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Sep 3, 2006 11:43 PM

Bearded Frog in Shelburne VT

The new restaurant run by the same guy who established the Black Sheep Bistro in Vergennes is called "The Bearded Frog", located 20 miles north in Shelburne VT (just south of Burlington). It's been open a couple months, and tonite was our first visit. We've heard that this place has good food and that service was a little rough, and our experience confirmed exactly that. We had hoped that waiting a couple months for the restaurant to work out the "kinks", but apparently there's still some training issues that need to be addressed, judging from our experience.

It was a pretty mixed bag: mostly very good food, very mediocre, sometimes amateurish service, nice atmosphere with lots of hard wood flooring, bench style hardwood seating...

...and all of it ruined by a waitress who wasn't smart enough to do something about a sub-standard main entree (overcooked Delmonico steak), and the coup de grace, a SHRIEKING 2 year old seated next to us at the very-close-quarters next table. About halfway thru our dinner, we heard that little monster shrieking in the bar....THE BAR, no less!...and when the waitstaff brought out the high chair and put it at the end of the table next to us, literally 3 feet away from our table, I told my wife, let's get the heck out of here. And we did.

The menu is the same reasonably priced offering of $6 soups/salads, $8 apps, $12 small entrees, $16 larger entrees, and $22 steaks.

The wine list was good and reasonably priced (pricing tiers $20, $30, $40 and $50), I ordered one from the $50 list, a very good Tollot-Beaut Chorey-Cote de Beaune.

Unfortunately, even though it was early (6PM on a Sunday nite), the restaurant was not crowded and there was lots of help standing around with little to do, the bottle of wine arrived rather late, almost simultaneously with the apps. I guess I'll never understand why a customer who orders an upscale bottle of wine doesn't get it prioritized over the meal. Obviously the waitress was a rookie.

My wife ordered a grilled asparagus and white bean salad, it was very tasty. I had a summer tomato salad, which arrived with fresh baby mozzarella and basil, again very tasty, though the menu obviously made the assumption that every patron will automatically assume that a "summer tomato salad" will come with mozz and basil...even though the menu makes no mention of the mozz and basil.

My wife's main dish was fennel-dusted grilled salmon with pureed cauliflower and ginger-flavored plums. My wife passed on the plums because of the added sugar (she's diabetic), and they gave her a bok choy veggie substitute. She really liked her dish, cooked perfectly.

I ordered a wild-mushroom demi-glace Delmonico steak, medium rare, with horseradish potatos au gratin, and baby grilled asparagus. The au gratin was wonderful, the asparagus was surprisingly tasteless. But the real problem was the Delmonico. It came out medium and tougher than I expected, and it had also been allowed to sit a little too long, it wasn't especially hot.

About 5 minutes after serving it, the waitress asked how everything was. Clue number 2 that the waitress was a rookie came when I showed her the overcooked steak, and she said "I'm sorry. I'll inform the kitchen." And that's the last time she said or did anything about the steak. There was no offer to have another one prepared, there was no adjustment to the bill, there was no one from the kitchen who cared enough to come out and talk with the customer. There was simply no further response.

So when the shrieking little 2 year old was seated next to me, I asked for the bill. I normally tip 20%, but when service is bad, I generally view it as a learning lesson for the waitstaff. So a $113 tab merited the rookie waitress a $5 tip, with a note expressing my disappointment written on the top of the bill. And I am not the least bit apologetic about leaving such a miserable tip, so save your breath if you want to scold me. I don't want to hear it. I never blame the waitstaff for overcooked food, and I never leave a bad tip when the kitchen screws up a meal.

I DO hold the waitstaff directly accountable when they ask "how was your meal" and don't really intend to do ANYTHING to address a customer with a problematic meal. Train that waitress properly to serve customers, and the tip tonite would have been $22, not $5.

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  1. Yes it's only been open for a few months and their working out the kinks?
    So why is it their fault that the screaming kid was there?
    Did you complain about anything? Ask to speak to management?

    2 Replies
    1. re: RichK

      Did I complain about anything to the waitress, you ask?

      Perhaps if you go back to paragraph 10, you'll note:

      <<I showed her the overcooked steak, and she said "I'm sorry. I'll inform the kitchen." And that's the last time she said or did anything about the steak. There was no offer to have another one prepared, there was no adjustment to the bill, there was no one from the kitchen who cared enough to come out and talk with the customer. There was simply no further response.>>

      Perhaps it's okay in your book that a waitress and a restaurant fails to do ANYTHING about a meal and a customer complaint. It's not okay where I come from. So yes, that waitress paid a financial price for failing to do her job properly.

      As for the shrieking kid, I did indeed ask the hostess if the high chair she was setting out next to me was intended for the child who could be heard all the way across the restaurant screaming his lungs out in the bar. She was very embarrassed and admitted that was exactly the case. And _that's_ when I decided we'd had quite enough.

      1. re: signothetimes53

        I'll ask again, did you ask to speak to the management?
        It's obvious you did not.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Perhaps the rookie server did notify the autjorities and they failed to act accordingly. Then the server did not warrant a $5 tip after all.

        1 Reply
        1. re: trufflehound

          That's certainly possible.

          However, any experienced waitstaff who knows a customer has a problem will find a way to reconcile it one way or another. A rookie encounters a problem and often hopes that by ignoring it the problem will simply go away.

          This waitress noted my complaint and never said another word to me. At minimum, upon presentation of the bill, some sort of words to the effect of "I'm sorry your experience here wasn't perfect, I want you to know I indeed passed your concerns on to the manager" were in order. With diplomatic words like that, she would in effect be telling me that the manager did nothing, and that she did her job. I would have appreciated that sort of acknowledgement, and she would have received a better tip.

          Experienced waitstaff understand how to communicate to the customer in diplomatic ways that they did their job, and that somebody else dropped the ball. Garner enough $5 tips, and that waitress last nite will figure out she's being ineffective at customer service, and will attempt to improve her skills if the management doesn't intervene first. I simply don't buy the argument that waitstaff must always be paid 15 to 20% tip regardless of the quality of service they offer.

        2. I don't buy that argument either, but I think you should have asked to speak to the manager to air your very legitimate complaint about your steak. Sure, the waitress was pretty inept, but you don't know what kind of training she got.

          Regarding the kid, I would've asked to be seated elsewhere. . . ironically, we ate at The Bearded Frog early this summer and were informed somewhat apologetically by the host that there was a loud party going on in the bar (quite audible at the table to which we were being assigned). So I just asked if we could be seated out on the porch instead, and the problem was solved!

          3 Replies
            1. re: erin mom

              The food was good - not knock your socks off caliber, but tasty and well presented, except for (IIRC) some weird pancakey things they served with the duck I had. I don't remember how they were described on the menu, but they certainly weren't what I expected. I think the highlight of the meal was the corn chowder. My recollection was also that the service was amateur, at best. Both people who waited on our table were friendly and earnest, but neither seemed to have a clue about professional service. I think management is at fault here.

            2. re: phoebek

              in this case it wouldn't have worked, they were already seated and the child was being brought to where they were.

            3. Inept service is a Vermont standard. I would advise the vast majority of so called "professionals" to spend some time in a marketplace such as NYC where waitstaff depend on tips for survival not just to put gas in the Volvo their parents bought them. I managed restaurants in both markets and can attest to the sad state of service in Vermont. There are exceptions: The Kitchen Table, Trattoria Delia, L'Amante to name a few. This is a reflection on the owners (all three establishments are truly owner operated, not absentee run). It amazes me how may restaurants serve $75 and up bottles of wine in .99 Libbey glassware. Tell the waitress form the Bearded Frog that Applebee's is hiring................

              5 Replies
              1. re: TonyO

                My experience has been completely the opposite. Maybe at the ski resorts and the more touristy places it's like that, but the wait staff I've met and interacted with over the last 2 years has been anything but. Most are career waiters/waitresses and very professional. Granted I don't eat at the chain restaurants or the ski resort/tourist places, so my experience has been directly with the owner-operated establishments, which like you said, have more of a hands-on approach.

                On the other hand, I would be a lot more vocal and demanding of better service if I was spending a lot of money. There's really no excuse for bad service, but especially not bad service that you've just paid over $100 for.

                1. re: TonyO

                  There are some other excellent restaurants in southern VT that have very good waitstaffs, i.e. Inn at the Sawmill Farm, Deerhill Inn both in West Dover and Pangea in North Bennington.
                  These are not chains but owner-operated, on the premises.
                  I suggest you try these and your opinion of VT restaurants (and waitstaffs) will change.

                  1. re: RichK

                    I think my post was a little rambly and unclear. I've had very good service (with the exception of Oona's in Bellows Falls), especially in the higher priced restaurants. And I surmised that the reason why was because I stayed away from the ski resorts/tourist spots.

                    1. re: RichK

                      Brill Williams runs a tight ship at the Inn at Sawmill! The chef at Taste of Burlington told me that he appenticed there in his early carreer- I haven't been there (The Inn) in several years but it was always stellar! The service is indeed wonderful.

                    2. re: TonyO

                      I have been in VT 4 years and previously lived in NYC for 4 years and before that Chicago for 7. Waitstaff in VT, in general is a lot nicer, more accomodating and goes the extra distance far more often than my experiences in NYC. In NYC my experience was more often, "Are you really going to bother me again?" No waitstaff in VT is not impeccable but it rarely was in Chicago and with the exception of one restaurant wasn't in NYC either. For impeccable, I go to Europe. Tips regardless of how much you depend on them do not make for good service.

                      As for the OP, I would have asked to be moved from the screaming baby rather than being passive agressive about it. And then I would have handed her the plate to take it back to the kitchen rather than just showing her. While you have legitimate complaints, you seem to have recognized early on she was novice waitstaff so rather than expecting her to have esp you should have just been a little more direct.