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Is Good Service More Important Than Good Food?

On Tuesday we'll be introducing a new guest blogger, Ella Lawrence of Restaurant Girl Speaks. Although she works as a writer, she also works as a server at A16 (you've heard of that place, right? Nate Appleman has had quite the month).

We brought her onboard to speak to one question: How can we be better diners? But before she tells us how we can be better diners, I wanted to write about the importance of a good server. (Just think how great the world would be if it was made up of well-behaved diners and conscientious servers!)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that service might be more important than almost anything else that happens in a restaurant—even if you have the most delicious food and the most beautiful room, if your service is poor it’s going to color every diner’s experience.

I went to Contigo recently for the first time—this new Catalan-style restaurant, owned by chef Brett Emerson, is the darling of Noe Valley and the neighborhood’s biggest opening in a long time. I've been following the trials and tribulations of the restaurant's opening process on the owner's blog, so my heart already felt a little squidgy towards the place. The restaurant has a lot of things going for it—a nice menu of Spanish-inspired snacks and platillos (larger plates), a warm, comfortable room with lots of blonde wood, counters for convivial dining and a backyard patio where herbs and lettuces flourish.

It’s evident that nearly every detail at Contigo has been carefully considered—so how, then, to explain the terrible service? An empty table was in plain view when we arrived, but we waited at the door for fifteen minutes before finally being seated. And though the hostess had given us the wine list while we waited, no one ever came back to ask if we wanted something. By the time our first dishes arrived we’d already been there an hour. The bad service continued after our food arrived, including a full-scale debate with my server about whether or not my salad had the promised garlic chips (it didn’t). It even pervaded our last exchange, when I was unapologetically overcharged for my meal.

It’s always disappointing to receive poor service, but particularly so when you can see what a labor of love a restaurant is for its owners. By failing to concentrate on what I’d deem the most essential element of a good dining experience, it’s as though they have pulled the rug out from under themselves. A gorgeous dining room and delicious food can only take a restaurant so far—the rest depends, for better or worse, on the service.