To Serve Mankind

This post has truly  become a labor of love for me.  Heck, how can I claim any knowledge in this department when I’m still refining the skills of my own rambunctious, but loveable, 6 year old?  Well, I’m learning, I’m trying, and here I’m sharing.  Please add your own “tips” as necessary.  And remember, this one will be a work in progress, so come back often!

   I know I’ve been all talk…up until today.  AP and I took little Miss Molly to the Olive Garden this afternoon for an education in dining.  And I must say it went well.  I suggest anybody who wants their little one to learn to behave appropriately in any restaurant setting need only practice!  I told Molly as we were walking in that we were going to learn the right way to order, sit, and eat in a restaurant.  She was a very willing pupil.

     We sat down and started to look over the kid menu on the coloring paper they gave us.  Any restaurant that wants to be kid-friendly will have paper and crayons or some little craft to keep your young one vaguely occupied.  The kids menu is often on this freebie.  I strongly suggest use of this handy tool to get them focused on their choices before their attention span for this new “toy” runs out.  (Think about it…how many times have you seen your little one color that paper hard-core for, like, 4 minutes only to put it aside and decide the sugar packets on the table are more fun to play with?)  I went over her choices with her and let her know how to say exactly what she wanted.  By the time the waitress came to take the order, Molly was ready to say her lines!

     Possibly the most helpful tip to teaching restaurant savvy is to keep it simple.  Molly is 6 years old – so she requires a lot of compromise.  We tell her she can order her favorite (this time it was the Cheese Pizza), and that way she is not overwhelmed by too many choices.  As for drinks, we narrowed the selection down for her to 3 choices; lemonade, milk, or juice.  Most servers would automatically go thru the whole list of beverages for your little one, and this creates chaos.  Kid wants coke, mom says milk, whining ensues, not cool.  Little kids do not need and do not do well with too many choices.

     And the cardinal rule for taking your children ANYWHERE…do not take them out when they’re tired or pissy.  Do I really have to say this to any parent?  Yes, I do.  I mean, really.  If you want to enjoy yourself, you know that is so much more difficult to do when your little one is miserable.  And you know that the last thing you want to deal with during your dining experience is someone else’s kids’ crying interruptions.  Although I do consider all front-of-house sales staff to be entertainers, we can only do so much to distract a grumpy little one! 

       Something to keep in mind; if your child is painfully shy, or if they can’t speak clearly, please don’t torcher your server (and your shy youngster) by making them decode your little one’s special language.  It is beautiful that you encourage your young ones to speak for themselves, but we are professionals too and you wouldn’t have your young ones giving orders to the doctor..or a dentist..or your bank teller!

     So that’s it…I’ve racked my brain, and the brain of a few friends, and I think I’m satisfied.  The real proof will be when we take Molly out again.  And in case anybody was wondering why on earth we took her to the Garden instead of Red Robin…well there is just too much excitement there for her to focus on learning etiquette.  She knows most of my co-workers, and they know her, so all she wants to do with them is talk and talk!

     And a very special thank you to Diane, co-owner and our kitchen manager at Sips Bistro.  She sparked my brain with some excellent points and enabled me to round out this post.  I wasn’t kidding when I referred to this post as a labor of love!  Thank you so much, Diane!  You’re awesome!

     Next post should be a lot of fun…bar and restaurant lingo.





{July 22, 2008}   Serving Children

   Hello again!  This topic has been on my mind quite a lot lately, partly because of the MANY kids we serve at The Robin; partly because there is a near-complete lack of children at Sips (naturally); and mostly because I have a super-outgoing six year old who has me cringing whenever we go out to eat.  It’s true, I have been lagging in my duties to teach her proper restaurant etiquette.  But this situation is soon to be remedied…

     So, here I’ll be considering important aspects of serving other’s children.  Part 2, in a few days, will be focused on the other side of the coin – helping our kids become order savvy.  What can I say, it’s just going to take a little extra research.

     Winning over those kids is a huge step in winning over the parents / guardians.  Getting down to eye level and learning their name will not only help the little one warm up to you, it will impress the parents that you are there to take care of everybody’s needs.  Parents want you to treat their kids special – positive attention – so suck it up; love those kids and treat them like they’re your own.  And the real reward is when the parents are coming back regularly because little Johnny wants to see YOU!

     Always, always, always ask before giving a gift to another’s child.  Some might think “what’s the harm”, but truly it’s best to not assume.  Never take the power out of the parent’s hands.  Some parents teach their children to not accept gifts from strangers, and for the most part we are strangers.  Some parents, for safety reasons, don’t want their little ones having stickers, crayons, or other small items.  Just ask mom or dad first, preferably on the “down low”, and you should always be ok.  I’ll never forget the first (and last) time I offered the free kid meal sundae (this was oh-so-many years ago) to a young boy instead of asking his father first.  Oh, if looks could kill…and I couldn’t remedy the situation because it was too late!  If I had only known / realized to ask dad first!

     Never assume it’s ok to touch.  Some kids are so adorable you just can’t help but pinch a cheek or twirl their hair – but resist!  If the little one flatteringly reaches for you to pick her up – ASK!  Again, never do anything that jeopardizes a parent’s full control over that child.  And remember to wash your hands!

     When parents allow their children to order for themselves, give that child  your full attention and treat him as much like the adults as you can (this is obviously dependent on the child’s age).  But, since little Johnny isn’t paying the bill, MAKE SURE that when you repeat the order back to your guests you make eye contact with the parents regarding the young one’s order.  It is frustrating and inefficient to have a milkshake order come out that never should have been ordered, or extra appetizers, or whatever.

     Never, ever show judgement or disdain to your guest no matter how much time they are taking trying to get their little angel to chose between american or cheddar cheese; lemonade or chocolate milk.  Be patient, keep smiling, keep breathing, use the Sullivan Nod when taking the order to cut down on indecision. Sometimes it can get ridiculously frustrating, which is why i’ve decided this topic has to be seen from both sides of the coin.

     My fellow servers, please let me hear from you!  What other helpful tips do you have in regards to serving children?  I’m always looking to improve in this area!  Sound off!




Ok, I know I said my next post would be about kids…but I’ve changed my mind.  I have got to put that off for now (I have been preparing for that subject, tho, and I may have to split it up into 2 posts to keep it from being too long.  We shall see) and talk about our weekend in the historic gold rush town of Murphys.  It’s located in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County…any Mark Twain fans in the house?  Yep, this little foothill town has a main street crowded with all the typical historic CA town shops; the candy shop, antiques, books, art galleries, the saloon, the cafe, the hotel / restaurant.  What makes Murphys different from the rest of the gold rush style CA towns are the frogs and the wineries!  Oh, yeah!

     It’s been about 5 years since our last trip to Murphys (not counting the Easter we took Molly to Ironstone only) and I was happy to see the frogs and the wineries were the only changes in this quaint gold miner town.  There are about 20 tasting rooms along Main Street alone.  There were several new tasting rooms in town; Vina Moda, Frog’s Tooth, Newsome-Harlow, and Bodega Del Sur were the newbies we visited and all were quite remarkable.  And of course we had to visit our old favorites – Stevenot, Zucca, HATCHER, and Twisted Oak are stops we always make.  And then there’s the frogs.

     Placed strategically thruout the town we noticed these…frog statues, each an original piece of art.  Some were beautiful, some were ugly, all were unique.  Apparently, a few years ago the town of Murphys wanted to raise money, comissioned artists to create these individual pieces and auctioned them off to various contributors in the area.  (If anybody has more info on that, please feel free to comment – I know my story is kinda half-assed)  We saw the frogs outside several businesses along Main.  We saw a frog in somebody’s front yard!  We saw the most TWISTED frog outside of Twisted Oak’s Winery on Red Hill Road (we din’t go to the Wisteria House tasting room along the main street so I don’t know if they have a frog also).  His name was “Fricken” and he was UGLY!!  It was a cross between a frog and a rubber chicken, frog shaped but yellow and bumpy with a crown and a beak.  We have 2 pictures of it, but unfortunately neither are particularly appropriate for posting.  Go figure.  But the statue fit their winery perfectly, as you know if you’ve been there.  The rubber chicken theme saturates the grounds, and is always good for a laugh.

      So, back to the wineries.  I did a lot of .. research .. that day.  It is my business, after all!  We, well I, tried wines at all 8 stops listed above, plus Ironstone.  They were all kind hosts and now for the honorable mentions…they are the reasons you should go to Murphys.

     Vina Moda, I believe, is the baby of the bunch.  Their tasting room is located at the far end of Main (by Jones I think), just past Clarissa the donkey.  Yep.  When you walk by she brays loudly and scares the hell outta you.  Locals tell me her hubby, Clarence, just died and she has been quite lonely.  She talks to everybody who walks by.  I had to mention Clarissa because Vina Moda actually named their red table wine in honor of her!  They do make some awesome wines, and have already won awards for the best white wine in the Sierra Foothills!  My favorites were the Viognier and the Barbera.  And our host, Kirsten, shared her story with us…4 partners, but just 2 were there at the time.  She and her hubby the winemaker have been spending all their time at the shop trying to get their dream off the ground.  I admire their determination.  Cheers to you Vina Moda!  I hope your tasting room is filled with visitors daily!  And thanks for the tasting book – I used it all day! – but it’s under construction

     Zucca may be my favorite tasting room.  It’s in a basement, so it has this mildly musty smell, but not too heavy because it’s still well ventilated.  The temperature is perfect for the wines and the guests alike!  The hosts are always full of stories.  I believe Carol Zucca was pouring wines last time we were there.  This time a sweet lady, Tasha poured and told us the story of the frogs I wrote about earlier.  They always have free cheese and chocolate (AP’s favorite part has got to be the food pairing tastes!) and I hear they have fresh strawberries when they’re in season.  I must have tasted 6 wines down there.  The Barbera and Syrah were beautiful…and they make a pleasant Chardonnay and Rosato that are worth checking out.  So go check them out!

     When we walked up to the Frog’s Tooth tasting room, the first thing I noticed was the sign on the door Welcoming the children who may be accompanying their parents and letting them know that Grandma Sue will be happy to come out and play with your little ones in the “Frog Pond”.  Sue and her husband, Gary, are the owners and were pouring for us on Sunday.  Basically, Sue loves to sit outside on the patio with your little ones in a little toy area they call the Frog Pond.  We will be taking Molly to play with Grandma Sue next week when we go back with the kids.  Their wines were consistently awesome.  The Marsanne–YES!  The Barbera–YES, YES!  (Hmmm, Is that my 3rd Barbera mention?)  The Tempranillo–Oh Yeah!  And I really like that they offer splits.  Half-bottles of wine are so convenient!  I really enjoy switching up wines for each course of a meal – who wants to commit to a middle of the road wine that just “accommodates” your salad, soup, seafood, pasta, or whatever  when you can customize and compliment with the variety granted by half-bottles?  I bought the Marsanne split.  Of course.

     Hatcher’s tasting room is our favorite pit!  You walk in and the walls are a gallery of brother Sewell’s photo art.  His love of family, grapes, and the SF Giants were quite evident.  This is the first place AP and I ever tried/used the stemless wine glasses years ago.  I remember Sewell showing them off, how they could spin and sit at a comfortable angle.  There were about 5 people already in the tasting room when we walked in so instead of interrupting his sales we played with the tasting room dog, Justin.  This slobbery black lab was sweet and playful – even AP who is NOT a fan of dogs, warmed up and was throwing Justin’s tennis ball across the tasting room so he could fetch while I tasted.  Brother Matt has made a dynamite Sauv Blanc – so balanced, so beautiful.  But I din’t buy it because we sell it at Sips and I’d rather support Hatcher via Sips!  Ya know?  The Merlot is very worthy, too, and I don’t typically care for Merlot.  So I guess we could say this one is something special…?

  And the other newbie we loved was Newsome-Harlow.  So glad to find a “new” winery in the area.  Their winemaker used to make wines for Stevenot and still makes wines at Twisted Oak!  He’s also good friends with Hatcher, I’m told.  I guess it’s a tight little winemaking community up there in them hills!  I found the Zin here to be awesomely balanced, and was impressed by the Meritage despite its high percentage of Cab grapes (not generally a Cab fan either).  Gorgeous tasting room, too.  Go see!

     And altho this was our first stop, I’m saving this one for last.  I must mention Ironstone, tho they are not like the other wineries.  I don’t really prefer their wines.  They are very commercial, and I wouldn’t be suprised if my friends out on the East Coast could find at least one of their wines out there.  Perhaps the Symphony Obsession?  The grounds are beautiful and they host many concerts and events out on their lawn, like the aforementioned Easter egg hunt.  I’d like to see Steve Miller Band play there next month… anyway.  Their tasting room is huge.  If you love shopping and wines, prepare to spend here!  They have a full service deli.  You can literally walk into this place and buy an entire picnic lunch–food, basket, red-checkered blanket, wine and glasses!  And then take it out on the grounds and enjoy the beautiful scenery; the trees, the grass, the Sierras, the drunk bachelorette party tumbling out of the limo that just pulled up.  😉  Good times!  They have a museum (more gold rush theme); they have a grounds and cave tour that take about an hour.  We, unfortunately, din’t have time for it on this visit, but will plan it in our next trip.  They have half-bottles!  Gotta love it!  We bought a Chardonnay to go with our lunch. 

     So, it was a beautiful day of research.  And the best part is that it’s only about an hour drive!  Screw Napa!  That’s a 2 to 3 hour drive!  If you love having fun with your wine, I totally recommend a trip up to Murphys.  Stop by and pick me up on your way up the hill!

PS–I had a pic of the rubber chicken tree posted.  Then I tried to post a second pic and jacked up the first.  So, if you want to know what a rubber chicken tree looks like, just ask.

et cetera