I knew it was going to be a good day as I stepped foot into the crisp cool air of the Amsterdam Cheese & Liquor shop, the starting place for our Sint Maarten/Saint Martin Culinary adventure.
Dutch delights surrounded me, in addition to the titular cheese and liquor, there were shelves laden with bags of drop, chocolates and of course Klompen, of all colors and sizes! In case you don't know, klompen are clogs made of wood, and though there are people who still wear this distinctive Dutch footwear, these days they're mostly purchased as souvenirs. This was my first Flavors of St. Martin Culinary Road trip, and it began with introductions around an antique livery cart from Amsterdam that carried our first tastes. After savoring the Gouda cheese and wine, the breakfast of champions, we boarded our carriage for the day, a medium sized bus that was fully air-conditioned and quite comfortable.
Off we went and our fearless tour leader Randy, manned the mic and regaled us with an interesting variety of information about St. Maarten and answered the questions posed by the guests, most of whom were here on a cruise. Since I'm from St. Maarten and know the history and culture, I paid more attention to the view, and I have to say, when you are doing the driving yourself, as I usually am, you really cannot appreciate some of the truly spectacular vistas St. Maarten has to offer. And where better to get an incredible view than Paradise View in Orient Bay. The friendly staff of this creperie served everyone two delicious crepes, one savory and one sweet and paired them with a tangy hard apple cider and an unbeatable view. Enough photos, we're back on the bus heading for the culinary capital of St. Martin, Grand Case.
Over the hills and through the valleys, we made our way to the famous Lolo's of Grand Case. After having a seat at "Sky's the Limit" we were presented with a gorgeous sampler of Creole Caribbean Classics. Grilled chicken leg, potato salad, rice & peas, macaroni salad, cole slaw, and of course, a crisp hot Johnny cake. The Johnny cake is a staple of St. Maarten cuisine and is a type of fried bread that was originally called a Journey cake, but through time the word journey changed to johnny. Lolo's were originally just roadside stands that sold goods and fruit, but evolved into open air BBQ restaurants that offer creole and local dishes at very reasonable prices. Almost stuffed, we bid our farewells to our charming hosts at the Lolo and take a short stroll down the street to our next stop, L'escapade, a fine dining eatery overlooking the stunning azure waters of Grand Case Bay. A trio of fruit infused rums served by our gracious host hit the spot and after a few minutes of chatting we made our way to the bus for the ride to our last eatery of the tour, Sarafina's, in the heart of Marigot.
After being seated at the particularly parisian patisserie, we were presented with a quartet of delicious bite sized treats that left everyone with a smile that comes from a full belly and a relaxed mind. Feeling pretty satisfied we boarded the bus for our trip back to the cheese shop.
The trip lasted four and a half hours and you can find additional information on their website: http://stmartinfoodtours.com.
Regardless of whether you're visiting the fair isle of St. Martin for the first time, the twenty first time, or even if like me you were born and raised here, this unique adventure allows someone else to take the wheel, make the plans and find the parking, while you just sit back and enjoy the ride.
As we enter a New Year, allow me my two cents on the current state of our Hospitality sector. A sector, might I add, that our economy relies almost completely upon. In my opinion the only thing as important as the food at restaurant is the service, I'm not alone in this either, according to a Gallup study reported in 2011, when eating out, customers seek not just great food, but an all around experience that leaves them feeling great.
To some of us this might seem like a “Duh” statement, but then you go to a restaurant and a sulky “waitress” with a massive chip on her shoulder, and half her rear hanging out of her jeans, reminds you with her indifference and incompetence why you stopped eating at that restaurant in the first place. It’s not enough to serve good food, the customer experience and the feelings created are of utmost importance. Being valued and appreciated as a customer will engender in your customers a strong positive emotional attachment to your place of business. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and trust me when I say that people love to complain about bad service, and good food seldom makes up for bad service, but excellent service can make up for that overcooked Snapper.
Many of the suggestion may seem obvious, especially to all the really great servers, but I know from personal experience that many, many servers either are completely unaware of these pretty basic customer expectations, not necessarily because they don’t want to be, but perhaps because they lack the proper training. Now far be it from me to tell anyone what to do, but in general Happier customers leave bigger tips. Just Sayin'.
The following are 9 Basic Customer Expectations for a Great Restaurant Server.
Smile: A simple genuine smile can accomplish a multitude of things, Smiling reduces stress, lowers your heart rate, boosts your Immune system, increases productivity , encourages trust, makes you seem younger, confident and more attractive, and best of all smiling is pretty contagious, spreading the benefits and good feelings to everyone around you, especially your valued customers.
Dress appropriately: It is generally the employers job to establish and enforce the dress codes and all around cleanliness, not just in clothing, but also in hair, makeup and accessories. That said, even if your employer is real “casual”, keep in mind that how you present yourself will likely reflect how the customer feels about the establishment as a whole and will certainly effect your potential tip.
Maintain a professional attitude: A customer is not your “Honey”, “Sweetness” or “Baby” or any other overly friendly term of endearment. And even if they are one of those things, maintaining a consistent attitude with all your customers ensures that no one feels as if other customers are being treated better then they are. A sure way to make your customers feel like they are eating at the wrong place is to treat other customers with obvious preference.
Look the customers in the eye and Greet them promptly: Maintaining eye contact is key to developing trust with the customer, no one wants someone shifty handling their food.
Anticipate customer needs: If I order a steak, I’ll expect a steak knife, if I’m eating finger food, I’ll expect extra napkins or finger bowls. The ability to be empathetic to your customers is what separates great servers from mediocre ones and big tips from little ones.
Know the Menu: “What’s in the Mondongo Soup?” A knowledge of what you are serving is crucial to your ability to competently enlighten your customers as to what they are going to get. Never tell a guest that you do not eat the food on the menu, even if you do not. You should have enough knowledge of the menu to educated suggestions. You are not there just to carry plates, engage the guest and make additional suggestions that you think they may appreciate.
Be available: You don't have to go to table every 5 minutes, but by being visible and available, you give the customer the feeling that should they need anything, it will be taken care of promptly. Evoking a feeling of confidence in the wait staff.
Do not clear the table until everyone is finished eating, unless the guest asks you to, and do not rudely interrupt your guests conversation to remove their plate. Wait and come back when the moment is appropriate.
Do not assume the man will pay and do not bring the check to the table until the customer requests it. Give the check to whomever requested it. Dropping the check at a table that hasn't requested it, is a sure way to make your customers feel unappreciated and unwanted. We all know table turnover is important, but like I said before, people love to complain about bad service.