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Service in Suburban Maryland

Many of the restaurants in suburban Maryland use unprofessional waiters - some seem barely 18, but there are broader problems.

The three scenarios occurred within one week.

At the Gaithersburg Kentlands' Bonefish, a trendy spot specializing in martinis, I recently ordred a [regular vodka] martini. The young girl waiting bar tables returned and asked if I wanted red vermouth or white vermouth. When I appeared stumped (red vermouth?), she stated emphatically that "we do not put vermouth in any martinis unless the customer specifically asks for it!" I ordered coffee. (I am 60, and not that demanding. OK, so that is a big part of the problem of course; recognizing my limitations, I am taking steps to dine out as infrequently as possible.)

I went to a Bethesda restaurant (Centro) and asked for an Old Fashioned; the yougster disappeared then returned in a few minutes and pronounced proudly: "We don't carry bitters!" I left.

Latter in the week, I had lunch at Amici Miei, a noted Italian neighborhood upscale restuarant. The trout came with bad olive oil. I fetched the proprietor through the busboy (I didn't know the busboy from the waiter) and got the main man, who lectured me on "Don't tell the busboy, he is non-verbal." and then told me in no uncertain terms that he and the chef use only the finest ingredients. So I was wrong on two counts, embarrassed - as the tables nearby caught it all - and a little sick from having tasted the olive oil. There was no attempt to remove the trout from the bill and I and my friend skulked out.

I used to dine at some pretty fair restaurants, like Lion D'Or, Le Bec Fin in Philly, and I still like Jean Michel in Bethesda, so I am not new to dining. But I see a trend. Any comments?

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  1. The example of the rude proprietor is REALLY bad, atrocious behavior on the part of the proprietor. The incident at Bonefish seems to be a combination of a somewhat bratty know-it-all server and the abomination that is contemporaty "flavored martinis". The Old-Fashioned incident at Centro seems to involve slovenliness on the part of whoever orders supplies for the bar more than bad service

    1. I rarely feel that I get good service anywhere I go. Maybe I'm just a pain in the butt though...?

      1. I always got good service at Persimmon in Bethesda. Lots of the servers were young and the service was casual -- but always very good. On my first trip there I loved the soup so much I asked for the recipie, assuming there was no chance they would give it out. She took my e-mail address and a week later she got it from the chef and e-mailed it to me.

        1. It is totally inappropriate for you to compare Bonefish Grill and Amici Miei to Le Bec Fin and Lion D'Or. No one expects more from a restaurant than I do, but that is ridiculous.

          No, most kids at cheap chain restaurants and most local italian joints aren't versed on the lost art of cocktails. I would think you would have noticed the decline over the last, say, THREEE DECADES. Tell them what you want and how to make it. Or go to a better class of restaurants. Or go downtown.

          1. I can count on one hand the number of bars downtown where the barkeep knows how to make an old fashioned that's worth drinking.

            And if you think Montgomery County has bad service, come to PG County.

            It's sort of a chicken-and-egg argument: what came first, the lousy customer or the lousy service?

            1. There is a point to be made that unlike 30, 20 or even maybe 10 years ago, most servers in their 20s do not know anything about traditional mixed drinks, or maybe even any mixed drinks at all. However, also unlike those times, most young servers at nice restaurants can speak extemporaneously about relatively detailed and nuanced aspects of wine -- also a state of affairs that you never would have found from previous generations.

              1. I think whiner has a point. I'm not a lot younger than you are and I remember when ordering a mixed drink at dinner was the norm. However, unless you are talking about martinis or occasionally mahitos (sp?), mixed drinks are just not ordered very much. Even then, it is the "trendy" martinis that are featured. Personally I don't consider them martinis, just martini like drinks. I am not supprised the waitress asked you what kind of vermouth you wanted however, since many of the "new" martinis use the red vermouth, or peach nector, or whatever else they think up. I recently ordered a Rusty Nail and had to tell the waiter what was in it. If you want traditional mixed drinks, and properly made, you need to go to a bar, order from the bartender, and make sure it is a place that has been in business for a long, long time.

                And to compare the places you did with Le Bec Fin is unfair. Servers come and go, and in Montgomery County it is difficult to get help, all restaurants are looking for staff, but the very best restaurants have servers who are professionals and have been well trained. Bonefish, etc. has to make due with college kids since the professional waiter is as rare as hens teeth. However, the response you got at Amici Miei was way out of line. That kind of response, especially from an owner is unbelievable.

                1. Britcher, I've about given up! There just aren't places to go out to eat anymore. Just have a nice dinner.
                  I'm not talking about exciting, trendy, oh-wow! I 'm talking about not wanting to cook and calling a few friends, male and female, ages between 45 and 65, single or spouses out of town, and a few of us going out for plain old supper.
                  Classic cocktails - martinis, manhattans, sherry, vodka and tonic. Soup and/or salad. Plain entrees - pork chops, beef stew, meatloaf, fried chicken. A couple of sides. Vin ordinaire. Apple pie for dessert. No kids running around loose. The background music wasn't selected by the 19-year old busboys.
                  We don't need a kid to explain the nuances of wine to us; we want a simple cocktail and a simple dinner because we don't want to cook or sit at home by ourselves!!! Every meal doesn't have to be Le Bec Fin. Sometimes it's just Tuesday and you're hungry.

                  Where did these restaurants go? They were everywhere just a few years ago. Did zoning, development and high real estate prices kill them? Was it too easy to take home a rotisserie chicken or microwave something?
                  We used to go out several times a week. Now it's rare because of what you described in your posting. I can fix a perfect martini at home. I have a full bar. My olive oil is probably far better than that used at Amici Miei. Why bother?
                  Our generation has money that we would happily spend. Someone should look at a market they are losing.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Those "Granpa's supper club" type restaurants are probably dying out in Montgomery, but come to the Baltimore area and they're still plentiful. Sunset, The Rose, Snyder's, Timbuktu, just to name a few. I think even the Double T Diner still has a full bar. Check out the older, empty-nest communities rather than the trendy new burbs or the gentrified areas.

                    1. re: little audrey

                      These were hardly "Grandpa Supper Club's." To the contrary, when I was a child, it's where my siblings and I learned our restaurant manners as my family ate out once a week at least. We learned to read the menu, order for ourselves and God help us if we didn't behave properly. My own children were brought up the same way - not at pizza parlors. Where do you take a family for a nice meal today?

                      My husband and I went to places like this in our 20s and 30s - for regular meals - and we had lots of friends who did as well. My daughter, SIL and their friends would go several nights a week (because they work such long hours) but there just aren't places like this. I belong to a private club but the same menu and people get repetitive.

                      Listen to the OP, a former frequent diner at area restaurants: who "now dines out as infrequently as possible," and who "left" after a bar didn't have the most simple ingredient, and who "skulked out" with a friend after being terribly treated by the owner of a well-known restaurant.
                      Why do restaurant consultants continue to chase fickle "trendies" when the OP and people like him would love nothing more than some stable restaurants that treat them well on a consistent basis? A proper martini and well-prepared fish entree aren't rocket science.

                  2. Although there is no real substitute for experience (something that is too much to hope for among the transient waitstaffs at suburban restaurants), some training would go a long way. It seems like the only things they are trained in these days is the overuse of superlatives, inappropriate familiarity with the customers, and a passing familiarity with what is printed in the menu (if you are lucky).

                    1. There are still places (specifically in Montg Cty, since that was the initial postings' complaint) that have professional service and good food. I have frequented a few, but my favorite is Nick's in the King Farm development.
                      Although a bit pricey, the menu is extensive with anything from NY Strip and fresh fish to more elaborate specials like cioppini or Hong Kong Ribs. I have always had nice service.