Setting the Pace

The importance of timing in restaurant dining

01Why do we eat in restaurants? We do, and with little hesitation. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2015 Americans spent more money eating out than buying groceries. I’m sure one could point to any number of reasons we choose to dine away from home. If you were to ask me why I go to restaurants, I would likely describe my love of good food and drink, sparkling conversation and people-watching as Reasons 1, 2, and 3. I, like you, absolutely love going out to eat, except when I don’t. And when I don’t, it is usually due to a nagging restaurant predicament that sincerely puzzles me.

Our city’s—and virtually every city’s—restaurants have a problem that seems to afflict diners from brewpubs to fine dining and every manner of restaurant in between. It’s a matter of pacing, or more importantly, a lack thereof.

03Perhaps our local restaurant industry is still trying to shake off the hangover of bygone laws that insisted food and adult beverage service exist only in tandem. Maybe it’s a lack of service training, or understaffed kitchens, overly tasked floor managers, or, simple indifference. Whatever the reason, Salt Lake City dining patrons are getting the bum’s rush. For all the extraordinarily well-paced meals I’ve enjoyed in Salt Lake City, I’ve easily encountered just as many poorly paced efforts.

Successful pacing consists of three essential components: timing, preparedness and professionalism. The goal should be to have restaurant guests leave feeling their needs were not only met, but anticipated. In short, a fine dining experience should reflect a seamlessly choreographed dance set to the beat of a classic waltz. Entrées should never arrive before appetizers and first-course plates have been cleared. All necessary utensils should be reset prior to the pending course. Empty beverage, wine and water glasses should be refilled during the meal’s progression. Dining should be like a trip to an art museum: an enjoyable occasion devoted solely to the beauty of the experience. Would you not be annoyed if your museum docent expected you to rush through the exhibit? That is how I feel when I’m experiencing an inadequately paced meal: like I’m being forced to run through the museum.

To ease my mind and ensure the art of dining is not a lost luxury, I asked two Salt Lake City restaurants that put proper meal pacing at a premium to share their practices. One is an American steakhouse staple, the other an exquisite new Italian neighborhood eatery.

Veneto, an exceptional restaurant owned and operated by Amy and Marco Stevanoni located in the Liberty Wells neighborhood on 900 South between 300 and 400 East, strikes a masterful balance of sophisticated dining paired with a harmonious calm that extends from the kitchen to the table.
During my time with the charming Stevanonis, they revealed their unwavering commitment to the authentic cuisine of Marco’s native northern Italy, their Old World approach to eating and dining, and how pacing a meal ultimately plays into its success and provides a memorable dining experience for guests. Marco described their pacing philosophy succinctly: “The meal will be free of awkward lags but never rushed,” he says. “Courses will reach the table only after everyone has finished the previous course, plates have been cleared any and all necessary resets have occurred and all guests are seated.”
During my time dining at Veneto, the rhythm of meal was true to Marco’s word. Courses were not crowded, allowing us to enjoy one another’s company while savoring what we had just eaten. The service was elegant and reserved, which added to the overall enjoyment of the delicious meal itself. I left the restaurant, remembering every course, every bite and eagerly anticipating my return.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House approaches their pacing like a well-oiled machine. The world-wide chain (although the Salt Lake City restaurant is locally owned and operated) has a rigorous dining system in place that is fueled by extensive training, a commitment to excellence and effortless pacing. The restaurant’s general manager, the undeniably professional and affable Josh Cowart, explains their pacing strategy: “It’s about the customer’s wishes, a six-minute interval clock system and strong communication between the back and front of house,” he says. “It’s an awesome system.”
At Ruth’s Chris, I was encouraged to order from the à la carte menu all at once, and then allow the kitchen and wait staff to pace my meal—an ordering situation I am, at best, uncomfortable with. Ordering as I go is my meal-pacing safety net. Nonetheless, I put my dining experience into my waitperson’s hands, and the result was an expertly paced meal. Just as Josh had promised, the meal ran like clockwork. From the time I sat down and was greeted, to the time I paid my tab, I was never rushed, servers were always courteous and service beautifully handled.
Veneto is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday evenings. Ruth’s Chris is open seven nights a week. Both restaurants accept reservations but also welcome walk-in patrons. Additionally, Veneto and Ruth’s Chris Steak House are available for private event bookings. ❖
Veneto Italiano Ristorante
370 E. 900 South, SLC

Ruth’s Chris Steak House
275 S. West Temple, SLC

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