Has the pleasurable experience of eating and dining out become extinct? In this fast-paced society of ready-to-eat meals and instant gratification, are we losing touch with the art of hospitality in our culture? Are we taking time to relish each other’s company and conversation when we break bread together?
Last month, Jeff and I visited New Orleans to celebrate our wedding anniversary. While we were there, we had Friday evening cocktails at the Bourbon House followed by dinner at Red Fish Grill, brunch at Brennan’s on Saturday, and our anniversary supper on Sunday at Commander’s Palace. What do all of these places have in common? All of these restaurants have been owned and operated by the Brennan family for decades. Imperative to their success is their attention to detail and hospitality. How do they make their clientele feel special? Table symbols and signals are used to alert the wait staff. While we were greeted at Brennan’s by maître d’, Mr. Shakespeare, he quickly handed a roll of green ribbon to a gentleman who unrolled it diagonally on the white tablecloth before Jeff and I took our seats. To the staff, it indicated we were celebrating an anniversary. Whenever a Brennan’s employee walked by our table, we were showered with well-wishes. During our anniversary dining experience at Commander’s Palace, this restaurant had their own unique ways of making guests feel special and valued. Stickers with the customer’s names were on the back of the tickets and staff called their diners by name. A subtle shift of the salt and pepper shakers, moving them closer together, indicated that our server, Lorenzo, had taken our cocktail order. While the meals were sheer perfection, their hospitality was genuine, warm, and welcoming, akin to being at a friend’s home.
The art of hospitality via social graces begins at home. I have my great grand-parents copy of Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms – A Correct Guide to Writing by Thomas E. Hill. Initially released in 1884 and filled will all kinds of “how-to” instructions to include the art of penmanship and letter writing, the hard-bound manual also contains a descriptive outline of the “Laws of Etiquette” that discusses regulations that should govern over gentility and politeness at the table such as asking for a certain item with, “if you please” or “will you please bring me.” When the particular article has been furnished, it’s imperative that guests respond with, “thank you.” An even longer list, is the overview of errors to avoid while at the table - never cut bread; always break it, never call loudly for the waiter, lest you draw attention to yourself, never discuss why certain foods disagree with you, a gentleman’s hat must remove, don’t eat quickly, or put your feet so far under the table they touch those opposite of you. Discussions, deep, obtrusive, or argumentative in nature, that tend to give one heartburn and impair digestion are to be avoided at all costs thereby eliminating the need for an antacid following dessert.
Why does hospitality matter? The art of hospitality creates lasting memories and an overall positive experience for the customer. A joyous occasion celebrated with good food, family, and friends always has one special ingredient at the epicenter of it all – love. In my opinion, love is at the heart of hospitality.
“Graciousness and courtesy are never old-fashioned.... In the present day of rush and hurry, a few of us allow too little time for home example. To the over-busy or the gaily fashionable, ‘home’ might just as well be a railroad station and ‘family’ passengers who see each other only for a few minutes before taking trains in opposite directions.... At a time when the whole world looks to America for leadership, our country is still youth personified. If we can keep these attributes and add to the perfect taste in living and thinking, we need have no fears about handing down to our children the tradition of gracious living that is the heritage of us all.” – Emily Post, Ettiquette,1960.
About Katie Hart Smith
Katie Hart Smith’s column, “From the Heart,” touches the heart, inspires, and entertains. Smith, a published author for over twenty years, believes that words, written or spoken, have power. To learn more, visit www.katiehartsmith.com.