Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nothing wrong with a little DIY

During an NRN-Online department outing last night at the Pegu Club, Susan Vincer, our publishing director, had a sip of the Pegu Club Cocktail and commented that it tasted a bit tart.

Our server came over to set down some utensils for food, but she also placed on the table a small wooden box that positively looked like a "My first alchemy set" with some small bottles and eyedroppers.

"I heard you say that the drink was a bit tart," she said. "So here's some sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and bitters so you can fix the drink a bit."

I don't know if I'm just naive, but I was pretty astounded by this. First, because it was pretty incredible that our server took note of what could've been a throwaway comment, and second, that a place known for crafting cocktails gave customers the leeway to "fix" drinks if it wasn't to their liking.

Writing for a restaurant trade, the topic of providing good service gets discussed a lot, but here was a case where just letting the customer take care of the problem on their own was a form of good service. Afterwards I wondered if this was something that's just for table-side service over at the Pegu Club. If it is, it's a pretty ingenious way to get around trucking a single cocktail between the customer and the bartender.

For my previous visit to The Pegu Club, I've sat at the bar to watch the bartender mix the drink. When stumped as to what to drink next, the bartender asked what spirit or flavors I usually enjoy and what flavors I didn't. With such close proximity to the bartender, it's much easier to leave your fate in their hands. However, when sitting at a table away from the bar, with no prior discourse with a bartender and relying mostly on your server it becomes a game of telephone pitted against one of cocktails enemies, time. Ingredients in cocktails can settle or flavors can change slightly once it sits for a bit.

I could see it being a double-edged sword, though. While instant gratification exacting to a customers' tastes can be had for the taking (not to mention a sort of novelty factor), across the horizon looms the specter of even further dissatisfaction. For around $12 a drink in a nice setting like the Pegu Club, with its reputation for bartenders who know what they are doing, some people might think it's ridiculous that they have to doctor their own drinks. And heaven forbid that their efforts should yield a horrifying concoction. I imagined the litany of horrors that could be unleashed simply by someone improperly wielding the eyedropper from the bottle marked "bitters."

When ordering another drink later in the evening I saw our server's face begin to scrunch up as a small look of dismay started crawling across her face. I had barely finished the last syllable of the first word in the name of a drink.

"That's no longer on our menu," she said apologetically after confirming the rest of the name of what I wanted to order.

"Do you have anything similar?" I asked.

Without missing a bit she answered, "Yes, we do have something like it. It also has applejack and is made with grenadine and lemon juice."

It was nice to see that the waist staff (or at least our particular server), also were trained to be familiar enough with the menu.

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