rumination 25: hospitality…

Last year, Alan Richman penned a barn-burner review of M. Wells in GQ Magazine entitled “Dinner for Schmucks.” More than a critique, that article operated as a commentary on the seemingly deteriorating state of restaurant service at large, and, more importantly, offered a mindful acknowledgement of the influence that food writers, like him, have over restaurant service. Of it, he says,

“I will tell you what else is extraordinarily self-defeating: We empower popular restaurants, and M. Wells is very much one of them. All we care about is accessibility, getting through the door. Such restaurants are rarely held accountable, no matter how uncaring they might be. I doubt that the people who operate these sought-after spots ask themselves if they are treating their customers properly. They are not obliged to do so.”

A couple of days ago, I tweeted “Perhaps it’s the Midwest boy in me, but Southern hospitality makes some of the service I received in New York last week seem barbaric.” Quite a few people have asked me to talk about the experiences to which I refer.  In the interest of using what little influence I have to keep restaurants accountable for their actions, I share the following.

But, before I do, I want to make one thing clear: this post is not intended as a vengeful poke. So I will not name either of the restaurants I’ll describe below, although I suspect that those who are familiar with New York’s restaurant scene will be able figure out their identity easily. And, if so, then recognition by reputation here will be damning enough.  At the very least, if the two restaurants become aware of this post, then its purpose will be served.

Finishing dinner around 10:30 one night, my friends and I decided to have desserts elsewhere. One of my friends was a pastry chef from another city, and another was celebrating her birthday, so we drew up short list of restaurants that we thought would offer a particularly strong fare.

We headed to TriBeCa.

I had been to this popular restaurant (which offers an à la carte menu) twice before, and both times, I was greeted by hostesses who needed serious attitude adjustments. This time was different. Despite being quite busy, even at that late hour, the hostess cheerfully offered to seat the four of us immediately.

However, when she discovered that we only wanted to order desserts, the offer was withdrawn. They were only seating diners for full meal service. Apparently, this place of public accommodation was so busy that they have the luxury of choosing their clients.  So, we left, and headed instead to Gramercy Tavern, where we four happily waited a half-hour for a table in the Tavern Room. Joined by a fifth person, we ordered a bottle of Champagne and nearly every dessert on the menu. Service was great, we had a ball.

A few nights later, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, my friend and I hoped to saddle up to the bar at a restaurant whose well-known chef recently revised his menu. I had eaten at this restaurant a few times before and have enjoyed the food, though I can’t say the service was ever great. We both had heard good things about the new menu, and, particularly, the desserts, so we decided to have a nosh before joining our friends for a late-night dinner elsewhere.

The bar was full. So were the attendant tables. The hostess offered to take our name and phone number. She would call us as soon as two seats opened; she guestimated forty-five minutes. In the meantime, we were free to grab a drink in the area. We had time. So we did.

We returned a half-hour later to find a new couple sitting at the communal four-top in the window, with two empty seats beside them. The hostess seemed indifferent to our return, and unconcerned that it was plainly obvious that she had failed to call us.* She casually offered us one of the other tables in the bar area, where diners were ready to settle their bill.  I did not ask her why she didn’t call me for the seats in the window, but I did ask her why we had to wait for a table when there were two empty seats next to the couple in the window. She said that, normally, she would be happy to seat us there. But, because of a rain storm the day before, a leak had soaked the upholstered bench on the window side of the table. She reassured me that there would be a table opening up for us shortly.

Since there was a woman sitting on the allegedly wet bench (her date was facing her), I ran my hand down the other end of the bench.  It was completely dry. Puzzled, I told the hostess that the bench was dry, and, since my friend and I were in a hurry, we would take the two empty seats at the window table.  She thanked me for being “proactive” about my dinner and said that I was free to sit down.

Service didn’t improve after we sat. The maitre d’, who took our order (after sitting dry for 10 minutes), knew we were in a hurry. We told him. And we told all of the other servers who came to our table too. Yet, we had to ask for the bill thrice, the last time from the maitre d’, who seemed more concerned with looking out the window for cabs. Despite being seated nearly an hour before our dinner meeting with friends, four plates – two courses – at this restaurant’s bar took well over an hour.  We were 30 minutes late to dinner.

[Edited to add: I've experienced far worse service than the two situations I described above. But I mention them as examples of how diners seem to have to work for their food and fight for their own tables these days. Dining out shouldn't be this hard.]

Are New York restaurants so hot that they can afford to opt out of the hospitality industry? Are we paying for food and service, or abuse?  Hospitality is an art, and chefs aren’t the only rock stars in restaurants.

* Normally, at this point, I would have left the restaurant. But, since my friend, who was a pastry chef from another city, really wanted to try the desserts here, I happily waded through the abuse with him.

~ by ulterior epicure on July 27, 2012.

33 Responses to “rumination 25: hospitality…”

  1. Doesn’t have to be just NYC, I have experienced very similar service in Kansas City.

  2. (Tribeca) – You should have informed the hostess from the beginning you were only interested in having desserts. This is why you sat in the tavern and not the main dining room at Gramercy Tavern.

  3. Chris: We did. But I guess she didn’t hear us at first, because she pulled the menus and started to take us to our table. I repeated myself, and that’s when she told us the table wasn’t available for desserts only. We never even made it past the host stand. As for Gramercy – the dining room is prix fixe only, so, of course, the Tavern Room, which offers à la carte menu (as does the TriBeCa restaurant), was our only option.

  4. oh noes! where do i start?
    not to play devils advocate but….

    first of all – i think i have a pretty good idea of which 2 restaurants you are talking about, and i’ve eaten in both of them several times and had super awesome meals, one very recently

    i want to say this. some restaurants do not handle the “pop in” mentality of receiving guests to just “pop in and have dessert”. it’s not right for them, it’s not part of the point of view of the restaurant, it’s not part of their personality or design. it’s not about hospitality, its about the physical layout of the restaurant, bar seats, communal tables, how many guests do this on a nightly basis, which server will take care of the guests, etc. the two restaurants i believe you are talking about seem to be restaurants where people plan well in advance, make a reservation, have a night out, and have a great time – the restaurant is prepared and ready. gramercy tavern’s bar room is great for people who just want to “pop in”, have a burger, order the desserts, have a beer, a cocktail, for whatever…. the other 2 restaurants you are describing don’t seem very interested in accomodating guests who are looking to do what you guys did.

    for example – le bernardin – you can pop in and have a single course at the bar, or order the tasting menu. but you wouldn’t want to sit in the dining room at 10:30 pm (ESPECIALLY) on a friday or saturday and just have desserts (they wouldn’t let you). prix fixe aside – that would be a little silly. or jean georges. – do you think they’d let people in at 10:30 to sit in the dining room and have dessert? (also prix fixe) – that’s why there is nougatine. and it’s not because of a lack of hospitality. and if you were allowed at JG or bernardin’s dining rooms to have dessert – it would ONLY because you are a repeat VIP or famous blogger. any joe schmo would be out of luck. but even a very busy restaurant with no prix fixe like minetta tavern or locanda verde – there would be no way you could sit in the dining room for “just desserts” if they are full at 10:30 pm (i’m guessing on a weekend). but why would you want to? that’s why both of these restaurants have bars, anyway – for what you were looking to do.

    finally – the communal 4 top table. she should have called about those 2 seats. but first, it’s quite possible that the “new couple” totally got there before you did, and put their name in first, and were called first. (people forget this very often, that while they are on a waiting list, sometimes other people will be sat first, even though they have been waiting a long time). And if they weren’t seating those 2 seats because of a rain leak, that’s totally understandable. While maybe you felt the seat and it was dry at that specific moment – can you imagine if it was wet? You’d have an entire experience at this restaurant with a damn wet seat! and THAT is truly unacceptable. She warned you, you heeded the warning, and took your chances… that’s fine.

    but i want to say this – i’m a Maitre D’ in a very popular Brooklyn restaurant serving very ambitious food, and I run a waitlist every single day. I call everyone on it when bar seats and communal table seats become available. We’re good at it, and it’s part of our design.

    But let me blow your mind for a second. Why didn’t YOU call THEM before you just showed up? A heads up to know someone is coming makes everyone prepared.

    The restaurant you are talking about is not set up to deal with pop in walk-ins who just want to have desserts. It’s not something that I would ever try to do there – based on my knowledge of what this restaurant is trying to achieve. That space in the front is awkward, and I always thought it was bizarre as hell, I think they should just shut it down – if you were going to eat there, you should really have to do the whole experience. And if an “out of town pastry chef” REALLY wanted to try the desserts – why in God’s name didnt you just give them a call first??

    What you were expecting reminds me of the time Nina Zagat came into the Jean Georges dining room at lunch and demanded the cheeseburger – we did it for her, but….what’s the point? Know where you are.

    and FINALLY. don’t judge ALL OF NEW YORK hospitality based on 2 dumb hostess girls. People do that with Brooklyn often, and it’s disappointing.

    Other thoughts: Did you really wait “happily” at Gramercy Tavern for 30 minutes? Does ordering a bottle of Champagne and all the desserts JUSTIFY what you were trying to do? Would it be any different if you just ordered two desserts and drank tap water? Should it be? Is 10 minutes after sitting in this LES restaurant a very long time to order? And why were you in a hurry? So you were super demanding of a table, as a walk in – but you were on a time crunch? You had 30 minutes to kill but when you finally sat down you were in a hurry? And finally – four plates (2 courses) took well over an HOUR. Well, fine – but that has NOTHING to do with hospitality and service. That is 100% kitchen ineptitude to get the food out.

    I’ve eaten all over this country and Europe and it’s crystal clear to me that New York City hospitality and service is the best in the world. It’s the most knowledgeable, friendly, genuine, and charming OVERALL. Yes, there are people who need attitude adjustments, and some times people are just having a bad day – but your rant is totally unfounded, and comes off a little yelpy, it doesn’t match the quality of your other blog posts.

    New York restaurants aren’t “hot enough” for anything. If a restaurant has a history of poor hospitality and service, it will close, plain and simple. That’s why our scene is so dynamic – the competition, and our drive to always learn and think about how we can make the dining experience better for the guests. Sometimes there are just a few bad apples – and they don’t last long, either.

    -Phil

  5. Phil: A few things:

    1. Based on your description, I think you’ve misidentified the TriBeCa restaurant.

    2. We did call ahead to the TriBeCa restaurant and they said there was a short wait, but we did not anticipate there would be a problem ordering only desserts there.

    3. You are correct that it is possible that the new couple sitting at the window seat was in line before us. Except the hostess had told us that we were next in line.

    4. But the bench wasn’t wet. It may have been wet, but they really should have checked.

    5. I, too, have traveled and eaten all over the world. While I would agree that some of New York’s restaurants have extremely high quality of service, overall, I would say that I’ve gotten more attitude from New York servers and hosts than anywhere else I’ve eaten.

    6. I disagree that my complaints here are unfounded. The TriBeCa restaurant had tables open. Why would they turn away good business? As for the restaurant on the LES, that was just poor service. It happens. I understand that. But when it’s a recurring theme at a restaurant, it’s a problem.

  6. ha, well, all of that aside – the point i now realize i am really trying to make is ……….. sometimes the poor attitude of one or two specific people can mar the reputation of a restaurant in your mind – but it’s important to remember that there are sometimes over 40 or 50 people working very hard every day to put out a great product and make you happy. it’s a shame when that product isn’t delivered up to its potential.

  7. Oh okay – I understand. In my mind this tribeca restaurant was 100% full and there was a wait – if there are more than 5 or 6 tables open and it is late enough (and the concept is casual enough) – ordering desserts shouldn’t have been a problem.

    Honestly – my biggest problem with service in NYC is that there’s too much talking – too much explaining of the “concept” – schpiels that are way too long, and servers trying to be clever and funny and highbrow when they should just chill out and be relaxed.

    I don’t really see too much attitude at the door myself, I cut that crap off real fast. But I’d rather someone genuine and slightly bitchy then phony and over-the-top.

  8. Phil: Absolutely. Any team is only as good as its weakest link. And, when one keeps meeting the weakest link, repeatedly, one can only wonder if there are any strong ones.

  9. If the TriBeCa restaurant is the one I’m thinking of, their desserts were pretty disappointing when I was there. Especially the category of dessert for which they are known. Maybe you had a different experience, but I would take an Ideas in Food version of that dessert any day of the week.

  10. I think there is an excessive amount of attitude doled out in NYC restaurants. Particularly in the younger, hotter joints. I’ve come to the conclusion that the attitude and snooty temperament can be attributed as much to the clientele and the restaurant scene here, as much as it can be to the staff themselves. So much of what shapes the success of a restaurant here in NYC is extraneous to the food. Hype and buzz seem to be dominating factors more than anything culinary. And sometimes that hype is attributed to/generated by businesses that are not placing an emphasis on hospitality. In fact, by being inhospitable people seem more inclined to rave. New Yorkers love to believe that this city is the pinnacle of culture and sophistication. And that the best things here are the most rare or difficult to access. In that mode of thinking, getting a coveted table at an inaccessible restaurant and being tolerated as a patron (instead of being catered to) is the pinnacle of that pinnacle. Or at least that’s my theory. Either way, it blows.

    As to the place you reference on the LES, if it’s the one I’m thinking of (inventive deserts, new menu, bar area), I have had wonderful service there on a few occasions. And have heard (not experienced) that grabbing a plate or two at the bar is a great option. Perhaps they were just having an off night.

  11. I just gotta ask: wd50 / Corton?

  12. A wise person once said that the difference between clever and charming is that when the conversation is over and you’ve been clever, the other person leaves thinking you are very smart. If, on the other hand, you’ve been charming, the other person walks away feeling as if THEY are smart. Where we eat and how we perceive the experience is a direct reflection of our self-image. Assuming equal fare – snooty folks like snooty restaurants and laid back folks like laid back restaurants. I enjoy being charmed and recognize when a restaurant is just trying to be clever. Eating is about food. Dining is about so much more….

  13. Reminds me of the service at Gjelina in Venice, CA! Bored, mindless actors, with an overwhelming sense of entitlement, don’t give a shit! There is something to be said for Southern hospitality! I lived in New Orleans for 6 yrs before moving to L.A. and the service was always impeccable! Go to New Orleans:)

  14. Why not just grow a pair and name the restaurants??? I once had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Richman and he was everything I hoped,:droll, funny. witty, incisive, etc and he said, ” Restaurant reviewing is not getting better and that disturbs me. We’re the Supreme Court justices and have to have high standards and hold restaurants to them.”
    I set up my piece by saying, “most restaurant reviewers embarrass themselves by praising everything they eat, (blatant comp!!!) or how about the humorless reviewer intent on showing off their knowledge… But Richman’s columns ooze knowledge on how food should be cooked and served, combined with a rapier wit.
    Loved reading Ruth Reichl’s books and was amused at the extreme lengths she went to with disguises when she was the NY Times restaurant critic.. but it’s just too much.. as Joe B in his book Restaurant Man says, “we did everything we could to make sure she got everything… ” so much for her disguises..
    Once read a blog where a panel of restaurant reviewers were discussing things, and one said, you can tell if you’ve been made and start getting extra service and freebies… but he says, you just have to watch other tables to see what kind of service they’re getting…
    In closing. let’s face it… the service in most restaurants is abysmal, especially if it’s an in demand restaurant for the moment.. but as the guy above said, it will only last if they continually deliver good service and food once the hype buzz wears off…

  15. To balance complaints about hospitality, I guess it might be fairer if, conversely, you always noted any preferential treatment you receive as a result of your being identified/or your taking photographs at a restaurant.

    I also wouldn’t say that either of these restaurants did something altogether terrible, just quite bad. Before M. Wells closed, we saw a truly bad example of hospitality there: one of the old-fashioned seltzer bottles jammed open on a neighboring table and started emptying itself; meanwhile, their waitress stood two feet away watching and laughing until the full seltzer bottle dispensed all its seltzer all over that table and its diners. The diners had to ask the waitress for something to mop the mess up with.

  16. @Ben: If you read my reviews, I always note when I’ve received “preferential treatment.” Your story about the seltzer bottle at M. Wells is pretty bad.

  17. We need to understand that NYC is not the culinary capital neither have the best service or restaurants in the world, it amaze me that Phil who worked in JG said that we have the best service in the world , I guess I will have to remind him that NY is a ” TRENDY CITY” that’s all, in the beginning of JG everybody was saying that mostly all meats was carved at wasn’t , were only sliced , the only carved thing was when Philip carved the pineapple, the service was ok, the only four places that NY had good service was at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Le Bernardin, Perse & Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
    You can’t ever ever compare a 3 Michelin from Europe to a 3 Michelin in NY, we don’t even reach the knees of a 2 Michelin in Europe.
    Let’s be real we have a problem with service in restaurants, is very difficult to hire or find good waiters that are respectful, knowledgeable and above all with PASSION…..

  18. I’m developing the opinion that New York is more inclined to this behavior than anywhere else. It’s reflective of a larger mentality that one tends to find from not only FoH, but cooks, chefs, the Somm, everybody. It’s why they’re being surpassed by Chicago and San Fransisco amongst other cities, arrogance doesn’t create an environment where people push to succeed.

    I had the (mis)fortune to dine at a 3 michelin starred restaurant in NYC recently, and while I can say definitively that the restaurant on the whole is superb (if somewhat unoriginal), the hurried nature of our Captain and our back servers completely negative and disinterested attitude left me disgusted with the experience as a whole. Part of my anger is because of by culinary background; I know how much work went into that part of the equation and it’s completely marred by poor service. But what floored me is how a restaurant with such a high reputation, particularly for their service, could be such a let down; how could other staff not see what was happening and correct it!?

    If you want to know one factor that is really prompting the shift to “Atelier” style of restaurants, I think it’s that chefs are becoming more aware of the idea that the “show” provided by an immaculate kitchen and its staff is superior to the one provided by the FoH. Additionally, I think that a smaller wait staff that is immediately visible to an obsessed (read: crazed) chef-owner, rather than a potentially detached GM/Somm/Maitre’d, has a higher likelihood of working harder, more efficiently, and in a friendlier manner, as they’re being constantly scrutinized.

  19. If you have dined in major cities across this country, it’s clear that, overall, the service at restaurants in New York is superior by a long shot. The servers here are more knowledgeable, there is a lot more money at stake, and the restaurants are dealing with a much more demanding clientele. I think it’s over-entitled patrons who are ruining the art of hospitality.

  20. The fact is, had the Tribeca restaurant (Bouley? Forgione? Locanda Verde?) seated your party, only to be followed in by a party who wanted to order a full meal who they’d then have to turn away… they’d be losing money.

    Now, to you, you only see the empty table in front of you. To them, that empty table is potential. They’ve been in business long enough to know that there’s a very good chance they’ll have a full dinner party come along, and if they’re to give it up… that’s less money in their pockets. Smaller check, smaller tip, everyone loses. Maybe that’s hard for you to understand, since you apparantley have infinitely deep pockets, and your only job is “dining in fancy expensive restaurants” – to them, on the other hand, the difference in cost between a dessert-only party (the cheapest course) and a full-dinner party is some fourfold. That’s a HUGE difference. To you, perhaps, the difference between a $20 and $80 tip is pocket change. To your server, maybe it’s the difference between making their electric bill or not. I don’t know if you grew up wealthy and don’t “get” that, but most people have to do what is going to make them more money, and sometimes that means hedging your bets that a table that’s not only going to spend $100 is going walk in. They didn’t know you’d be ordering fancy wine (or whatever it was you ordered to go with dessert…) – maybe if you’d said “we’ll spend $X00 on Champagne” they’d have made an exception, who knows? But the point is, both the restaurants and the servers have to nickel & dime to get by. Lucky you if you don’t need to be concerned with such trivial matters, but do try to remember that nearly everyone else on the planet DOES.

    Part of your anger probably stems from the fact that you went all they way to Tribeca (from wherever you started) only to be denied. It is not uncommon to only seat full-dinner parties in busy restaurants. You should have told them you were only coming for desserts on the phone when you called.

    —-

    Regarding the LES restaurant, which everyone has figured out:

    You want to dine at one of the hottest restaurants in the city
    a.) for $25 each
    b.) without a reservation, and
    c.) in a hurry?

    Not to sound snarky, but, oh gee, sorry they didn’t realize you were The Great Food Blogger and they needed to move heaven and earth to accomodate you.

    It seems there are a few things you’ve overlooked. First and foremost, that’s not a restaurant you just “pop into” for a quick bite. Now, it does seem it took awhile once you were seated to get your food, yes, but that’s on the kitchen not the servers, as someone else pointed out.

    As to the time it took to be seated – first, yes, the party seated before you could have very well been there before you. You say you were first on the list, but for all you know that party was about to be seated – thus you were “first” in the hostess’ mind, since that party was about to be taken care of. There’s no way for you to know the order of events.

    It’s also been raining on and off for the last week or so here – it may very well have been they didn’t want to put anyone in those seats in case there was a sudden downpour. It may have been dry at that moment, but it may not have lasted, either. Most restaurants don’t sit patrons in spots with known leaks, even if it’s currently not raining, simple as that. Or she might not have realized the cushion was dry. Either way, the reason you weren’t in those seats was out of concern for YOU and YOUR comfort. I mean, what’s the other possible reason? They were maliciously holding the seats back just to taunt potential patrons? Seems unlikely.

    The hostess may have assumed you’d rather your own table than share a communal one – they didn’t know you were in a hurry at that point. They might very well have been being nice, because why would anyone who told you there’d be a forty-five minute wait – to which you replied “okay” – think you were in a hurry? That’s like going to Momofuku Ssam Bar in a hurry. If you’re in a hurry, get a Cubano down the street. Go grab a slice. Don’t go to a hot restaurant with limited walk-in seats.

  21. A few things:

    1. Of course, the TriBeCa restaurant did not have to serve us if they did not want to. And, of course I understand that restaurants have a bottom line to meet. But, as I stated, the restaurant was not full – there were enough empty tables that they could seat us immediately. Why would they turn away good business? If the restaurant had been full, we would have left without complaint. Sure, desserts are usually the least expensive items on the menu. But would it have been any different if the four of us sat and ordered a few appetizers to share, with no alcohol? A restaurant should never assume and assess the check average at the host stand.

    2. We were not in a hurry at the LES restaurant until we sat, needlessly, for an extra thirty minutes, waiting for servers to take our order and get our check to us.

    3. Again, as I stated in my post, my intent in writing about these two experiences is less about making specific complaints, and more to offer an overall observation about how restaurants seem to make diners work for their meal these days.

    4. Maybe there would be less service issues in restaurants if food writers were not hesitant to write about them for fear of being accused of entitlement and self-importance.

  22. SD: I think you are absolutely correct. If this blogger’s opinion of “barbaric” is defined by being treated like a prince, not a king, in some of the country’s finest restaurants, then what a miserable life he must lead.

    I think the actual problem is the blogger’s overwhelming ego and sense of entitlement. You [mister blogger] have money, take pictures of food, and have made friends with many chefs. Good for you. But you’ve let your ego get the better of you. You’re not any more important than anyone else in those restaurants or on the streets in front of them.

    You know what’s more barbaric than you having to wait to eat at wd50? You making a spectacle in the finest dining rooms in the country with your obnoxious photography and giant camera. These are restaurants to be enjoyed by EVERYONE, not your own personal photography studio. I don’t want to feel like I’m on the set of a film shoot when I’m at EMP. That’s much more barbaric, to intrude and impose upon those who go out to, you know, EAT.

  23. @ Olgo: How is taking a photo of my foodin a restaurant barbaric? I have been in many restaurants where people are taking photos of their food or party and it has never intruded on my dining experience. Those of us that chronicle our eating experiences with cameras take care to not use flash, and to take photos as quickly as possible. If you are somehow affected by hearing 2-3 “clicks” from a camera shutter every 15 minutes between courses, then I can’t imagine how irritated you get by the clang of dishes or by the sound of normal restaurant conversation.

  24. I am being as hyperbolic as the blogger. But I still find it quite annoying. Being in a restaurant, I *expect* to hear people speaking and dishes clanking (well, not in a 3* restaurant, that is). But someone at a table pulling out a giant DSLR (or, oftentimes, two or three people at the same time) is not part of the fine dining schema.

    On multiple occasions at a 3* restaurant in NYC, I have been seating against the wall on the banquette, which necessitates being seating with a stranger less than two feet on either side. Strangers less than two feet from me to the right and left, plus two others at the table to the right, all pull out their cameras every time a dish, amuse, drink, bread, butter, menu, or ANYTHING comes out. Being seated at a banquette, these people decide to stow their cameras in the little empty space between us and them, often bumping me with their huge cameras every few minutes when they need to whip it out or put it back. And then there’s the constant shutters–about 4 shots each, with 4 photographers, that’s about 16 shutters per *anything*, so 6 wine pairings, 2 breads, 2 butters, 10 amuse, 8 courses, mignardises, coffee, tea, etc, then all of these from a few different angles, we’re talking about well over a thousand little shutters about 20 inches from my ear throughout my dinner.

    Am i picky? Sure. Am I oversensitive? Certainly no more than this blogger.

    Paying hundreds of dollars for a meal and being seated next to someone whose behavior is so unapologetically rude is quite uncivil, in my opinion. Keep in mind that I’m talking about these happening in 3* Michelin restaurants, where my standards for decorum are obviously higher than a more casual establishment.

    My point: it’s unfair and shortsighted to complain about your treatment when a restaurant doesn’t want you eating only dessert or you have to wait longer than you deem necessary…but once in, all these concerns about decorum are thrown out the window and you ignore the other patrons. This seems, to me at least, the very definition of selfish and self-centered behaviour.

  25. @Olga: How have I disregarded other patrons?

  26. I must clarify, sir, that I am not implying (or did not mean to imply) that you yourself are behaving in such a coarse manner. I am, perhaps unfairly, generalizing my (albeit quite numerous) observations of diners photographing their means. But you are also generalizing your observations to NYC.

    I am beginning to see this topic in the broader terms of hospitality and the social contract. Perhaps I am hypersensitive, but I think the average person would find the events I described above (the photographers on either side of me) to be quite rude. Yes, the restaurant has a duty to be hospitable. But the patron is also bound by a certain social contract.

    If we must wear suits and fine dresses to so many 3* restaurants, why is incessant bumbling around with giant cameras with 10-inch lenses appropriate? I would be far less perturbed by a gentleman without a jacket than what I described above, but one is “against the rules” and the other, for the most part, is not.

    Which also makes me ponder: what of the restaurant’s duty to provide hospitality by “policing” its diners? How far must a patron go in disturbing others before the restaurant must act? How far does their duty in maintaining an environment of hospitality go?

  27. @Olga: I think it’s time you read what I wrote about this very topic. CLICK HERE

  28. After reading this, I have two thoughts:

    1. You are very correct that the bad apples are spoiling the entire cart. Which makes me wonder if my anger at the photographers is only because those who act with decorum–according to the “rules” you laid you in your post–go unnoticed. If so, I would happily change my opinion on the subject.

    2. There surely are great generational differences. I am older lady, and am certainly seeing this from a different perspective than someone 40+ years younger than me. This makes me question #1 because seeing a camera or two sitting on the white linen of a fine restaurant table still comes as a shock to me. Perhaps I am being left behind by time and am too out of touch.

  29. @Olga: I can assure you that, as someone who takes photos at most of the restaurants I go to, I am probably much more self-conscious about taking photos than most people are of having a few drinks with dinner. I take care to take a few quick snaps as soon as we’ve ordered to make the necessary camera settings for the rest of the meal (rather than once the food starts coming). I never use flash, and never have other patrons in my photos (the exception being my wife since she’s always across the table). I even make sure to listen to the server’s full description of the course before taking photos for fear of being rude to them.

    When dining out with other “foodie” friends who like to take photos, I’ve made it a rule that whomsoever in the group is the best photographer will be the only one taking photos, which are distributed to the rest of the group at a later time. This limits the “4 people taking 4 shots of everything” scenario altogether.

    I agree with UE that there are bad apples out there that ruin the hobby of taking food photos while dining out for the rest of us. Those of us that do this out of love for food take it seriously. The photos are not bragging points or items to just flaunt on our Facebook accounts. They are a historical documentation of our epicurean journeys and a way for us to share them with others.

  30. I am travelled through NY recently and can say the service in fine dining has been very poor, BHSB was exceptional but we dined at WD, EMP, corton, torrisi’s and a few other places and over all the service was fake and poor.
    The smaller places local bars and restaurants are showing true hospitality and making up for the poore form shown by the more expensive fine diners,
    As for the other comments attacking UE your all clueless walkin bars and bar seats are there for exactly that as a customer your entitled to do what ever you want there, dessert, drinks n snacks or just entrees. The good FOH thrive on walkin tables they make them feel as important as any other customer the idea of needing to “plan” for dinners is so lame chefs and FOH with skill handle these situations
    With style and class if you can’t then you got no
    Skills.
    Turning away a four top on dessert is a waste, they are a quick easy check who with the right FOH can spend big on booze and leave a fat check and be out quick if your kitchen can get there act together and get there food out( not like the restaurant is doing souffle to order) it’s all ready to go just needs to be over plated and sent.
    Instead of attacking UE perhaps listen to someone with experience and knowledge
    Of a global industry and see it as an opportunity to improve as a fine dining city

  31. I think restaurants are focusing too much on stuff like social media and their own self-image – they are forgetting the importance of good ol’ fashion quality service.

    Except in the South. Because they are nice.

    Cheers,

    Chris

    http://www.foodiebizz.com

  32. As a chef and sommelier, that has lived and worked in the Southwest, Southeast and Midwest I can officially say that the quality of the service industry is plummeting at a startling rate. It’s horrifying! I no longer enjoy lavish dinners at the best restaurants in the city, grabbing a quick bite, or even a lunch date. Maybe the career server image has been tarnished, the chefs are getting all the praise, the food is the only focus or there just is no pride or discipline anymore. I am at a loss and sick of being a hermit. Perhaps the hospitality schools of Europe have the answers. I refuse to accept that we have to be spoken to by restaurant staff like they are our sarcastic teenage sibling! Less sass, more service, and some gratitude, after all if it weren’t for the diner there would be no service jobs to be had. I do have to add however I have received fairly decent service in the South although respect is a cultural thing down there.
    -Sarah

  33. I have to post my 2 cents about this. Because I don’t agree with most people 100%. First off – the idea of having dinner at one place – and desserts and post-meal drinks at another – isn’t exactly a revolutionary idea. The last time we did it was in Paris a few years back. We had dinner with a friend at a very nice restaurant near our hotel and where he worked – and then met his wife at a place near where she worked for dessert and drinks. The “dessert” restaurant wasn’t exactly shabby – it was 2* Michelin. However our friend called the “dessert” restaurant first to make sure it was ok (mostly because it wasn’t near the place where we had dinner – no sense taking a cab if we couldn’t have dessert there). He had dined there before – it was very late – and the restaurant said ok. IOW – this is done. But if a restaurant is still seating guests for a full dinner (even if they’re walk-ins) – I wouldn’t expect to take a table only for dessert. And I would certainly check out whether it’s ok in advance (unless I was just walking a few blocks). Note that it didn’t hurt that we had dinner reservations at the “dessert restaurant” the next night.

    With regard to pictures – I am more on Olga’s side than UE’s side. For some reason (luck?) – I have managed to avoid avid food photographers during our meals. We just returned from Stockholm. Two 2* restaurants – one 1*. And the only people who had cameras were 2 people at the 4 person chef’s bar at one 2* restaurant (which only had about 18 seats total). But they weren’t serious photographers. They took a couple of pictures. And once they got into the food (15+ courses) – and started talking with one another and with us and with the chefs (the chefs told us what we were eating – but didn’t give us the whole history of Sweden :)) – the cameras were forgotten. I think our meal would have been ruined had the 2 people sitting very close to us insisted on taking dozens of pictures instead of interacting with the chefs – talking about the food – etc. Since many restaurants serve fixed menus these days (even if they vary seasonally – or are tweaked on a “daily availability basis”) – and there are many pictures of the food that the restaurants themselves post on line – what’s the point of every Tom Dick and Harry taking pictures? Plus – there’s the element of surprise when it comes to dining. One reason we went to Stockholm is its restaurants – including the top ones – are still pretty much “under the radar”.

    Now one thing I do do is make sure I have a menu – even if it’s just computer printed on a piece of paper. So I know what I’m eating – not always obvious in some places :) – and can make some notes about what I like or don’t like. FWIW – reindeer is delicious :).

    I agree with the general comments about service. But – in general – I have only had “meals with attitude” in a few restaurants in a small number of cities. New York is up there. Miami (where I used to live) too. Perhaps a couple of times in Los Angeles and Chicago at “hot” restaurants. My only guest appearance on Eater was when I had a service complaint about a restaurant in lower Manhattan. But even cities where you think you’d get a lot of attitude – including those mentioned above – well – in general – you get good service. With the possible exception of Miami (where good service is the exception – not the norm IMO). I was surprised that in Stockholm – the service was uniformly very good to excellent (although it’s always reported to be a country without good service).

    Finally – has anyone has read the Best New Restaurants published in Bon Appetit last month? The description of most of those restaurants sounded kind of bleak to me. No reservations? Waiting on line for 1+ hour? Uncomfortable surroundings? Sounded kind of bleak to me. Robyn

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