Dinner Guest: Restaurants in 2018: Be good, be consistent

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Monday night dinner

Carroll LeggettLord only knows how many restaurants the Triad boasts — but certainly more than I as a mere observer of the local culinary scene can keep an eye on. So to maintain a modicum of credibility, I have marked my territory as center city Winston-Salem and better-known spots elsewhere in the environs. And sometimes I wander beyond that.

I am proud of what I have seen happen in Winston-Salem. The city now has an easily perceived vibrancy, and the culinary scene, which now includes crafted tacos and burgers and laudable “new Southern” offerings, regularly receives kudos as part of the warp and weave of the former tobacco and textile center, now boldly marketed as a “City of Arts and Innovation.”

As I am fond of saying: Applause! But as 2018 commences, we can become even better. It takes as much time and effort to maintain a reputation as it does to earn it. Perhaps more. And once it is lost, it generally is gone forever. I listen carefully to what I hear on the street and, of course, heed my mother’s sage advice: Always consider the source.

Consequently, I pay little attention to anonymous “Best-of” lists on the internet, but my ears do perk up when I see rankings by people or sources I know and respect in the food world. Locally, I know folks who generally understand and appreciate good food and, at the same time, I know the habitual “whiners” whom the Good Lord himself couldn’t please.

So where are we going with all this? Simple. Recently I have been disappointed with dining experiences at restaurants that I patronize frequently, and so have friends whose opinions I respect. I won’t call these spots out “in open church,” as we Baptists use to do to congregational sinners, for one-time transgressions. However, I do want to urge chefs and owners in this new year to pay attention to consistency and be zealous in guarding their reputations.

I pay little attention to anonymous “Best-of” lists on the internet, but my ears do perk up when I see rankings by people or sources I know and respect in the food world.

We have excellent chef-driven restaurants where regular patrons know the kitchens and, in many cases, make dining decisions based on a chef’s reputation. We have all heard the expression, “Every plate has the chef’s name on it — regardless of whether he or she is in the kitchen.”

“Reputation,” said one wag, “is what people say behind your back.” It’s street talk. Cocktail banter. Bad experiences spread like a California wildfire.

Consistency. You cannot be consistent if you don’t know what you are about. A clear culinary mission communicated to every employee is the logical starting point. Hire good employees, give them proper training and supervision, and make sure each has the ability and desire to execute. Create an expectation in the dining community and then make sure you deliver on that expectation every time a diner walks through the door.

In frustration, I once told an owner, “I will come back and eat with you. When you are good, you are very good. I will take the risk. But I can never bring another guest here and take a chance on being embarrassed because you aren’t consistent.” That restaurant eventually locked its doors because it never figured out consistency.

One last thought. There is tremendous competition in the Triad culinary community right now for experienced employees. New restaurants are popping up all over the place. There is constant churn, and I see familiar faces in unfamiliar settings. While this presents a challenge, it can also cause restaurants to focus on training and assuring there is never a disconnect between diner expectations and the kitchen.

And if you see me at one of your tables, ask me how my meal was. I will give an honest reply.

Carroll Leggett is a retired attorney who can often be found at the liveliest tables in any number of Triad
restaurants.

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