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Am I overreacting about a birthday dinner slipup?

I made a reservation at a nice restaurant here in Chicago to celebrate my husband's birthday and our anniversary (they happen to be on the same day). We eat here on special occassions and have always had a wonderful night. I talked to the manager when I called to make the reservation and he assured me that we would have a great table in the upstairs cozy room, a candle in the birthday dessert and two glasses of champagne. I told him to just add the extras to our bill. He led me to believe that everything was taken care of. I called two days before the reservation to confirm all of the details and was again told that everything would be ready and we would have a lovely night. We showed up to the restaurant and were led to a cramped tabled right next to the kitchen. I kindly told the hostess that we had requested a special table and she said that the restaurant was too crowded to accomodate our request. I offered to get a drink at the bar and wait for our chosen table to become available. After 30 minutes, we were seated again, but still not at the requested table. I decided to let it go and just enjoy our night. When it was time for dessert, they brought it out and didn't include the candle and forgot the glasses of champagne. The waitress didn't know anything about it so I didn't want to cause a scene and ruin our otherwise pleasant evening. As we were leaving, I spoke to the manger and told him about my disappointment in the evening as all of my special requests were ignored. I was very nice and told him that we had a very nice dinner and a great server, but it did not go as I had planned. He pretty much dismissed me with a condescending "I'm very sorry" and walked away from me. I was furious! I now wish that I would have been more forceful, but is it really worth it when you are trying to have a special night out with your husband? What would you have done?

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  1. Was the manager you spoke to night of the event the same one who took your requests? If so, I'd be furious too.

    1. Given your initial call with the manager, the follow up conversation and the assurances that your wishes would be carried out, I think you have the right to be pissed. I think you handled it the right way but my answer is to stop patronizing them. There's plenty of other special spots in Chicago.

      1. I'm really sorry to hear that. I'm surprised that the manager, who seemed so accomodating on the phone, acted like a cold fish when you told him about your night. I guess if I were in the same situation, I would've put more pressure on the manager to set things right. He was the one in the beginning who led you to believe that you would be accomodated. And nothing can excuse his abrupt and condescending attitude toward you and your husband. Maybe you can diplomatically speak to the owner or another manager in charge (preferably the owner though!) and explain the situation. Usually, if you put the evening in the hands of a more competent and willing host (like the owners), you'll be pleased with the results. They may offer to make it up to you. Maybe you could return on a less busy night and recreate the cozy and romantic moment you had in mind. :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sra. Swanky

          I wouldn't bother returning to give th place a scond chance unless they comp it. They blew it. In Chicago there are plenty of other choices. Enjoy them!

        2. I don't think you overreacted, especially since it seems that you were very polite the whole time. I would write a letter to the manager, and follow up with a phone call, saying how disappointed you were that the night did not go as the two of you had planned, especially given his assurances ahead of time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JasmineG

            To further your point, I would also write a letter to the owner. If it is truly a good restaurant, the owner will read every letter addressed to him/her and reply. At the restaurant I used to work at we took every complaint very seriously. People with legitimate complaints would always be offered a substantial gift certificate or some other sort of desirable compensation.

          2. First, Happy Anniversary and a good birthday to your husband.

            Similar incidents have happened to jfood twice this year. First Mrs jfood ordered chocalate dipped strawberries and sparkling water in my hotel room because i neede to be out of town for my birthday and then for her birthday the resto ruined every dish.

            Jfood thinks you should call the resto if for nothing else, closure. Should you have been more forceful, jfood thinks you did very well. You should have asked for and received manager's name (or at least be able to describe to the owner) and take it up another day when cooler heads would prevail. Likewise, you had what you described as a nice evening and why put a damper at the end of the evening.

            1. What I would do is to track down the manager, if you can, and ask him what happened. He might not have been the one on duty that night. Sounds like the guy on duty that night messed up.

              I am curious to know if this was a place you had been to before? Sounds like you handled things in a very classy way. Let us know what happens.

              1. Sounds to me like you handled everything more or less ideally. The right amount of patience, knowing when to stop pusing it so that you could salvage the best night given the circumstances and making the appropriate comments to the appropriate people.

                I'd be very unlikely to go back to that restaurant at this point. Mistakes and miscommunications happen, but the response from the manager is unacceptable. At the very least, a sincere apology would have gone a long way to making things OK and making it clear that they understood what had happened and why it wasn't alright.

                I don't think you should have been more forceful, it sounds to me like you took the right approach.

                1. You were in a bad situation, there. If you had really gotten aggressive about it, you might have gotten it straightened out, although I doubt it. But you might have made a less than correct situation a whole lot worse and really deep sixed the celebration(s).

                  I think it would bother me, so I would call and let them know that things were not handled properly just to get it out of my head. Not to get comped anything, just to get past it. You have to figure out what works for you. You might just laugh off the screw-ups and figure you had a nice meal, anyway.

                  And remember, you hardly ever get 100%.

                  1. I'd be pissed.

                    Did you charge your meal? If so, you might want to try your credit card concierge and see if they will speak to the restaurant on your behalf to get either (a) an explanation, (b) a sincere apology, (c) a refund, or (d) all of the above.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Speak with the restaurant first before calling the credit card company. Depending on the credit card company, some of them will immediately withhold the money and charge a chargeback fee without even giving the merchant to reply. It is then up to the merchant to justify the charge.

                      In any case, the major gripe here is the service. The restaurant -- or the manager -- screwed up, but I don't think it's fair to the restaurant to be additionally penalized by the credit card company.

                      1. re: jayes

                        I sort of disagree with penalizing the restaurant part.

                        The restaurant is responsible for the services provided by the manager/server/wait staff, etc.

                        And, really, as it stands now, how has the restaurant been "additionally penalized by the credit card company"? The restaurant hasn't been penalized at all.

                        The OP handled this situation much better than I would have.

                        I would have raised hell.

                        Kudos to the OP for having such restraint and decorum ...

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          *If* the credit card company chooses to withhold the money and charge a chargeback fee, then the restaurant would have been additionally penalized.

                          The restaurant is already being penalized, by the OP probably not going back and the bad word of mouth that it has generated.

                          1. re: jayes

                            I don't see how the restaurant is being penalized. Clearly the restaurant is not too concerned about the OP's patronage. As for word of mouth, the place has not been named on this board.

                            1. re: Withnail42

                              Great idea.

                              What say you, elc515?

                              Name the restaurant ...!

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Ok, you twisted my arm, the restaurant was Le Colonial. I must say that we have had many great meals here in the past. Maybe that's what makes it worse? We live in the neighborhood and even ate there the night we got engaged. This is why I wanted to return on the night of our anniversary. I even bored the manager with the story when I called to make the reservation. He was very sweet on the phone, but so disinterested when I tried to talk with him after dinner and relay the problems to him. Multiple personalities. I think everyone has convinced me to write a letter. If nothing else, it will make me feel better. I know that restaurants make mistakes, but I rate a restaurant by how they address that mistake. All it would have taken was a heartfelt apology and I would have been happy. Oh well.

                        2. re: jayes

                          I don't think there are any grounds for disputing the charge (especially after the fact). The OP got what she paid for - just not the extras that would have made it a special evening. They didn't charge her for the champagne (or the nicer table).
                          I would however address it with the restaurant, since you've been there in the past and you hope to go again.

                          1. re: julesrules

                            Agreed. The credit card company is not going to withhold payment because the customer did not like the table that they were seated at.

                      2. I'd be pissed too.
                        First of all, the fact that you didn't get your table should've probably tipped you off that things weren't "Taken care of" and you should've let them know the entire story. When seated again at the wrong table, I'd have walked out. That was the second chance right there.
                        I would certainly write a letter to the owner. I took this approach once when a favourite restaurant failed miserably. After bragging to someone about how great it was. One of my friends ended up with food poisoning to boot. I got a nice long apologetic letter from the owner (Manager called in sick. Cook sliced open finger, had to go to hospital, yada, yada, yada. I didn't care about all that) and a gift cert for two free entrees, an appetizer and a half carafe of wine. Total of about $50 value.
                        The best part was, we used it during the wine festival and after drinking wine all day, all I really wanted was a beer. So they gave us a jug of beer instead of the wine. First rate save in my mind.


                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Davwud

                          Wow, that's bordering on the unbelievable on the manager's part! You confirmed your requests TWICE only to be let down when you arrived. I'd try to get ahold of the owner if that's possible. As a business owner myself, I'd want to know if an employee was treating guests this way. I'm sure some will say the owner should be aware of the situation, but we can't be everywhere all the time.

                          1. re: Rick

                            I'm with Rick. I'd move up the food chain until I got to someone who took responsibility for this screw-up.

                            Personally, I'd be all over this like white on rice, but you don't have to be a bulldog to get some satisfaction. (Now how is that for working a Beatles tune and a Stones tune into one sentence? But I digress.)

                            Several years back I tried planning a small wedding dinner (but it still would have cost at least $1000) at one of Washington's well known restaurants. After several go-rounds and lots of agita, I gave up and we opted for someplace else, but I sent a lengthy, detailed fax to the restaurant expressing my displeasure, addressing it to the chef-owner. Within a half hour I got a call from the person with whom I had been dealing, and she was practically falling all over herself to assuage me. We ended up with comped dinner for four -- including wine.

                            If nothing else, the owner is made aware that one of his employees has really pissed off a customer.

                            1. re: Bob W

                              The key piece, here, is that if you're going to follow up, do it in writing. It will allow you to put everything down, think about it, revise and then send it off. The restaurant can then respond how it will and you can decide if you want to go back based on that response.

                              Its pretty important, though, to not go looking for any sort of comped thing (I'm not suggesting that Bob W was) but just to express your dissapointment.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                I agree. The OP said the meal and experience was pleasant in spite of her disappointment. They were treated like any other customer, rather than in the special way she expected.

                                Write a letter and forget about it. Hopefully you will get an appropriate apology. If not, find another special place. It is not worth it to get upset.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  ccbweb: exactly. If you look at the Tom Sietsema chat transcripts on washingtonpost.com you see horror stories about people loudly demanding entire comped meals for minor slip-ups. Just be polite, but specific, and let the restaurant respond.

                          2. Definitely not overreacting. In hindsight, the only thing I possibly would have done was after being seated at the second table, I would have gone to the manager or waiter to reiterate the plan to ensure everyone was on the same page.

                            1. You have a total right to be be upset. A similar thing happened to me many years ago in NYC where I lived then. Went to a very popular higher end restaurant, one of our favorites for my now husband, then fiancee's, birthday. Table was okay - very private but forgot the birthday candle and the wine'd requested in advance, confirmed and then whispered again to the hostess when we arrived. I did complain to the hostess on the way out who brought over the GM who apologized extensively and sincerely, gave me his card and told me just to call him for whenever we wanted to come back in. It was hard to get reservations there particularly on weekend prime time so this was a major prize. On that next visit our desserts were comped and had a belated b'day candle in it which was sweet.

                              Mistakes can be made and it's unfortunate that on this double holiday for you two that they were. However, I'm more disturbed by the lack of consideration and accommodation to you. You should call and ask to speak to the GM and complain again about the situation and also the manager's reaction.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: laylag

                                I think the OP handled things very civilized. I would write the letter to the owner. At least they got a nice meal.

                                My husband set up a birthday dinner for me, reservations of course. We arrived and the restaurant was not open that night. When we called to complain the next day, they didn't give a hoot.

                                1. re: Janet

                                  I agree that the OP was civilized. She can try the owner of course but often a GM is just as good if not better and easier to get in touch with. OP asked if she was over-reacting, I say no. She asked what others would have done so I shared what we'd done in a similar situation.

                                  It's very unfortunate what happened to you, to the OP, etc. and sad to see professionals in a service industry who don't care.

                                  1. re: laylag

                                    If there's a GM and the GM wasn't the person she spoke with on the way out of the restaurant.

                              2. As someone who runs a restaurant, I agree that you should write the owner. I would definatly want to know if something like that happened. We get so excited when people call us and tell us it's their anniversary or birthday and that they've chosen us to celebrate with. I'd be mortified if I were that restaurant owner to find out your experience. I wouldn't walk into it expecting to get anything free in return, just a sincere apology. That way when he does give you a free meal (which he should!!) you can be pleasantly suprised. I thought you handled this well. I'm the same way, I often feel had I been more forceful in situations people whould have responded the way I expected them to--but being "forceful" just isn't in my nature. I won't change my behavior when other aren't acting the way they should. I'm glad you didn't get pissed--you'd probably be feeling worse because you did.

                                1. It's amazing what $20 or $40 will accomplish in Los Angeles. If you had tipped the manager in advance, you probably would have gotten what you wanted. When a restaurant is crowded, to get what you want, you often have to tip to get the best service, etc. especially if you want something special. Whenever I want something special or want a special table, I always tip when I get there, and that's it. If someone else tips and you don't, guess who is going to get that preferred table?

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Bite Me

                                    Which is fine if you show up and ask for something without any advance warning. But given the OPs story, the restaurant blew it.

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      My post contemplated "advance warning."

                                      1. re: Bite Me

                                        fine, maybe greasing the plams is the way to go, but it's also reasonable
                                        for the OP to say a non-greased plam gets you a lie or a blowoff to your
                                        face at [RESTAURANT NAME] then the market can decide who was
                                        reasonable and who was presumptuous.

                                        1. re: psb

                                          I would sometimes fill in as a hostess at a fine dining restaurant where the waves hit the windows. It is a beautiful view and everyone wants a window table, but we didn't take reservations for window tables--it is first come first serve for those tables, although everyone is allowed to request and wait for one. If someone had called in and requested special wine etc...I always attempted to a) seat them at a great table and b) make sure their request was fulfilled. The manager & the hostess were at fault here.
                                          In response to the palm greaser--those people were my favorite. Thinking they can buy their way to the top of the window list. NO WAY. I would always tell them that there are no special favors and put them on the window list the same as everyone else. Man did they get mad that they couldn't buy their way to what they wanted.

                                        2. re: Bite Me

                                          Yes, my point was that I could see tipping the person if you showed up without advance notice and asked for special accomodations. But, sinc the OP had spoken with them ahead of time and was assured of the arrangements, tipping on the way in the door shouldn't be necessary. I would hope (and believe) that the OP would tip heavily at the end of the meal. The OP's converstion with the manager never included "just be sure to give the host $40 on the way in."