Last weekend I had a dim sum breakfast at the Chinese Cultural Plaza with a couple of friends and got so pleasantly lost in the experience of it all. As I sat there and watched them break every rule of so-called “better food service” I marveled at how efficiently busy they were. The place was clearly a goldmine.
The restaurant was one small square room with about a dozen tables and 4 times as many chairs at the most. The kitchen was beyond the back wall, and along two others the waiting/bussing stations and supply counters were in plain view. Nearest the entry door was a bakery counter serving both the seated customers and a bustling take-out business. The 4th wall was nearly all plate glass window looking out into a courtyard, and I soon noticed that it wasn’t really to give the seated patrons a view out, but to give the patiently waiting regulars a view in whenever a seat became vacant — including at tables already seated with other parties who didn’t fill all the chairs. I don’t think I’ve ever been at another restaurant where so many single diners arrived to eat, fully knowing they’d be seated in the company of strangers.
In most restaurants there’d probably be three servers at the most for those dozen tables, but in this one there were seven, and they were all busy, seeming to be moving non-stop. They did everything and anything customers wanted and they did not compete with each other hustling for tips: No not my table/ not my station/ not my job attitudes there. They waited tables and bussed them, they took take-out orders and phone orders; they ran the cash register, validated parking tickets and expedited the food. They poured tea, teased elders, and even carried fussy children so their parents could eat in peace. And what salesmen! They tempted us with one Chinese steamer basket of another, offering tastes and filling the air with delectable goodness.
The servers were all in these crisp candy-striper uniforms with white aprons, and the other thing they did constantly was clean. The place was spotless, and as they scurried throughout that room with unceasing energy and attention I couldn’t help but think they looked like a whacky version of Chinese Candy-Striped Oompa Loompas, and that the rest of us very possibly were unknowing movie extras.
The food seemed to arrive within mere moments of our ordering, was fresh and hot, and absolutely delicious. The place was noisy but supremely satisfying to be in, and we drank in energy and this brightness of life as much as we did nourishment.
I’m definitely going back there.
Do business by your own rules as long as it makes your customers happy and your cash register sing. When you know who you are and what you offer, don’t let anyone “train” you differently.