Of black napkins and plates

Since I’m on a most unfortunate hiatus from regular restaurant outings at home here in California, I thought I would use this opportunity to explain the title of this wonderful blog: Black Napkin.

A black napkin is an indication of extra thought.  Not necessarily luxury, not necessarily expense, but always thought.  A black napkin is typically proffered to gentlemen or ladies wearing dark colors, navy pants or a black dress for example.  The idea is that the lint from a standard white napkin may leave traces on your clothing, and a black napkin can alleviate such trifling inconveniences.

I’ve only ever been offered a black napkin twice, and once was not in what I would call a luxury restaurant at all.  To me, it’s a strong sign that the restaurant takes service very seriously, and that no expense (though small) or thought (perhaps large) is spared in ensuring the customer’s comfort.  I certainly don’t expect black napkin service in all restaurants: for some it may be infeasible, for others unimportant.  Restaurants that do take that extra step, though, regardless of the quality of food or level of prices, elevate themselves to gourmet in my mind, at least in the service department.

So what about plates?  Well, like I said, I don’t think black napkin service can or should be expected from all restaurants-it’s just a bit too much extra.  One point of service, though, should absolutely be expected from all restaurants and to my utter disappointment I see it only rarely.  It’s this business of clearing plates before the entire table has finished their course.  It only takes a moment for a server to glance at the table, see that one or more of the diners are still eating, and realize that the finished plates should be cleared with the others at a later point.

I hate having my course interrupted by an inappropriately early plate clearing.  It makes me feel rushed, unacknowledged, and generally dissatisfied with the service.  The key here is that any establishment with a wait staff can and should be able to implement this simple “luxury”, and when they don’t, it just leaves me disappointed.

I definitely don’t advocate rudeness or anger towards the wait staff in any way (they have it tough enough as it is), but next time you face an early plate-clearing, speak up for yourself!  Politely say, “Yes I’m done, but I don’t think he/she is done yet.”  Maybe this simple courtesy will soon become more mainstream, because for now its unfortunately wanting.  I leave you with this professionally altered comic:

Mark posted this on July 8, 2008 and is filed under Musings.

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