Food Stuff

Feb 10, 1999 at 12:00 am


After breaking bread with restaurant consultants Colette Tremblay and Angela Stewart, I can’t go out to eat without noting how the busboy carries my glass of water and whether the meal has been paced correctly.

I used to be grateful if the waitstaff wasn’t surly. Now I expect to be greeted when I arrive and acknowledged when I leave. I frown if my entrée is served before the appetizer has been cleared.

Gridlock on the table is a sign that the manager ought to call Tremblay and Stewart.

The three of us had dinner at an Italian restaurant, where we were too busy gabbing about the restaurant biz to notice the food.

Stewart and Tremblay knew as children that they were going into the restaurant business. Stewart was busing tables at 13 and eventually became a chef. Tremblay started as a waitress, became a bartender, a line cook and then a manager. The two started their restaurant consulting business, called NC Stewarts, in 1993.

Since it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to start a restaurant, and since 95 percent of restaurants fail in the first five years, more restaurateurs might want to invest in consultants.

When one customer doesn’t like a restaurant, it begins a downhill slide.

To help restaurants improve, NC Stewarts sends anonymous diners to evaluate a restaurant’s hospitality, quality, service and cleanliness.

And talk about critical! To pass muster, servers should take your cocktail orders within three minutes after you sit down.

The appetizer should arrive within eight minutes and the entrée within 16. Two minutes after you begin eating (“Or two bites,” Stewart adds), the waitperson should cruise by and ask how the food is.

Silent diners hang out at the bar (to rat on bartenders who give out free drinks) and report on the manager who sits in the back, waiting for the shift to end.

(How to spot the manager? Stewart suggested: “Look for a well-dressed person carrying computer keys.”)

One reason many restaurants don’t bring in enough money is because the waitstaff is not selling up. (I ordered a diet pop at a drive-through other day. “Do you want a bacon cheeseburger with that?” I heard through the speaker. Now that’s selling up.)

I think our waitperson wanted to go home. Stewart had to prompt him by asking: “Do you have a dessert tray? ... Can we see it? … Can we have coffee?”

She cringed when the busboy brought water.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Did you see how he held the cup?” She spread her hand across the top of the glass like a five-legged spider. I nodded wisely, having noticed nothing.

Stewart and Tremblay’s combined experience helps troubleshoot almost any problem a restaurant can dish up.

At Pettijohn’s, a family-owned restaurant in Auburn Hills, they trained the servers, hired a chef, wrote the menu, set up the books and taught the managers to run staff meetings. Stewart even gave the restaurant her signature recipe — chicken with dried cherries. She urged me to check it out. And if I have to wait more than 16 minutes, I know who to call.

NC Stewarts can be reached at 517-625-3709.