The Art of Serving

Sometimes it's the people that serve your food that make all the difference

Several times in the last ten years we’ve celebrated good service as a necessary ingredient in restaurants we’ve considered genuine articles. Sometimes it’s been the servers who made them so genuine.

This story is about that service and two customers who really get the role servers play in their dining experience. They are our good friends Topf Wells and Sally Probosco. We appreciate and benefit from their insights, and because Topf relays them a lot better than we do, we asked him to do just that.

“We enjoy eating out and are lucky that we can to do so pretty often. Madison has lots of good food that we don’t often cook at home. There’s good value and comfortable surroundings at a wide range of prices. But what gets us out the door is the wonderful service offered by good, hard-working, interesting people. Good servers are respectful and kind; they know food, beverages, preparation and presentation. They’re easy to learn from; they don’t miss much. If loyal customers are key to a restaurant’s prosperity, good service anchors that loyalty.”

Here’s where it gets fun. Topf and Sally know these folks … by name. By family. By dreams and aspirations. And they know why the relationships matter.

“Thanks to Jenifer at Sushi Muramoto we now enjoy and know something about sushi and having followed Marta and Josh’s advice at La Mestiza, we relish Mexican cuisine that soars beyond a burrito. Under Mary Sue’s, Jess’s, Kevin’s, Jenn’s, Erin’s and Cass’s fun tutelage, we’re trying a lot more wines and learning how many really good, affordable wines the restaurants where they work—Sardine, Lombardino’s, Tempest and Sushi Muramoto—make available. And how do they carry all those plates without ever dropping anything? For their skill and patience shown to our five grandchildren, a heartfelt God bless you to Drew, Dani, Krista, Michelle, Mildred, Jessie and Daniel of the Original Pancake House.”

But Topf says table service is so much more than happy food moments.

“Based on kindness and respect, it is a civilizing, peace-bestowing grace. Following some bad days we’ve often received that balm from a great server. In such a setting, a meal restores much more than depleted calories. At Marigold’s, the genuine kindness of Lee, Ben, Sam, Marci, Freddie and Katie strengthened us more than pancakes or omelets ever could. Jenko, Jenifer, Cass, Stacey, Alex and Nate have never failed to make dinner at Sushi Muramoto a happy time. Countless times, we’ve watched customers at all the restaurants listed here receive that same dollop of kindness and consideration.”

Topf and Sally see beyond the professionalism of these servers. They find them “inspiring to be around.” Topf says he’s learned that “usually they’re working more than one job to pay off debt and secure their future. Jessie and Jaimie are going to be great nurses soon; Dani is now teaching; Shelly is preparing for physical therapy school; Matt creates striking art and helps disabled persons to do the same; Heather has a great vintage clothing site; Kevin has already changed our dreary political climate for the better. And there’s not a whiner in the bunch. They’re fun. We can’t wait for Adam’s next video or Lee’s account of Olivia’s next dance class. Besides building her own business, we’re betting that Stacey will win a triathlon this year. Each and every one of them fills us with hope for our community.”

Some of Topf and Sally’s favorite servers have moved on from these restaurants, and as you might imagine, they wouldn’t let us write all this without their apologies for the restaurants and servers they failed to mention. Nor were we surprised when they closed with a few suggestions.

“Tip well. Servers deserve it. Don’t order in doubt—ask your server; then follow his or her advice. Using discretion and respect, get to know your favorite servers. And recognize what hard work good serving is.”

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband.

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