Ask Tom, Answer Gansie

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Washington, D.C.: Tom – Where can I find a picture of you? I have looked online and really want to see what you look like in case I see you out at a restaurant! PLEASE!

Tom Sietsema: Folks, I don’t make these questions up.
Good morning, everyone. Thanks for shunning work to talk to me for the next 60 minutes or so.

That’s Tom Sietsesma, the Washington Post’s food critic. And I love him. I refer to him by first name only to all of my friends. Scarily, they know exactly who I’m talking about. “Tom’s been talking about this place a lot lately”…”Tom really hates the service at this place”…”Tom doesn’t really like chocolate desserts all that much.” I think you get the point.

On Wednesday, the nation’s newspaper food section day, Tom hosts a live chat. Every Wednesday at 11am I am glued to my screen and the “F5” button (it refreshes the page.) I know what restaurants are hot. I know what chefs are leaving, returning or sucking. I know what Tom’s favorite place for sushi is. And, unfortunately, I also know that some lady from Virginia thought her steak came out too rare and was pisted when the chef told her it’d be a waste to overcook a beautiful cut of meat. And other similar complaints about etiquette, tipping and surprise ingredients.

I do not however, know what Tom looks like, as he is an allusive figure, roaming the District in costume, dining in secret. Maybe that’s why I love him so.

This is the first in a series of many, highlighting the funny, absurd and enlightening from Tom’s chats. Full transcript here.

Post jump: Ask Tom, Answer Gansie

Washington, D.C.: Kudos to Central for an outstanding dinner on Saturday night. After enjoying lunch there many times, I was treating my husband to his first experience there. Upon arrival, I was mortified to learn that I had made my Opentable reservation for Sunday night by mistake. Totally my fault, and I was expecting them to say sorry and send me on my way. But no, the lovely hostesses said it was no problem and dinner went off totally normally. The table was a -real- table (not a makeshift one used for emergencies, i.e. one beside the bathroom), service was impeccable and we weren’t rushed at all. Wow – thanks so much for not treating us like second-class citizens!

It got me thinking – does the restaurant treat everyone that way or could it be because I am a very active Opentable user? I use Opentable alot because of my job (probably 50+ reservations since June). Sometimes I wonder if Opentable somehow alerts the restaurant that I’m a very regular diner and if they are consequently particularly attentive. I’ve noticed a real improvement in service, esp. from the host, over the last year or so, and I’m trying to figure out if its because of my Opentable record, or because I no longer look like I’m 16 (ahhh, wrinkles) or because DC service is just generally improving. The Opentable thing makes sense, though. I mean, if I was the restaurant, I would want to know if one of my diners had visited the restaurant 8 times in the last 6 months, versus was an anniversary/birthday only guest.

Tom Sietsema: Interesting question! I’m betting that your batting average is definitely noticed by restaurants. But Central is also one of those places that goes the extra mile for its customers — even those of them that show up waaay too early for their reservation.

Does it work the other way around, too? I wonder if restaurants also know if a diner has dropped out or cancelled a number of Open Table reservations.

Washington, D.C.: About Open Table – I’ve heard a rumor that restaurants get to keep a private file on diners with comments about if people are rude/nice, keep reservations etc… could explain the good service…

Tom Sietsema: Blacklists! (They exist.)

gansie: Open Table my ass. Every time I try to use that service it says there are only reservations for dinner at 5pm or 10pm. When I call the restaurant, there’s room for a party of 4 at 7pm. Whatever.

Washington, D.C.: Does the amount you tip vary based on whether you sit in the dining room or in the bar? Do you tip as much to bartenders (when you have complete meals at the bar) as you do in the dining room when servers go through presentation routines, etc.?

Tom Sietsema: I tip bar tenders the same as waiters (generally 20 percent). Bar tenders are, after all, doing just what their counterparts in the dining room are doing: offering me service, attending to my needs, refilling water, etc.

gansie: Cheap effing bastards. What did they think he was going to say? Sure, tip the bartender a buck just like you would when buying a Miller Lite.

Washington, D.C.: Hey restaurant owners,

Some of us government employees don’t have fancy technology on our work computers but we still enjoy a good meal. How about making a non-flash option on your websites so we can decide where to eat after work? Because if I can’t get a look at your menu from my office, I’m not going to eat at your restaurant that night.

Tom Sietsema: You catch that, restaurateurs?

gansie: Dork. Although, I am too spoiled with online menus. I hate going to places where I haven’t scoped out the dishes ahead of time. Oh the internet, the best and worst invention of my life time. Okay, fine, the best.

Photo: Vox Vicente, Vox Singuli

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  • BS January 28, 2008  

    I agree with the last guy – flash restaurant sites totally suck. Why are you showing me a 15-minute long, poorly-conceived animation about your “dining concept” when I just want to know what the hell you are serving.

  • Brian January 28, 2008  

    “pisted,” “alot,” “bar tender…” just sayin’.

  • gansie January 28, 2008  

    what are you sayin, brian?

  • BS January 28, 2008  

    regarding pisted, ths is correct in that the endless simmer style guide calls for spelling words with Jersey accents, when appropriate, a la begal.

  • Brian January 28, 2008  

    i gladly retract whatever it was that i was sayin’. Especially considering that “alot” and “bar tender” were quoted.

  • JoeHoya January 28, 2008  

    Re: Open Table – They definitely track (and communicate to restaurants) your level of activity. In fact, they’ve got a VIP program for anyone who makes 12 or more OpenTable reservations over the course of a year. In addition to the notation on your reservations, the VIP program also entitles you to perks at some participating restaurants – 10% off a bottle of wine, a complimentary appetizer, etc.

  • Pinch o Minch January 28, 2008  

    I had no idea F5 refreshed a page.

  • Erin January 29, 2008  

    are we really concerned that our government employees can’t browse restaurants WHILE THEY’RE AT WORK?

  • gansie January 29, 2008  

    when else are you supposed to browse restaurant menus?

  • jug January 30, 2008  

    I can tell you for certain that Central did not take open table into consideration when they sat this person.

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