When I read the NY Times review of Camino, I was excited, as were our friends who live in Berkeley. A date was set (last night), reservations were made, and a fast ensued till our dinner.
We were so excited we made sure to get to the restaurant 30 minutes early to test out some of the much touted drinks at the bar - we rated the Gravenstein apple brandy one as top on the list last night.
As our 7:30 reservation approached, we watched the restaurant start to fill up. Ten minutes past our reservation time, still enjoying the drinks and boiled peanuts, our friend went up to speak to the hostess. She said it would be a few more minutes as some slow diners finished up their dessert and she would come get us. Now repeat this same conversation two more times, minus the decent excuse. Each time we went up to the hostess stand, she was sorry but there was nothing she could do. Even as we pointed out empty tables, she said those were for larger parties who were coming in at 8 pm. What?
Finally at 8:10 the manager came up, apologized for the delay, then seated us. We loved our waitress as she guided us through the menu - sheeps milk ricotta with figs and fried eggplant, local marinated sardines, chicken ragu, lamb, albacore. And of course we had dessert; chocolate semifredo along with a pear and almond torte. We devoured both desserts and declared them the evenings winners, although my husband would vote the sardines as #1. The service was a touch slow, but it was also super crowded. The atmosphere at the community dining table was relaxed and not too loud or invasive.
We got our bill which was pretty hefty after drinks, a bottle of wine, appetizers and dessert. But we noticed 2 glasses of wine we were charged for that were not ours. We brought this to the attention of the waitress and she actually said, "Are you sure they're not yours?" Um, yeah, that's why we said they weren't ours. So she took the wine off and gave us the new bill. Her question was like picking the scab off of an old wound.
We wanted to love this restaurant. We even applauded (while others criticize) the limited menu, thinking this would allow the chef/food to really shine. The food was delicious and fresh, not great.
As we discussed the evening on the car ride home we all agreed. Yes, the server questioning our scrutinizing of the bill was a bit insulting. And yes, it would have been nice to get our drinks or dessert comped after our 40 minute wait in the bar. But it was not necessary. What would have made us happy was to see an employee empowered to make a customer's dining experience the best one possible.
Instead of a hostess telling us there is nothing she can do about our 7:30 reservation being missed 3 times, tell us you're going to look into it, tell us you're going to talk to the manager to see what you can do, tell us you care.
With the current state of our economy, dropping $300 on dinner for 4 is not in every person's budget. We are privileged and we recognize this. But if a restaurant wants to survive in this economy, they need to make sure every person on their payroll is vested in the success of the business.
Amen! The lost souls of some restaurants these days is a sad and sore spot in my mind. I've really enjoyed meals based almost entirely on the customer service aspect of the restaurant. Yes, the food was good, but it became great/wonderful/a must go back to, because of the service. And, on the other hand, I've been to many a place where the waitstaff felt that their idea of customer service meant attitude, shortness, and discombobulation turned incredible food into something I'd never crave again.
I was just having a conversation with someone the other day about a restaurant that we both love, and one of the reasons is that when you call for a reservation, they are incredibly friendly and welcoming, even if they're telling you that they're fully booked, it seems like they're genuinely sorry. It's a little thing, but feeling welcome and cared about at a restaurant is the thing that turns good food into a great experience.
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