Wednesday, October 05, 2011

When to Serve an Appetizer

Let's talk restaurant serving times!

A few months back, I talked about the impact that ordering an appetizer has on restaurant serving speed. The theory is that if you order an appetizer, two things happen. They start preparing your appetizer before they start preparing your main dish, and they wait until you have finished the appetizer before they bring out the main dish.

But there are a lot of variables here. Specifically: exactly when do they take your order for, and then serve, the appetizer? Do they...
1) ...take your appetizer and main dish orders at the same time, which is also when I start my timer. The appetizer comes after a few minutes, and then the main dish comes later.
2) ...take your appetizer order first - say, along with your drink order - and then come back a few minutes later, while the appetizer is still being prepared, to get your main dish order (which is when my timer starts)? This method allows them to get you the appetizer sooner than under option #1...in theory, of course.

We don't order appetizers very often, but I think it's usually split evenly between #1 (all food ordered at once) and #2 (appetizers ordered separately). But wait! There's more! They could also...
3) ...take your appetizer order first, and then wait until AFTER you've already received the appetizer before they take your main dish order.

On Sunday, Tyler's Tap Room (downtown Durham) took option #3. We were already eating our soft pretzels before they had even taken our main dish order. I don't think I've ever seen a restaurant use option #3 before.

From a statistical standpoint, my question is this. Based on the theory that appetizers delay the serving of the main dish: is that still the case when the appetizer is already out of the kitchen and on our respective plates before we order the main dish? In this situation, it's almost like we didn't even have the appetizer, and it shouldn't affect the time as a result, since we already have the appetizer by the time my stopwatch starts. This is why there is an asterisk in the "Appetizer" column of my serving times spreadsheet next to Tyler's Tap Room.

I don't ever expect to acquire enough data to be able to prove that options #1/#2 are slower than option #3 (with respect to the main dish timing only, order to reception), and that option #3 is statistically equal to ordering no appetizer at all. But it would be interesting to know.

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