Alan Richman, M. Wells, and the State of Service


M. Wells. [Photo: Robyn Lee]

All day, the food world has been talking about GQ food critic Alan Richman's article "Diner for Schmucks"—in which he takes aim at soon-to-shutter M. Wells, the serious restaurant in American diner clothing in Long Island City, Queens.

In a piece that GQ clearly means to start a scandal (it was emailed directly to many players in food media this morning), Richman recounts his meals at M. Wells, some pleasant, one brought down by what he calls the "hipster restaurant" mentality:

Customers these days tend to confuse discipline and manners with arrogance. Perhaps they are remembering the excess stuffiness of decades past. That hardly exists any longer. Arrogance today is exhibited by inconsiderate servers who do almost nothing for customers other than slap plates down in front of them and expect a generous tip. Arrogance is a restaurant believing it can prosper without looking after its customers.

Richman's saga goes on from there. But our question—the fair point raised in a surely bizarre article—is about the state of service in New York, and beyond.

Here's one: Do some hipster restaurants allow their casual, informal approach to service to degenerate into incompetence and disdain for customers dining at their establishments?

We should note that we're not talking about M. Wells here; on both of our visits—an early breakfast, a more recent dinner—we had no complaints about the service at all. I've since returned on a few occasions and, while I do think that I was made as a critic (then again, so was Richman), I've found the service just fine. "Friendly and solicitous" is what I called it in the review, and I'll stand by that.

But we've certainly experienced the sort of indifferent conduct Richman details at several newish restaurants—some whose food is decent but service is so poor we'd never consider returning. And on the flipside, we'd talked about this question after our meal at the hipster mecca Do or Dine, which couldn't get less formal if it tried, but where we had extrarordinarily solicitous and welcoming, if decidedly casual and offbeat, service.

So tell us: What do you think of Richman's indictment of informal service today? Is he right on, or overstating matters? And what defines good service to you?