Dear Leslie Brenner,
If your premise was to write a Bill of Rights for those who patronize “fine-dining establishments”, as you clearly state in the very first sentence of your October 24th piece "Dinners, stand up for your rights", then this is the most confused and useless piece of writing I have read in a long time.
1. Hospitality: I just don’t get it. I don’t know any of the top 20 or so restaurants in Los Angeles that make us feel that it is a burden for them to serve us.
2. Equal opportunity: Are you kidding or are you bitter that you are not a 20 year old hot young actress that everyone recognizes? EVERY business has a right to preferential relationships with the customers of their choice. I’ll tell you what, tip graciously, be honest but courteous, patronize a place on a regular basis and you’ll get VIP treatment even you are not a celebrity. I do and I’m not famous.
3. Time of your choice: are you on drugs? You are writing a piece about poor service for heaven’s sake. You are the same person who feels compelled a few paragraphs later to write about having your food come out in a timely manner. If everybody gets seated at the same time (7:00 or 7:30) you will not get good service or good food. In your case, not only will you complain, you will write about it in the LA Times for millions to see. This kind of complaint from a normal diner is understandable, but from the L.A Times Food Editor? Out of all people you should know why the policy of staggering reservations exists. That restaurants do this to appear busy is a myth, they do it 1) to have the ability to turn tables and make money and 2) to ensure that the kitchen does not get slammed and that the servers do not end up in the weeds causing the Leslie Brenners of the world to jump on a soapbox and complain.
4. Courteous greeting: OK.
5. Timely seating: OK.
6. Wait at the table: Restaurants should have the right to turn tables. They are not a charity. I’d agree with you if abusive diners did not exist. Unfortunately this policy exists for diners who don’t understand they can’t get in at 7:30 and who are so obsessed with getting their way that they will accept the 6:30 reservations, send one guest in who will have drinks at the table while the rest of their party shows up at 7:30 under the pretext that they got stuck on the 405. If you would give the thought one would expect went into writing something as important (or pompous) as a diner’s Bill of Rights, you would understand that two of your proposed rights are mutually exclusive, this one and #2.
7. Pull out your wallet only once: Really? How many fine-dining establishments don’t let you transfer your bar tab? And for those who don’t is it REALLY that much of a burden to reach in your purse and pull out your wallet?
8. Waiter’s anonymity: Come on… I mean…. Is there something else going on in your life that’s causing this much anger?
9. Dinner conversation: Where do you eat? This is a piece about fine-dining. Since when has your dining experience at Spago, Sona, Hatfields, Grace, Lucques, Campanile, Il Grano, Valentino, Patina, Providence, etc… made you feel like you were at the White Lotus? Ah…. perhaps you are referring to Osteria Mozza. Yes the music is loud but it is really very good. Mozarella, Hendrix, and a bottle of very obscure Italian wine I never knew existed: yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah! Makes ME feel like jumping on Mozza’s table and playing air-guitar. So does one place really require a line item of its own, and if so, why don’t you be courageous and just name it? Why did you not just say: Mozza should turn the volume down? Politics?
10. A wine list: Yes. Well said.
11. Not to be told: Yes. Staff should take pride in their job and do it well even if they are not career waiters.
12. Salt on the table: Yes. I agree with you. My better half doesn’t.
13. Tap water: Yes. But let me ask you this: Are you the type of person that gets offended when they are charged corkage? I’d bet you are. See when I bring my own wine in, I “buy” water, it’s the very least I can do. Then I tip as if I’d bought wine off the list. Years of doing this is probably why I get the VIP treatment you don’t seem to get.
14. Your daily bread: Once again restaurants are not a charity, they must make money. Not stuffing you with free bread is so that they may have a chance to sell food. It is a sales technique. If you do have a point, you’d be more credible if you’d present it differently. Something like this would be more educational for restaurants and diners alike, and still make your point: “I understand restaurants are afraid that diners will order less food if they are already stuffed with (free) bread and (free) water, but honestly, it doesn’t work. I for one like to put something in my stomach before I drink wine and end up hammered before the meal has even begun.”
15. Right of refusal: wine. Where do you eat? What establishments are you targeting? When have the sommeliers at the true fine-dining establishments in this city refused to take back corked wine? A decade ago there were few trained sommeliers, but things have changed a lot.
16. Right of refusal: food. Yes, over or under cooked steaks happen a lot, even in the new high-end steak places. I return steaks often. In fact I did it just the other day. Though it pisses me off tremendously that a steak is not cooked properly in the first place, it happens. I have never had a problem getting it replaced or thrown back on the fire in fine-dining establishments. In fact I usually get many apologies, sincere concern, a visit from the manager a complementary desert or glass of Beaumes de Venise. Must be the way I approach it: firm but polite and understanding. And no, I do not tolerate attitude when I have been most gracious in my request, but I’ve only been confronted to it on the rare (pun intended) occasion.
17. Eating with the rest of your party: Yes, but mutually exclusive with getting a reservation at the time of your choice. Make a choice, it’s either or, not both.
18. Proper level of wine glass: Yes.
19. Price of specials: This is a difficult one. On the one hand, fine-dining establishments are not the Olive Garden and it is not very classy to discuss money. I mean what are we talking about? An entrée that will be $40 or $50 at most, and that’s when we’re talking white truffles. So if it hurts you to pay the extra $20 for the special, should you really be eating in these establishments? Actually I do understand that it would hurt some, but in my case, I can afford it, and in your case, don’t you just hand the bill to the L.A. Times? So I really don’t think it is either my place or yours to discuss this matter. Though I would be curious to hear from readers who do not have the money to regularly patronize these establishments but do so for a special occasion: would they rather have the price announced so as not to be shocked later, or would theu rather it not be discussed on front of their date?
20. Silverware: Once again. You are talking about fine-dining establishments. Which ones do not change your silverware? Please enlighten me, because there must be several of them I do not know of and would love to discover their food despite their questionable service.
21. Speedy service: Yes. But once again only when you do not though a tantrum so that you may get a reservation when you were told none were available.
22. Privacy: Yes.
23. Pleasure in dining: Wow, you’re getting awfully punctilious, rather petty and actually quite sad. Does a poor choice of words really spoil your meal?
24. Not to be rushed: Yes. However you may want to educate some of your own as to what the “finished position” is since, and I’m not being facetious, I have observed that some L.A Times contributors hold their forks like a chisel.
25. VIP treatment: Your #2 and this are redundant. Isn’t redundancy something editors are supposed to clean up.
Restaurant service is a fascinating topic, but the L.A. Times with this piece and "Table at 7?" is guilty of exceptionally uninformed journalism. I would suggest that you take the time to interview restaurant professionals as to why certain policies exist and not simply assume that they do to abuse the diner. I am not a restaurant professional. Over the years I have developed a couple friendships with restaurant people and have taken the time to inquire about the purpose of certain policies I had originally found offensive. I am a finicky and indeed snobby diner, and there is so much more you could have said in this piece rather than waste your editorial space with so much that verges on petty and that is quite frankly boring. I am inclined to write a reader's Bill of Rights.
Fantastic letter, Reginald. I was thinking the very same thing when I read that piece of trash in the Food section last week. As someone who used to work in the industry and is now a frequent diner, there is a fine line between good service and restaurant profitability. But it's not hard to accomplish both if the restaurant and diner have mutual respect for each other.
Leslie's article paints her as the dreaded dining diva, one who expects nothing less than VIP treatment but is unwilling to be as generous and respectful as a VIP diner should be. I cannot read her writing anymore; her continued pettiness takes all the pleasure out of fine dining.
I am a restaurant professional. I wrote my own response to the LAT, which wasn't nearly as scathing as your post here.
Nonetheless, Bravo. Especially regarding your observation about reviewers automatically assuming that restaurants do what they do simply to abuse the diner. A good majority of bloggers and internet reviewers need to get this drilled into their heads as well. Nearly all "offensive" restaurant policies are due to an alarmingly high rate of horrible clientele behavior.
I, too, agreed that Leslie wasn't spot-on in this column (though I couldn't agree more about wanting some bread @ my last excursion, so many plates with delicious sauces left over! but I digress); any set of defined rules and guidelines for dining is bound to cause a few stirs.
I personally enjoyed Sara Dickerman's "How Do You Assess Good Restaurant Service?" much more - http://www.slate.com/id/2174796/pagenum/all/
I agree, the article was highly presumptuous and very poorly thought out. In fact, it gave the impression that it was written by someone who doesn't dine out much at all!
I found much of it to be extremely irresponsible journalism. Articles like that create an elevated sense of over-entitlement which does not improve anybody's dining experience.