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Apr 9, 2007 10:23 PM

Bad Night at the Palace (SEA)

I recently reserved the "private" room at the Palace Grill. It's a room set for 12, with a minimum of $700 before tax and fixed gratuity (almost $60 per person). I told them we would have 14-16 people, which they said would be fine. The food varied--my steak (rare) was tough, sinewy and flavorless ($21), another persons' (medium-well) was inedible. The cake dessert I had was average. Other food was fine. Interesting Oregon wines. Our waitress was not gracious and disappeared for very long periods of time. We ended up not meeting the minimum, and were faced with a $230 "room charge" (plus tax and gratuity on that amount). This was a little distressing and the waitress could tell. We ended up leaving the place with a bad taste in our mouths--no one said goodbye or thank you in spite of our having dropped almost $900. It was late on a Sunday night, and there were many free tables in the restaurant throughout the evening. You know what I would have done if I was the manager in this case? I would have come to our table, thanked us for dining there, and given us a couple of $50 gift certificates and urged us to come back soon. It would have cost them little or nothing (about 75% of gift certificates are never redeemed) but would have meant a lot in goodwill. This was the night before 1500 of us began a several day conference at a hotel just a block away. It meant lost business from negative word of mouth, plus at least one person told the concierge that our experience wasn't good. This is my point of view as a customer, but I also used to own a successful restaurant. You can never be too successful to provide good service and be friendly and generous.

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  1. I assume you mean the Palace Kitchen.

    Did you complain about your steaks or the service? They should have replaced the steaks with something else, and fixed the service problem or (if it was too late) let you reduce the tip.

    But I don't understand why you are objecting to the private room fee when you didn't meet the minimum. You clearly agreed to these terms when you booked, and they are standard for the luxury of dining in a private room. Furthermore, you could easily have obtained more food or wine by merely asking for it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: BruceB

      Thanks for everyone's comments. Yes, I did agree to a minimum fee. The service wasn't bad enough to complain to a manager about (who I did see only once when we came in), and my steak wasn't horrible enough to send back--it just wasn't good. If it had been more expensive I probably would have. My colleague didn't say anything about his steak until the next day--but he should have spoken up. As far as the "luxury" of a private room--it was a glass partition without attentive service. Now I am not trying to bash this restaurant--it just wasn't great, wasn't friendly, and they could have handled things differently. And believe me, we already knew we weren't going to meet the minimum and ordered more wine, single malt, etc. It was just kind of an attitude thing. I didn't think that they should have waived their minimum--my point is that it is high for a restaurant in its price range, and you don't want to punish people for coming to your restaurant but not being hungry enough. There had been a reception earlier and some in our party had snacked heavily. But it was not like we were just each having a beer and taking up their private room. And by the way, we didn't "complain" about the minimum--I think it was the gulp and the look on my face that the waitress noticed. I ended up having to eat it that charge because I organized the dinner. The gift certificate idea would have cost them basically nothing and turned the situation into a partial "credit" and a warm invitation to come back. We would have been very pleased with that kind of response. I guess if I made more money, it wouldn't have been such a big deal--but when I eat out I'm pretty value conscious. I've eaten out an awful lot in my life and there are many ways to turn an issue into a positive. A restaurant is a business, but it's also all about people.

      1. re: travelbuff

        I respectfully disagree with you that the restaurant had anything to make up for at all, from your description. Chalk it up to a learning experience, and next time ask for recommendations for an informal appetizers/cocktails place to take 12 people and don't get a private room.

        1. re: Atomica

          Well, I see your point in terms of the fact that I didn't lodge a complaint with the manager--so they wouldn't necessarily see that they had something to "make up for." And in fact it was supposed to be a full dinner--but I didn't have a lot of control over what people ate before they came to the restaurant. And when I said that I already knew we weren't going to meet the minimum I meant before we got the final check--not before we went to the restaurant. In spite of all of that, my overall observations of the place still stand. I had heard such great things in advance--and I must say that the coconut cream pie was incredible. The bar was very lively, even at 11pm on a Sunday.

          1. re: travelbuff

            I do feel for you and I would hate to have to fork over that extra cash. However, it seems like poor planning up front. You had control over telling your friends what the minimum was going to be per person. They shouldn't have expected you to make up for the unused portion, and I suspect some of it can be claimed on your taxes, since it was a business/travel dinner. If everyone had shared the burden, all the diners/business travelers could have claimed the dinner on their taxes. I still don't see how it reflects the restaurant poorly. I also don't see how gift certificates don't cost the restaurant anything. I don't know where your 75% non-redemption rate comes from, but I don't think it's accurate. For example, gift card redemption rates are far higher than that at 80-something percent.

            1. re: Atomica

              Thanks for the spanking, I am indeed a poor planner. But in fact these weren't friends, I'd never met half of them. And because our waitress disappeared, people started leaving and just throwing cash on the table for what they thought they owed. And in terms of writing it off--the IRS severely restricts the "meals and entertainment" category on business expenses because it's been so abused. And the people in the group all work either for nonprofits or state or city governments (which tend to have very low per diems for food). If we were a pack of lawyers, I would have felt differently. But now I'm inspired to try to hit up my boss for some reimbursement for the extra charges. In terms of the gift certificates, that was the non-redemption rate at my restaurant, and it was a long time ago. But gift cards and certificates are big business because of non-redemption and the float--cash up front for the business that isn't redeemed in goods til much later or not at all. I guess that the reason I'm so bothered by this thing was the cumulative effect. The food wasn't good. The service wasn't good. No one said goodnight. The private room was a glass enclosed space that they normally seat parties of two and four in when the tables aren't pushed together for a large party. I also think the minimum is too high. I made a mistake by taking them up on the private room offer when I initially just called to book a table reservation for a large group. We probably would have been seated in the same space without the minimum. Ah well.

    2. I don't understand. Did you think they would waive their minimum?

      1. if you're still in town (the Westin?) you might try Steelhead diner, similar upscale comfort food concept as Palace Kitchen (w/ a Southern twist) but my guess is you'll have a very different experience service wise. They also have a private room but I don't know the details.

        1. I too had a recent disappointing evening at the Palace Kitchen. Drinks were delicious, lavender goat cheese fondue was cute and tasty but very simple. Pasta with clams, chorizo, spinach, marcona almonds just seemed like a bunch of ingredients put together without regard to making a cohesive dish. But dessert was the big disappointment. When it came out, I had to check what the sauce was. I had thought it was supposed to be chocolate, but it looked like a red wine reduction. It tasted like someone had watered down the Hershey's and used that. I had thought the bartender said the financier was served warm, but it was in fact on the frigid side. Also stale and made too sweet by the layer or turbinado sugar baked into the top. I thought they had much higher sandards. Bartender didn't seem to care that we each took two bites then pushed it away.

          1. I have never liked the Palace Kitchen and don't understand all the fuss about it.

            4 Replies
              1. re: jencke

                I also agree....I fact I'm don't get all the fuss behind any of the restaurants in the Douglas Resturants Inc empire.

                1. re: jencke

                  The first couple of times that I went to Palace, I had an expectation of "fine dining" and was disappointed. After time, and I learned that the concept of it was literally the kitchen of the palace - in other words where the staff dines - my experiences have been fantastic. I go there now for late night meals mostly. You know - hanging out with the staff! The burger, the plin, the cheese - never disappoints me. It's a loud, party atmosphere and I go there when I'm in that mood.

                  1. re: Lauren

                    Nicely put! You've captured the ambience.