There are the standard meals at the burger joint, the plate and a beer at the local pub, the happy hour at Applebee’s. Good service and mediocre service are often indistinguishable except by a single-digit percentage points on the tip at the end of the night. Egregious oversights earn only a mild and reasonable demotion, while above-and-beyond service–defined by an extra cherry on top and the quick replacement of a fork dropped on the floor–means a couple of extra bucks.
Then there is the five percent of dining experiences where the service is exceptional. These servers shift the meal into another gear because that is what they do. They are professionals. They are passionate about food and wine; they are interested in your conversation but keep a respectful distance from the details; they are attentive without being overbearing. Little Bird in Portland has a young woman who made the “A” grade with an extra plus when Kristine and I went there last month. And a recent trip to Aqua Santa in Santa Fe, New Mexico yielded a notable experience worth writing about.