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Jul 20, 2008 10:52 AM

Beware when the Waiter asks "Have you been here before?"

So we were at BLT Steak on Sunset recently and our waiter asked us if we had been here before. we answered truthfully that we had not -- and now regret it.

What we got were two very ordinary steaks -- a Ribeye and a New York Strip -- and I'm sorry but for $45 a shot that just doesn't compute. When you spend $45 you should get something that's at least "good" not "ordinary." The meat was not very flavorful, not exceptionally tender, and halfway through i just stopped eating it -- why waste lots of calories on something that's not satisfying?

Which made me wonder -- did the waiter's initial question land us in the place where we would not be getting top food for the dollar?

Now I recognize high end places stay afloat by treating regulars well. They're the ones who come back a few times a month and drop a big wad. But it also means the one and done crowd get inferior treatment. So folks like us, who like trying lots of new places as well as returning to old favorites don't get the best treatment. And I'm wondering if that's happened to others at various restaurants around town.

The rest of our meal at BLT Steak was pretty good. The sides were excellent, the desserts were very good, salads, wine, all that were acceptable. But let's face it -- you go to a steakhouse for a good steak. And we sure didn't get that at BLT.

Future tip -- when the waiter asks that key question, don't be so quick with the honest response. You may pay for it in the end.

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  1. How would they know you are just "one and done". You would think they would make sure your first experience is amazing so you would want to return. I know some restaurants identify first timers and try extra hard with them, therefore building their "regulars". The cooks do not have 2 piles of meat, either a batch is good or bad, they may have gotten some average meat. Let them know, if enough people complain, they will tell their meat company.

    1. i seriously doubt they downgraded your meal because it was your 1st time. i would expect just the opposite - if a business survives or regulars - and restaurants do - it behooves them to make you come back again

      1. That's sort of ridiculous. There have been tons of negative reports preceding your visit.

        It's a trendy spot that's part of a chain...what did you expect? The wait staff are supposed to ask that question, which is usually followed by an offer of more information or an extra attempt to make you feel welcome.

        1. Usually, when it's my first time @ a restaurant, I've gotten free desserts....

          1. I don't think your bad meal has anything to do with you not being there before. When I've been asked that question and have answered no, some waiters explain how the menu is set up, recommend some dishes, etc. I don't believe anybody has given me an inferior meal just because I'm not a regular.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              at nobu, for example, they ask, because they have a standard omakase (tho that isnt really omakase anymore, is it?) they give to first timers, to give a full taste of their signature dishes at that time. if you have been there before, they will feel freer to deviate from that

              1. re: thew

                Yup. I've gotten that at Nobu as well. There are tons of reasons why a restaurant may ask if it's your first time.

                And I do think it's always a good thing to be honest with a restaurant -- or with anything for that matter. Look at Robert Irvine.

              2. re: Miss Needle

                Yes, but the diners in the OP were having steaks at a steakhouse in the US. How much menu 'splaining could there possibly be under those circumstances?

                I can see the waitron inquiring if one is dining at a restaurant that offers multi-item and multi-course meal options (the example of a Japanese restaurant given below, or a tasting menu) for the first time: but at a steakhouse?

                1. re: mrbozo

                  As I haven't eaten at BLT Steak, I can't coment on how the menu and the restaurant is set up.

                  But ... what about something on the lines of:

                  "Our appetizers and sides are large enough to be shared. If you haven't dined with us before, I would highly recommend the tuna tartare. Our signature steak is the rib-eye. It's dry-aged for 2 weeks. As you can see, you have a wide assortment of sauces you can choose from. The price includes one sauce. If you want more, they are $3 for each sauce you choose. I'd highly recommend the BBQ sauce which we also sell for $9 a bottle so you can enjoy it at home as well. And I would highly recommend our famous _______ dessert to top off the night."

                  The above is purely hypothetical. But my point is that there are many reasons why the waitstaff may want to know if the patron has been here before. It doesn't only have to be at restaurants where you have tasting menus, etc.

                  1. re: mrbozo

                    I haven't been to this particular steakhouse; but I can imagine that some places include all of the sides in the price listed next to the cut of meat and that would be good information to have. Other places might price things differently. Some places might like to go over their definitions of "rare" and "medium" or what have you.

                    If such a restaurant trained their waitstaff to simply hold forth with a set of information about how the menu is set up or how they cook their steak for every table, there would be threads complaining about "why do we have to listen to this every time?" The restaurant is attempting to ascertain what information they need to give to the diner.

                    We're really working hard here to analyze a very simple question that, ultimately, most everyone seems to agree had absolutely nothing to do with the OP's unfortunately disappointing meal.

                    1. re: mrbozo

                      "Yes, but the diners in the OP were having steaks at a steakhouse in the US. How much menu 'splaining could there possibly be under those circumstances?"

                      Visit any Arnie Morton's Steakhouse and you will never ask that question again. Your waiter comes and does an incredible dog and pony show with a cart full of raw steaks, raw vegetables and a live lobster - who they have trained to do the lambada across your table - (some hyperbole may have been added in to that last part strictly for entertainment purposes). I waive them off as best I can when they come to take my drink order. If I wanted a "floor show" I would spend more time in Las Vegas.

                      1. re: mrbozo

                        oh my gosh, the steakhouse we go to, you can pick your own cut of beef out. And there are three different weights, which I was glad to hear my first visit. Sometimes they have other entrees other than steak to offer, so that's another reason. In my mind, it's really great that they ask that question
                        It's a door opener is all, the customer is now able to persue with their questions if they have any. I don't always remember everything on the menu and also restaurants change things.

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          Thanks to all for the edumacational replies. However, the OP did not mention having been presented at tableside a selection of various cuts of beef from which to choose his steak. It sounds as if he ordered from a printed menu. More info from the OP on the chain of events that led to the substandard meal would be helpful.

                          1. re: mrbozo

                            Oh, Morton's Steakhouse gives you a printed menu to order from. Their "floor show" is an extra added "benefit," provided completely free of charge. My point is, not all steakhouses are free of copious amounts of "splaining," Lucy.