Win/Fail Fridays: Yay for Salty Pig, Nay for Red Lantern

Welcome to Win/Fail Fridays, where food editor Donna Garlough mouths off about her latest dining-out adventures.

This week’s WIN: Midday munching at The Salty Pig

All too often, service outside of prime lunch or dinner hours is patchy. In between taking your order and delivering your plates, servers wipe down tables, restock silverware, and take care of other housekeeping tasks, often leaving your water glass unfilled and your dirty dishes to linger a bit too long. It was refreshing, then, to stop in at the Back Bay’s new Salty Pig for a mid-afternoon meat-and-cheese board and beer, and to receive service as attentive as it’d be during the lunch or dinner rushes. Almost as soon as our drinks were emptied, a second round was offered; bussers whisked away the empty cheese board just as we were finishing up. And the check was delivered at just the right time.

This week’s FAIL: Factory feeding at Red Lantern

If you read this column with any regularity, you know I have certain restaurant peeves. But few things irk me more than when staffers treat patrons like numbers. “Let me see where I can put you,” is a common gaffe from a host or hostess. What are we, inventory? Sheesh.

Arriving at new hotspot (seriously — the place was packed) Red Lantern last night, the hostess greeted my party pleasantly enough. But when it came to showing us to our table, things went downhill. The check-in hostess turned to her colleague at the stand and pointed to the seating map. “Where should we put them?” she asked loudly. “How about 141 [or somesuch]?”

“I’ll see,” responded her coworker, just as loudly, and she stomped off. My companion and I looked at each other, unsure if we were to stay put or follow. When the second hostess returned, having determined that a table was available, we followed her to two empty two-tops. “Here you go,” she said, waving her hand toward the empty seats. And as I began to slide into the banquette, she stopped us. “No, not there!” she said. “I meant these, sorry,” she corrected, pointing to an identical table a foot away. Once we were seated, she gave us an awkward smile. “Actually, I guess it doesn’t really matter,” she said, scratching her head. “That’s just the one we wrote down. Enjoy your dinner!”

Certainly, there was no snobbery or brusqueness intended. But hosts, here’s a little request: When people come to spend an evening your restaurant, make them feel welcome. Make them feel like they’re not simply there to eat, pay, and leave. And make sure that if you’re going to talk about customers like they’re cargo, they don’t hear it when you do.

Stay tuned for next week’s Win/Fail!