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Oct 22, 2007 06:16 PM

20 minute wait too long?

Is 20 minutes between courses top long to wait? Recently at 555 in Portland ME It was 2 ours from when we first sat down before we were served our entrees.We complained to our waiter who was apologetic, but not very helpful. He did explain that the kitchen was backed up as it was a busy night. This is fine and understandable. If he had checked in with us and shared this information before we complained, we would have been a lot more patient. Still no entrees. We asked to speak with the manager, twice. When she did show up she was barely apologetic. Her only explanation was that with large tables such as ours it was the restaurant’s policy to serve slowly. Ok, there are many reasons I can think of as to why this would be appropriate and necessary, but 20 minutes between courses!?. When asked to explain the logic of this, she couldn’t. I have worked in customer service. When someone complains, you sympathize, empathize and ask “what can I do to make this better?” The manager was nothing but defensive. My sense of her attitude was “our food is so good here, you are lucky to dine here, that should be enough”. I suggested that she might want to make an adjustment in the bill. I suggested she might want to comp one of the bottles of wine. She said she would need the owner’s permission to do that. I felt a little sorry for her, being put in such a responsible position with no real power or authority.

Finally, we were served our entrees. Entrees were very good, Nicely presented. One of my companions commented that her sword fish was not warm.

Settling up, adding insult to injury: The check included an 18% gratuity—standard policy for tables of 6 or more. No problem. Until we realized that the 18% was based on the total that included the bar bill, which included a rather expensive bottle of red wine. Once again a chat with the manager who adjusted the bill. When she returned I asked if she had comped one of the bottles of wine (assuming that if any, it would the $33 white). No, but she did have something for us. $100 gift certificate!!

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  1. A $100 gift certificate is a hell of a comp, just because you had to wait a little long between courses. A 15 or 20 min wait between courses fo a large party is not unusual at a busy resto, especially if the food is of high quality, well prepared and sometimes labor intensive to make it look nice. Also some places like to let you enjoy your evening with friends and don't want to rush you. If your table ordered after a lot of other tables you would also be at the end of the order line. Should your table be served out of turn and inconvience other tables? I was not at 555 the night you dined, but I have been in that crunch/backup many times myself over the years and let me assure you that the kitchen did they're best to send out your order in a timely mannor.
    10 of us had dinner Sunday night, we arrived at 6 and left at 9:15 and had a 5 course meal, that's 39 min per course. We had a great time and they added on a 20% tip and half our bill was for wine.(7 bottles) , these people work hard and put up with a lot of crap from unreasonable patrons, they deserve a good tip.
    Next time I suggest you go out with people whose company you enjoy or stick to Chili's and TGI Friday's.

    7 Replies
    1. re: chefstu

      Enough with the food snobbery. Every restaurant that crafts their food should also explain why the process is taking so long. Comping a gift certificate releaves them from the responsibility of not explaining the process to the customers who should always come first. This writer will know now not to go back unless they are not crunched by time, that is a lessen learned about this restaurant but 555 should also learn that the customer may not be always right but should be afforded an explanation that makes sense. I have worked for tips on and off my whole life and have seen back ups far worse than the one mentioned here, while I see the problem with large tables and small kitchens, I do not see the restaurant coming half way to the customer. No one shoud wait 2 hours from seating to entre without some sort of explanation and a visit from management. Enjoy good food at good restaurants and keep learning, that would be better advise than sending them to chains and asking them to change their dinner company.

      1. re: chefstu

        This is not the place to bring up challenges for poor service...

        It is getting to the point where accomodating the shortcommings is OK as long as the food is good...the new Frank pepes in manchester CT has taken the tack that what was considered tradition in their original...long waits, tiny little soda glasses, bland all ok because the food is good. I had to order three hours in advance for a cheese pizza...but;s Pepe's!

        See my other post..,my concern is that reviewers seem to accept this...and almost use it as a funky little attraction...

        It does not make sense...and until people demand and expect the same service from our industry as they do from a tailor or even a Walmart...the industry will not is digfficult not to make a scene when other in the party may not be advocates to rock the boat.

        As an independent owner, CIA grad, Peter Kump Grad, corporate ex chef, culinary instructor and a rather frequent diner in very nice places all over the country...I think I have the expertise to judge the dinner at Smith and Wollensky in NYC this past weekend did not have twenty minute waits...and the place comped us a bunch of items...they knew what the bill would be and appreciated our business.

        I do not complain alot...I am objective

        At Chez Pannise about a year ago I had a waiter who just igniored me and my partner... for poor service and Alice Waters herself comped our entire dinner, sent me a note and a certificate for another meal...and the next was all it should have been.

        The note from chefstu makes me think the future holds little hope for any improvement. ..but you will if you look...

        1. re: sodagirl

          I to have eaten all over the U.S. and Europe, in some of the best places.
          Sometimes the wait was long, sometimes short, but unless I was ignored by the waitstaff I always took it in stride without letting it affect the enjoyment of the meal. Also, I won't wait in line for a pizza, even Pepes.
          In my restuarant it ususlly takes less than 15 min between courses, but thats my resto. Every other chef, owner, manager has their own opinion on pacing the meal and I try to respect it. If I'm in a hurry I point that out at the onset of the meal.
          Finnally, as all of us that work or have worked in the industry know,
          SH-T HAPPENS and even the best run kitchen can have a problem. Should your waiter have told you that the wait was a little long tonite, I can't make that call, hence your original post, but certaintly it shouldn't have taken 40 min to get drinks(your second post) and I or anyone would have a problem with that.
          Perhaps I judged to harshly the origional post.

          1. re: chefstu

            When shit happens in any other don't get charged...what makes the food industry different..."hey these pants have three legs" I pay more?

            Obviously something did not go right here...and some fault lies in both baskets...

            I cant make sense of the tip for wine issue...if you've got the money to spend on a battle of wine...tip on the total...

            and if service is not right...don't leave one...or reduce it depending on what are still earned and should never be assumed..l

            I had dinner in a well known French Restaurant a few weeks and service was impecable...evening perfect..but the waiter was wearing dirty old black sneakers...for what I paid...that to me was a negative...

            I won't apologize for expecting an attempt at perfection if I am being charged for it.

            Read "The Soul of A Chef" by Michael Ruhlman...the waiters at FL get least we now have a baseline others should shoot for...if they earn it...what am I supposed to do about the sneakers...was the experience the same?

            1. re: sodagirl

              "When shit happens in any other don't get charged...what makes the food industry different..."hey these pants have three legs" I pay more?"

              Sodagirl, do you really not see the difference btw poor service in a restaurant and 3-legged pants? Presumably I'll notice 3 legs and choose not to buy the pants. ALL industries have a responsibility to right a wrong w/a client, the food industry isn't singled out. IMO, this restaurant more than made it right ($100 because you waited too long) but to me, the OP certainly had a valid complaint.

        2. re: chefstu

          Odd you should mention TGI Fridays. The last time we were there our entree seemed to be taking a long time, but we weren't complaining about it, because we were sitting in the bar area watching a baseball game. All of a sudden the manger came over and started apologizing to us. There was a mix up, and our order didn't get turned in. To make up for it he offered us an appetizer, on the house. So we got one, it was served promptly, and soon afterwards we got our entrees. When we got our check he had comped us one of the entrees, and the appetizer. I would have never expected that kind of service, and we are not regulars at this place either, so don't turn your nose up to all places like that. It varies from one manager to another, and you can find good, or bad ones, in upscale and chains.

          1. re: chefstu

            Quick question. How do you know the kitchen staff did its best? Yes, sometimes stuff happens during preparation, sometimes your order goes in just after several other orders and that slows things down, sometimes the kitchen is backed up, but sometimes someone screws up in the kitchen and mistimes things. And given OP's additional comments about the time it took for the drink orders to be taken and served, and other information, this was a place with bad service, pure and simple, at least that night.

          2. I'm just curious why you thought the bar bill wouldn't be included in the automatic gratuity? People who don't tip on wine is one of the reasons auto-grat exists!

            6 Replies
            1. re: invinotheresverde

              You honestly think that a server "earns" $40 for pulling the cork on a $75 bottle for which the restaurant charges $200? And if the table has 6 diners, the server only pours once per person. So pulling a cork and pouring 6 glasses is worth $40? Meanwhile, at the next table, with 3 screaming soda drinking kids and high maintenance parents where the server has to run around like a hero, that server should make $20 on a total bill of $100? Where's the equity in that? Tips should be based on effort and professionalism. Not the whim of what a restaurant charges for wine.

              1. re: FoodieJim

                No, I think the server earns $15 on a $75 bottle. I'd gladly work in a restaurant where servers earns 45% tips on wine.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  So are you suggesting that diners convert the cost of wine into retail dollars before factoring in the tip? I guess I could go along with that, but what of food? How do you reduce an $8 salad to its true retail price and tip on that? The server would earn mere pennies.

                  1. re: FoodieJim

                    Sorry, I'd read your post wrong and tried to delete mine, but it still appeared.

                2. re: FoodieJim

                  Here's the equity. Having waited on Foodies and Winies at the bar and table, I would rather bring food anytime rather than wine. Waiting for the too warm, too cold, your wine is kept at an inappropriate temp, can you cool this or even worse, heat it up, winies can truly be whiners and people who have to interact with them should get combat pay. Wine is expensive to buy, pour, store and research. It is no more priced at a whim then the entre or desert, it is all about profit margins and making a living. If you are pouring it, making a living can be a real crapshoot.

                  1. re: FoodieJim

                    But part of the equation is the cost of each item. Just as any other salesman makes their commission based on the price of the item they are selling, so too the waiter.

                3. it's a little unclear as to the number of courses you ate (as well as the number of people in your party) prior to receiving the entree 2-hours after being seated. But to your question. Jfood believes that 20 minutes is the proper time between courses when eating with friends on the weekend. In fact he has specifically told servers when he was hosting a dinner that 20 minutes was the timeframe he wanted the dinner to be paced.

                  With respect to the wine in the auto-grat. Jfood is in the camp that the bar bill and the food bill need to be separated. Although there is a consensus that a standard tip on a food bill ranges between 15-22%, plus or minus depending on individual circumstances, as well as geography and personal feelings there is less of an agreement on the linear relationship between wine prices and tips. There are many of us who believe that there is a decreasing percenatge on the wine as the price of the bottle increases, while others believe in total linearity.

                  So the pacing seems correct in jfood's eyes but he would have also asked for the wine to be excluded from the auto-grat and then the table could decide on the proper amount to tip on the wine. And a $100 gift ceret seems very nice as the only complaint on the food seemed to be the warm swordfish.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: jfood

                    Senor Food, if the menu clearly states that parties of X will include Y% gratuity, why does the customer get to pick and choose what that includes? It includes the entire bill.

                    Also, as a non-drinker, do you really even have a dog in this hunt (stolen from an internet sage)? :) Let us drunks figure it out.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      jfood has absolut-ly no dog in the hunt Ms Invvinotheresverde (jfood thinks the Ms is correct) but as you know jfood states his thought where they may not have any personal financial hurt. Just ask the little jfoods every time they say "Dad, I'll handle it." Love those kids.

                      Here's an interesting dilemma. You make a reso for 6+ on the phone or open table. Very excited and so are your guests. You arrive at the resto, get comfortably seated and prepare for the first inning, i.e. look at the menu. Open it up and there staring you in the face is Josh Becket in the words "all parties of 6+ will have a 25% gratuity added to the bill". Now jfood chose 25% as a number that's high but not outrageous to some but outrageous to others. This is the first you have heard of this. So you are now at a resto where the tip-surcharge is predetermined and might be MUCH higher that you felt the standard is for the area/resto.

                      What to do? you can leave? maybe not an oprtion for 6+. You can modify down your order taking this into account? Sorta puts a damper on the evening. Can suck it up and order what you planned and pay the 25%? Also may sorta put a damper on the evening. Appproach the MOD and explain that 25% is not standard and you would like the option of determining whether above the standard 15-20% (you fill in the number) is appropriate. Interesting conversation.

                      So from your side of the fence as a senior person at the resto, what to do. Ifthere is an auto-grat should this not be divulged at the time of the reso? And if it wasn;t soes the resto now have the ability to tell the large parties a "high" number versus what the others in the same dining room might leave.

                      Just curious and TIA

                      1. re: jfood

                        A problem with your example, actually, is the high % amount itself. The highest "auto-grat" I've ever seen was 20% and that only once. 18% is what I notice most often on restaurant menus and seems to me to be calculated (literally) to be as high as possible while inciting as few complaints as possible. The higher that number goes, the more likely I am to be sensitive to minor mistakes that would normally go all but unnoticed and the more likely I am to say something to the manager if, at the end of the meal, I feel the service wasn't up to a level that would warrant such a gratuity.

                        I do think that the policies affecting a party should be explained at the time a reservation is made (2 hours at the table total, auto-grat for parties of X or more, corkage fee if the diner says they'd like to bring a bottle...etc).

                        1. re: jfood

                          I'd leave if there was a 25% autograt. That's just flat out ballsy and greedy. However, I don't think 18-20% is unreasonable if the service is up to snuff.

                          I think, as a diner, one should be aware that many restaurants impose automatic gratuities on parties over four. I think it's both the restaurant and the diner's responsibility to be aware.

                          If a restaurant is trying to pull off 25% autograt, imagine what else they're trying to get away with?

                          P.S. You can always dispute autograt. I was once dining with a group in a 20% auto restaurant. The waitress not only stuck her finger in the bottle of my husband's beer (to reduce the foam, she said), but forgot a cherry in my friend's apple martini. She went back to the bar, grabbed the cherry with her fingers, walked over to our table and dropped it into the drink. Gross!

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            blech on the PS I.

                            agreed that 18-20 for large party is reasonable, they always need more hand holding. but if you think the whole auto grat can be discussed as in your PS, why do you think that the wine part can't?

                    2. I agree with some of the other posters here that you are getting way too bent out of shape over this. In my mind 20 minutes is 100% reasonable at just about any full service restaurant, and especially in a fine dining atmosphere. If you had prefaced the meal by telling the server that you were in a rush, then perhaps 20 minutes would be a long wait between courses, but at that point the best plan would probably have been to only order a single course!

                      Now as to their attitude once you complained, nobody can really judge that besides you, because none of us were there. But I can imagine there being a slight hesitation to explain a fairly reasonable wait, and it seems pretty gutsy to me that you would be the one to suggest they comp part of your bill. I'm actually very impressed by the graciousness the restaurant showed by giving you the gift certificate, and you're STILL on here complaining?

                      Finally, as to the gratuity, I have never heard of excluding the wine from a gratuity, nor have I ever thought to exclude it when I calculate the tip myself. Frankly, 18% is the absolute minimum anyone should be tipping at this point (conversations with people I know who work in restaurants indicate that the AVERAGE is just over 20%).

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: celeriac


                        There have been many, probably too many, threads on tipping recently and if you have not had the chance to read some of these you may want to see the differing views on the average and standard tips that people are leaving. this seems to range from 15-20% as the standard. just a point of reference.

                        in jfood recent experience he still sees the 15-20% as the going rate on tipping in FFD county CT. If you are seeing the average >20% just up the road, then you are creating some very happy servers.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Well, as i said, I'm just relaying what I've heard is the average from friends who are servers. Perhaps Providence has some exceedingly generous diners.

                          1. re: celeriac

                            Or maybe your friends are exceptional servers. I have a friend who made incredible tips as a waitress because she was excellent. Regulars would ask to be seated in her section and this was just a little diner type shop (in RI, come to think of it). They started pooling tips and she made so much less that she went elsewhere.

                        2. re: celeriac

                          For the most part, when the wine purchased is $100 or less, it doesn't much matter whether one tips a flat 20% or deducts the wine and adds a resonable "per bottle" charge, since a reasonable charge would be about $20 per bottle. but if you order a $500 bottle, it is not at all uncommon to deduct the wine, tip 20-30% on the food, and add in a per bottle charge. Servers don't (or shouldn't) expect to walk away with a $100 tip on a $500 bottle.

                          As for the rest of your post, I agree. We aren't told how large the "large table" was, but 20 minutes between courses is not unusual. Whenever people get together in large groups to dine, there is usually a reason. So long conversations are anticipated by the management and they assume that you aren't in a rush. 20 minutes seems very fair to me.

                          1. re: FoodieJim

                            Jim, I can understand not wanting to tip on expensive wine. I totally get it. What I don't get is why you'd overtip on the food in lieu of a better tip on the wine. Unless you're normally a 20-30% tipper on food, tipping that much on the food seems like you'd be doing it out of guilt for leaving a bad tip on the wine.

                            If a restaurant states there's a set percentage charge for large parties (18%, 20%, whatever), you've agreed to enter a social contract by dining there. You don't get to pick and choose what gets included in said gratuity.

                            There are many excellent restaurants that don't partake in an auto gratuity policy for guests. Perhaps one of those is more suited to you and your expectations.

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              It's not my expectations that are at issue. We're painting with broad strokes here, discussing things in general. Personally, I can't recall ever having been charged an auto-gratuity unless I am with a big group, in which case, you know what you are getting. And in big groups, the big dollar wines don't get ordered. So the wine/food split is immaterial.

                              Personally, auto-gratuities don't concern me, although I get the sense that restaurants are doing a disservice to their staff when they do that. I tip on professionalism, starting at 20%. On occasion that gets ratcheded down. But usually it goes up to 25-30%. So, no. None of my tip is based on guilt.

                              1. re: FoodieJim

                                In my restaurant, big groups order big dollar wines more often than not, as we have a large business clientele.

                                Auto grat is to protect the staff from getting stiffed or tipped poorly. If the level of service isn't up to the automatic tip, I see no reason why a manager shouldn't reduce it. However, some people still have the mentality that a hundred dollars is a good tip, even on a fifteen hundred dollar check, for example. I don't think it's a disservice to the staff in the slightest.

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  I guess the answer lies in what percentage "some people" is. If enough people think that a $100 tip is sufficient on a $1,500 bill (assuming $1,200 of that wasn't a single bottle of wine), then I guess the establishment is helping the staff with an auto-gratuity of 18% across the board. In my dining circles, 18% has gone the way of the dinosaur, so the auto-grat hurts the server. (And yes, I know that the guest can always bump that if they choose to do so. But in larger groups, the person picking up the tab has control--not always me.) I would think in this day and age, leaving diners to their own discretion would result in a bigger than 18% tip. But your experience says otherwise, so I'll defer to you. Ultimately, it is the diners' responsibility to ensure that the server earns a living. That should never require a $500 tip for 90 minutes of work. Nor should if mean a $10 for the same period of time. I often tip 100-200% in coffee shops, because I'm not going to leave a $2.00 tip on an $8.00 order for a server that devoted 30 minutes of his/her time to me. At both ends of the spectrum (very low bills and very high bills), there should not be hard and fast rules.

                          2. re: celeriac

                            "Frankly, 18% is the absolute minimum anyone should be tipping at this point."

                            Not so sure about that. If I get really bad service, there's no way in hell I'm leaving 18+% because it's "expected". I generally tip 18-20% as long as the dining experience was good, possibly more if it was great. However, truly bad service gets and deserves lower tips, unless it is something that is completely out of the servers control.

                            1. re: steve999

                              Yeah, I meant in a situation where the service was reasonable.

                          3. Thank you for your comments esp.those about the auto grat and the wine, they were helpful. I would also like to add that it took the server 15 minutes from when we first sat down to take our drink order and then 25 minutes to get us all served. It all went down hill from there,. I won't bother to go into the details.We sat down at 6:50 and left at 9:40 There were 3 courses, only 2 of us got the first (soup) no one got dessert. Several tables were seated, served and left before we got our entre.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: ellieeggplant

                              I'm glad this was helpful to you. I'm also glad that people ask and complain about slow service, especially if they are ignored in the process of asking. You should have been comped and you deserve the gift certificate. If people would run restaurants with the same attention to customer service as businesses, you would have had a prewarning about a larger party and any difficulties that might have caused. Don't listen to the negatives about complaining and keep trying restaurants that offer great food, keep insisting on an explanation of service. I'm sure that you enjoyed your company that night but I have also had great company ruined by poor service, extended waits, lost reservations and other negatives that were the direct responsibility of the restaurant, your host.

                              1. re: ellieeggplant

                                40 minutes before you even got your drinks!! Yeah, should've led with that one!


                                1. re: ellieeggplant

                                  do you bring a stopwatch to dinner? i cannot tell you how many times a guest has ranted she's been waiting 30, 40, 60 minutes, when in fact it has been 10. (opentable software is a godsend for that stuff, btw.)

                                  whole foods did a study of time perception waiting. they timed people on line in their stores and asked how long they thought they had been waiting. if the wait was less than 2 minutes, the person's estimate was close to the true time. if the wait exceeded 3 minutes people went wildly off the mark.

                                  if you were keeping an eye on the clock and it really took 40 minutes for cocktails to get to your table, why didn't you ask for a manager then? i am in the business and would never tolerate that. i don't care how busy the place is.

                                  as for your op, i don't think 20 minutes between courses is outrageous, especially on a busy night. however, both your server and management needed to be more proactive in mollifying you, which they were not. the reduction of the gratuity and the enormous gift certificate were very generous.

                                  further, if your timeline is correct and you got cocktails at 7:30, that means you had a 3-course dinner in 2 hours and 10 minutes. remove the cocktail flub and i don't see how that is so unacceptable?

                                  lastly, i find it outrageous every time a guest insists on a comp. it's horribly tacky. allow us to make a decision, rather than forcing our hand. let the restaurant decide and if then you feel like it wasn't sufficient recompense, don't go back. managers want to do the right thing, want you to come back (most of you) and don't want you moaning to everybody you know that cafe x is a terrible place.

                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    Hotoy, I couldn't agree more about someone ASKING to have something taken off the bill AND to have the gratuity taken off the wine. It's "horribly tacky" indeed. Do people tell their doctor they'd like 10% off their final bill because they had to wait 45 minutes in the waiting room?

                                    Ellie, besides the slow drink service, your dinner sounds paced completely fine. I can't believe you went out of your way to complain so much. Why not just relax and enjoy a nice dinner with a large group of friends/family/coworkers?

                                    I've got to be honest here. If you were in my restaurant, I probably would've done very little to appease you, except possibly comping your first round of cocktails (if they really did take 40 minutes to arrive). Other than that, it sounds like a serious "mountain out of a molehill" situation.

                                    They gave you the $100 giftcard so you'd come back to use it, but personally, I think both the diner and the restaurant are better off never crossing each other's paths again.