As you parley your time in Hemingway’s “Last Good Country,” Northern Michigan, I'm sure you'll partake a time or two at a local eatery. And I’m sure, depending on the night, you may decide to visit a fine-dining establishment, or in the vernacular of the trades, a high-end restaurant. When you walk in, what do you notice? Better yet, what do you expect?
“People expect great service,” says Paul Parrott, senior server at Chandler’s-A Restaurant in Petoskey. “Great food will never overcome mediocre service, but great service can overcome mediocre food.”
When you step into Chandler’s on Howard Street, tucked behind the venerable Symons General Store at the corner of Lake and Howard, your first image is a romantic Parisian patio tucked between the eclectic main dining room and the enchanting Wine Cellar. As you stroll into the daytime ambience your thoughts gravitate to quaint, quirky, or cozy, but if you arrive in the elegance of the evening with white linen table cloths, polished silverware, servers in white aprons, and Paul Parrott in his shirt and tie, you'll find yourself catapulted to a New York or European Michelin-starred exhibition in the blink of an eye.
“Raising service to an art form with attention to detail allows a guest to sit back and say, ‘Wow! That was a great meal,’” says Parrott. “Needless to say, the meal, well … makes the meal, but combined with impeccable attention you can maintain full confidence that you’re in a high-end establishment.”
When asking restaurant staff, people on the street and professional reviewers, high-end has different definitions. The average person on the street equates price to high-end, while restaurant staff think atmosphere and fine food, and yet to the food critic it may mean all the above.
Parrott details the details: “Neat tables, perfect table settings, perfect greetings, exact knowledge of the menu and wines with correct language without slang or oft used colloquialisms, and to make sure the table is always refined for the next course.” He goes on to add: “Slang simply cannot exist, and even more importantly, don't judge your customer. It's their time and their way.”
As I watch Parrott, he glides through the night in a perfect rhythm only 40 years of experience provides. He began his career in the Detroit area and has worked in the high-end side of things ever since. An award-winning body builder and long-time “Up North” resident, Parrott recently moved his residence to a near downtown Petoskey neighborhood where he and wife, Tammy, have worked to remodel their new home. Now instead of a long drive, it’s a long walk.
“I worked for Jim Kokus at Opus One in Detroit, and he's the one who taught me great service was paramount,” Parrott says.
Returning to his guests, all have full wine glasses, fresh cocktails, heartfelt smiles and it’s easy to see people experiencing fine dining and appreciating the encounter. More importantly for the guest, it only takes eye contact or a nod to catch Parrott’s attention as he anticipates every need.
“You get into the flow of the dining event and it becomes a mindful experience for both server and guest. That's the magic.” He continues, “Think about it. It’s one of the few jobs where you don’t get paid until after the job is done and you do it for whatever the guest thinks it’s worth.”
By the end of the night, the total tab and tip clearly exhibits the result of Parrott’s work. Most assuredly, the tip reflects high-end service. Many of Parrott’s guests are regulars who have requested seating at his tables, lending more credence to the now defined high-end event.
“People immediately see the prices on the menu,” Parrott begins with a smile, “for fresh food and no microwaves or reheated hash, and they expect to be treated with perfection at the table. If anything in the sequence fails, it’s not high-end. It becomes run-of-the-mill.”
So, as you stroll, walk, meander, or drive to your local favorite for an extravagant night out, expect the best from the people serving you, tip them accordingly and enjoy the experience. If that can’t happen, stay home and treat yourself to leftovers, but if you really want a treat, visit Paul Parrott. The bar of expectations will be set no higher.
Written By Tom Renkes, Photo by Chelsey Granger