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Fine Dining On Holiday Weekends - Bad Idea?

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I was listening to a local "food talk" radio guy go on about how he swears off of going to nice restaurants during holiday weekends, like Memorial Day and the recently departed Labor Day. He said that it's all too easy for the full-time staff to skip town on those long weekends, leaving the helm to be steered by those with less seniority, seasonal employees and the lunch staff. Having just experienced a disappointing time at a local "fine dining" establishment which a friend of mine was raving about, I think I'm going to pick up that rule myself.

My wife and I went out to eat the Friday night of Labor Day Weekend at a place which opened within the past year. It has been getting some good local press, and the restaurant's website boasts of the establishment's treasure trove of fine wines and even fruits and vegetables picked from a garden adjoining the restaurant. When a friend who doesn't suffer bad restaurants gladly gave me the recommendation, that sealed it for us and we went to try the place out for ourselves.

From the server, who knew nothing about the wine list (and could not even tell me which wines from the list were offered by the glass) to the "assistant" chef (who filled in for the chef/owner who took the day off) taking noticeable shortcuts in food preparation, the dining experience from top to bottom was a major letdown and not worth the couple hundred bucks we dropped for dinner. [I am calling him or her the "assistant" chef, because when we asked the server if the sous-chef was in the kitchen in the head chef's absence, she did not know what the term "sous-chef" meant.]

I called my friend afterward and told him about how mediocre we found the place to be. It was as if he and I were talking about two different restaurants. Anyway, this isn't the first time we dined out on a long weekend, and I seem to remember our experience last year at a famous San Francisco restaurant to also be an overall downer for probably the very same reason.

At least the next big holiday coming up is Thanksgiving. Diners and restaurateurs can all take that day off!

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  1. I had the exact opposite experience Saturday. We went for a celebratory meal to a very nice fine dining place. Since it was quieter than usual our servers were able to go an extra couple of miles. Every aspect of the meal was superb!

    The restaurants I've worked in might schedule a little lighter if they anticipate a slow period, but never to the extent of jeopardising service. Usually the biggest problem at a holiday would be younger bus-staff blowing off their shift. They rest of us are usually pretty used to working nights & weekends and plan our holidays when everyone else is at work!

    2 Replies
    1. re: meatn3

      Meat, I'm glad to hear that my experience was possibly an isolated incident. However, this is the second Labor Day weekend in a row for us where the experience didn't live up to expectations. I really like Scubadoo's advice (posted below). In fact, I'm getting a jonesing to go out tonight (Thursday)!

      1. re: OCKevin

        Sounds like we got lucky! I'm so seldom dining out at peak-times - had no idea the problem mentioned was prevalent.

    2. I personally try to stay away from any restaurant during peak times especially holidays. A Wed night makes a great time to go. We sometimes meet friends during the week for dinner. No waits, staff is not rushed, no running out of key items on the menu.

      1. At the risk of revealing my identity to OCKev, I had the same negative experience at a renowned NYC restaurant on a holiday weekend at the end of my honeymoon. As a result, we cancelled our reservations for the rest of the weekend and stuck to Indian food. We have informally sworn off fine restaurants on non-dining holidays (e.g., Memorial Day).

        1. Not sure about other holidays, but we never dine out on Valentine's Day or New Year's Eve - the night everyone EVERYONE goes out is a sure recipe for overcrowding and disappointment.

          1 Reply
          1. re: laurendlewis

            I second that. It is insane to take Mom out for a nice meal on Mother's day, or to plan a family dinner at a restaurant on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

          2. i think the best is to avoid ANY weekend dining. and most especially the big holidays-mother's day, etc.
            thing is- EVERYONE goes out on weekends because it's the weekend and that's what people do on weekends- go out. during the week is when the "diners" go out. it's a better experience for everyone. servers are less stressed and in better moods because it's not so busy and they have better customers who behave better and tip higher than weekend people.