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Jan 10, 2000 08:43 PM

Berns Steak House - A Warning

  • d

Just returned from a totally ghastly dining experience at the once-great Berns in Tampa. In addition to their obvious "processing" of diners that includes serving your entree halfway through the salad course, removing the televisons in their dessert rooms to increase "turn" and the insulting $4 valet parking fee and 12% service charge on every check Berns is now serving steaks and seafood that bear every sign of having been rejected by Outback or Shells (both of which are headquartered in Tampa).

The menu still makes for interesting reading; but the steaks are hardly a match for any of the chain steak houses now opening both in Tampa and Orlando. Their "famous" onion soup is served in the world's smallest onion soup crock, salads feature consistently excellent vegetables atop poor greens, there is NO bread (except for a homemade melba toast-like flour product hardly worth putting on the table), and the potato served with your dinner tastes like it had been cooked hours prior to arriving on your table.

If you must experience the 50's bordello decor first-hand steer clear of anything other than the aforementioned steak. They will show you a take with live pompano swimming in it; but the pompano in parchment was "mushy" and had clearly taken at least two days to get from the tank to the table.

A wonderous wine list - with Alice in Wonderland prices.

Five years ago Berns was good enough to warrant the hazardous drive down I-4 from WDW - now its hardly worth the drive over from the hotel strip near Tampa International.

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  1. I'm so depressed to hear about the decline of this place. It was so great before!

    5 Replies
    1. re: Cathy
      Fried Chicken Chuck

      With all due respect I don't give your review of Berns any credibility. Been eating at Berns all my life, including a good bit the last six months, and I can assure its the same now as it was 30 years ago.

      1. re: Fried Chicken Chuck

        You must be the owner of Berns

        1. re: beentheredonethat
          Sharon Curtis

          This is my first visit to this site.
          I could't agree more about the decline of Bern's.
          We have visited there many times, but after our last visit, no more.

          1. re: Sharon Curtis

            I have not been to Berns in years. So sorry to hear about the decline, I believe the son took over recently... BUT have you been to SideBern's? We've been twice and loved it. The decor is hip/cool (which makes me suspicious usually) but there's a dim sum appetizer, changes daily, $11 I think, it is served as five stacked metal dishes with little portions of incredibly inventive appetizers inside. My husband and I usually order one of these and one entree. Mmmm!

        2. re: Fried Chicken Chuck

          I recently went to Berns with my date. As I parked my car, the valet person said $4.00 please. I was surprised that now they are charging for parking. I had my plastic to take care of every thing and having one of those days, I had no cash with me. At the end of dinner, right before handing over the credit card, I asked our loud, rude, smart mouth fancy waiter if I could get some cash out of the card to pay for valet. He rudely declined to do that and sent me over to 'host manager'. That guy was a total incompetent rookie and he sent me to the bar tender and after this embarrassing run around, I finally had to get my car while my date stayed there, go to some ATM in the middle of the night, and pay the valet. All that for $4.00 after spending $200 for dinner.

          The son probably hired the staff from the local burger king with an attitude. I am about to contact David Laxer(the owner) and let him know he is doing a pathetic job.

      2. b
        Bill Pisarra, Jr.

        Oh no! To this day I fondly remember a dinner there about 20 years ago, even though it was one of the silliest looking restaurants I've ever seen.

        I suppose most restaurants indeed have life spans and pass away eventually...but say it ain't so, Joe!

        1. I just came back from Berns and everything I had previously experienced at Berns was still as it was the many times we have experienced it before. The food was the best, the service was supurb and the company ( my wife of 39 years) was worth every penny of the $150.00 (45% tip included) I spent. Don't believe one person's opinion about this. Experience Berns for yourself. If you want a $10.00 meal by all means go to Ponderosa.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Don Kreusch

            I was at Bern's recently and found it to be just as over rated as it ever was!

            Bern's doesn't hold a candle to good restaurants in other cities. Not even close.

            Lately Tampa has been getting its share of better restaurants.

            The days of using Bern's as a status symbol are over!

          2. Celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary at Bern's last night. Valet service is still $4.00. If you park yourself, is it still $4.00? Just wondering. The food was great. My husband is a steak lover and he thoroughly enjoyed his. I had the lobster, shelled and it was also great. Certainly the soup is served in a small crock, but by the time you get through an appetizer, soup, salad and entree with trimmings, it is plenty. The food came out timely, and it was nice not having the soup served while still working on the appetizer, salad served while still working on the soup, entree while...... you get the picture. It was all timed perfect. I had two glasses of wine and my husband two beers. The waiter was extemely gracious. Was extremely helpful and very much made us feel at ease. Desserts and coffees were great while we made our visit to the dessert room. Total bill was right at $180.00. This was the draw back. Don't get me wrong, we didn't mind paying it and didn't allow it to taint our evening. But adding on the 12% surcharge before we paid a handsome 20% tip was a bit much. The food and service was excellent. But we did feel the cost to be too extreme. This was my second visit to Berns. The first was some 6-7 years ago. We went with another couple and drank more than we did last night, ate well, did the desserts. But the total bill for my husband and myself at that time was right at $120.00. I don't recall if they charged the surcharge back then.

            Berns was a nice experience. The price however can make it feel over-rated.

            1 Reply
            1. re: TampaGal
              Vital Information

              I never followed this thread specifically, but Berns in general is high on my list of places I always wanted to visit. I am very interested/confused by this 12% surcharge. What is this for? Service? Are you supposed to tip on top of the 12%.


            2. I've been dining at Bern's at every opportunity for close to thirty years. I've never had even a mediocre experience and yes, I've dined at fine restaurants in other major U.S. cities. I rate Bern's right up there with the best of the best.

              Regarding the 12% gratuity, my recollection is that it has always been added, as is done in Europe. For those who actually read, there is verbiage stating no additional gratuity is necessary, but if the diners felt the service and meal warranted adding additional gratuity, it would be welcome. Remember too you are not just tipping the waiter, rather you are tipping everyone who worked to provide your dining experience. When you tour the kitchen, you'll notice it's a very busy place with many people working.

              When I order a bottle of wine in any restaurant I expect an approximate 100% markup. Same goes for Bern's and seems to hold true. I have often purchased wines after enjoying them first at Bern's. Generally, I have paid about half what I paid per bottle at Bern's or any other restaurant. To date though, I have not found any of the wines in Bern's cellar that are also available at Publix.

              Mood can certainly affect a person's experience, good or bad. It could be driving the gauntlet from Orlando to Tampa (which would take me 3 Scotch's to be cogent again) or feeling you were being nickeled-dimed for parking. Maybe the parking is a concession now or maybe the insurance premiums for the parking got to be outrageous. Even when the valet service was free, I always made sure I had some bills to give the kids.

              Even if I have a lesser experience at Bern's in the future, I will not base my opinion on that single event. I have too many good experiences to weigh against that single one.

              17 Replies
              1. re: PalmettoBoy

                Palmetto Boy is right, and the original post was 10 years ago. No matter, I have had over 50 meals there the past 40 years and they were all topnotch. And I do NOT live in Tampa, but 5 hours away.

                First, the appearance is bordello, that is for sure. So what?
                And you will need a valet to park your car. The restaurant is kind of on the wrong side of the tracks. While four bucks mandatory is on the high end, it is a service contracted. Perhaps you don't leave a tip for parking. Up to you.

                All waitstaff I have had there have been professional, and none every loud mouthed.

                The 12% tip is clearly stated, and it you want to leave more (I always do) feel free. If you think that is adequate, then that's it. No pressure.

                The wine list is fantastic and not at all overpriced. You will find wines there nowhere else in the US. A 100% markup is standard, not ripoff. Many places will mark up more than 200%. And where else can you get a fine glass by the glass for same price, per oz. as the bottle? Nowhere. By the way, I always tip the sommelier 10% of the bottle cost anyway, so you can take that into consideration in adding extra for waiter, or not.

                It is not too pricey. Not as expensive as the big steakhouse chains, since it includes soup, salad, potato ( no $8 surcharge) and the steak. Plus, the steak is well trimmed, so don't order 16 oz. to get 12 oz. meat.

                The soup is not a full serving, just an appetizer size. More than adequate. Salad never anything but fresh for me. All grown and picked by Bern's staff. Potatoes baked every few minutes, so they are always fresh, not wrapped in foil and sitting around for two hours. No what? You don't need it.

                As for the meat, I toured the meat lockers when it was still allowed. USDA Prime, dry aged. It does not get any better. Perhaps original poster was not accustomed to dry aged, which is different. I can assure you that will not get that at Charley's or Outback.

                Bern's is the pure pursuit of excellence. Roast and grind own coffee. Make own ice cream..Pours top shelf brand as house liquors. Makes all salad dressings. Imports sour cream from NYC.

                I remember in the early 70's people saying that Bern's was not as good as it used to be. Perhaps.... I would be the first to notice if the emperor had no clothes on, and would let you know. I still willingly travel 5 hours and pay more than $100 per head for dinner and wine there and love it. I have also eaten many times in all the major chains as well as 90% of the fine independent steakhouses in the eastern US. The top three are Bern's in Tampa and Peter Luger and Keen's in NYC. For my money, I would go to Bern's as my first choice.

                So if you are reading tihs and wonder, no, you don't need to be warned. You need to make a reservation.

                1. re: steakman55

                  +1. And for the record, the onion soup, potato, and salad come with the entree for no extra charge, and they harvest their salad stuff from their gardens. Tableside beef slices are perfect in all respects.
                  Upstairs, if anyone has the apple pie with macadamia ice cream and is disappointed, e-mail me for a refund. No, I don't work there.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    Heh, I walk past the farm every morning...

                  2. re: steakman55

                    "The restaurant is kind of on the wrong side of the tracks." LOL!

                    1. re: Miss E

                      It truly is, and there is no option other than the valet for $4, which is a tacky first impression.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        It is most certainly not in a rough neighborhood, if that's what you're implying! I agree that valet is the only reasonable option, though, because the on-street parking in the area is a block or more away; and I agree that charging for valet in Tampa is not a common practice, so it does make a bad first impression.

                    2. re: steakman55

                      " By the way, I always tip the sommelier 10% of the bottle cost anyway, "

                      That sounds very reasonable to me, but being a greenhorn, I have an honest question: how do you go about tipping the sommelier? At the end of the meal, do you find him and press the money into his hand separately? Or do you tell the waiter that $X is for the sommelier? Seems like this part would be awkward....

                      Can't wait to save up and go back again.

                      1. re: joan

                        OK. Where to start. If you wish to tip the sommelier separately (or the captain), carry an envelope and a note card and put the money and the thank you in it and hand it to the person who is to receive it. This takes away the issue of pressing cash into someone's hand which can be a bit arkward. I typically do this in establishments that I frequent. It's really not necessary for a single visit, though I am sure anyone would be happy to have the recognition (and your money). Personally, I would much rather tip the sommelier (if they have helped find something special) than the waiter who serves it. It takes no more effort to open a $10 bottle of wine than a $150 bottle. For that reason, I cap what I tip on wine. It is nonsense to me to tip 40 bucks on a 200 bottle of wine I picked out myself. As far as Berns goes, I went there about a month ago. It seemed pretty much what I remembered. Food was OK. Experience seemed touristy. It was certainly not the service or experience I expect from a big city steak house, but it was not in anyway the type of experience the OP described. The wine list is not any more over priced than any big city steak place and is pretty interesting. I always think of Berns as " I go for the wine and the food is the acceptable to go with it". Berns is what it is. Not my favorite place. By the way, to the OP - why on earth, do you not have 4 bucks in your pocket? A cashless society is a myth.

                        1. re: bimmertimmer

                          As I have said before.....Bern's in Tampa and Peter luger in NYC....Was at Bern's a couple of weeks ago...Porterhouse for 2 excellent.... and service as good as always. To the nay-sayers........there are lower priced venues, with lower priced ingredients!!!!!

                          1. re: ospreycove

                            Interesting. Have been to Peter Luger many times and to Bern's quite a few. Don't personally see the connection other than they are both originals. I guess that, in itself, is pretty rare in today's world.

                            1. re: bimmertimmer

                              Yes, Bimmer, they are both originals, each in their own way expressing an interpretation of the traditional American Steakhouse. Both do an exceptional presentation of Porterhouse for 2-3-4, etc.

                              1. re: ospreycove

                                Next time in NYC< try Keen's Chophouse.
                                Been in same location since 1885. Great porterhouse to split. Interesting decor, with old clay pipes, etc. as opposed to Luger stark decor. Also more accesible, in garment district, short walk from theatre district.

                          2. re: bimmertimmer

                            If you order a bottle of wine through the sommelier, I can assure he will come back during the meal to inquire how you like it. At that point, I reach in my coat pocket and get the cash I have already figured for him and offer it without fanfare. It is usually accepted, and I do not resent it. That is how it is played. At some restaurants *McKendrick's Steakhouse in Atlanta) it is refused, saying that is the sommelier;s job. Whatever. That's how I do business.

                            1. re: steakman55

                              Thanks, I've gotten away from Keen's since I moved; will try on my nexr visit.

                              1. re: steakman55

                                thank you steakman for the idea, that sounds like an easy way to do it.

                                1. re: steakman55

                                  Interesting comment about McKendricks' sommelier. My office is about half a mile from Park Place and I do business there frequently. That is one of the places I periodically (usually 4 times a year and substantially) tip both the sommelier and the captain (in an envelope and with a note). I do the same at NY Prime in Buckhead. I do not think it is expected at either place, but since I sometimes call at the last minute and always get good service, it is just part of what I feel is appropriate. I do the same at the establishments I frequent for business in DC. Could just me he was not comfortable with the cash offering in a public fashion.

                                  1. re: bimmertimmer

                                    Valet parking for $4? 12% service fee? I'm moving to tampa! It is $20 for valet parking in Philadelphia.