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BOX TREE’S RULES OF ORDER

One of my New York spies has forwarded a copy of a 21-page mimeographed manual of procedures for the Box Tree restaurant in Manhattan--a pricey, mannered, veteran establishment that sometimes serves very good food and sometimes doesn’t. Many of the rules set down for dining room staff in this document are sensible ones indeed, prescribing behavior I wish were universal in the restaurant game. In answering the telephone, for instance, employees are to say “Good morning (or afternoon or evening), the Box Tree. May I help you?” Bravo! They are further instructed not to call their customers “folks” or “people,” make any necessary delicate requests very quietly so that only the host will hear them, and--probably most important of all--to always keep an eye on customers, “so that you can anticipate needs.”

Many of the other rules, however, are silly, pretentious stuff--so earnest and yet so artificial that they end up being pretty funny. The correct answer to the patron’s question, “What kind of food do you serve?” for instance, is this: “The cuisine at the Box Tree is eclectic with an emphasis on lightness but especially good taste and simple elegant presentation. One could say ‘New York International.’ ” (One could also say “Cut the flapdoodle and tell me what kind of food you serve, wise guy.”) And if a potential customer asks, “Can we have a birthday cake?” Box Tree-people are supposed to reply, “Madam, we beg not to disappoint you, but we could have a candle placed on an individual dessert. Of course we will enjoy making the occasion very special by doing a few nice little things that will not go unnoticed.”

Then there’s vocabulary: “Never use cordial ,” staff is warned. “Instead use brandies , liqueurs, and digestifs . Never use the word drink or cocktails . Instead, use aperitifs . Example: ‘Would Madam enjoy some aperitifs (fine liqueurs , brandies , digestifs ) . . . ?’ ” (“Shure, shunny, bring ‘em on. . . .”) And recommended descriptions of dishes: “Terrine of duckling livers. Quite successful attempt to give a foie gras feeling to it.” (Come to think of it, I’ve got a bit of that old foie gras feeling myself this morning.) And notes on the art and antiques with which the Box Tree is furnished: “Print in Ladies Room is by Brunelleschi, famous Italian artist of the ‘20s-'30s period.” (Yeah, but in what century?) And, best of all, this note on staff appearance: “Mustaches may be worn by no more than 20% of total existing staff at any one time. There is a wait-list for mustaches.”

Kinda makes you glad to be a Californian, doesn’t it?

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I would be very interested to see any similar documents assembled by Los Angeles restaurants, incidentally, whether presented to me with pride by management itself (and I don’t think such manuals are necessarily a bad idea, I hasten to add) or with amusement and/or contempt by those who have been asked to conform to them.

STRICTLY AGAINST HUNGER: SOS (Share Our Strength), the nationwide restaurant organization dedicated to establishing a “permanent source of funds and awareness for the world’s hungry,” has issued a report on the activities of their first year in business. No dollar figures are mentioned, but contributions were made in the first 12 months to Oxfam America, CARE and the Second Harvest network (which includes L.A.'s Community Food Resources), among other organizations. The group has also established three categories of membership for 1986: $500 (patron), $250 (sponsor) and $100 (friend). Interested restaurateurs (and if you’re not, you should be) can call (800) 222-1767 to join.

California is well represented in the group, incidentally: Five of the six members of the SOS Restaurant Advisory Board are our own--Alice Waters, Ken Frank, Marilyn and Harry Lewis and Wolfgang Puck. (The sixth is Larry Forgione of New York.)

MISCELLANY: Jasper White of the highly acclaimed Restaurant Jasper in Boston will be guest chef at the Parkway Grill in Pasadena June 23, 24 and 25--not last week as originally announced. . . . Among the goodies available at the annual Music Center Mercado held Saturday and next Sunday on the Music Center Plaza will be discount certificates from nearly 40 local and East Coast restaurants--from Rex, Valentino, Michael’s, Le Cirque, and Harry’s Cipriani to the Red Onion, Moonshadows and Sardi’s. . . . New York’s famed Carnegie Deli (recently immortalized cinematically in Woody Allen’s film “Broadway Danny Rose”) has announced plans to open branches in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1987. . . .The California and National Restaurant associations sponsor a one-day seminar in “Business Dynamics for Women in Foodservice,” Monday at the Amfac Hotel in San Francisco and Wednesday at the Emerald of Anaheim in Anaheim. Call Beth Molter at (800) 424-5156 for details.

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OUT OF TOWN: A new program of cooking sessions, meals, wine tastings and such is on tap in Sonoma through an organization called Hot Chefs and Rising Stars of America (well, if they can’t stand the heat. . .). The three-day/four-night events, which begin June 22, take place at the Matanzas Creek Winery and the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, with Bradley Ogden of San Francisco’s Campton Place Hotel and Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard’s in the Napa Valley and the Fog City Diner in San Francisco among the participants. For prices and other information, call Darcy Kelly at (707) 938-9000. . . . And reports in this column recently that extraordinary French chef Jean-Louis Palladin, currently of Jean-Louis in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, was planning to move into the kitchens at the Parker Meridien’s Maurice restaurant in New York in the near future may have been premature: The Watergate was bought not long ago by Cunard Lines, which plans to open a New York hotel of their own before long, and they are apparently very anxious to keep Palladin in the family (and out of the competitive arena in Gotham).


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