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Jul 1, 2006 05:40 AM

PDX: Restaurant Service

I just want to start off by saying how much I love the food scene in Portland. Great ingredients, talented cooks, good restaurants, etc. However, after a series of dismal customer service experiences this past Sunday I'm wondering how others feel about Portland waitstaff service. I've been having a conversation with the people I was out with Sunday and we're sort of wondering if others are as dismayed by bad service in Portland as we are. And a lot of times it's not really bad, just indifferent or lazy. Is there good service here? Do any of you know of restaurants with a great waitstaff? I'm starting to feel like we're never going to be a real respectable food town if we can't get better customer service than what I've been experiencing lately. I don't need a silver dome on my plate when I get up to go to the bathroom, a la le Bernardin, but I do expect a server without attitude, and some sort of respect for their job. Is this too much to ask here? Please direct me to good Portland service!

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  1. I finally went to Bluehour the other day after years of meaning to get around to it. The space was nice, the food only good, but the service quite professional, for Portland. I suspect that Paley's Place is similar. But I hear you.

    1. Paley's has outstanding service.

      It's very true that the service in this town is not in keeping with the high level of interesting tasty innovative food. It tends to be unprofessional, bad attitude (too cool to serve me), lazy, and poorly trained. That really hit home to me on my last DC trip, where the service level was beyond camparison with Portland's.

      1. I've had lackluster service at Paley's, actually. Very disappointing, but then again, so was the food.

        I've never had bad service at Carlyle, Castagna, and Alba Osteria.

        But the service at Carlyle really stands out as superior. Ask Michael (the FOH mgr.) to seat you at one of Tim's tables and you will be very well taken care of, indeed. Tim is a shining star in the dim universe that is service in Portland.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JillO

          We ate at Paley's over Memorial Day weekend and we had one of the best meals of our lives. Maybe we got lucky, but our server was fantastic. She was quite knowledgeable about the wines and she was informative about all the food on the menu which helped us to chose very wisely.

        2. DC is almost an unfair comparison. I don't think I've been to a city with better service yet. It's professional, yet not stuffy, in my experience, too. Sometimes a tough combo. In Chicago, eg, too often the professional service has gone over into the stuffy side. Portland tends to go too far on the casual, familiar side.

          In general, I think the service is acceptable at the higher priced places, places with entrees over $20. There will always be exceptions and it seems like there is a lot of turnover at Portland restaurants among servers. I've had slow service at lunch, eg, at Carlyle where even a piece of a dish was missing and should have been noticed by the server.

          I've always had exemplary service at Paley's. Honestly, it's probably been the best service in town for me. Even when Bluehour's been hopping busy I've had good service, I think because of the mini-brigade -- or whatever you want to call it -- they use. It's pretty efficient. Genoa has always given me great service. My service on my one trip to Fenouil was really good. My service at Olea has been good. Hurley's has ranged for me, but sometimes it's been outstanding. Etc.

          I think a) some people forget to compare apples to apples and look at the price of dishes in Portland when they make comparisons to other cities. You may be at one of Portland's top restaurants, but whereas in NY a top restaurant is $200 per person, here it's like $50. And our average price for a meal is a lot lower than even a DC. b) our mid-level restaurants emphasize food and often decor and service get marginalized, perhaps because that's what the clientelle most cares about or perhaps because costs have to be saved somewhere due to a populace that cares more about price than some of the finer points of a meal. c) We may do worse at the top end, but probably do better at the bottom end. The person pimping pies at your local pizza joint here is a hell of a lot nicer than the a-holes in NY who can't be bothered with a question like, "What do you have to drink?"

          2 Replies
          1. re: extramsg

            I agree about the price points of Portland vs. other larger cities. And, yes, many people at the neighborhood pizza-type joints are fabulous and friendly and way nicer than in other places. My issue is, if the pizza guy can be friendly and nice, why can't the guy who's expecting a $40 tip be the same?
            It's interesting to hear recommendations for Bluehour's service since the bar tables of that restaurant was one of the worst experiences of the Sunday night I referred to above. My experience at Bluehour has been that if you look like you might own a condo in the Pearl then they are great, if not, they're snotty and rude. Too bad, I've enjoyed the food and drinks but won't stand for the service anymore. Dying to try Carlyle, glad to hear there's been some good service experiences there.

            1. re: nagrom

              The bar at Bluehour is definitely a scene, but I've never sat there. I've always been in the main restaurant. I don't think anyone would confuse me with a Pearl condo owner in my Target wardrobe, shorts, and sandals, only shaving every other day.

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