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Mar 18, 2008 12:52 PM

Service in DC - Bad is the Norm right? [Moved from DC/Baltimore board]

I've been here almost a year, and I'm not sure what to make of the waitstaff in this city.
Does it pay particularly bad here?

I've done it all - ethnic, high brow, low brow, chains, indies, low dollar and unbelievably high dollar - and by and large the service pretty much sucks
- inattentive
- forgetful
- purposefully ignoring you
- down right rude

Or is this more of an East Coast thing? (cause I thought service in NYC was uniformly mean-spirited)

The only good service I get on a regular basis is my local Ethiopian place.

Southerners, what's been your experience?

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  1. I'm not a Southerner but I don't think service in DC is that bad. I've heard this complaint in the past (mostly on Tom's chats...and that forum seems to be filled with people who expect too much and want their every wish and dream met. I love his chats but I can't believe the pickiness of some of the folks that write in sometimes), but don't agree with it.

    I've had it all in DC, some of the best service ever (Restaurant Eve and 1789), middle of the road service, and terrible service (i Ricchi). I think it would be wrong to say "DC is a city with poor service." Plus if there was any way to really measure that I would be surprised considering the level of clientele in this town.

    I think in general many owners under-estimate the power of a well-trained serving staff. But in all the categories you listed I can tell you at least 3 restaurants or more that truly excel. I'm sure I can also list a number that fall flat on their face.

    1. Yeah highly subjective and I think sometimes it depends on your mood to the server so they can judge what type of service you like. Some people want to be left alone some want to be pampered.

      I have great service at a range of places (Central, Carlyle, Palena, to Carribean Grill and the Pita House). I have had some bad service at places that are supposed to be great (Kaz Sushi, Vidalia, etc). But I think it sometimes about what you make it. But I have never experienced a pattern of bad service, but I am Southern, and tend to be pretty overtly polite. But sometimes I want to be left alone and don't talk either!

      You know this is going to be moved to not about Chow right?

      4 Replies
      1. re: ktmoomau

        bets on how long it takes to move or delete? but in the meantime...

        "and that forum seems to be filled with people who expect too much and want their every wish and dream met." - Elyssa

        oh you have low expectations indeed.

        something similar came up a short while back and I suggested some servers in certain venues are inured to the attitudes of our beloved jerky neighbors (bless their hearts).

        I think it has a lot to do with the transient nature of the population. with a few exceptions many (patrons and staff) are from somewhere else and most likely will return or move on no matter the election cycle.

        see you tomorrow on Tom's, I'll be hiding behind the RT posting and reading later.

        1. re: hill food

          And also some people like more snarky, my brothers girlfriend works at a busy bar in Adams Morgan and she says that she gets much bigger tips when she is straight with people and lets more of her CA attitude out, along the lines of ok I am not coming back for each of your bar orders are you ready now or am I coming back, type of thing... so I think it takes all kinds.

          But it is hard to find good help. Those who stay.

          1. re: ktmoomau

            wow kt you called that right, I would have guessed maybe 30 more minutes. and FTR I don't mind the snark and when it reaches the level of operatic it can be the highlight of the night (as long as I get served)

            OP: bad service is everywhere, no one place or city has a monopoly. sadly the good ones just don't get the praise.

          2. re: hill food

            I didn't know it was a faux pas. Seems every restaurant review has service comparisons.....

            My mistake.

        2. I've had good service in DC, bad service in LA, and everything everywhere in between. I would love to say that one city has better service than another, but that is just not the case. Every city has a variety.

          And DC is not really considered southern. It might be south of the Mason Dixon line, but most of the people who live there are from other parts of the US and other countries. To experience real southern hospitality, go at least 4 hours south of DC.

          6 Replies
          1. re: mojoeater

            as a DC resident: really just 4 hours outside of our heads will do.

            1. re: hill food

              As a Yankee who once lived in DC, I thought it Southern, but saw it as all of the slow, but none of the hospitality. (Sorry, but I do move at speeds considered 'too fast' for the West Coast and the South, but 'just right' for NYC and Boston.)

              I also found that the service was weak-- although I can't speak for the upscale places. I went only a few times and admit I was really pleased by the treatment there, unless I was in a group of all women when the service was noticeably worse than when I was at the same place with a man at the table.

              But for the mid-range spots, I found service overwhelmingly mediocre. Slow and indifferent as a general rule. And no, I'm not a person who demands that every desire be anticipated, imagined, and met for me or I want a refund-- I just wasn't impressed.

              That said, I've not ever felt the same about NYC. I think the service there is better-- maybe not effusive, but efficient. But maybe my standards shifted because food at the mid-range level was actually cheaper. (If that makes sense-- I need to get back to the work I was avoiding so can't take time to edit and explain myself better.)

              1. re: Lizard

                LIzard, I get what you mean.

                a quote attributed to JFK re DC (are those enough abbreviations?):

                "all the charm of a Northern city and all the efficiency of a Southern"

            2. re: mojoeater

              I'm from Texas, and I never considered DC south in any way. It's very East Coast to me.

              1. re: WestIndianArchie

                answer: none of the above. it is it's own beast.

                I refer to it as upside-down land. as examples, hotel rooms are cheaper on the weekend. in most cities the prime tables are front and center, here they're the ones in the back near the kitchen.

                1. re: WestIndianArchie

                  I grew up in MD/WV with parents from VA and I don't consider Texas the south! I consider it it's own beast, or southwest. Although I know many Texans also consider themselves Southerners. While I think on the whole most of MD and VA are Southern, DC and Balt are not very southern to me at all. But I like that. DC people come from all over which is why I we don't have any distinctive cuisine or attitudes, etc. We are not friendly like Southerners we won't just talk to you, but we aren't as fast paced as New Yorkers. We are all about an image, yet, what the image is depends on the person. It is just a national jumble. I think our service tends to reflect that. People aren't going to talk to you a lot like they would in the South, but they tend to not have a snarky attitude either. It's just a mix.

              2. This thread surprises me very much as my daughter and son-in-law live in Arlington, so I've had occasion to eat at a number of DC restaurants. I'm having trouble thinking of one which was below par. The best, alas, Gabriel, which used to be in DuPont Circle is no more. However, last weekend I had a warm and wonderful welcome at Firefly where Sergio went above and beyond by his thorough knowledge and delightful descriptions of the dishes. On Sunday at Marcel's I had a quite different, but equally pleasing experience, at a more formal French restaurant where the charming staff worked apparently effortlessly as we dined. They didn't miss a beat.

                PS I grew up in Brooklyn, have traveled in the US and overseas, and am a long time Philadelphia resident.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Seeker19104

                  never had a bad experience at Firefly - great space and staff (have only had bar nibbles which were good)

                  sadly in DC there's little middle ground, high-end usu. good food and service, Mom+Pop usu. good food and service.

                  everything else, well..."you pays your money, you takes your chances"