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Al di La - Charleston - interesting experience - Comments?

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just returned from dinner at al di la, one of my favorite restaurants in Charleston (tonight was my 6th trip in 6 weeks) - invited my best friend and her husband, for her birthday...so it was a special occasion. Needless to say the food was good, however the service was below average at best.

Our reservations were for 7:30. After waiting more than 15 minutes for the waiter to approach the table, we ordered drinks. Waited another 10-15 minutes before our orders were taken. When the appetizers came, only 3 arrived at one time. The 4th appetizer, a salad, took an additional 10 minutes to arrive. By that time, everyone else's appetizers were cold (being well mannered women, we don't eat until everyone has their food!). Dinner progressed without much incident, although the waiter was scarce and not overly friendly.

At about 9:50 we settled our bill, and not 10 minutes later, the waiter (NOT the manager!) approached the table and asked us to leave - stating he had to seat another table and they were "getting antsy." Other tables were settling up their bills and leaving as well. The group of people waiting on the table HAD a table...in the full service bar, but still had a table.

Again, being well mannered folks, we got up and accommodated the request. However, I am dismayed at the poor service that we received, and am curious as to the protocol in this event. My sister and I have eaten at fine restaurants all over the world, and have NEVER been asked to leave a restaurant for any reason. Our only "fault" in this case was enjoying the company of our friends for a very special meal. We considered returning to the restaurant after our friends left to speak to the manager, but didn't want to make a scene or be branded as difficult customers.

Any chowhounders out there have any insight/suggestions/comments regarding this situation?

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  1. Well John Marshall is no longer there. Maybe that has something to do with it.

    Personally I treat the whole restaurant experience as a short vacation. I tell the waiter that I like to take my time and enjoy my meal. I assure him that I'm easy to please but want to enjoy his restaurant. It is the job of a busy restaurant to schedule reservations in a way to first minimize wait time and a distant second to maximize turnover. There is an art to setting up a reservation book. Some tables take longer and that is an event they should be prepared for.

    If they really needed your table they should have offered to buy your party a complimentary round of desert drinks at the bar. This is the perfect win-win situation for a restaurant. Most people would refuse the drinks, appreciate the courtesy, and leave happy. If they accepted the offer, the restaurant spent maybe $10 cost to keep two parties happy.

    Amuse is my new Al Di La. I had the trotters last night and a fork fight over the last bite. For my birthday I want a cake size version with layers of the sauce. Mmm...., pork birthday cake.

    1 Reply
    1. re: CharlestonChow

      My sister and I love Amuse as well!
      Am hoping that last night was just an aberration, but I guess we will find out as the new owner makes his mark on the restaurant...thanks for the reply!

    2. True, John Marshall left and in his wake he left the restaurant in the hands of Mark, the previous bar manager who has been with John for many years. You say this is the 6th visit in 6 weeks, so were the first five experiences wonderful? They had to be to continue coming back once a week. An off night happens to most people and places. Walking into Al di La now on any day of the week not just on a busy Saturday, it is almost always packed to the gills from start to finish. If you had an issue with the service, perhaps mentioning it to someone at the restaurant rather than posting a blog. I know that everyone in that restaurant works hard to make sure every guest has a good experience.

      Did you make it known it was your friends birthday? Usually they at least make some small acknowledgment.

      Are you also aware of the hours of Al di La? 6-10 pm, and I'm sure that the server was only trying to ensure that the table waiting would be able to enjoy the same food experience as you did.

      Personally I have enjoyed every experience at this establishment and love to frequent more than once a week. While I prefer the bar atmosphere, I find the service and food is always good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chasnewbie

        Sorry if I offended you with my comment - the purpose of the posting was to ask if others had experienced the same thing - even if at other restaurants- we almost went in to the bar to talk to Mark (yes, I know who he is, and knew the whole story re: him taking over), but decided against it for various reasons.

        We just went back on Friday night -sat at the bar and had a good time - very attentive service...however, the kitchen was running a bit slow (it took almost 45 minutes for our cheese plate to arrive). The food was very good, and we will be going back - and I still recommend it....You'll notice that it is still listed as one of my top 5...

        I am well aware that everyone has an off night now and then. It's hard to say about some of the prior visits in October and November - I wouldn't call them all wonderful, but wouldn't call them terrible either. I was there in varying size parties, and always with different people - and sometimes my fellow guests were the difficult ones (try having a baby shower there with women who have no perception of other people's space or timing - BAD idea, and not mine!). Sat at the bar a few times, and in the dining room a few times - I prefer the bar area as well.

        We are also aware of the hours of the restaurant - and the fact that it stays busy - which is why we made reservations. Truly, our waiter was the problem - he just gave us poor service. They were aware that it was my friend's birthday...We weren't looking for a song and dance...just nicer treatment.

        Perhaps the table waiting could have eaten at the perfectly good table they had in the bar (yes, they were sitting at a table in the bar)...or perhaps they could have made reservations for the dining room like we did. Or, perhaps as another responder suggested, the waiter could have asked us to move into the bar...as opposed to asking us to leave - we probably would have left anyway, but there are nicer ways to approach things.

        As an aside, the very same party that we were asked to leave to accomodate at the last visit was in the restaurant on Friday -they hounded the hostess and blatantly stalked tables in the bar before finally being seated in the restaurant - obviously regulars as well, and it was amusing to watch when not being the one hovered over.

        1. re: chasnewbie

          >perhaps mentioning it to someone at the restaurant rather than posting a blog.

          B-llS--t! That's what chowhound is FOR.

        2. Do they still make the braised octopus?? That was without a doubt the best tasting appetizer I have EVER had!

          1. I am glad to see that you went back and enjoyed yourself. My boyfriend and I are regulars also and also enjoy the informality of sitting at the bar. As someone who deals with restaurants on a daily basis, I would suggest speaking to the manager ANY time you feel you have had bad service at a place you frequent. Owners and managers, especially those who depend on local business like Al Di La, appreciate and encourage feed back from there regulars. How else are they to make the dining experience better? Can't fix a problem if your not aware of it. Also, as a regular, be aware of your favorite spots not so great qualities as you are of their great ones and make them part of the experience. For instance, expect the food to be a little slower coming to the table every time, and enjoy the great ambiance and try a new wine they are offering by the glass while you wait!

            1. No. It is absolutely not okay for your server or a manager to ask you to leave to turn a table. If the Mgr wants to walk by and look or ask you how everything was, these are subtle hints. It should be a last resort for them to offer you a round of cocktails at the bar. I have never had stellar service there.