In Praise of Service

By Michael J. Solender

October 22, 2018

Charlotte is unquestionably growing its culinary chops.

Diners in and around the QC are discovering noteworthy chefs and unusual menus that deliver exciting options heretofore unheard of in this meat-and-potatoes-driven town.

And while a ton of ink gets spilled over the virtues of sous-vide, farm-to-fork, vegan-friendly, heirloom varietals, and locally-sourced, not much attention is paid to what truly elevates an enjoyable dining experience to an elegant one – top-drawer service.

From servers who understand menu nuances and guide you through wine pairings, to captains who know correct wine pour levels, and runners who don’t have to ask who gets what, subtle but important, execution in the front-of-the house often makes all the difference in distinguishing good restaurants from great ones.

Everyone likes to feel special and treated with genuine hospitality and that’s precisely what my wife and I found recently uptown at BLT Steak, in Charlotte’s Ritz-Carlton.

Yes, it’s the Ritz, but delivering on their mission of “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” is anything but cliché here.

It starts with the valet where several crisply-attired attendants are navigating Beemers, ‘Vets, and my lowly Subaru through the ever-busy circular drive. Two approach my car simultaneously, opening the passenger side for my wife and the driver’s side for me. “Checking in sir?” the valet inquires.

I inform him we’re here for dinner as he peels off the claim check and he politely tells me, if we call for the car as we’re having coffee, they’ll have it ready for us. Nice touch.

He also must have called the host with our name, as she greets us by name upon entry into the dining room, a few steps of the lobby and whisks us to a nice corner table. Here we enjoy the comings and goings of the theater crowd. Our server thoughtfully inquires if we’re joining the Hamilton-bound set and require expedited service.

Anticipating and addressing diners’ needs is an under-rated skill, I appreciate already the thoughtfulness shown in the few small but informed gestures undertaken by BLT Steak’s staff, and I haven’t even ordered a drink yet.

The reservation system at BLT Steak records I’ve been here for lunch before, noted by our server, who’s also replaced our white linen napkins with black ones – unasked – because of our dark clothing.

I engage her about the restaurant’s name, playfully asking if it refers to the famous summer sandwich – a bad joke she takes in stride and immediately turns into an opportunity to educate me about the restaurant’s namesake (Bistro) Laurent Tourondel. The chef’s concept elevates bistro fare with contemporary takes on American and French classics. She also laughs and tells me they do in fact have a BLT Burger on their lunch menu, which is very popular.

It’s been a crazy day for me and my wife and settling in for a lovely meal in a beautiful setting is exactly what’s called for.

Most appreciated is the team service at BLT Steak. The captain brought us our by the glass wines, ensuring our satisfaction with our choices.

BLT’s famous popovers came shortly after a delightful chicken-liver amuse bouche, the table runner confidently informing us of its preparation. Another server cleared appetizer plates and yet another readied our table with appropriate silverware for the next course.

This orchestration is choreographed through weeks of training and shift after shift of working together and comes off seamlessly with aplomb. It happens because the team genuinely cares about diners experience and are less concerned about THEIR tables and more concerned about all their guests.

Staff here are informed and attentive. It didn’t go unnoticed that after informing our server that we were not theater bound and want to relax, dinner came at a very unhurried pace.

Ashley, our server, was deft in her presentation of my braised short-ribs which came in a cast iron braising casserole. With two serving spoons in her right hand, she confidently liberated the beef from the casserole onto my waiting plate, adorning it with au jus and plating the BBQ Corn with bacon and chives alongside the grilled asparagus to complete this beautiful – and tasty plate.

Luxury can quickly turn into a commodity in the hospitality industry. Beautiful properties, high-end ingredients, wonderful food, wine and spirits are in abundance – for a price. What can’t be as easily acquired however is brilliant service and the ability to make guests feel special.

As my wife and concluded our wonderful evening out, we gave each other a knowing smile, toasted our last toast of the evening and knew we’d been treated very well indeed.