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So bad you just decided to quit the dinner?

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I was just remembering a terrible dinner experience. It was a 3-star restaurant (supposedly) where my parents and I were treated as though we didn't exist--our waiter took our order and just never came back. Strange because everyone at the table had ordered an app, a soup/salad, an entree...waiters usually pay attention to the ones who're spending alot of money. Anyways, our bus-boy ended up being our waiter, but there were still huge, torturous lulls between courses, our wine glasses stood empty. We're usually a chatty bunch, but we were stranded to the point where everyone at the table did nothing but look for our waiter. We ended up tipping the bus-boy in cash, forbidding him to tell our "waiter" that we'd tipped at all.
So here's my question: I think we can all relate to the feeling of knowing a dinner just isn't working. It's going down the path--water glasses are empty, maybe it took a long time to get the order taken, and then there's no wine, or the wrong appetizer, or a combination of the above. You can just feel that it's going to be bad. Have any of you ever, after eating a first course, just told the waiter you'd rather not continue with the meal? I'd love to hear stories. I certainly wish we'd been able to do so at the dinner I wrote about, but...I was reviewing the place and I figured, if this is how they want to treat me, let 'em.

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    AGM/Cape Cod

    We had one experience where I wish we had walked out. We had booked a table at a top restaurant (Biba) in Boston for our anniversary. A coworker had gone there for his anniversary and brought a menu back. It was one of those menus where it would have been difficult to decide which of dishes to order since they were all things we love. Anyway we get there the appointed evening and are greeted by the hostess who 'cooes' that we are so lucky because it is the first night of the new summer menu. We should have turned around and left at that point. It went from a menu filled with our favorite things to one where we were hardpressed to find something we liked. We pressed on and order appetizers and entrees. 45 minutes later (no explanations but many attempts to sell us more wine) our appetizers arrive. There were ok not spectacular. When the hostess arrived for the 'how is everything' questions we asked if our entrees will take as long as the appetizers since we have a long drive back to Cape Cod that evening. She gushes that Lydia is in the kitchen instructing the chefs on how to prepare the new menu. She thinks we should be thrilled that Lydia is in the kitchen. We think she should have taught her staff about the menu on her time not ours. Finally entree arrive and are consumed and we escape. I know that part of the problem was the high expectation we had at the outset but I do wish we had bailed on Biba's and gone to Chinatown.

    1. I would do it *often,* because too frequently, service is just downright poor. But my dining companions are usually more tolerant souls than I, and don't want to make a "scene." Too bad -- I think if more disappointed patrons walked out, more restaurants would get their acts together.

      1. Love this question and the opportunity to vent. My husband, my family and I had a tasting dinner at a beautiful B&B outside of Phila as we planned to have our wedding there...this was over 2 years ago. Well, there were these torturous waits between courses and we were all pretty tolerant because we were trying to enjoy the evening. Everyone was STARVING! When asked if we would like dessert my blunt French husband to be asked how long it would be as we had to get up for work pretty soon. Well, the waitress got all huffy and said this was what FINE DINING was like. Whew! Wrong thing to say as my mom used to write a cooking column and has dined absolutely everywhere plus my husband is a chef. WE also dropped the fact that we were getting married there and now were thinking twice about it. We did all run into said waitress about a month later at one of those outdoor grill your own places and said hello and yes we see that she likes fine dining. Mean i know.. She was not happy to see us and blamed the kitchen. But the food and day turned out wonderful. My beef is that everone is fighting to stay in biz these days, if you are not ready, staff not trained, DONT OPEN YOUR DOORS and inflict this stuff on us (another story,more recent)

        1. This reminds me of a story that happened to my wife and I at a small bay side restaurant in St. Michael's. We arrived for a late lunch and were seated outback by the dock. No other patrons were in the restaurant. The waitress took our order and delivered our ice tea, but never returned again. This was the first hour of our vacation so we were in absolutely no hurry. It's not like me to be so patient, but after 1 1/2 hours, I started to get restless. Finally, I tracked down a busboy and demanded to speak with the owner. 5 minutes later the owner comes out covered with blood and begins to apologize. Turns out the waitress, while coming out of the kitchen slipped on some water as she carrying out my wife's soup. As a result she breaks her leg and cracks her scull. Sure enough as we leave through the front entrance, she being loaded onto an ambulance.
          With all the commotion, the owner forgot thier was anyone in the restaurant.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Shoeman

            I don't actually see how this is like any of the stories at all. This is not an example of neglectful service. This is a case of an emergency occuring. Naturally they're not going to be worried about whether or not you have iced tea when someone's life is in peril.

            1. re: sonja

              Just playing devil's advocate here. Perhaps Shoeman's point was that it turned out that there was actually a good reason why his table was being ignored and he was simply telling his story? It seemed like neglect to him, especially in an empty dining room, until he learned that there was an emergency.

            2. re: Shoeman

              Forgive me for this, but the timing in this story seems rather strange to me. If the waitress was just being loaded into the ambulance as you were leaving the restaurant, then she was leaving the scene 1 1/2+ hours after taking your order. That would suggest an extraordinarily long time between your order and the attempt to serve you the soup, wouldn't it? (I'm assuming that the rescue vehicle was reasonably prompt in responding to the emergency call.) If the timing and sequence of events is correct, the owner's story was very fishy...

              1. re: ld

                Let's see if this makes sense? Please assume the benefit the the doubt.

                1:00 pm lunch ordered.
                1:12 pm soup poured by chef.
                1:14 pm waitress cracks her head.
                1:18 pm ambulance called.
                1:50 pm ambulance arrives, remember we are at some back bay dock restaurant in St. Michaels, No idea how far the nearest hospital is.
                2:00 pm bleeding contained, head wound dressed.
                2:15 pm leg stabilized
                2:20 pm waitress gets loaded into ambulance, wife and I walk out of restaurant.

                Give or take ten minutes, I believe both the owners and my story remain intact.

            3. I once bailed on a meal even before the first course.

              We were a group of about 8, in New Orleans for a meeting. I only knew 2 or 3 people in the group. We'd been seated, and drink orders taken. Bread was brought to the table. Once I'd seen the bread (completely throwaway) and tasted the iced tea (not brewed, made with syrup that tastes of nothing but potassium benzoate) I stood up and informed the entire group that we would be leaving.

              As we started filing out (the others all pretty much in shock) I hailed the waiter and told him we wouldn't be staying. He wanted to charge us for the beverages (no alcohol, just tea) and I said absolutely not. He got testy and I went back into the restaurant and chewed out the manager, and that was pretty much the end of it.

              We had a great meal elsewhere.

              1. Several years ago, my wife & I were at the NC coast celebrating our anniversary. We made reservations at one of the finest restaurants in town, telling them that we wanted to get a quiet out of the way table if possible for our anniversary dinner. When we arrived we were met by the owner at the hostess stand, he showed us to our table - the worst table in the house, right in the middle of everything! We explained our situation, telling him that we had asked for something more out of the way. He snapped "This is Saturday night! We can't accomodate every one's wish". We were pretty pissed, but decided to stay. After ordering drinks, we noticed that a table located in a corner had opened up. We asked the waitress if we could move to it & she went to the owner with our request. Imagine our surprise when we saw the owner breeze past with another couple, giving them the table. The waitress came back & apologized, telling us that the owner simply said "no way!", and that he had the habit of being a jerk. We paid for our drinks, tipped the waitress well, asking her to tell the owner we'd never set foot in the restaurant again. We then went down the street to another goood restaurant we'd heard about. We should have gone there in the first place. The owner was wonderful, & very accomodating. We told him our story and he just rolled his eyes. Apparently he knew the other owner and said that was typical of his behavior. We ended up having a splendid evening.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Jibe

                  During Expo '86 (in Vancouver), I had out of town guests arriving for 4 days. We had fantastic meals 3 out of 4 nights. I agonized where to take them as they are serious hounds! The last night we went to the Salmon House on the Hill. We had a reservation (a must at that time!) and arrived early to have a drink in the lounge. The place was swarming! Well we had a drink in the lounge and meanwhile it's a 1/2 hr. past our res. then 1 hr. and so on.. we debated whether to leave or not but decided to stay (bad call). We order appetizers in the lounge as we were starving. We finally were seated more than 1 hr. past our reservation and they sat us at a table 3 rows from the window. There was a window seat and they wouldn't give it to us! Unbelievable... Insult to injury, our waiter came over and they had almost no food left from the menu, as they were so busy. We didn't even get a comp. beverage! The manager finally came over at our request and was very snippy with us! Needless to say, it was a disastrous night and I haven't been back!

                  1. re: Allison

                    At least you got seated.

                2. This was a total disaster, made worse by the presence of the 80+ year old inlaws. The place was Alan Wongs in Honolulu, the "best restaurant in Hawaii." Two months before our visit I made a reservation for 6:00 pm on a Wednesday. I confirmed it in a letter. When we arrived in Honolulu the preceding Saturday I confirmed by phone. On Wednesday I again confirmed by phone. We arrived at 5:45 and the place was full. At 6:15 I asked about our table and was told that the place was filled by walk-ins w/o reservations. I showed the manager my confirming letter and he just shrugged and could not explain why he gave away tables to walk-ins instead of saving some for people with confirmed reservations. We couldn't sit at the bar because it (quite small) was full of other pelple with reservations waiting for their tables. It is now 6:45 and still no table. The staff was gracious enough to find two chairs for the 87 and 85 year old inlaws to sit, but Ms. Swift and I had to stand. It is now 7:30 (the inlaws prefer to eat at 6:00 so they can go to bed) and although 1 couple from the bar has been seated, still no tables for 4. No offers of a free drink or glass of wine. I instructed the hostess to phone for a cab, which she did, and we left and went back to the Kahala for dinner (not our first choice, but the inlaws prevailed). I later wrote a letter to the manager (whose card I got) telling him what happened and asking him why I shouldn't send a copy of the letter to a host of food and food industry publications, and sent a copy to the attention of Allan Wong himself. I never received a reply.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: TomSwift

                    That's unbelieveable! I hope you copy this and post it to the Hawaii board (um, is there a Hawaii board?).
                    Truly unbelievable.