The Art of Fine Dining

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Not too long ago, most family-style Chinese restaurants in america were considered “greasy Chop-sticks” by american diners, who relished in servings of “chop suey” laced with MSg. as the american public enjoyed the Chinese cookery, they were not always thrilled with the ambiance at Chinese eateries; hence the birth of “Chinese takeout.”

As a strong believer of the importance of the total dining experience, I set out – to the unsuspecting town of Shawnee, okla. – to open the first Chinese restaurant in the area. Mandarin garden was set in a residential house artfully renovated with Chinese classic interiors. I personally trained the staff (students I hand-picked from a nearby college where I taught). I introduced these promising individuals to the full regalia of European fine dining service etiquette, as well as Chinese food knowledge. I dressed them in tuxedoes and white gloves; off we set to create a gold standard in a cuisine most associated with takeout! We used all fresh ingredients, cooked with little fat and sodium (and no MSg) in hope of pleasing american palates.

After the first year, restaurant reservations were required a month in advance. People from all over the region began flying in during the weekends to entertain guests. Quickly, we found ourselves needing to expand.

After the second year, we were awarded Mobil Travel Guide’s 4-Star rating -groundbreaking for a Chinese restaurant at the time. Shortly after, I sold Mandarin garden for $1.5 million: this, from an initial loan of $7,000.

Yet far exceeding the financial reward was the expression of gratitude from the parents of my staff – for transforming their children in to ladies and gentleman through the art of fine dining, and the etiquette, proper social manner and disciplines they could not seem to attain elsewhere.

The hope I have in sharing some of the etiquette I’ve taught over the years is somewhat selfish: Working hard as a consultant today, I relish an evening of fine dining, as it can both rejuvenate and restore my spirit.

In Europe, professional servers embark on their lifetime career by enduring the most stringent trainings. Servers learn to be an effective diplomat in communicating with guests, maitre d’, supervisor, server’s assistant and especially the temperamental back-of-the-house – simultaneously – while under the stress of time. they need to be a convincing salesperson with an engaging personality and have knowledge of the product they promote. there is a degree of tact in dealing with a savvy diner, which must be learned.

For example, when presenting a bottle of wine, the server should never upstage the guest who ordered it, providing he or she room to impress their accompanying party. a fine server knows when to dissolve into the background, and when to be promptly visible. a server always wears a pleasant smile, which is considered a part of the uniform. Working in the spotlight, a server is to carry himself with a dignifying posture and always walk with purpose. Eye contact is essential. Pouring beverages from the right side of guest is a must; as is the rule of serving solid food from the left. Dinner plates are to be cleared only after all the guests at the table have completed their meals. Beverage glasses will remain at the table until guests leave.

Servers must keep hands, nails and hair clean, wear tasteful but limited jewelry, and not wear overpowering cologne or perfume, keep uniforms clean and black leather shoes polished.

The artful nature of fine service has contributed to the livelihood of well-respected professional servers for centuries. a qualified server takes years to perfect his service etiquette through the fine honing of his skill, knowledge and the passion to serve.

George Ing, president of Ing International Inc., has held numerous positions across a variety of platforms. These include: restaurateur, lecturer and motivational speaker, TV host, tenured professor in health sciences, author and newspaper columnist, Kung Fu master, jazz band leader/drummer and Latin dance champion, to name a few. In addition to consulting for corporations that include Dell, Kodak and Shangri-La Resorts, he also received the Small Business Award from President Ronald Reagan.

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