Elements surprise is really good service

A la carte advice for restaurant owners: Staff must remember who’s serving whom

Arigato in Santa Barbara

Arigato in Santa Barbara

I recently spent a wonderful evening dining out with friends. We started with dinner at Arigato, which is my favorite sushi place. The sushi is consistently divine, but the appetizers are really my favorite. I especially recommend trying the “Locals Only” and “Rincon Magic.”

After dinner we ambled over to Elements — in the old Cafe Figaro space across from the courthouse lawn — for wonderful desserts. We actually had enough people in our group to order the entire dessert menu, a fantasy come true for me. If I could just win the lottery so I could pick up the tab for the entire room, my restaurant fantasies would be complete.

Although it pains me to say it, my favorite thing at Elements was the Cool Blue Hawaiian Granita, a cross between a pina colada, a slurpee and a Popsicle. It wasn’t chocolate, which legally disqualifies it from the dessert category, but it was still yummy.

While my loved ones can always be counted on for good company, and most of our restaurant excursions result in pretty good food, one thing made this evening unique in Santa Barbara dining experiences — we had really good service.

Not “really good for Santa Barbara service,” but really good service. Period.

Dear Santa Barbara restaurant owner:

You’ve lowered our expectations enough. Unless 100 percent of your proceeds are going to charity or you’re trying to lose money in some kind of tax shelter scheme I don’t want to be part of, it’s time to get with the program on your service.

Not to get all uppity about things, but I came to your establishment to be served. If I want fries with that, I’ll drive through In and Out Burger, but when I come to your restaurant I expect a little more pampering.

I shouldn’t have to flap my arms like a dodo bird to get your hostess’s attention when I walk in the door. She should be waiting to greet me, and seat me, whether or not my entire party has arrived.

And while we’re on the subject of seating, unless the restaurant is full, would you kindly not seat me on top of the other patrons. Spare me my neighbor’s discussion of her affair with her boss and her gynecologist appointment (both of whom I probably know) and let the waiter walk the extra five steps that separate our tables.

And if I’ve got kids with me, let the waiter walk an extra ten steps. Your patrons will thank you, I promise. While we’re on the subject of dining with small children, remember, they’ve got short attention spans. Smart waitresses, like Isabel at Petrini’s, know that crayons won’t keep them as quiet as crackers, and that parents with kids under five are fast with the tips when you’re fast with the food.

I have never felt rushed when a waiter left the bill right after dinner, but I have been late to movies (or settled for my second choice at the multiplex) when the waiter apparently decided to go wax his car before deigning to let us know what our meal cost.

Speaking of speed, as laid back as Santa Barbara is, I only have an hour for lunch. Going to a restaurant should not be the equivalent of shopping at Ross Dress For Less, where you can find really great bargains if you’re willing to invest 57 minutes to find a pair of matching shoes and 23 minutes to wait in line to find out how much they cost.

I’ve already spent 17 minutes trying to park. I’d like to spend less than that waiting to order. After all, I’ve got a column to write and I get a little bit cranky when I’m hungry.

For comments about Santa Barbara’s renowned service economy, Leslie Dinaberg can be contacted at email

Originally published inĀ South Coast Beacon