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Per Se reservation idiocy

Is this normal?
We had a reservation for 4 at Per Se, booked just slightly less than 2 months ago. Two of our party couldn't make it, but when I attempted to change it to 2, the girl handling reservations REFUSED! This change was more than 72hrs in advance, as per their own guidelines. The options given were to go on a waiting list for the 2-person tables for the same day or cancel. They threatened that other changes would be charged at $175/person (which is obviously BS since anyone would obviously dispute a charge without a signature or security code). Is this normal practice??...I've never run into such a problem anywhere else. Last time I went to Per Se, I made the reservation through a kitchen contact, had no problems, and was treated quite well. This was an Opentable reservation, and the experience couldn't have been more of a polar opposite.
I understand they have limited space, but when I make a reservation that requires a credit card I usually expect it to be honored! And its not as if a table of 4 cannot hold 2 people! The last time I was there, 2 of us were indeed seated at a 4-top.
[BTW, we decided on the tasting at EMP instead, same time. They were far more pleasant to deal with.]

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  1. Pretty cocky for a place that no doubt has a waiting list and could fill up your table in a minute.

    I guess when you've got it, you can afford to flaunt it.

    I pass on Per Se. The more I hear (and read of thier menu) I realize this great venue just doesn't have my name on it.

    I will keep recommending it though for the fine food it turns out.

    2 Replies
    1. re: idia

      ".. could fill up your table in a minute"

      This is even more astounding since I just checked opentable, and there are still 2 tables of 4 open for that night (Sunday), so they definitely didn't just immediately fill my cancellation. I guess that's the way they treat people if they assume you're an anonymous opentable schmuck.

      1. re: streamwise

        steamwise, at the moment this restaurant is doing major business and I guess that affects their thinking...however, I understand their portions are still getting smaller, I have friends who have enjoyed it but will not return as a result based on recent visits (they left hungry), and through their faux pas, you probably saved yourself a good deal of money...there are many other dining options out there...take advantage of them.

    2. Why should the restaurant give a 4 person table to 2 people if they are highly confident that they can fill that same table with 4 people? The restaurant will be sacrificing hundreds of dollars to accommodate your desire for them to leave 2 seats empty.

      Some restaurants routinely fill up their highly desirable 2 seat tables before they fill up their less desirable (but more space efficient) 4 seat tables. A lot of geniuses out there would love to say: "I know what to do! Since I can't get a 2 seat reservation I'll just tell them I want a 4 seat table and right before dinner I'll just tell them that the other two people canceled. Wow I'm smart!"

      I agree with Per Se

      10 Replies
      1. re: MichaelK

        Well, if they fill the seats, they'll earn an extra $550, but *only* assuming that we won't drink more than enough to make up the difference....a poor assumption, especially considering the bottle prices on Per Se's list. [Per Se is not making the majority of its money on food, I can guarantee that.]

        Secondly, they've lost any future business me or my colleagues would have contributed, which will have most likely far exceeded the amount gained from forfeiting the table, most likely to a non-local transient visitor on the waiting list who will not be back anytime soon .

        Thirdly, it was not a night which was entirely booked. I can see that myself, and at the moment, there are still at least 2 open tables. I'm sure its perfectly logical from an average cost basis, but operating a restaurant in that manner gains neither respect nor repeat customers, and is textbook example of short-sighted and poor front-of-house management.

        Lastly, here is their stated policy in the reservation: "Credit Cards are required for parties of 4 or more. Due to the limited seating available in our 15 table restaurant, parties that cancel or decrease in number less than 72 hours in advance will be charged $150 per person on the credit card provided." There is nothing in any of the reservation policy that says one CANNOT change the number in the party prior to 72hrs; if this is part of their policy, it should be stated, since it caused more than a minor inconvenience. I read the policy carefully and as far as I knew I was completely in compliance.

        Finally, I wouldn't be so furious with them if they had handled the situation with any tact whatsoever, but they completely failed to do so.

        1. re: streamwise

          >>parties that cancel or decrease in number less than 72 hours in advance will be charged $150 per person on the credit card provided."

          Wow. Horrific.

          Where is this restaurant?

          1. re: dolores

            The Time-Warner Center in New York City:

            -----
            Per Se
            10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

          2. re: streamwise

            Hey Streamwise, I am very sad to hear how you were treated. If you gave them more than 72 hours notice, it is very frustrating to lose your reservation. I understand your frustration completely.

            Per Se does tend to be a little crazy about their reservation policy. We once booked a table for four and had to decrease it to two because the other couple had a family emergency. We decided to pay the extra $175 per person because we decided we wanted to eat there anyway (it was a special occasion for us, our anniversary). Mea culpa, it's people like us that let this restaurant get away with behavior like this. But although we were upset about the extra charge, we were completely blown away by the experience. Once you are in the restaurant, the service is impeccable, and the experience is unique. And it had better be!!!! I recall being very upset with the way the person changing the reservation dealt with the situation. Just as you say, she had no tact. That being said, I would hate her job. It's tough being the gatekeeper.

            I guess part of the problem is they only have 15 tables in a huge space in Manhattan. But that is part of the experience; it is really refreshing to be in a large beautiful space for a great meal, without too much noise, and a wonderful view of the park....

            I would be furious and disappointed too. And you are right, they lose business because of it, and rightfully so. But currently it is a situation of supply and demand. Like tickets to the Police reunion tour, demand is still very high. They will fill those seats.

            Despite having paid double for our first meal there ever, we still go back when we can. Although the front of house policy is frustrating, the overall experience is about as close to perfect as you can get once you are in the restaurant. We are just very careful about our reservations now... and we have a back up list of people who'd be willing to take over if we have any cancellations in our party!

            1. re: streamwise

              Maybe if they fill the table up with 4 people those people will be bigger winos still and 2 will drink their share and the extra share like your two people and the extra two people will drink the same for a difference of $1100 more gross.

              1. re: elgordoboy

                I'll remind Per Se's FOH to add that possiblity into their discounted cash flow analysis of the probability of revenue vs. the probability of driving away repeat customers.

                1. re: streamwise

                  Look, I think it's complete gargage that they're trying to charge you outside of the seventy two hour bracket. That's reprehensible. BUT...

                  ...they have every right not to replace your reservation for four with a reservation of two. YOU made a reservation for four, which you can no longer honor. It's unfortunate, but with a fifteen table dining area, it's sensible.

                  I'd call them out on trying to charge you the $175 outside the 72 hour window, but other than that, they're not being shady or unprofessional at all.

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    "I'd call them out on trying to charge you the $175 outside the 72 hour window, but other than that, they're not being shady or unprofessional at all."

                    Yes, very true. I think Per Se should edit the reservation policy so that there are no nasty surprises. Streamwise's anger is justifiable because the policy made no mention about charges in this situation (ie. before 72 hours). Their decision, justifiable or not, put Streamwise in a difficult and frustrating situation at late notice. He/she should have been aware of this policy when the reservation was made, not a few days before the date of the dinner. It wouldn't be hard to add that to their reservation policy. And it would mean less ruffled feathers.

                    1. re: moh

                      The policy on OpenTable (as of today, Jan 13, I haven't looked at it before this) is very clear about cancellations or party size reduction incurring a fee if they're made inside of 72 hours from the reservation time. Since Streamwise called prior to that 72 hour limit, he could cancel with no fees or, if they'd had space, reduce his party size with no fees. It sounds like they didn't have space for a party of two reservation and probably had a wait list for parties of 4 as well, so they move to the next party on the list.

                      Not the brightest move on the part of the restaurant in my book from a customer service perspective, but within the bounds of their stated policy.

                      As regards invino's point: it doesn't sound like they were trying to charge streamwise, rather informing him that his options were 1) keep the reservation as is and bring 4 people or get charged for any no-shows which would then fall within the policy since it would be a party size reduction, 2) cancel the 4 person reservation with no charge and be put on the wait list for a 2 person reservation (with no fees charged) or 3) cancel the whole thing with no fees charged.

                      1. re: ccbweb

                        Ahhh. Thanks for the clarification. I really don't think Per Se's done anything wrong in this instance then.

          3. just a Q, when you make your reservation did they take the $175 from your credit card in advance or do they just hold your number for the day of the reservation?

            4 Replies
            1. re: smartie

              Me, I wouldn't go to any restaurant that wanted my credit card number when I made a reservation.

              Lots of other good restaurants out there.

              1. re: dolores

                neither would I but I was interested to know if they actually took the deposit 72 hours in advance or not. Because if they didn't then you could just give a made-up credit card number.

              2. re: smartie

                They take your credit card number when you make the reservation. As for moh, I'm not sure whether they charged her in advance to keep the table, or just added to her final bill....

                1. re: streamwise

                  They take the credit card number, but they did not charge us in advance. When we had to pay the extra charge for the two cancellations, we paid at the time of our meal.

              3. The air gets thin in the stratosphere

                With all the great food out there, all the undiscovered chef's, all the chef's wanting to share the experience, why do people put up with this nonsense. As jfood has stated in the past, he loves food, but at these prices, give him a couple of tickets to a broadway play or a great concert and a less expensive meal where the resto wants you to be there.

                Everyone who books at these restos should read the print on cancellation/change policy and yes, they can have any policy they want. And when you make a reso, you accept the good and the downside.

                Does jfood think it is good customer focus what Per Se did when the reso went from 4 to 2, absolutely not, horrible customer service. Did they have the black-and-white right to do that, absolutely yes. Could you imagine a mom/pop resto acting so self-important? jfood doubts it.

                So unfortunately when you deal with a Per Se type resto, you might be treated like a cow at the trough before you get there because of numerous rules and bearing the brunt of previous bad behavior by others, but it may be worth it once the grub arrives. At some point the resto does not care and at that point jfood does a Snagglepuss, "exit stage left."

                1 Reply
                1. re: jfood

                  You remember the general from the movie "Babette's Feast"? How, as he's eating this meal, he remembers the meal he had in the restaurant in Paris, and then slowly realizes that this must be the same chef? His comments about the restaurant in Pais remind me of how I feel about eating at Per Se. There are very few places in the world that can match this experience. It isn't just the food, it is the decor, the service, the wine list, everything. It is all the little details.

                  Many people don't care about all these details, and that's fair. I for one will never own an expensive car. I can acknowledge that the Porsche drives way better than my little Toyota Echo. There is no comparison, and I'd be silly to try to argue the point. But I don't care about cars enough to want to spend the money. But I don't mind spending my money on a very special restaurant experience. And please don't get me wrong! My favorite Pho restaurant also gives me great pleasure at $6 a bowl. Cuisine Bangkok sends me into ecstasy for a $7 plate of tofu pad thai. When you consider how many of those meals I could eat for the cost of a single night at Per Se, well sometimes I wonder too. But I look at it this way. For something that I am passionate about, I am willing to pay the cash to see an artist at work. I would have paid huge amounts to see Billy Holiday live, singing in a small bar after midnight. I would have put up with line-ups, rudeness, outright robbery, to have this chance. Similarly, Per Se provides an opportunity to have a restaurant experience that is artistry at work. Every once in a while (too rarely for me) I'm willing to pony up the cash. And put up with the reservation policy. But I totally understand that most people don't think the value is there. And that's ok too! But please don't judge me too harshly for continuing to frequent this place! I have the Asian tendancy to value mastery very highly. Remember the Original Iron Chef with the Chinese female chef who had been declared a National Treasure? I am totally into that sort of thing. I think Edna Lewis should have been declared a "national treasure".

                  (on a side note: have you ever tried to have a Toyota Echo valet parked in NYC? whew ! Talk about feeling inadequate. Will have to get used to it, won't be getting an Audi soon....)

                2. It seems to me that there are a couple of overlapping but separate issues here; first the customer service piece which sounds like it may have been quite lacking if the person you spoke with was rude and second, the policy which is, on OpenTable, spelled out quite clearly. I don't have a problem with the policy as it's there for one to see before making the reservation.

                  You make a reservation that requires a credit card and then you change the terms and expect them to honor it? It sounds like they'd have been happy to honor the reservation you made and seat the two of you at the four top while charging the fee for the reduction in party size as spelled out on OpenTable. The reservation isn't a holding place so you can decide later how many people want to go or can make it that night. You made the decision that was entirely yours to go elsewhere (I'd have done the same) and give up the reservation.