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Jul 28, 2004 09:54 PM

Walked out of BLT Steak

  • t

I'm still angry.

My girlfriend and I were seated on time for our reservation (which was good, because there were no seats at the bar). The room was very loud, which I hadn't expected; not to my taste, but I understand that it makes some people feel that they're in a special place. A waiter came to the table after a minute or so, dropped the menus and the wine list on the tabletop between us, and told us that the specials were listed on the wall, behind me and to my right. "Willyouhavetapwaterorbottled?OK." Then, without another word, he rushed away.

I had been looking forward to a Manhattan. No matter, I thought; when he comes back, I'll order one. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was wriggling and shifting in her seat, trying to get a clear line of sight at the specials board, a good 50 feet from where we were sitting. No way. I, however, by turning my head 150 degrees or so over my right shoulder, could just make them out. I reported, then we took up the menus.

We had a lengthy discussion about the specials, the menus, the wine. The delicious anticipation with which I had envisioned my Manhattan was curdling into bitter disappointment. A busboy came and filled our glasses with water. No one else came to the table in the space of 20 minutes. We began discussing whether to leave. Finally, my girlfriend (who was facing the passageway between the tables) said, "Here comes the waiter. I'll tell you what: if he passes us again without stopping, let's leave." He didn't even slow down.

Could I have grabbed him on his next pass? Sure, or I could have gone to complain to the maitre'd. But by that point it had been spoiled; the excitement and anticipation were gone; even the most incredible food would have turned to ashes in my mouth.

Yes, I have high expectations for the quality of service in a restaurant where I expect to pay $200 (before tax and tip), but I'm not unreasonable. If someone--anyone--even the busboy--had volunteered an apology (a solicited apology really wasn't going to cut it at this point), and had taken my drink order, it would have made a world of difference. But no one did.

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  1. I agree,and would have done the same as you.

    2 Replies
    1. re: RR

      I would have done the same thing too.

      I expect a very high level of service. That's part of what you pay for, in my opinion.

      1. re: SydPass

        This reminds me of when a friend was kept waiting for a table at a restaurant while some people who came in after him were seated. When told by the maitre'd that he would either have to wait for a table or sit at the bar, my friend said aren't you forgetting the third option. The maitre'd said no what's that. Leave! my friend said and so he did. :)

    2. Good for you. If you're inclined, a call to the manager might make you feel better and also might produce better service.

      1 Reply
      1. re: LA

        Agreed. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience, but frankly, I would have walked out and spoken with Maitre'd and complained, whether you wanted to stay if they found a way to appease you, perhaps sitting you in a different area with another waiter, or just to let them know that you were treated badly, and you were going to leave now, and let others know of your bad experience. But, to just sound it here, it doesn't seem to help matters to me. I found the service at Bruno Bakery on Laguardia to be horrendous repeatedly, rude and condescending. I dropped an email to Bruno, and he wrote me back, and made me feel better about the experience, and thanked me for letting him know because he had heard other complaints and was not sure who was responsible for this. He handled it like a pro, and because of this I remain a customer. So, it is always a good idea to go to the top and write a letter, or make a phone call, and generally you will feel better, and often they will try to make it up to you.

      2. I can fully understand your exasperation, anger, and the feeling that, even if you could snag the waiter, the evening was already ruined. However, it could have just been this particular waiter who was totally inept, and if you had given the management the opportunity to address the situation, the evening might have turned out much better than you expected.

        I faced the same situation the first time I went to Artisanal for lunch with my daughter. We were escorted to a table and provided with menus by our waitress who then promptly managed to be very busy elsewhere for the next 15-20 minutes and, it became apparent, wasn't giving us a second thought. At that point, I got up and went back to the reception desk where I complained to the maitre d'. He immediately took action by assigning to us a different waitress, who turned out to be personable as well as very efficient. This went a long way toward alleviating my severe annoyance, and we ended up having a pleasant time.

        While it's true that a restaurant of BLT's caliber should hire only servers who can function at the highest level, sometimes, even at the best restaurants, a poorly functioning server can go unrecognized, particularly if the customer does not speak up.

        12 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Personally, I'd find sitting there after such a complaint to be an uncomfortable situation.

          1. re: Josh

            Why would you feel uncomfortable? After all, you are the customer. Since a restaurant is a *service* business, shouldn't it be the management that feels uncomfortable about a complaint? Shouldn't they want to go all out to make amends? And, does this mean that if a problem arises even during a meal, you just sit there and say nothing?

            1. re: RGR

              Of course they "should," be the ones to feel uncomfortable, but if they're not performing properly in the first place, they may not.

              It's possible that everyone in the place knows that waiter isn't cutting it and would love to see him complained about. But it's just as likely that the wait staff are emotionally united against "difficult" customers and you would sit there becoming infamous as the "complaining" table as the night wore on. (Just as a kitchen should rush to fix a plate that is returned, but some do terrible, unspeakable things to returned plates before sending them out again.)

              Why risk your evening? Get up, go someplace better, and perhaps follow-up with a note to let them know that they lost a customer, so they can provide future customers with a better experience if they're so inclined.

              I find that if I have to complain, my mood is spoiled and I would simply rather be elsewhere.

              1. re: mrbarolo

                The comment "... some do terrible, unspeakable things to returned plates before sending them out again" really got me thinking.
                What exactly has happened? We must have some people in here willing to confess? Witnesses at least? I thought this stuff was only in movies?
                Just really curious & want to know if I should refrain from sending anything back in the future..
                PLEASE TELL ALL!

                1. re: Raymond

                  In a high-quality restaurant with a professional chef, food that is sent back is recooked to the customer's preference, no matter what the reason. In 20 years I have never seen anything "unspeakable" done to any returned food with any of the many chefs I have worked under and certainly not now in my own kitchen.

                  1. re: City Chef

                    I agree. I've worked in high quality kitchens for years and I have never seen anything "unspeakable" done to food that was sent back to the kitchen.

                    1. re: ak

                      I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the longstanding "urban legend" about sending back steaks and having irate cooks jump up and down on them. I didn't mean to libel any individual, group, or profession, nor to sow panic among potential restaurant patrons.

                      I am deeply sorry if my words offended anyone and on Monday I will call a press conference to announce my resignation from the Senate.

                      1. re: mrbarolo

                        it comes up often enough that Im afraid some people do believe it.

                    2. re: City Chef

                      There is an exception to your "pro kitchens would never" worldview, and that is with beefsteak. You send back a steak as being over/underdone and a good 50% of the time it comes back overkilled one way or the other, I believe "just to show you" because it is so far out of line with reasonable. Can't be scientific about it, but particularly at places with euro chefs; I don't tend to eat at steakhouses. You can say you've never seen it, I will believe you, but it happens all the time, and to me most recently at BLT Market with a lowly hamburger. No squirming out that you would not judge such a chef as professional :)

                      You want to take care of a customer, what you do is let him keep the bad one, so he can nibble around the edges or middle while his tablemates eat. But that is almost never done either.

                      Oh, and just by coincidence I ate at BLT Prime by accident the other night (reserved wrong restaurant in an inexplicable lapse). It's not my kind of place at all (too glitzy hotel tacky) but we had some very good food, and their sommelier was really excellent. There were a few clunkers (how hard can it be to get french fries right (if you want my advice they should keep bringing more fresh fries)) but overall the meal was a lot better than I expected it would be when I walked in.

                      I think the OP hurt only himself with his reaction. The Dalai Lama would've salvaged the evening (if he weren't a veg) and I think it's good advice, which will probably go unheeded.

                      Also, you don't need to "complain". You can stand up and grab the guy and say in a friendly way, "hey, you are ignoring me" and he'll respond. People make mistakes but most in that trade are conscientious enough.

                      1. re: acidity

                        My husband and I have also encountered the return of the boot leather steak when a rare or medium-rare steak ordered medium was politely returned to the kitchen, so we've basically given up on that tactic at this point and generally order steaks for two cooked medium and I'll fish out the medium bits while my husband eats the bloody bits, with the leathery end bits taken home for breakfast fajitas.

                        One caveat to the above response (though I have no problem with the OP walking out)--I hope you were being figurative when you mentioned "grabbing" the waiter. Actually grabbing a waiter's arm would not be acceptable in many restaurants (or to me, ever). I'd get the maitre d' first or verbally accost the next member of staff walking by.

                    3. re: Raymond

                      The maitre 'd at Provence actually threatened to do something to the food when my friend asked to move our (6 person) party to a different table (she asked quite politely but he seemed to think it was an annoying request). We all promptly got up and left the restaurant, never to return. The maitre 'd's behavior was far and away the worst thing i've even seen in a restaurant.

                      1. re: Raymond

                        Yes. Dinner is over the moment someone makes a complaint for any reason. At least, I don't order anything further from the menu - certainly if I think the person complaining is out of line (I'm sure we've all dined out with someone occasionally who treats wait staff like crap).

                        I have a friend who worked as a waiter in a number of Toronto restaurants running the gamut from casual to classy, and he said in all of them - you do indeed risk having something "special" done to your food.

                        In the several times I've seen people complain, I've seen waitstaff get hostile. Frankly - it's not worth it to stick it out - the night is over, at least for that establishment. I go out to get away from that kind of trouble, not to get provoked into a confrontation. I'll write a review, and in the few times I've walked out, I've let the manager know why I'm leaving - but dinner is over.

              2. The maitre d' is Ian Medwin, a nice enough guy. It would have been better to have spoken with him before leaving, but I understand the annoyance.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Wilfrid

                  One wonders if Ian Medwin, the maitre'd, or anyone else from BLT Steak, is reading this thread, and what they will do to make amends. Not only have they lost the business of a disgruntled customer, but they will probably lose the business of many chowhounder's who are reading this thread. It would be an interesting follow-up, if BLT Steak get back to the disgruntled customer and makes amends, and the customer reports it back to chowhound.

                  1. re: walter

                    You'll excuse the sarcasim here, but YEAH RIGHT! I can't tell you how many restaurants I've been to in this city, both high and low on the price scale, that don't seem to care one bit about making ammends when the service/food is subpar. This applies to everything from making you wait an hour after the reservation time to having to send back food multiple times because it was cold/incorrectly prepared.

                    I've had better luck with the airlines....

                    1. re: Nycer

                      It depends entirely on the restaurant involved, and how much they value their clientele. I have had problems with food being served at an incorrect temperatures at Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern. In both instances, the staff was extremely apologetic, we did not have to wait long for the freshly cooked replacements, and we were comped an extra dessert at Blue Hill and an extra cheese plate at GT. Despite the professional handling of the situation, I really find it totally inexcusable for restaurants of this caliber to be sending food out from the kitchen at incorrect temperatures. That's the reason we will not be rushing back to either restaurant.

                      As far as restaurants that take reservations, but do not seat diners promptly (within 10-15 minutes of the appointed time), one of the reasons I have never been to Bouley is that, when the first Bouley was in operation, I heard plenty of horror stories of people with 8 p.m. reservations not being seated until 10 or 11 p.m. There's no way I would ever put up with such treatment, no matter how sensational the cuisine might be. These stories left a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended) and, while the situation at the current Bouley may or may not have been corrected, I'm not anxious to find out.

                  2. re: Wilfrid

                    I have found the staff to be accomodating, and the service to be quite good. I'm sorry you had a bad experience - maybe try again? The food is really good.

                    If only it weren't so loud...

                  3. Nothing beats a good "Manhattan"!

                    I have been noticing over the past several months the number of posts increasing pertaining to lousy service at expensive restaurants. Anyone else notice?