Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Service of Wine Swine Who Take Advantage of a Host or Hostess

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Photo: Pinterest.com

Photo: Pinterest.com

 

Another Lettie Teague Wall Street Journal wine column caught my attention: “When Your Dinner Guest Orders a $700 Bottle of Wine: An Etiquette Guide.” I’ve covered her refreshingly no-nonsense column before. The subhead for this article was: “Learn how to deal with wine hogs, shameless business associates and more with these top etiquette tips for oenophiles behaving badly.”

I object to people who take advantage of others. It goes far beyond instances of rude guests making selections of inappropriately pricey wine which is the reason the topic especially appealed to me.

Some of her examples:  

  • Three dentists went out to dinner, one claiming to be a wine expert. The so-called authority ordered three bottles of Napa Cabernet which cost $1,000+ and let the others pick up the tab. [Teague’s dentist was one of the patsies.]
  • Guests who bring an expensive wine to a dinner and hog it allWine as gift or people who down what’s in their glass as the waiter approaches to refill to ensure they get more than their fair share.

If her friend, author Paul Sullivan, is hosting a dinner and his guests pick a ridiculously  extravagant wine his strategy is to say: “That’s a fascinating choice, but I don’t know if it will go with what we’re having.” He calls over the sommelier, names the extravagant wine and asks for “something over here that’s more interesting,” while pointing in the direction of more reasonably priced choices. Teague writes that a good sommelier will catch on.

Removing cork from wine bottleAnother of the reporter’s friends, an ad exec, calls ahead and selects the wine to be served to avoid a preposterous dent in her expense account when entertaining some clients who take advantage of her agency because they know it picks up the tab. However, she told Teague: “I’ve never had a client who had a sophisticated palate take advantage of a business dinner.”

While infrequently, and not recently, I’ve also been hijacked by guests—clients or friends–whose pricey or excessive choices in the alcoholic beverage category have landed heavily on my credit card. Have you? Do you have successful techniques that parry greedy tendencies of others involving wine or any other thing?

Pouring wine

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Surprise

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount Morton Williams logowhen I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Chase Bank LogoStacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Bad restaurant serviceThen there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

Bad restaurant service 2

Service of Sharing

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Half a portion

While some remember every course they ate at a remarkable restaurant, I tend to recall details of fabulous or lackluster service and that I liked the food.

Years ago I invited someone to lunch to thank them for a kindness at a lovely, now defunct, midtown restaurant. We decided to split an appetizer and each ordered a main course. When the appetizer arrived I was mortified: There was one scallop in sauce, hardly enough for one much less two. The waiter hadn’t said a word.

Cafe FiorelloRecently I was with a guest at Café Fiorello, across from Lincoln Center, and benefited from the opposite experience. We both had a yen for lasagna. The waiter asked if we were planning to split it, which we hadn’t considered, and having once been burned, I asked him about portion size. Satisfied, we followed his suggestion, shared a salad as well and when the lasagna came—expertly divided in the kitchen and artfully plated–we were so grateful. The portions filled each plate and after eating far too much of the bread and salad, neither of us could finish our half.

I’m always delighted to observe anyone do their job both well and beyond the call. Have you experienced a wonderful meal thanks, at least in part, to the wait staff? Have you run into a snag by sharing a portion that was far too small to split?

Waiter at table

Service of a Day Off to Relax in NYC in December, 2015

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Day off

A friend with a high stress job, kids and an active pro bono life leading an industry association took a day off to relax in New York City, a great thing to do at holiday time. The people she encountered had themselves—not her—in mind. I couldn’t decide if this was due to the difficult economy making people feel desperate or to cultural differences.

FacialHer day began with a facial. She was enjoying it and good conversation with the esthetician [the person giving her the facial], when the woman began a deep-dish sales pitch encouraging her to upgrade the procedure and buy a bunch of packages. She was feeling pressured, but was in a good mood, and as the holidays were coming, she bought some services as gifts.

window shoppingThis done she window shopped, passing a cosmetics business where a woman was handing out samples. She stopped to get one and was told if she went inside she’d get the right product for her skin. She expected the man inside to open a drawer and hand her a sample but before she knew it she was in a chair and he was applying products to her face and arm, telling her she could get a $700 package for $400. She somehow got out of this place unscathed—she’s an international traveler who does business in several continents–but it was still touch and go, the pressure almost frightening. One of the products he applied appeared to perform a miracle under her eyes, though she admitted it felt very tight on her face. When she washed it off that night, nothing had changed.

yelp logoShe sent me a link to some Yelp reviews of this place and I quote from parts of one that I shortened and edited: “The people that work here are the worst. As you approach the storefront, you’ll immediately notice that there are two to three employees standing out front wearing black and white, aggressively attempting to shove flyers and samples into passers-by’s hands. They don’t only pursue tourists. They harass everyone walking by. Today, I was harassed by one of the males.” The man made fun of the writer’s New York accent when the writer told him he wasn’t a tourist. Then the employee and two female colleagues laughed at and mocked him. He concluded: “For your own sake, do not go anywhere near this place.”

Grabbing for your moneyMy friend ended her odyssey by being treated rudely at a restaurant that offered a special lunch price until 3:30. She entered at 3:20 and was immediately told to “Hurry up!” Few of the offerings on the menu were available at the promotional price and when she asked for more fried noodles—that along with the soup were the tastiest part of the meal—the waitress said it would cost an additional $1–and didn’t bring any.

So her relaxing day turned out to be far from it. What’s happening here? The unrestrained sales aggression reminds me of uncomfortable experiences I’ve encountered in some foreign countries. Is this the new American way? Do these businesses rely on one-time sales—and not on the benefit of repeats? I love to shop but this would no longer be true if I encountered too much of this approach.

cringing customer

Service of Wine: Protocol & Practice

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Serving wine 1

Wine expert Lettie Teague covered “7 Habits of Annoying Wine People, Readers’ Edition,” in The Wall Street Journal. [She’d written about her own peeves in an earlier article.] I agreed with some of the grievances and was curious about others.

Like her readers I also am irritated when given harsh tasting house wine by-the-glass, reminiscent of nail polish remover, when a restaurant has countless toothsome low-priced choices to pick from these days. At fundraisers wine often tastes atrocious, equally unacceptable for the same reason.

wine glasses 1Readers told Teague they’d been served fabulous, expensive wine in crummy glasses which spoiled the impact and taste of the vintage. This hasn’t happened to me.

They were understandably perturbed when they’d bought a wine touted on a card in a store by “critics [who] rated [a wine] 95 out of 100 points only to find that it’s not the actual wine they were rating.” I don’t buy wines of this caliber so have missed the bait-and-switch, as Teague called this blunder, in which the copy about the top-rated, promoted wine applies to the previous year’s vintage, not the bottle on the shelf.

waiter with wineHer readers complained that too many sommeliers automatically hand the wine list to a man when they should ask who, at the table, would like to order it. When Teague chooses the wine, the server regularly gives the first taste to her husband. Her pique increases when her husband actually tastes it!

She also wrote about extravagant corkage fees: “As many as 80% of the restaurants in New Jersey don’t have liquor licenses, due to the state’s antiquated liquor laws. Most observe a bring-your-own-bottle policy, and legally, they aren’t allowed to charge a corkage fee.” But they can in Manhattan where Teague has seen them as high as $150 at Per Se, but generally, she wrote, they range between $35 and $50. She reported that restaurants like Le Bernadin don’t permit visiting wines at any price.

I go back and forth on the next situation though from a slightly different perspective. Teague asks: “As a guest, if you bring along a nice bottle, shouldn’t you expect to be served something as good in return?” I ask: “Should you serve a wine a friend brings?” My husband collected wine over the years. Today, some bottles are a rare treat. He opens a special bottle just before guests arrive so the wine has time to breathe. At the same time, we want to honor a gift.

champagne in bucketTeague continued, “Some might argue that a guest should not expect to drink the bottle he or she brings, with which I agree in principle, although this doesn’t make it any less painful to trade a lovely Grand Cru Chablis for a bottle of $10 Concha y Toro Chardonnay.” A friend of hers brought chilled Champagne in an ice bucket expecting the host to take the hint and open it but instead he put away the bubbly and that was that.

Like Teague I was surprised by the complaint about staff in wine tasting rooms wearing strong perfume. I don’t care for powerful scents anywhere—in an office, plane or meeting room—and especially not near food or wine. It gives me a headache. I love freesia but would never use them in a centerpiece as the sweet scent can overpower food and bother some guests.

Do you have other wine-related likes and dislikes? Do you agree/disagree with those of the Journal’s readers?

 serving wine 2

Service of Extras

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Smoothie 1

Morning radio talk show co-host Todd Schnitt recently shared his frustration when he was unsuccessful at persuading the server at a well known NYC juice bar chain to top off his $8 smoothie with what was left in the blender container. He noticed the container in a lineup by the sink. Its fate was to be washed after its contents were tossed. He’d taken a big sip of his drink to make room.

Len Berman, his co-host on the WOR 710 morning program and the news director, Joe Bartlett, asked Todd if he’d gotten what he’d paid for. He said, “Yes.”  So that’s it then, they concurred: They didn’t feel he should have received a bonus.

smoothie 2Executive producer Natalie Vacca agreed with Len and Joe and added that had she managed the branch, she’d have suggested that staff use the extra for samples to bring in new customers. Someone observed that at Starbucks there’s little if any leftover and that the manager at the smoothie place should better train the staff in portion control to avoid costly waste.

According to Yelp, there are no more Brigham’s luncheonettes in Boston though Wikipedia notes otherwise. In its heyday, when I lived in Boston, branches were sprinkled throughout the metro area. The restaurant’s milkshake/frappe was spectacular and it came in a large glass, served with  what was left in the metal blender container–the equivalent of almost another full glass of the ambrosia, my favorite being coffee or strawberry.

milkshake 2There are some businesses in which extras continue to happen. Waiters will surprise guests with a free dessert or after dinner drink. At The Perfect Pint, a pub at which I ate lunch quite often this summer, my friends and I received a free second glass of iced tea or Coke, something I’d not before experienced in NYC. [The food is terrific here as well.]  Last night we had dinner at Mckinney and Doyle in Pawling–delicious as always. My husband was adding the tip to the credit card receipt when the hostess came with a second one. She said, “We owe you $20–here’s the correct bill.” Turns out that wine is half price on Wednesday night. We welcomed the nice surprise!

In public relations, many provide extra services, such as a tweak of a client’s letter or other small project not covered in an agreement yet not big enough to upset a budget applecart.

Is a business wrong minded to give extras? Do customers appreciate them or take them for granted? Do you appreciate them?

Extra

Service of I Should Have Walked Out

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Kick mysek

I admired this story that I’ve mentioned before and could kick myself every time I don’t do the same—which is often. Someone recommended a NYC steakhouse to my aunt and uncle so one evening during a trip to the city they started to give it a try. When my aunt opened the menu she was horrified by the prices, which she could have easily paid, and said to my uncle that she’d like to leave and they did.

Mass cardI did not do the same when I went to a church near my office to buy a dedicated mass card. I wanted the pastor to say a mass for a friend who had just died at the first opportunity. The attendant said that there were no free masses until September and she recommended that I opt for the general mass card which means that prayers are said but for a group of people–none are called out. Six months away to dedicate a mass to someone? Ridiculous.

But I’d already given her cash, the name of the deceased and selected the card and felt uncomfortable saying, “Please give me back my money.” So I ended up sending his widow what I didn’t want.

Walking by another church on my way to work to gauge the mass card situation the sign on the office says it’s open from 10 to 4. The neighborhood is largely residential so I guess they don’t expect “business” from anyone who works.

If I walk out of a commercial operation, say a boutique, having bought nothing I’m OK, if a little uncomfortable, unless I know the shop owner. Then it’s harder not to buy a little something. What about you?

brouse in a store

Service of False Advertising

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Free Pizza Blackboard

Driving down the street in the small upstate NY town of Millbrook I saw the sign above. Because I was watching out for pedestrians and hoping the traffic light wouldn’t change, my eye only caught the words FREE PIZZA, which was what the restaurant wanted me to see. I had to stop because the light was now red and I then saw what else was written on the chalkboard: That what is “free” is Wifi and that their pizza is “awesome.” The sign may have been an attempt at humor but it annoyed me enough for me to change my luncheon plans that day.

DirecTVKatie Lobosco wrote about a swindle in “The FTC has charged DirecTV with fraud, claiming that it misled customers with its popular 12-month discount package,” on money.cnn.com. According to Lobosco, “The satellite company advertises a 12-month plan for as little as $19.95, but fails to make it clear that a two-year contract is required, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That means customers are getting stuck with a longer contract than they wanted. What’s worse: The package’s price jumps in the second year by between $25 and $45 per month. Customers that try to cancel early are hit with a fee of up to $480, according to the complaint.”

I recently fell for a promotion. The monthly charge is $40+ more than I thought it would be once the rental of this or that piece of essential equipment and the taxes and other fees are added in. We have a two year contract and I fully expect the price to reach the stratosphere as soon as the contract is up.

Used car salesmanI’ve written before about my grandfather who was the first to draw such chicanery to my attention when I was about eight. I saw banners touting unbelievably cheap car prices and Grandpa mumbled that those were for cars without steering wheels and brakes and that the charge would be far higher if you wanted those essentials in your car.

Laws and regulations aside, this technique is ancient, tiring and off-putting. It focuses on tricking people into immediate sales with no view to the long term. What’s nutty is that the restaurant makes good pizza and DirecTV [which we have upstate] and the company that provides a phone/TV/Internet package we now have provide quality products as well. Why do they need to stoop to such measures? Have you felt fleeced by or noticed similar shady sales practices that irritate you? Have you changed your mind about buying a product or service as a result?

Bait and switch

Service of a Bad Sign

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Luxury for blog

A business can so easily give the wrong impression. Here are photos I took on my walk to and from work that illustrate the point.

The sign featured above inspired the post. It touts luxury apartments for rent. The fact that this dirty sign has drooped in this manner for weeks tells me that as a potential tenant, my leaky faucet, broken toilet or elevator, lack of hot water or heat will suffer similar neglect.

Nail sign for blogNot sure I’d want to have my nails done at a place with insufficient soap and water to keep its unprofessionally hung sign clean–photo right.

New Yorkers are chomping at the bit to enjoy a spring sidewalk drink or meal but would anyone consider this place featured below? Chairs and tables have been laced with boxes and filled garbage bags for days.

Have you noticed similar easy-fix neglect in neighborhoods in which you hang around?

 Restaurant sign blog

Service of Atmosphere: What Your Instincts Tell You When Entering a Restaurant

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Entering a restaurant

We recently ate out in a single neighborhood every night for a week at restaurants we’d either never before tried or hadn’t been to in a long while. We were greeted with smiles and ate delicious food at La Mangeoire [French], Parnell’s [Irish], Peak [Thai], Ali Baba’s Terrace [Turkish] and Pho Saigon [Vietnamese]. 

La Mangeoire

La Mangeoire

There was one restaurant that took us by surprise. It had been a Belgian bistro and we walked inside without paying attention to the name change and immediately realized it wasn’t what we’d expected. It now sported hints of Asian décor mixed with cheap eclectic and leftover bistro. In short, it had no personality.

It was almost empty—one person waiting for a friend at a very long bar and a few tables had guests. It was therefore strange that nobody seemed pleased we’d come. There was zero scent of food nor did we see any being served. It did not portend to be a night out among neighbors who anticipated a good meal.

Parnells Irish Pub

Parnells Irish Pub

We were given the drink menu immediately and had to wait for the longest time to see the waiter again to get a dinner menu. With menus in hand, finally, we realized we were in a Japanese steakhouse [though you could have fooled us as we didn’t see a single Japanese person on staff or among the customers]. The $15/oz with 3 oz minimum Kobe beef dinner was featured in 48 point type and the first choice we saw. We quickly became aware that this was at the very high end of the neighborhood’s restaurant price range with neither ambiance nor service to match the prices. 

Ali Baba's Terrace

Ali Baba’s Terrace

We heard a long discussion between staff and two young women about where they could sit.  [There were four empty tables where the women pointed and any discussion seemed unnecessary.] Two characters dressed by central casting as gang members complete with baseball-style caps on backwards and jackets with threatening logos paced a sitting area, chatting on their phones.

Our food, while overpriced, was excellent but we couldn’t wait to leave and will never return. My husband gives the place one year. We decided it must have been selling more than food or maybe all the regular staff called in sick.

Have you been to a restaurant without personality where everything seemed off? Or to a place in which you felt unwanted from the get-go?

Pho Saigon

Pho Saigon

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