Restaurant Efficiency

NOT just another restaurant review

The No Name Café

Last Friday night, I found myself with a craving for Latin Food, and an unwillingness to travel anywhere above Houston. With this in mind, I tried my luck at the small Latin eatery, Café Habana.  Unsurprisingly, my not so far travels were in vain, as the crowd had dispersed well into the Soho sidewalk. Not to be disheartened, I walked down Prince St. to discover another Latin menu with a Cuban flair. I tried to Yelp the place before officially walking inside but was at a loss for the name, as I searched for some type of identification on this restaurant. I could find no name on the side of the façade –or on the window’s menu—not even a clear greeting on the front door. Slightly frustrated but significantly hungry, I decided to give the café a shot regardless.

Fortunately for the establishment, I was pleasantly surprised with its interior organization. The hostess stand had a clear stance in the front of the restaurant (always a good start) with a likewise cheery hostess, who pointed to the convenient coat closet in the wall indent next to her. Points for a clear sense of entrance and for incorporating a seemingly unusable space in a very useful way. With high NYC rental rates, it is crucial to use any portion of restaurant space available. After I hung my puffy red coat, I noticed the long and narrow dining area. To be honest, I expected an odd floor plan, particularly in Soho. What I did not expect, was the restaurant’s optimal spatial organization. The narrow dining area was filled with many intimate tables for two next to an extended bar. Two person tables are key for this tight floor plan as they take up the least amount of space and can be combined to accommodate parties of 3 or 4. The extended bar was a particularly clever touch as diners could sit on both sides of the bar while still maintaining a table-like atmosphere and setting. This is ideal seating for large groups, who would otherwise exhaust the main dining space leaving it cramped and unpleasant. Instead, large groups get a comfortable and cool environment, as they are welcomed to a part of the restaurant otherwise unavailable to guests – the other side of the bar. This proximity to the bartender and actual bar area provides an environment that makes it easy for the wait staff to push drinks. And at $12 a cocktail, the drinks can really add up in terms of tips and revenue. So all-in-all, thumbs up to this seeming awkward café for a seamless use of  space.

As much as I wanted to love the café for its spatial efficiency, the restaurant still left much to be desired. Beyond, the restaurant’s lack of identification, the wait staff was not quite on par NYC standards, as I waited 15 minutes before I was greeted by my waitress. During that time, several different bus boys came by the table to refill the water glass, provide silverware, and present some quite yummy plantain chips. Yet, there was no introduction to the restaurant, the menu, or any evening. This is truly a missed opportunity for the staff to make contact with a new customer and to sell their certain items, whether it be an entrée, appetizer, or cocktail. While I waited for the waitress, I was left with plenty of time to pick out the restaurant’s negative aspects. My table had a quirky container of water paired with even funkier water glasses. This would be a great way to add to the restaurant’s identity and Latin influence if the busboy’s did not reach over the table to refill my glass ever few minutes. I was thirsty and the small glasses meant lots of refills. The use of busboy’s in this capacity is not only costly and a terrible use of resources, it also very burdensome to diners. After all, who wants someone interrupting the dining experience every few minutes for something as simple as a water refill? Let patron’s refill their own glasses. The reason a water bottle is kept on the table, so the table can decide when it is time to replenish the thirsts.

As I waited, I also made the effort to truly investigate the menu, which was far too complex and ill organized for the restaurant’s seemingly relaxed environment. The menu combined drinks and food and was at least 10 pages in length – much too long to entice the hungry diner. The restaurant should, instead, split their menu into separate food and drink menus. Specialty cocktails can remain on the food menu but it is unnecessary and confusing to keep a lengthy wine list next to the tapas selection. Confusing menus mean unhappy diners and that can lead to a loss in revenue or loss in potential revenue. For instance, tapas were on the menu and a great way to attract diners and dollars, as the small plates are less costly for the restaurant than entrees and are meant to be enjoyed with several other small plates. But if the tapas are hidden among a laundry list of wines, diners are less likely to order the dishes. Moral of the story – profitable menus need to be concise, clear, and attractive to the diners.

I established this impression all in the 15 minute wait for the waitress, and I was left unsure of the restaurants identity, roots, and point of view. I had no formal introduction by the wait staff, no idea of the name of the restaurant, and no clear picture of the restaurant’s dining style with the muddled menu. And although, the waitress proved to be quite a capable and pleasant personality and the food was nothing short of delicious, I left the restaurant with a lack of satisfaction. The beauty of New York is that dining is a way of life – a part of the city’s collective culture. The experience is just as important as the meal and this dining experience could have been enhanced with a few simple operational improvements from a more attentive wait staff that can market the restaurant, to a simpler menu that entices eaters, to an overall stronger sense of restaurant identity.

And for those still wondering, I did finally discover the restaurant’s name inside a handmade wooden cigar box, which held that night’s dinner bill at ‘Oficiana Latina.’


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One thought on “The No Name Café

  1. Can’t wait to read more!

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