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Why Service Matters

October 26, 2011 · 0 comments

Editor’s note:
Montreal has a mixed reputation for service. We are not the Deep South, where waiters always tell customers their names, followed by “and I’ll be your waiter today.” Neither are we Paris, where the help sometimes makes you feel as though taking your order is like giving you a kidney. This week, our friend Julien Smith talks about the nature of good service.
About the author:

Julien Smith is a New York Times bestselling author of Trust Agents. He is also a  consultant, and speaker who has been involved in online communities for over 15 years– from early BBSes and flashmobs to the social web as we know it today. His blogs at inoveryourhead.net.

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Nothing leaves a bad taste in your mouth like arriving at a great shop, or a great new restaurant, and then receiving horrible service. Expectations are high, you’ve heard good things from friends, the mood is perfect. Everything is just so until the employees open their mouth (or don’t, as the case may be). From there on in, the experience disintegrates rapidly.
But it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes you arrive, and it’s great. Or, it depends on who you’re speaking to– some of the staff are charming in the way they upsell you while others are blunt and obvious. They had a good day, or a bad one. Whatever table they served before yours may have rubbed them the wrong way, who knows.
In other words, service is really subtle, and easily missed.
Not everyone gets it wrong, though. Some do it amazingly well, leaving you with a memorable experience for years to come. Take Joe Beef, for instance.The casual atmostphere makes everyone feel welcome. The informality is a part of the charm, and the impression that you’re taking part in a kind of secret Old Boys club somehow adds to the experience. Our waiter taunted us, practically dared us to be able to finish the sizeable dishes he’d bring, egging us on in a kind of mock-challenge we were more than happy to engage in.
And until our favourite butcher in town, our friend Ms. Hecht, opens up her place, is among the shops at the Atwater Market, where you are often greeted with a smile and casually chatted with as you make your choices.
In other words, every time great service happens, it trumps even the quality of the goods the store itself sells. It makes us so happy that we return to these venues, again and again. These things matter more than we are able to admit to ourselves.
You might say it has something to do with a feeling of belonging, or a sense of nostalgia. We like being recognized, treated well and appreciated. Yet, amongst all the things establishments think about: inventory, wages, or concept, what is most human is often overlooked– a shame, considering it can be the most valuable thing a business presents– and often the most profitable.
The truth is, the human element is the only thing that cannot be mechanized or scaled. It requires sacrifice and actual caring; people cannot be duped. They know when it is being faked and when it’s the real thing. You cannot train people to do it; they either know how, or they don’t.
The best, most memorable experiences for us as a couple have been the places where they’ve been the least expected. Salle à Manger, during a recent Plateau supper, left an amazing impression on my girlfriend when the hirsute waiter described how he and his friend had themselves caught the fish she was about to have for supper. When added to his character and amazing wine recommendations, it became an experience that will be remembered for a long time.
M sur Masson is another out-of-the-way place, a great restaurant that is not well-enough known due to its distance from the downtown core. Sitting quietly by Iberville, the proprietor shakes everyone’s hands as they leave and thanks them, making everyone feel welcome. This, along with charming descriptions of the chef’s daily meals, leaves you with a sentiment not unlike arriving back at your own hometown after a long voyage.
Onto the conclusion. Why is this important? Why does it matter that you are served well and treated warmly? Because, in an age of mass production, scale, and franchising, focus on the human still matters. Even as we gain access to the whole world’s knowledge with the tap of a button on our new iPhone 4S’s, what really makes us happy isn’t the digital, or the industrial, but the analog– the feeling that someone else is noticing and appreciating us. This isn’t going to be disappearing as the digital age moves forward. It’s actually going to become more important. Watch for it, you’ll see.
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Editor’s note

We’ve been fortunate to host some our favourite bloggers on Ici et here. This week is no exception and we’re thrilled to welcome Amanda Strong. If you care about sustainable food and live in Montreal, her blog is a go-to resource.

About the author

Amanda Strong is a freelance writer specialising in food, health, travel and the environment. She runs The Mindful Table, a blog that explores local and sustainable food across Canada with a focus on Montreal and south-western Quebec. She is passionate about Montreal and loves exploring everything her city has to offer, especially if it involves food!

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Montreal has long had a reputation as a city in love with food. Whether you are a connoisseur of fine food, an intrepid explorer of cultural cuisine, or simply love to cook or eat, Montreal has something for everyone, including those of us paying more attention to where our food comes from and how it is raised or produced.

Interest in where our food comes from and making our food systems more sustainable is growing. Farmers’ markets are popping up everywhere, books about what we eat make it onto bestseller lists, newspapers and magazines regularly run stories about local foods, food banks are venturing into urban agriculture, hotels are growing gardens and keeping bees and chickens on their roofs, shops have growing selections of local and organic products, food packaging is becoming more responsible, and some restaurants proudly display the names of local farm suppliers on their menus. Montreal is no exception.

Neighbourhood market selling local produce in Montreal.

Some of the most common questions I receive through The Mindful Table relate to shopping for sustainable food in Montreal or from folks looking for restaurant recommendations. Recently, I’ve been keeping a growing list of these places, which I’m always happy to share.

Here are some of my favourite haunts for sustainable food in the city. The list tends to be biased toward downtown, NDG and the southwest since those are close to home for me. It is by no means exhaustive.

  • Coop La Maison Verte was one of the first environmental- and social-justice focused shops in Montreal. They carry basic organic and fair trade food including a strong selection of local products and frozen organic meat. They are also a drop-off point for a few CSAs and have a produce market with Ferme Zephyr on Thursdays. As well, they sell natural cleaning products (such as dish soap) in bulk—bring your own bottle—as well as other household staples.
  • Boucherie de Tours at Atwater market and Le Maitre Boucher in NDG carry meats from small farms with sustainable practices, as well as organic chicken. Talk to the butcher. Boucherie de Tours is one of the few places I know that sells fresh pasture-raised veal.
  • Ferme Nordest at Marché Jean Talon sells meats from animals raised without antibiotics and hormones. Most are pasture-raised as well. Another option at both Atawater and Jean Talon markets is Boucherie Saint Vincent, which only sells local organic meats.
  • L’Autre Choix Mini Marché is a little gem on Victoria street in Westmount. They focus on local and sustainable grocery products. Nearby, the health store Aliments Natural A Votre Santé on Vendome at Sherbrooke has a good selection of local produce and meats, as well as organic goods.
  • Supermarché PA on Fort Street is great for general groceries. Their stock fluctuates wildly but they usually have decent organic options (including chicken and Ferme Valens products) and tend to have some local produce when in season. I also like their international products.
  • Boulangerie Guillaume is an artisanal organic bakery in Mile End. If you’re craving real Montreal bagels, Fairmount Bagel has some organic ones as well as organic Matzo bread. All their bagels use unbleached flour, well, except the whole wheat ones. With the exception of the standard sesame, poppy seed or plain, not all their bagels are available all the time.
  • Fromagerie Atwater in Atwater market and Copette & Cie in Verdun are my favourite cheese shops. Fromagerie Atwater is huge and also has a great general dairy selection with many organic options, and a fantastic microbrew selection. Copette & Cie is a neighbourhood cheese shop so it’s much smaller. Most of their cheeses are local though and you can’t beat the service! They are also a CSA drop-off point.
  • Branche D’Olivier in Verdun is another neighbourhood gem. It started out as an Indian food store but has since diversified strongly into organic and fair trade products.
  • Olive et Epices in Marché Jean Talon is Montreal’s spice Mecca. The spices are fresh and sourced from small estates.
  • Finally, Marché des Saveurs near Jean Talon Market specialises in Quebec artisanal foods and beverages. It’s huge. There’s really no other place like it except maybe on the boozy side since the SAQ in Atwater Market also carries a very strong selection of Quebec ciders, mead, wine and liqueurs .

A locavore picnic with organic bread, cheese and dry sausage, and an absinthe microbrew from Mont-Laurier.

For dining out, most of the exclusively (or mostly) vegan places in the city, like Crudessence, Aux Vivres and La Panthère Verte, use mostly local and organic ingredients and tend to be very environmentally conscious. Vegetarian restaurants Burritoville and Bonny’s also fit these criteria and are great choices. Bonny’s is the only one that is licensed and is probably your best bet for a sit-down meal. Their food is never a disappointment. Burritoville has live music, poetry nights, art shows and other interesting stuff going on.

If vegetarian isn’t your thing, Brasserie Artisanale L’Amère à Boire on St-Denis serves up their own brew and sources their ingredients mainly form la Petite Nation region near the Quebec-Ontario border. All their meat is naturally raised. Robin des Bois in the Plateau is a non-profit restaurant that donates to local social and anti-poverty causes. They try to use local and sustainable ingredients when possible. Fait Ici in Little Burgundy has some great fast lunch options. I love their organic chicken sandwich. There is also Tributerre on Jarry: Check their opening hours before going though, because they can be odd.

At the higher end, both Restaurant DNA in old Montreal and Le St-Urbain in Ahuntsic source sustainable ingredients and use many local suppliers. They both have reputations for excellent wine lists with good Canadian, organic and biodynamic selections. Le St-Urbain is also ocean-wise certified. I’ve never eaten at Toqué but it has been at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement since they opened. It’s little brother Brasserie t! reportedly also shares a similar ingredient philosophy. Other choices in the city include Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins and L’Un des Sens.

Are you interested in sustainable food or where your food comes from? Why? What are your favourite spots in the city?

http://www.robindesbois.ca/
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Montréal, loin mais tout près.

October 3, 2011

Mot du rédacteur: Cette semaine sur Ici et here Kim Gradek est notre invitée. Les aliments, les voyages, la gastronomie, le vin. Voilà ce qui passionne notre petite épicurienne montréalaise, qui depuis un an, s’amuse à voyager accompagnée de sa douce moitié Hakim, pour découvrir l’univers des maisons trois étoiles au guide Michelin. Sur son [...]

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Les premières fois gastronomiques

September 15, 2011

Mot du rédacteur. Cette semaine Ariane Carpentier est notre invitée! Ariane est une étudiante du cégep. Compte tenu qu’elle est encore aux études, elle adore découvrir des restaurants qui sont abordables, mais délicieux, qu’elle critique ensuite dans son blog.  C’est sous le nom de l’Épicurienne Urbaine qu’Ariane partage son amour pour la nourriture. —————————————————————- Ne [...]

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Montreal Between Bread

September 6, 2011

Editor’s note: It’s taken over 40 weeks for someone to write a post about sandwiches on this blog. While this is rather surprising, we could not be happier to welcome our dear friend, and DJ extraordinaire, Dave Allison of Kinjo Music and Editorial as our guest this week. David is a true connoisseur of both Montreal and [...]

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The White Dinner

August 27, 2011

Editor’s Note: Montreal is magical in the summer. There are so many memorable nights, festivals and occasions. Dîner En Blanc is one of the more unique special gatherings. This week, Rachelle Hecht talks to us about her recent experience at this iconic summer meal. About the author: Rachelle Hecht is a butcherette and personal chef [...]

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Finding A Place To Call Home

August 11, 2011

Editor’s note: We are thrilled to welcome Kristel Salesse to our blog this week. She talks about her upbringing around the world and how Montreal has allowed her to relive (and re eat) youthful memories. About the author (and in her own words): I am a food blogger, writer, creator and coach. Part-time raw foodist, full-time eudaemonic [...]

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Snowdon Deli: Meat My Family

August 3, 2011

Editor’s Note: In both happy and sad times we tend to gravitate to places we know well. Restaurants in particular draw us in due to familiar food and feeling. This week we are honoured to have a very talented writer and friend, Jennifer Nachshen, as our guest blogger. She talks about a place that is deeply familiar for her and [...]

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Montréal, à l’envers de l’hiver

July 28, 2011

Mot du rédacteur: Le 37e billet sur Ici et here est par Christelle. Elle est une vraie globe-trotteuse gourmande ! Parisienne d’origine, elle arrive à Montréal en 2008 après avoir vécu à Barcelone et voyagé en Transsibérien (un de ses meilleurs voyages !) Elle aime cuisiner, seule, à deux, pour deux, pour des amis et surtout [...]

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Won’t You Be My (Foodie) Neighbour

July 21, 2011

Editor’s Note: This week we’re honoured to feature Vanessa Muri as our guest. Though she grew up here and now makes her living telling others about the city’s gems, she came to know these areas and places a bit later in life. About the author: Vanessa Muri is a writer and editor from Montreal, freelancing regularly [...]

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