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Aug 7, 2008 12:38 PM

Is good sushi worth bad service?

This morning I am struggling with this very question, and have decided that when it comes to Chicago, there are plenty of fish in the sea!

Last night I had an unfortunate run in with the manager at Bob San. First, let me preface this story by saying my wife and I have dined there multiple times, and enjoy sushi probably once a week. However, we will not be going back.

It all began one week ago when I ordered a bottle of Saki, and then only drank one glass of it. I thought I could simply take it home with me. However, it turns out Bob San doesn't allow its customers to leave with sealed bottles of alcohol, like other restaurants. Details aside, the manager agreed to begrudgingly save the bottle "for seven days." No more, no less. And, if my wife and I wanted to dine within that allotted period of time, the bottle would be on ice for us.

Based on this compromise, we decided to enjoy another meal at Bob San five days later. We had appetizers, salads, oyster shooters, sashimi and a variety of rolls. And, the manager had kept her word. The Saki was waiting for me. I had two glasses, but of course could not finish the bottle. Good thing I had two more days, right? Not exactly. The manager - who is a bit lacking in interpersonal skills - came over and disappointedly berated me for not finishing the Saki. She then revisited how lucky I was that she had made an exception in the first place. And, that she would never do this for me again. Regardless, I told her that I'm just living up to the agreement, and that I have two more days to enjoy my Saki. In fact, my wife and I were going to stop by on Friday (that would have been our third visit in one week!). Instead, the manager stormed off with the bottle.

Beside myself, I paid the check (it was our server's first night, and she did a lovely job). On the way out, I saw the manager holding my bottle of Saki and talking to another server about it. I interjected and told her to throw the bottle away. Being scolded in public for not finishing my bottle, like a little child, wasn't worth the $30 I paid for it. I also explained that because of her rude display of "customer service" we would not be dining with Bob San again. It's really a shame because the sushi is very good. And, this was an opportunity for the manager to establish a relationship that could have yielded several incremental visits. In fact, had it been handled correctly, we would have dined there three times in one week! Talk about Return on Investment.

Instead, like many passionate diners, I'm taking my story to the blogosphere and sharing it with my friends who also live in the area. Do I feel like I'll miss out on Bon San sushi? Not really.

Does anyone else agree that good sushi isn't worth bad service?

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  1. Is it the default practice in Chicago to seal bottles of wine to go?

    I wasn't there to witness the interaction, but the manager might have thought you were trying to wind her up on the second visit. Why would you even want to drink a bottle of sake over three visits? It sounds like an incredible amount of fuss for a $30 bottle.

    3 Replies
    1. re: bibi rose

      Normally it is the common practice, but for some reason they wouldn't seal it for me. That's how this whole thing got started. Totally all about the principle, not the $30. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. re: sternm1

        Although I don't necessarily agree with your thinking about drinking a bottle of sake over the course of 3 days, you're well within your rights to not go back to the restaurant. Again, I obviously wasn't there to see this, but from what you describe, you were very cordial and the manager was extremely rude.

        I do understand her point that maybe it's not common to keep a bottle like that, but how big of a problem could it have caused to simply keep the bottle somewhere for a week? If you didn't come in, then oh well, she could just throw away the bottle, but like you said, you not only came in again, but you were going to come in for a third time. 3 visits in one week is definitely worth the hassle of keeping the bottle.

        I would suggest contacting the owner of the restaurant somehow. I can almost guarantee that he/she would be apalled at the manager's behavior especially if you tell the owner that you won't be frequenting the restaurant anymore.

        Some managers think like owners and some managers just punch a clock. Obviously this manager does not think like an owner or else she would have been more accomodating to you.

        1. re: whoopdido

          Good call. Thanks for your post!

    2. Doesn't seem like too much to ask, particularly for a regular customer. The customer isn't ALWAYS right, but he or she is usually right. How much work is it to seal the bottle and put your name on it? Heck, it even guarantees you'll be back.

      I have no idea what the legalities of a bottle to go are, but you paid for it, it's yours.

      I'd call and ask why this was such a big deal. Perhaps there's a reason, but my guess is the manager had never run into that situation before and had no idea what to do. But she should know enough about the restaurant business to send you away happy.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Pete Oldtown

        There is another side to this story. There are restrictions on liquor licenses in Chicago and it's altogether likely his was limited to consumption on premises, not retail sale. If it were me, I'd be leery of sending a customer home with an open bottle. His liability insurance probably restricts it as well, and even if it doesn't that's a grey area that he may not want to get into. As for why not store it for a "regular" customer? Again, it opens him up to a headache that he didn't get into business for. Now he has to make sure the bottle is supervised and secured and nobody accidentally pours a drink from it or uses it for cooking or the customer complains that it "tastes funny" or whatever. While the customer may always "be right", not every request is reasonable.

        1. re: ferret

          No, there's some new-ish regulation in Illinois that you can bring an opened bottle home if it's sealed up in some particular way. He may not have had the official sealing materials, or been unaware of the law.

          1. re: ferret

            Indeed, and I am certainly not discouraged to be eating there next week!

        2. B san is one of my favorite sushi joints in the city. It's not spectacular, but they do offer some pretty good stuff. I can totally see, however, why a member of the mgt team
          just wouldn't give a rat's butt about your issue. They have a bustling business to take care of, and trying to keep a 30.00 bottle of sake that two ppl couldn't finish might just be a bigger hassle than you think. Sometimes, establishing a relationship that would yield several incremental visits is not worth the hassle of the incremental visits judging on the hassle from the first visit. I would rather establish a relationship like that with customers who don't need this kind of service (if it poses some kind of problem that you don't know about - legal, logistics, etc.)

          Now, I'm not saying that this was handled well, because there are three sides to every story. I might have handled it completely differently if I was the B San mgr. My first reaction, might have been to take the time to explain why (even if it was a lie) of why the resto could not keep the btl or send it home with you. Now, I usually will be completely honest with ppl, but that would depend on your demeanor as well. If you were being one of the "customer is always right/holier than thou" dime a dozen ppl, then all bets are off, as a lot of resto workers will attest to. Not worth the effort in most cases - since they are looking for a personal slave to boss around, and not a meal with their dining partners. But anyway, if you were a normal person, and I didn't know what the reason was that the owner did not want to package booze to go, or hold open booze, then I would simply admit that I didn't know, BUT, I would refund a portion of the charge, and you know what? I would sit down next to you, and take the $ out of my own pocket while explaining this to you. Then, I'd ask for a number I could reach you at, and after I spoke with the owner, and got the reason, I'd let you know. But, that's me. Again, I'm not saying this was handled properly, but in the resto biz, you really see a lot of yahoos day in, and day out, and even though you might not be one of them in the slightest, when you deal with a good amount of them, sometimes, it's really just not worth the hassle whether you think you are worth the hassle or not. Especially if you have a proven method of business, and core clientelle. I do think, however, that no REAL explanation for a 30.00 bottle of sake was a little short-sighted if two people were having a normal conversation about it. There are other spots as good as Bob San, maybe time to find a new haunt if this sticks in your craw? There are a few BYOB sushi joints that you could bring/take your own bottle to, and re-use it as many times as you want. Although I have never had an issue with service (other than the servers being somewhat indifferent,) I would try another joint if I were you. Bob San is definitely not the only good sushi bar in town. It is one of my favorite spots to sit at the sushi bar, and get simple nigiri, sashimi and maki, but it would be no big loss if I never went again.

          1. I would have to say - no! I had a run-in with the owner of Mirai sushi, and though I do think that the food there is very good, I have never gone back and have made people I'm dining with change reservations to go elsewhere. She was so incredibly rude and, frankly, borderline insane, that thinking about it still makes me angry - and it was three years ago! There are plenty of other sushi places out there, don't go back to one that makes you unhappy.