Rant & Rave: Restaurant Service and Basketball

March 30 2012, 11:02 AM

Rant: Restaurant Service

This is the time of year when we at 5280 are wrapping up our Top of the Town reporting. As such, we’re spending a lot of time in area bars and restaurants on the good ol’ company dime. Now that I’m working on my sixth “best-of” issue, my initial impression of our eateries—one aspect in particular—has become too apparent to ignore: Although Denver’s selection of dining options is constantly improving, with a few of them even closing in on world-class status, our city’s food service, too often, sucks.

I’ve lived in San Francisco and New York, and I grew up outside Chicago. Also, I’m old. So while I’m no gourmand, I’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants. It’s no stretch to say that Denver aspires to rank with these three cities, culinarily speaking, but what too many of our restaurants seem to have forgotten is that dining out isn’t only about whether the food has panache or the wine list impresses; it’s an end-to-end experience.

Our local service shortcomings aren’t about attitude; Denver servers are far and away the friendliest of any city I’ve dined in. Unfortunately, they’re also far and away the flakiest. Let’s start with the general: For some reason, a bizarrely high proportion of servers here simply refuse to write down your order, even when you can see their pens and pads right there in their apron pockets. Instead, they “commit” what you want to memory, send it along, and then your dish arrives with something amiss. If you want to impress me with your mental acuity, recite all the state capitols or something; just write down my &*%#ing order.

To be more specific, in the past several weeks I’ve waited 40 minutes for a to-go order at Sushi Hai in Highlands Square (the second time that's happened), and long enough for a mid-Saturday-afternoon, sit-down meal at Tennyson Street’s Big Hoss that we had to ask for to-go containers as soon as the dishes arrived. In both cases, the servers couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetic. In both cases, they blamed some kind of invisible rush for the delay. And in both cases, their alibis were demonstrably false—Sushi Hai was two-thirds full, at most, and Big Hoss had a grand total of five tables seated.

This doesn’t mean our hometown waitstaffs are universally bad; I’ve eaten recent meals at Linger, Olivéa, and Firenze a Tavola where the service was timely and superb—and, as always, friendly as can be. But if Denver ever wants to join the gastronomic ranks of bigger cities, our restaurants need to learn how to stress the professionalism and save the flakiness for the fresh fish and phyllo dough. —Luc Hatlestad

Rave: Downtown's New Basketball Court

The warm, spring weather beckons Denver's workforce to 16th Street Mall for an extended lunch break or an early happy hour. Instead of meandering down the mall, stop at Skyline Park behind the Daniels & Fisher Clocktower and shoot hoops. If your first thought is that there is an ice rink in Skyline Park, don't worry. The rink has been transformed into a full basketball court (pictured) that will stay put through mid-April. Reserve time on the Southwest Court for a quick game of HORSE or 3-on-3. If you don't feel at home on the hardwood, stretch out on the bleachers, soak in some sun, and watch your co-workers sweat it out. —Lindsey R. McKissick

—Photo courtesy of Andrew Peters, Linhart Public Relations