Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Restaurateurs: Please Do Not Let Your Staff Rush My Dinner

If I am on time for my reservation, show me some Respect.

picture photograph image Poll: How should I expect to be treated at a restaurant, if mine is the very last reservation time of the evening? 2008 copyright of sam breach
This was the overwhelming message I received for my poll about whether restaurants have the right to rush you if yours is the last reservation of the evening. I felt vindicated when 91% of 443 respondents felt the same way I did when I was recently told "the kitchen is closing in five minutes". Here is the sequence of events that led to my writing this post and conducting the poll:

1) We arrive at the restaurant within 2 minutes of our 10.15pm Opentable reservation.
2) We are seated immediately by the hostess who hands us menus to peruse.
3) We are not actually aware that we are the last reservation.
4) At 10.25pm a waiter arrives, telling us he is going to have to hurry up and take our orders straight away, he needs to rush our requests because the kitchen is closing in 5 minutes.
5) We have already chosen so we let him know what we would like, including aperitifs.
6) We ask him if he would give us just a couple more minutes to choose our wine.
7) Very soon after that our appetizers are delivered by a waitress. I explain to her I am a little surprised at the speed because we haven't yet received our aperitifs.
8) She rushes off to remind our waiter who is AWOL from our table for most of the early part of our evening and who has forgotten about our drinks.
9) The cocktails arrive midway through our appetizers.
10) After finishing our starters, we are left twiddling our thumbs for a while - unable to get the attention of any waitstaff in order to request our wine.
11) Eventually we manage to gain the attention of (not our) waiterress.
12) I ask if we might be able to please order and take delivery of our wine before the entrees arrive?
13) "Of course" she replies and heads off to find our waiter.
14) Our waiter turns up and because one of our party of three has reason to celebrate, we order an extremely decent bottle of wine.
15) As he is taking the wine order our main courses arrive.
16) I feel that I have to say something at this point. I tell him I am extremely disappointed because I feel like we are being rushed and everything is turning up out of sync.
17) He tells me - he has to rush us because the kitchen is closing.
18) I tell him that I made the reservation in good faith via Opentable, I was on time, and I do not expect a restaurant to take a reservation if they do not have the time to honour it properly.
19) Our wine is good enough that it needs a decanter. He goes to take care of it.
20) I get the feeling that the waiter's opinion of us has changed because of our somewhat special wine choice.
21) After dinner, I order a $5 cheese and the boys settle for Sauternes.
22) Our waiter decides he should perhaps apologize at this point and comps these final three items. "I am sorry", he says "I didn't mean to rush you".
23) I find his apology to be a little dishonest. At the start of our evening he certainly did mean to rush us and said as much two or three times.
24) I notice some of the staff settling down to dinner in the corner. I guess the kitchen isn't fully closed after all.
25) I decide I want to take action to try and stop other diners suffering from a similar, uncomfortable situation.
26) I write to Opentable stating "I do not believe [you] should offer later reservations to [your] users, if those users cannot be guaranteed the same level of service and experience they would expect at an earlier time in the evening".
27) I wrote to the owner of the restaurant voicing similar concerns.
28) Opentable are very professional and return my email quickly, saying: "I would like to offer my deepest apologies regarding your unsatisfactory experience at the restaurant. I encourage you to call the restaurant directly and ask to speak with the General Manager so that you may voice your concerns. Restaurants really do appreciate both positive and negative feedback, and yours is incredibly valuable. In the meantime, we will address the situation with the restaurant in an effort to avoid this happening in the future.". (They also give me a few bonus points to show their appreciation of my custom.)
29) After 10+ days and no response from the owner via email I decide to give him a call. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

"You should not have been rushed... As long as we sit you down you should have as much time as you need... I am sorry it happened, I don't support it, I agree with you... I know it's not something that should happen. There is always a way, something to improve, fix complaints, if people don't say, I don't know."

Although the memory of our hurried evening still rankles with me, I am satisfied with the Chef/owner's explanation and apology for now. It's a good lesson in restraint to actually talk to the owner of a restaurant you have an issue instead of spouting off your grievances online without first thinking it through. I'll trust that this restaurant will fix its kitchen closing issues, so that any future late-dining guests are not disappointed like we were.

I only have the owner's word that things will improve, though, so don't hesitate to tell me if you find he doesn't deliver on his promise. If you're wondering where to find him, he's a Frenchman, whose restaurant/bar with a wood-burning oven and live piano, is hidden away behind a large gate and courtyard garden somewhere South of Market. Shouldn't be too hard to find...

PS Message for my Menu for Hope Supporters - Your Clotted Cream Postcards are in the mail!

2006 | Mabel's Just For You Cafe, In My Hood
2005 | Very Posh Cheese & Biscuits

© 2008 Sam Breach
Restaurateurs: Please Do Not Let Your Staff Rush My Dinner


  • At 6/2/08 01:00, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why haven't you named the restaurant? Since you've certainly give enough identifying information about for locals to recognise it and you've given the restaurant's side of the story as well, there is no legal or moral reason not to name it.

  • At 6/2/08 01:43, Blogger ChrisB said…

    But were you offered a couple of complimentary dinners for the future!

  • At 6/2/08 07:27, Blogger Sam said…

    Gooseberry Fool - why haven't I named the restaurant? Because it's my blog and my choice not to. And, because like I said in my post, "It's a good lesson in restraint to actually talk to the owner of a restaurant you have an issue instead of spouting off your grievances online without first thinking it through."

    As soon as you say something bad about a restaurant online it sticks like mud for ever. If their name was in the piece and the post got a high google ranking, people would be researching the restaurant would be reading about this occurrence for ever in association and that might damage them.

    Restaurants get enough damage from places like Yelp these days. They don't need any help from me as well.

    I have visited this restaurant before and I had good service on the previous occasion. So what if this was simply a one off problem?

    The restaurant is now aware of their failure and I am happy to hold them to task for it if I hear they haven't mended their ways.

    But, I don't feel like bad mouthing them on the internet. There are many restaurants I have never publicly held to task, after bad service issues. To each of these places I have either written or called them to let them know about the problem. To me, this is a better solution. A solution that gives the restauarant a chance to fix it out of the glare of the public eye.

    I understand that you want to question my morals, but my morals are uniquely mine and I don't expect anyone else to have an exact copy. I think about how I should handle bad restaurants experiences on my blog A LOT, it weighs heavily on me that I have a large audience of readers. I don't want to be the person who by writing about a one off situation, causes a restaurant to go under. I LOVE restaurants. I would rather help them improve than use a poisoned pen to help destroy them.

    mum - no I wasn't - I don't know where you got that from. The owner said to me that I should email him when I next visit (unlikely for a while) and he will make sure that we are well looked after. I am not sure he meant comped meals. Plus, usually, when this happens to me (I have been offered similar before), I prefer to go back to the restaurant anonymously and undercover anyway. I'd rather know if they really have changed their ways than get a free dinner. I don't want any special treatment. I just want good treatment, like everybody else wants.

  • At 6/2/08 07:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I completely agree with your thesis (that late ressies should be treated with respect), but your poll is far from scientific. Pre-selecting the answer you desire and framing it in an entire article where your opinion is clear will always produce biased results.
    Maybe next time you could post the poll without such an opinionated intro and then write the story afterward?

  • At 6/2/08 07:58, Blogger Anita (Married... with dinner) said…

    Before I even saw the comment from Gooseberry, I thought you handled the naming/not-naming issue perfectly. There's enough information there for those of us who are interested in helping you keep an eye on the issue.

    I knew just where you meant, even though I have never been there myself. A Google search on the clues you offered leads you straight to their front door.

  • At 6/2/08 08:00, Blogger Sam said…

    Foodluvr - I accept my poll is not scientific - and you are right. I was half on the right track - I thought about this - meant only a brief introduction in the original poll and then the full explanation in this round up post. I understand now that I probably should have left any intro out of the original poll post. For what it is worth - if you are interested in my thought process any, I did try and 'balance the questions' if you will. I didn't explain in the original post that I wasn't aware we were the last reservation, but I tried to word the question so that picking the 'surely the kitchen is closing' option sounded reasonable rather than making it sund like the most terrible option on earth. Tried but failed. Will do better next time. Thanks for your guidance.

  • At 6/2/08 08:01, Blogger Sam said…

    anita - I always knew you were smart.

  • At 6/2/08 08:03, Blogger One Food Guy said…

    Hi Sam, I appreciate the fact that you did not name the restaurant. If you visited the restaurant several times and received the same rushed service, that might warrant calling out the restaurant by name. I like how you handled the situation. Well done.

  • At 6/2/08 13:06, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Give the server a break. I'm sure they were trying to rush you, in order to finish up a long shift and get out of there. It's likely that not only were you their last seated table, you were their only table in the past hour, that they had drawn the short straw and had been made to wait around to cover your very late reservation time. I'm sure that they weren't too keen on sticking around while you had a leisurely dinner, and I can't blame them, really. But it's the owner's fault for booking a reservation minutes prior to a kichen closing time, keeping the kitchen staff and server on well past the time the restaurant is scheduled to be shut down.

    And the apology and the comp were courtesies extended, not obligatory at all. Your attitude toward their efforts would indicate that you are the sort who enters an establishment with a grandiose sense of entitlement.

    In the future, make note of it. Don't take the last reservation of the night, and expect that your experience would be comparable to that of those who arrive an hour or two before closing.

  • At 6/2/08 13:24, Blogger Sam said…

    Kerrie - May I ask you how I am *supposed* to know when I take the last reservation of the night? There is no indication. Many kitchens close at 11.00. It was the only time available to me when I booked on Opentable which suggested to me that they were busy.

    if they wanted to close up early they could have mentioned this when we arrived instead of leaving us alone with the menu for 10 minutes.

    The apology was a back pedal, not an effort. I try hard to be a good and reasonable customer and as I have said before I do have certain expectations - one of them is to be treated exactly the same as any other customer. I do not expect anything special. I don't think this is unreasonable. And th owner o the restaurant agreed with me.

    I have a job/work for a living too - so I know what it's like to have to work a little more than I want to/am paid for. But I just get on with it and finish the job. I may not like it at the time, but when I have finished I have a little pride I have done my jb properly instead of being sloppy nd cutting corners.

  • At 6/2/08 13:46, Blogger Lisa the Waitress said…

    I completely disagree that you should "give the waiter" a break. As a server, I have learned to accept the fact that I can get a table up to the point of closing and make every effort to treat them with respect and see to it that their dining experience is as good as the people who came in at 7. Unfortunately, this is a source of debate in the restaurant where I work, because sometimes the kitchen tries to force me to get the order. (I never do). I never tell a table they need to hurry and get their order in, and I have actually argued with my manager about this: if the table is seated at 10:30, and we seat until 10:30, then they have just as much of a right to a 2 hour dinner as the 7 o'clock table. If you don't want to be there that late, then stop seating at 10pm. It is without excuse. No diner should ever feel rushed, period. The only time this might happen is when it is time for last call, at which point the diner should realize that it is time to go, but that is really more of a liquor law issue than being rushed.

    Also, I don't think the point here is to get free future entrees, it's a training issue. Who cares if you want to go home? At an office job, don't you want to pretty much leave after like 3? I know I did. But I still had to stay and take phone calls and work and listen to my boss whine until 6pm.

  • At 6/2/08 14:27, Blogger Chris said…

    Sam, I'm glad you didn't name the restaurant, and your reasons for not doing so.

    Though I do wonder why you didn't call earlier - that seems the failure of technology - when a simple phone call would do (and relieve you of heartburn, non?). Especially since anyone who's ever eaten at [ahem] knows what pride the owner obviously takes in the place.

  • At 6/2/08 14:50, Blogger Alice Q. Foodie said…

    How funny - I have come around to a similar position re: identifying restaurants for the same reasons. I think you handled it quite well - and I am sitting here right now laughing at the idea of you acting overly "entitled" at a restaurant. Having dined with you I can hardly imagine that. :-)

  • At 6/2/08 16:28, Blogger Schoenings said…

    I have been to this restaurant and have had terrible service as well. it is not really a one-off problem with them. Just check the reviews on Citysearch... Too bad, it's an adorable place.

  • At 6/2/08 19:21, Blogger Sam said…

    Chris - great questions: Reasons I didn't call earlier, hmmm? Well I have a few - like I sent them an email and thought they might reply (not knowing, of course that the email listed on their website was invalid). Then I got sick - sore throat/can't talk, home from work kind of sick. Then there's the fact I don't like phone commuication and using a phone to make a complaint to a stranger makes me nervous and shaky. Then I hate my iphone and we don't have a landline. Then on top of that I need to be in total silence and completely alone when making such a call - this would be a rare opportunity to find myself in such a situation. (I work in an open cube, I live in an open loft, I go to work on a crowded commuter train - not much room for privacy in my life). But you are right - calling is the best - it helps get things off one's chest, you know you are talking to the right person, and it make you feel much better. I have spoken on the phone with a couple of other restaurants too and it always makes me feel much better whereas writing an unanswered letter or email makes me feel worse. SO you are right - phone call - straight away next time - thanks for pointing it out.

    Lisa - thanks so much for your alternate perspective directly from the floor.

    alice - thanks for vouching for my lack of entitlement qualities.

    One food guy - i have been to this place three times. Twice the service was terrible - each time for different reasons and one situation well over 5 years ago. Twice there were problems with the food. (rectified on the spot, thankfully). Once we had a lovely time, perfect service. So - from my 3-time visit point of view the restaurant has major issues with consistancy and as such I wouldn't possibly be able to review it.

    shoenings - thank you - am going to check cityserch as you recommend. I only looked at yelp so far.

  • At 6/2/08 21:13, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    But I thought the owner was from Belgium!!!!

  • At 6/2/08 21:51, Blogger Sam said…

    French Alps, Ced, French Alps.

  • At 7/2/08 15:07, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    I know, I know. Uh... Citizen Moth?

  • At 7/2/08 16:03, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I had a similarly bad experience at what seems to be the same restaurant (i.e., SOMA, piano, wood burning oven, behind a big gate, etc.), but I actually did say something while I was there and it didn't help. Here is a summary of what happened in an email I sent to the owner (twice) back in October. The emails were not returned undeliverable, but were never answered either:

    I wanted to take the time to write you a quick note to let you know how a dinner reservation on October 06, 2007 was handled by your two hostesses. My partner, who is very sensitive to heat, and I had reservation to eat at **unnamed restaurant** at 7:30 to celebrate his birthday. This was our first visit to the restaurant and because of my partner’s sensitivity with heat, I called the restaurant the day before and explained the situation to two separate ladies, the last of whom promised me that she understood and that we would be seated inside and as far away from any heat source as possible. I was reassured. After visiting the restaurant, I now know that the table she referred to is the two top next to the hostess stand.

    At any rate, we arrived promptly for our reservation at 7:30 and were shown to a table right next to the kitchen, which is on the right side of the restaurant as you walk in. As this was obviously right next to the kitchen (i.e. a heat source), we asked the hostess why we she was seating us there when I called the day before to make the special request. Her attitude, to say the least, was pure rudeness. She responded to me with something along the lines of “well, we don’t have any other tables, so what do you want me to do, ask somebody else to move?” Well, the fact that your employees had already seated another couple at the table next to the hostess stand was not my problem. Anyway, I don’t want to drag this email on too long, but both hostesses were, quite honestly, two of the rudest “customer service” people I have ever run into in the San Francisco restaurant community and when we asked for the manager, the Caucasian hostess answered with a sigh and a roll of her eyes, “you are speaking to her.”

    As the owner of the business, I trust you understand that it costs seven times as much to get a new client/customer than to keep an old one. Focus on your clients and keep them happy so that they come back and send their friends and family and others to you. Trust me, I will never be back to **unnamed restaurant** and I have already spoken to countless people about our experience and I will continue to do so to prevent others from patronizing a place with such bad service.

    If you would like to speak to me personally about my experience, please feel free to call me at the number below.
    To this day, no response.

  • At 7/2/08 20:49, Blogger Sam said…

    Cookiecrumb - I think that joke - you will have to explain to me!

    Anon - I read your comment over on sf.eater too. Thanks for writing it here too. The owner did tell me that he doesn't get email at that email address. That is no excuse - I suggested to him when I spoke to him that he should remove it if that is the case because he is pissing people off who expect to receive a reply. When I said that to him I was talking about me - but the same thing has clearly happened to you, and clearly you are pissed off too. I didn't get an undelivered email either - so not sure what is going on there. Why don't you call and ask to speak to the owner. It is a bit nerve wracking but if I can do it, anyone can. I can tell you - it was cathartic for me.

    I hope you find much better meals elsewhere. We went to Piperade the other day - and although it is old fashioned - we had comfortable, normal, tasty experience with pleasant service. And you can hear each other speak. Worht a try? I have been there 4 times over the last couple of years so it's certainly something I would recommend.

  • At 25/4/08 20:09, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hear, Hear Kerrie!


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