Customers not respected at Iranian restaurants
By Mahmood Kanani
January 24, 2001
Thank God dinning is not one of the illegal activities monitored by
the "morality police" in Iran. Maybe that is why one of the my
favorite pastimes was to enjoy the variety of food options available. Great
kababs, fresh bread and doogh, with a good ghalyoon in a outdoor cafe up
at Darband accompanied by the peaceful experience of listening to the steady
flow of the stream late at night.
And kalleh pacheh early mornings before heading for a ski weekend in
Shemshak. Grabbing some laboo from a street vendor on a cold winter night
heading back from high school. And also experimenting with the limited
number of farangi restaurants - Mexican, Indian, Chinese and a few others.
Fast forward a few years and a few thousand kilometers away, in the
Food in the U.S. is pretty big, but it has a different culture. Forget
about fast food and extra value meals, providing the necessary -- actually
most often, unnecessary -- calories. I am talking about the different ethnic
groups who have brought their food alongside with other parts of their
culture to this continent.
As a newcomer I was fascinated by the number of different choices available.
There wasn't enough time to try them all out! I thought I finally understood
what the U.S. was all about. After all, Columbus braved all the obstacles
to discovering the U.S. just to find a closer route to all those spices.
Basically saying: "This slab of beef is too bland, let's get on a
boat, risk our lives sailing the vast stormy ocean, go somewhere no one
has ever gone before so that we can grind some fresh black pepper on it!"
But there is no escaping it, after a while you always go back to your
I needed ghormeh sabzi. The chelo kabab level in my blood had dropped
to dangerous levels and I felt a seizure coming on.
Enter the Iranian -- or to be precise, Persian -- restaurant. My quest
for finding the greatest Iranian restaurant started. Somewhere in the same
level of the Indian restaurant I keep going back to because of the food,
or the Vietnamese place I recommend to all my friends. Somewhere with service
as good as the little French hole in the wall. A dinning experience as
authentic to its roots as that Chinese dim sum place. Or simply like the
Greek diner I frequent only because the manager makes a personal effort
to welcome each and every costumer whenever he can.
That quest still continues.
At first I wondered why Iranian food is not bigger deal here. The food
is not too spicy, which can scare away less adventurous palates, yet it
is full of flavor. No weird ingredients like frogs legs or raw fish. It's
healthy too, quite a lot of vegetables and herbs and not that much meat
and fat. Why hasn't it picked up?
The answer was not to hard to find.
It seems Iranian restaurant owners in the U.S. run their business with
the same skill and efficiency as their counterparts in Iran. This just
doesn't work here. Sometimes I want to grab the managers and drag them
to a crash course on customer service! I have never had experiences similar
to the ones I have had in Iranian restaurants.
Vacuuming the restaurant is a not-so-subtle gesture to your customers
to "get the hell out of this place, I'm closing down." Turning
off the lights and shutting down the music, all while the waiter is standing
with the bill a few feet from the table staring at you. Hearing form the
waiter, 45 minutes after you have ordered, that the meal you wanted from
the menu is not available that night. Almost chocking on your meal, because
of the lack of water while your lovely waiter is flirting for 20 minutes
with the handsome dude in the next table. And my favorite: rewarming kabab
koobideh in a microwave! The list goes on and on.
I don't like to nag. The food industry is very competitive and I don't
want Iranian restaurants to go out of business. Where else can I find chelo
kabab soltani with somagh? But I also want to enjoy the dinning experience
too. I don't want to be scolded by the manager because half of my reserved
party didn't show up. I doubt a non-Iranian will ever return after experiencing
what I've been through. But the managers know we are hooked, like junkies.
Personally I've entered a 12-step rehabilitation program at my local
community center to kick my addiction. "Hi. My name is Mahmood and
I am addicted to Iranian food". The first thing they want you to do
is stop the abusive relationship, so I haven't gone back to any of the
restaurants I mentioned.
But I have a confession to make. I just found a new Iranian place. The
manager was friendly and greeted us graciously, the food is excellent and
I feel welcomed. The problem is that it's about three hours form where
I live. Sadly, I ran out of places to go in my own town.
Maybe it's time to move?