I am very much an eating out type as I am a cook, probably more so the former than the latter. My friends and family wonder why I eat out so much, since I know how to cook. I try to give them the intellectual and smart answer: I want to explore different cuisines in order to challenge my palate and familiarize my taste buds with worldly flavors. Sounds good right? I almost buy it myself! But if I were to be completely honest, I eat out because I want to experience great food in an environment that offers me nothing but bliss. I want to be catered to and treated nicely in a pleasing environment. That is not to say I am looking for chandeliers, gourmet ingredients, and servers in tuxedoes, but I strongly believe part of the dining experience, let me correct that, the best part of the dining experience is knowing once you go to a restaurant there is a certain expectation in certain areas -food taste, service and physical appearance of the venue- that will be met each and every time you enter through the doors of that particular establishment. I thought it was a well known fact that once you call yourself a restaurant the goal is to try to deliver on the aforementioned categories to the optimum in a way that fits your theme and customer expectations. Hence, why it behooves me that most Haitian restaurants fail in almost all of those categories, yet expect to be successful.
If there is one category where we actually gain some points, it would be here. However, that is not to say you will get the same consistent taste on Monday that you received the previous Thursday. Haitians (for the sake of this article, we will stick with them as the subject, after all, this is the Haitian Times), have this very prideful attitude when it comes to pretty much any task, job or endeavor. They feel that if someone else is doing it, so can they. Which in itself is not a bad attitude: it encourages and reinforces self esteem in us as a people. However, this also can create a lack of respect for a profession or someone’s expertise. And I think this attitude is what prevails in the kitchen of most Haitian restaurants. Many Haitians are great cooks, yes! But it takes a whole different type of skill sets and talent to be a “chef” at a restaurant. Cooking techniques for cooking in mass quantities or for cooking food that will be partially prepared and finished off later, are very different then those used in the home kitchen. In order to ensure food taste and quality is consistent, it is essential we learn the proper preparation techniques and the art of a recipe. We need to learn how to design and execute recipes for our meals, especially at a restaurant, so that no matter what chef, cook or person steps into the kitchen, that the food will be consistent and the taste will remain the same. For a restaurant, your taste is your brand, if you start being ambiguous on the brand, then you will not be able to maintain a lasting impression.
As Haitians like to say, Zero Ba in this department. How many times have you heard a friend say speaking of a particular restaurant, “oh my god, the food is good, but mounn sa yo maletve.” Some of the nicest restaurants have lost my business because of bad service. What many Haitian restaurant owners don’t understand is that, people don’t simply dine get their bellies full. At time, they are looking for a pleasing place to relax, have a meeting or pass the time. Thus, it is essential that the service is on point. When I say service, I mean in terms of how food is served (please make sure that your servers know proper serving protocol and techniques), and how customers are treated. When it comes to people in the service industry, my motto is this: I don’t care if your boyfriend/girlfriend just left you, your sad because of a death in the family, or you are going through some other trial, leave it at the door, or don’t show up to work! We are all humans, and we all can understand people can be going through some hardship and perhaps not be in the best of mood, but courtesy should always reign supreme. And many servers lack courtesy and general people skills. If a customer asks you for something, it is not simply because they want to bother you, and even if they do, it is your job to cater to them regardless. I went to this restaurant the other day and a customer was blocking the path of the server, rather than simply say excuse me, she shoved him to the side. I was horrified! Many people will go to a restaurant knowing the food is not that great. But if the ambiance is great and the staff is friendly, people may not mind spending their money there (assuming the food is not absolutely horrible).
Again, as mentioned above, people are not simply eating to curb hunger anymore, which is why it is becoming even more important that establishments create a pleasing environment for their patrons. My friends and I are always scoping out a new restaurant or another, but the ones that we keep going back to, are those that create a comfortable atmosphere. Comfortable environment in terms of seating cleanliness and décor. Things such as dust on the ceiling fans are noticeable by patrons. Dirty bathrooms, cracked floors, or fake flowers on the tables are no longer acceptable by most diners. We notice and we don’t like it. People have options in terms of where they can eat. Haitians are becoming ever more open to alternate types of cuisines, thus it is vital that Haitian restaurants find new ways to maintain their Haitian clientele as well as attain non-Haitian clientele. Today, I went to a Thai restaurant on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, and I probably spent a total of $13 for an appetizer and an entrée. Not only was the pricing great, with that I got to sit in a beautiful, clean, and comfortable restaurant full of smiling waiters and waitresses that watched my water glass like a hawk ensuring it never went below half. Such an experience is priceless! Especially at $13
Nadege Fleurimond is the owner & business manager of Fleurimond Catering,
You may write her at [email protected]