It's painfully obvious when a restaurant has bad service. The server waves an armpit in your face while reaching across for your water glass--if he or she ever materializes to refill it. Courses show up in the wrong order, all at once, veeeeery slowly, or--worst case--not at all. You get plenty of time to think things over while staring at your empty plate, wondering where the heck the waiter's gone to this time.
Conversely, good service can be difficult to recognize because it's so subtle, so under the radar. A truly attentive server knows what you need even before you do and accomplishes the task just as your realization dawns. At the same time, he or she doesn't crowd or hover or ask pointless questions when you have a mouth full of shrimp grit cake with smoked tasso ham. Good servers are just . . . there, part of the atmosphere. Like air. They know the menu and can make meaningful wine recommendations. They don't make personal comments about your selection, appetite, or appearance. They are seraphs with serving trays. In Baltimore, Charleston is the place to find such apron-clad angels. Remember to tip 20 percent, please.