What Makes a Fantastic Bar Staff?

January 23, 2011 at 9:15 PM (Food) (, , , )

There is a fair number of establishments in Boston with good, even great bar staff, but there’s a reason why I keep defaulting to Boylston St.’s Atlantic Fish Co. – aside from the great atmosphere, wine and craft beer options and delicious seafood (perhaps I shouldn’t be blogging about this before I’ve eaten lunch…): it has a fantastic bar staff.

“Brittany, what are you talking about? What makes a ‘fantastic’ bar staff?”

I am so glad you asked, dear reader, mostly because it gives me a reason to bother writing the rest of this post.  I didn’t write the book on bar staff quality experiences, but as far as I’m concerned, good and great bartenders will be attentive, recognise regulars, look up recipes for the cocktails they don’t know off-hand, and so on.  They create an experience that will leave patrons thinking, “That was a nice drink/ meal.”  They meet expectations.  A fantastic bar staff will exceed those expectations to the point of surprise.  I’ve made a few observations at the Fish that I think are certainly worth sharing with folks who haven’t stopped by, yet.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen patrons sit at the bar and sit for more than two minutes, even on busy nights, before someone has greeted them, asked them how they are, and what they would like to drink.  Oftentimes the bartender will immediately introduce him or herself as well, and if not immediately, then definitely within the next interaction or so.  I have been to other, pricier bars and have seen patrons sit at the bar unattended for what seems like forever (although it’s probably only a little over five minutes) before being asked what they would like to drink.

There is no alienation between bar staff and patrons.  While I try not to interrupt conversations between bartenders and a different party, I never feel uncomfortable asking a question (or in my case particularly, harassing someone behind the bar), nor do I ever feel like I’m taxing the bar staff with a request.  Having worked in food service and retail (and currently in public relations), I subscribe to the belief that customers should not ever feel like they have to struggle to communicate with whomever is supposed to be taking care of them. I’ve been to multiple restaurants where trying to get the attention of my server seemed impossible – and I’m not even a difficult customer (at least, I don’t think so . . .).

This next one is example-worthy: Red wine, bread and cheese at the bar at Atlantic Fish. Thanks, Jeff!if you have a craving, the nice folks at Atlantic will go above and beyond to sate that craving.  About a week ago, Adam and I went to Atlantic for a glass (or more) of wine.  I was a little hungry, but wasn’t really in the mood for seafood.  To be honest, all I really wanted was some cheese to go with my wine, but I wasn’t going to make any noises about it, given that my girlish figure didn’t need that much deliciousness anyway.  Our bartender, Jeff came over to check in on us and Adam shared my hankering of the moment with him. While I tried to protest, Jeff picked up the phone, called the kitchen and asked for a side of Parmesan cheese.  A minute or so later, I had a lovely scene (look right, please) in front of me.

Atlantic Fish's bar staff spoils me rotten. Who else goes ahead and whips together a dish of balsamic, oil, seasoning and cheese in 45 seconds? Thanks, Joe! Photo courtesy of Nicholas Adam Owens.I would have been happy with the cheese.  Truly.  Atlantic had to go a step further, though.  Joe, the bar manager was also working that evening.  He took one look at the cheese and said something to the effect of “This simply will not do.”  The next thing I knew, I had a dish of oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and of course cheese to go with my bowl of carbs. Did Jeff or Joe have to go out of their way to help rid me of my cheese craving?  Good heavens, no.  They did, though.  I have also seen the staff order cake from their sister restaurant, Abe & Louie’s, next-door because a customer was pining for it (they may or may not have done it for me as well one one occasion – honestly, it’s amazing that I’m not obese by now).

Maybe I’m an easy critic because it doesn’t take much to impress me when it comes to customer service, but on the same side of that coin, it blows my mind when I have a poor experience, knowing how simple it is to even provide the bare minimum of care for a patron: being polite and attentive, and taking whatever measures necessary to ensure an enjoyable dining experience. If you stick to that, I’d say that at least 90% of customers would be content.  If you really want to blow them away, though, take a page out of Atlantic Fish Co.’s book.

Today’s Tunes
“Wonderwall,” Oasis
“Layla,” Eric Clapton
“Waiting for My Real Life to Begin,” Colin Hay

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New Desserts at Atlantic Fish Co.

September 7, 2010 at 2:42 AM (Food) (, , , )

Last week I was faced with the torture of sampling four of the new desserts that Atlantic Fish Co. has added to its menu.  I know, my life is so wrought with tribulation; I can sense your preemptive pity as I draft this post.  Seeing as they were all pretty delicious, I thought I’d share so you’ll know why you should save room for dessert when you go.

The brownie sundae. Your typical decadence dish features two large brownie slices sandwiching a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.  Top that with a drizzle of hot fudge and caramel, and it’s no wonder the gentleman sitting next to me observed, “I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars trying to buy happiness: it would seem you have accomplished that for $9.00.

The warm chocolate and macadamia nut cookies. While tasty, I wouldn’t make a special trip to Atlantic for these.  That said, the two cookies (one chocolate chip, one macadamia) are freshly baked and arrive with a dose of chocolate sauce and are great for the less adventuresome eater post-dinner.

The New York cheesecake. Served with banana foster skirting the plate, the one word I can use to describe this dish is “rich.”  The second word I can use is “ridiculously.”  I’m not a huge fan of super-heavy desserts, so this one wasn’t my favourite, but it’s definitely made right, and another gentleman who ordered was clearly in a state of culinary bliss after his first bite.

The seasonal fruit crisp. Oh.  Em.  Gee (That’s “OMG,” or “Oh My God,” for you folks who a) don’t really follow my thought process or b) don’t use the Internets very much – in either case, why are you here??).  This saintly crumble was perfect on a late August evening, featuring mangoes, blueberries, probably some sugar, and a torched top.  Unfortunately my culinary prep vocab is incredibly stunted, so I’m not sure how exactly it’s prepared, but I’ll get back to you on the details.  Suffice to say for now that it’s freakin’ incredible.

Salivating yet?  Get thee to Atlantic Fish Co.!

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Dining at Atlantic Fish Co.

August 14, 2010 at 8:36 PM (Food) (, , , , , )

To say I went to Atlantic Fish Co. in search of the best seafood in Boston would be a bold-faced lie.  In truth, I really just wanted a beer.  After a long shift at Starbucks, it doesn’t take much to improve your outlook on life.

atlantic fish co logo bostonI strolled in one early weekday afternoon to find myself the only person at the bar (may it be known that I had stumbled in during a rare window of time: on weekends and during dinner time there’s rarely a seat in the house).  As I studied the draught  options, I saw a label I didn’t recognise: Hoegaarden.  Luckily, the bar manager is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to beer, wine and spirits.  He told me it was the beer that Blue Moon aspired to be (only more eloquently; I’m no good when it comes to describing beer) and I was sold.  Mission accomplished: it was the perfect thirst-quencher on that warm spring day.  Ladies and gentlemen, ask for Joe if you’re at Atlantic’s bar and need a drink recommendation.  He hasn’t failed me yet.

Given my positive first experience at the Fish, I figured I should revisit to check out the dining options.  It’s not like it was a difficult commute, being two doors down from Starbucks, and I’d been craving some fish for a while, conveniently enough.  I won’t bore you with the world’s longest narrative of everything I’ve tried and loved there, but I will tell you that I haven’t had a bad dish, yet.  Some details, however, that may be of interest:

oysters atlantic fish coThe food is a little pricey (entrees range anywhere from $24 to $32, on average), but well worth it.  Atlantic prints its menus daily, featuring several “Catch of the Day” options, which can be prepared almost any way you could want, along with a variety of specialty entrees, appetisers, side dishes and meals to share.  A couple of my favourite specialty dishes include the pan-seared seabass (served with a delectable lobster ravioli) and the lemon sole, served in a white wine sauce(? Not entirely certain on that) and pancetta.  If you’re not into the fancy-pants side of seafood, no worries: the fish and chips are pretty darned good, too.  Full menus are available for download on Atlantic’s site.

The service is the real reason why I keep going back (PR intern’s hourly wage really doesn’t justify the price).  However, while most (99%) of my visits take place at the bar, I often chat with a couple of the servers during the course of my meal.  Not a single person who works for Atlantic is rude or condescending – something I can’t say for several restaurants on Newbury St. that have similar price tags attached to their menus.  All of the hostesses and managers are incredibly warm and accommodating, and the entire bar staff has not only tolerated my incessant sarcasm and commentary, but has perhaps even encouraged it.  A little.  I always receive my drinks and meal in a timely fashion, even during weekend rushes.  These folks know how to keep their bustling establishment running smoothly.

Other small pros: two television sets that are ALWAYS broadcasting the current Boston sports game, nice interior with the suggestion of a nautical theme, great location on Boylston street.

Stop in and check it out!  They’re participating in Boston’s 2010 Restaurant Week, so take advantage of their 3-course lunch special!

Today’s Tunes
“The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World
“Never Let You Go,” Third Eye Blind
“How’s It Going to Be,” Third Eye Blind
“I Miss You (acoustic),” Incubus
“Alive with the Glory of Love,” Say Anything

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