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Saturday, February 16, 2008

When the coffee you're drinking gives restaurateurs a jolt

When the coffee you're drinking gives restaurateurs a jolt
February 14, 2008

Want to show the owner of your favorite breakfast place some love this Valentine's weekend? Then ditch the venti caramel macchiato or Big Gulp before you line up for your eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles.

Customers "walking in with a super grande drive me nuts!" says Ina Pinkney, owner of Ina's in the West Loop. "They're on their way to breakfast and they walk in with a giant cup of Starbucks or Caribou. We very gently say, 'Would you mind pouring that coffee into our cup?' I try to be gentle, but at the same time let them know their behavior is not acceptable."

So, why does it bother her so much? "I have better coffee [Intelligentsia]," Pinkney says. "Also, my table is not for advertising another business."
At Kitsch'n on Roscoe, chef-owner Jon Young has hung a small sign on the door of his Roscoe Village restaurant that reads, "Please -- no outside beverages," and bears a Starbucks-esque logo, in reference to the coffee shop just up the block.

"We don't really enforce it that much," he says. And he doesn't really have to. "We have such a great clientele that they get it." Still, if someone does show up bearing a big, obnoxious cup of coffee, the wait staff may ask the customer to put an Intelligentsia "sleeve" over the cup or pour the beverage into a mug. "Coffee sales are very key to us," Young says. And, he adds, "I would never walk into a bar with my own drink."

At M. Henry in Andersonville, "We're not experiencing that too much because we haven't been near a coffee shop [until an independent opened recently]," says general manager Daniel Malone. But he has encountered the behavior while working at other restaurants, where he too would ask paper-cup toters to pour their beverage into one of the restaurant's mugs.

Malone blames it on people who are "so particular about their specialized drink -- like a soy latte with half a pump of vanilla." Still, M. Henry has a full espresso bar in its adjoining cafe, where those who have to wait for a table on weekends can hang out and order a drink. He also offers a bottomless cup of Metropolis coffee that customers can then carry into the dining room when their table is ready.

At Toast, the popular breakfast and lunch spots in Lincoln Park and Bucktown, "I think it's tacky [when someone carries in a Big Gulp], but I won't say anything," says owner Jeanne Roeser. "I pick my battles. If someone feels right from the get-go that they're going to be scolded for something," it can create ill will.

Chris Manolis, one of the owners of Blueberry Hill pancake house in LaGrange (right across the street from a certain coffee chain), has a similar view. Not welcoming them in "is small-minded," he says. "They may come in with a cup of coffee, but they bring five people with them.

"Some of my loyal customers will say, 'I'm sorry I have a cup of Starbucks.' I say, 'No problem.'"

Please, sir, I want some more ...

Who determines how much food winds up on your plate when dining out? Most often it's the executive chef, according to a 2007 Clemson University study on restaurant portion sizes. In addition, when chefs were asked what factors they consider in deciding how much food they serve, they most often said presentation, followed by food cost, then customer expectations.

Only 16 percent said they consider calorie content when determining portion size, according to the study, which appeared in the journal "Obesity."

That can make dining out particularly vexing for those trying to watch their weight, because the temptations are, well, huge.

But chefs who try to do the right thing by serving moderate portions can run into trouble too. Take John Caputo, executive chef at A Mano, the trattoria that opened last fall in River North. He offers an antipasti selection ($5 each for things like marinated mushrooms, grilled octopus or caponata) as well as full and half-portions of about five made-by-hand pastas each night. In the beginning, especially because of the high quality of the pasta, portions weren't big. But after receiving feedback from customers, he has upped the size on both courses to meet expectations.

"We call it the Maggiano's effect," Caputo says, of the chain with its gargantuan portions. "There are a certain number of people who judge a restaurant by the amount of food they take home."

He would prefer that customers eat in the Italian style, by ordering a couple of antipasti, followed by a half-portion of pasta then an entree. But many prefer American style, which often means dinner is a full plate of pasta. And that's where another problem creeps in. Some guests order only the half-portion of pasta as their entree, and while it may positively affect their bottom, it negatively affects his bottom line. So much so that he's been wrestling with whether to even keep that option on the menu.

We say keep it. In fact, we'd like to see even more portion size options -- like the taster slice (half a piece) of pie at Bakers Square.

Or, barring that, we'd like servers to be more helpful in guiding us on how much to order. If the salads are huge -- as more and more seem to be, even when they're clearly not intended as entrees -- say so, and encourage sharing. Then we might even order dessert.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Espresso's Good

Espresso's Good, But Why Decaffeinated Coffee?

I love above all else to drink coffee, but I am still totally baffled why anyone would drink decaffeinated varieties. What about the needed and pleasurable caffeine rush? What would possess anyone in his or her right state of mind to give up on a good espresso for that dribble? Does this not take away the whole reason for drinking a decent cup of delicious coffee? I was soon to learn why this drudgery even existed. As I discovered pregnancy, I quickly developed a new taste for it. In fact, strangely enough, I actually really started to like it for the flavor alone. Weird, right? Hormonal reaction, maybe? That may have been a possibility, but you should read the rest.

Unfortunately, for everyone else, I cannot resist the insatiable urge to learn absolutely everything there is to know about pregnancy and how to avoid all known complications, diseases and anything, even the bubonic plague. Science said to avoid aspartame because how much of it was harmful was unknown. Luncheon meat was out because of a possible infection from listeria. Caffeine was the biggest fear – possible miscarriage. The fact is that you have to consume a minimum of three portions of normal coffee each day to do this, but it frightened me enough to settling for decaffeinated drinks and simple sodas.

Then, reaching my half-term point, I was horrified to discover through some television coverage that some decaffeinated varieties from coffeehouses may not be as caffeine free as they had claimed. Of course, it is obvious that there was some fractional amount of caffeine left in my drinks. However, I never dreamt that I was consuming close to that in the regular drinks. Then I discovered something else. In almost 60% of cases, the caffeine concentration in decaf was no different from the regular. As if that wasnt enough, scientists discovered that the problem lay in a cross-brewing process or the very brewing machines that had not been cleaned properly after the last batch. Normally that would not be a problem. However, in my case that was out of the question.

I understand now that during pregnancy my instincts to protect my unborn child left me now mad enough to eliminate any coffee types from my diet altogether, unless I made it myself. My pregnancy was to go undisturbed with any hint of decaf and that it frankly didnt help my moods during my last trimester.

Author Info:
Rob Carlton: Focusing on the topic of espresso, Robert Carlton wrote at large for . Working on his detailed publications such as ,the reviewer established his deep knowledge on coffee makers.