. Do not assume.  Also, don’t try to change up the dish, especially in a fine dining Michelin starred restaurant, by asking the chef to add this and that. He is not a short order cook. He has much more experience in his craft than you do. His menu is fine tuned and it is an insult and demoralizing to a professional chef to constantly have people try to change his signature dish.  I have a friend who is always on a diet but she insists on eating out. We would go to a fine dining restaurant and she would not only ask to put salad dressing on the side, she wanted the food to be boiled or poached and never sauteed or fried. She would request no carbs whatsoever in her dish.  The list of amendments was so long that I could see the waiter trying to make a run for it.  This behavior is totally obnoxious and unacceptable. If you are on such a restrictive diet, a restaurant is not for you.  Restaurants will go as far as asking you if you want your steak medium or rare. They may substitute salad for fries.  Do not ask a fine dining restaurant to cook your Tuna, Bavette or Filet mignon well done. It is not supposed to be eaten like this. It turns in to rubber. Do not destroy the integrity of the dish and the chef. If you do not know anything about food, but insists you know best, stay home, cook it yourself or just stick with KD-Mac N’ Cheese.
  6. Surprise -You ordered something and your dinner arrives and it is not what you expected. What should you do? Sometimes the waiter will get the order wrong and bring something you did not ask for. Too embarrassed to say anything, if you leave it there and not eat it, you will go hungry.  You will also have to pay for it, which is money wasted.   Many restaurants aim to please, they will take it back to the kitchen. Just ask politely, do not point fingers. You may get a little pull from the waiter. But remember that you will have to wait a little while longer. So, be patient and do not become an incessant nag. It is a bummer when this happens but you cannot expect the restaurant or your dining companions to pay for your error by asking them to wait for your meal to arrive to eat together. You also cannot stress the waiter by asking how long it will take every five minutes. It will come when it comes.  Whoever, error this was it can be remedied. This happened to us last year at the Willows Inn, we were brought a tray of oysters which we didn’t order. It was a surprise to us and to the waitress when we told her we did not order the oysters as we do not eat them. She insisted she heard us say oysters.  To which I replied, “maybe if they would turn down the loud music, it would be conducive to everyone’s hearing”. Yes, I can be sarcastic but straightforward.  The good thing is she took them back and we were not charged. But our relaxing summer lunch in the country on the terrasse was not relaxing or inexpensive at all. It did not produce a cohesive atmosphere for all entailed. I will think twice about going back this summer for a relaxing lunch.
  7. Hating your Meal- There has been many times I did not like my meal. But I am the type to not say anything because I get easily embarrassed. I have a few bites and if it is really bad, I leave it in my plate untouched. This happened to me at Bar George for brunch a few years back. The dish was some sort of eggs benedict with a mushroom sauce, which was just awful. It tasted funky, after two or three bites my stomach started turning. I did not say anything, except to my dinning guests when asked how I liked it. To my total surprise and embarrassment one of the girls spoke up on my behalf to the waiter.  The waiter hightailed it to the kitchen and went directly to the chef. He came back minutes later and informed us “The chef said this is how he makes his eggs benedict, there is nothing wrong with them”. By the way, he no longer works there, but not thanks to me. The best way to handle this is to take one bite and call over the waiter immediately. Tell him gently and politely it is not to your liking and you would like to order something else. Do not eat your meal till there is nothing left on the plate or wait till end of the meal to say it was not good. There are people who do this to deliberately get a free meal. You do not want to fall in the freeloader category.  Restaurants do not want to disappoint you; they will gladly comp you the meal with a valid reason. I knew this one guy cleaned his plate every time, he would even do the scarpetta with his bread.  When asked if he liked his meal, he would say it was the worse meal he ever had. People in the restaurant industry are not stupid. It is like the old fly in the soup trick.
  8. Complaining Effectively– There is an art behind complaining effectively. I can suggest a book called ‘The 7 habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey. It is not a book about learning how to complain but rather focuses on principles of fairness, integrity, honesty and dignity. Habit # 1 be proactive. This means, you must speak up with kindness and fairness from the onset, if something displeases you. You cannot control everything all the time only some of the times. There are many machinations at work in a restaurant, some beyond your control. Humans make mistakes and so do you. It is supposed to be an enjoyable time, not drama time. Nobody wants to get drawn into a Machiavellian scenario in a restaurant. The goal is to eat and get out. But be assertive and low key if something displeases you. Do not be pushy or bossy. Make demands within reason and remember always be kind.



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