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Jan 4, 2009 11:34 AM

Thoughts on service before you even get to your table...

Small details make a difference from a good experience and a great experience.

I made a last minute reservation on Open Table at a restaurant in Berkeley we'd been to before, Cafe Venezia. We arrived @ 25 min early and were told by the hostess that since we were early, could we please wait a few min.

Fine. The restaurant had at least several open tables and people were waiting, so that is understandable. We sat at the bar--very small space and well within eyesight of the hostess stand. We had mixed drinks, mine a cosmo which the bartender had a little left over. Would've been nice if he would've topped off my drink, which plenty of bartenders do, but this one did not.

That's okay. By this time the waiting area had cleared out, leaving us the only ones in the bar/waiting area. We finished our drinks and it was now 10 min. past our reservation time as I approached the hostess stand.. We finally got seated at a nice window table and had a fine meal served by a good waiter and staff.

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  1. Even though this happened to you in Berkeley, this post is probably more appropriate for the Not About Food Board.

    I think the point of your post was to show how this restaurant failed to offer great service - which it seems like they did - and it's interesting to think about how impressions right at the beginning of a meal can affect your overall experience. So it's a good topic - but since you don't talk about the food at all, it's a topic better suited for "Not About Food"

    You should continue the post here if you can elaborate on the food - i.e. what did you eat? how was the cosmo?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave MP

      Although the original post does fail to talk about food, I find that bad service often colors how I feel about food. I went to Charles Nob Hill during its prime, and we had to wait for over an hour after our reservation time and were offered nothing in compensation. When I got in, I was so angry about it that I have no idea what I ate. All I can tell you is that I thought the food was awful because nothing would taste good at that point.

      On the other hand, I went to Campton Place a number of years ago, we had to wait about an hour, they gave us a bottle of champagne (champagne, not American sparkling wine, even asked and I said Cliquot, which they gave us), and a free meal at a later date, which included the wine I expected to pay for. I probably thought the food far better than it was because I felt like I was being treated well. I still think the fries at Campton Place, which I have in the bar with a drink occasionally, are far better than the fries anywhere else and it probably has more to do with the warm feeling I get there than the specific taste of the fries.

      To a great extent, our reaction to food is psychological, but I do not miss the point that the original post didn't reference eating or drinking.

    2. I'm not really seeing what the problems with the service was.

      1. Not seating you 25 min. early? You don't know if the other people waiting were there for reservations even earlier than yours.

      2. Not topping off your Cosmo? A lot of people would consider this an intrusion. As you said, some bartenders do it. I've noticed it's the more casual places that do so.

      3. Not coming to get you from the bar at your reservation time? Again, this sounds like a courtesy. The hostess waited for you to finish your drinks in the bar and come back to claim your table rather than interrupt you and make you leave the bar to claim your table on time.

      Maybe I'm missing something but I don't see the bad service there.

      8 Replies
      1. re: taos

        "Not topping off your Cosmo? A lot of people would consider this an intrusion..."

        I am not certain what you mean by an "intrusion?" Do you mean that a person who is drinking would not want the bartender to top off their drink because it would break their concentration? I have always (and still do) see this as a very friendly and generous act on the part of the bartender. I don't think that I would see it as an "intrusion" under any circumstances.

        1. re: Servorg

          If I ordered a Cosmo (Martini, etc. -- some shaken drink), and then at some point half-way through the drink, the bartender comes over and pours more from his/her shaker into the glass, I would consider it a bit weird, yes. At a casual, get drunk after work type place, maybe. But this sounds more like a fine dining place. It's not like refilling a wine glass.

          1. re: taos

            This gets filed under the heading of "no good deed goes unpunished" I guess. By my way of thinking the bartender is comping you in the same way a friendly waiter might give you an appetizer for being a good customer. Different strokes for sure.

            1. re: taos

              The restaurant in question is casual; I definitely would not call it fine dining.

              I have to agree that I don't see it as an intrusion either.

            2. re: Servorg

              i wouldnt think intrusion, but if it is sitting in a shaker full of melting ice... well... i might not want that added to my drink

              1. re: thew

                That's what I was envisioning, Sort of like, "Here let me grab the glass out of your hands in mid-sip and dump the slushy residue from my shaker in there to save me cleaning it up." I have been there, seen that.

            3. re: taos

              I'm don't feel the same about #3. A courtesy would be for the the party to be notified that the table was ready. A greater courtesy would be if they were informed the table was ready and would be held until they were finished with their drinks. The hostess knows that they are probably killing time in the bar, to expect the party to keep walking to the hostess area to check on the wait is poor service.

              1. re: meatn3

                OK, that makes sense. Slight error on the hostess part.

            4. In most fine restaurants, at least in my experience, the host/hostess will tell you that your table is now ready and they will transport your drinks to the table.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Linda VH

                I actually don't like this. I know it's fine service, and I appreciate the courtesy, but I want to finish my drink in the bar, so that when I move to my table I don't have a cocktail glass hanging around while I peruse the wine list.

                I know I'm weird, and I don't expect anyone to agree with me... but if I order a drink in the bar I like to finish it in the bar.

              2. Regarding the drink, all they have to do is ask me. If I've just taken a few sips of my drink and what's in the shaker is still pretty fresh, the bartender can ask me if I'd like it to be topped off.

                Regarding the table, if I've arrived 25 minutes early and choose to wait at the bar, it would behoove me to let the hostess know where I am within a few minutes of my reservation time. I want to only have to do this once. However, if I arrive pretty much on time and I'm forced to wait more than five or ten minutes, I can expect the hostess to be aware of where I am and find me. Most likely, I will be at the bar. Then they can let me know the table is ready and ask if we want to be seated now, or do we need a couple of minutes (certainly not much more if they're busy) to finish our drinks and settle up at the bar. If we've not "almost finished" our drinks, we can be shown to our table and meet our drinks there. I would still want a minute to settle the bar tab to make sure the bartender is properly tipped.

                1. Let's see, you arrived early and asked to wait in the bar and ordered a cosmo, which was delivered and you enjoyed. You were seated within 10 minutes of your reservation at a great table and enjoyed a great meal. And you are looking for comments on two itzy-bitzy minor nits.

                  - You ordered a drink and received a full drink. Sound like a plan, but there was a little left over. Might have been nice but does not move the jfood meter. Bartender has other customers and he delivered what was ordered.
                  - You were seated 10 minutes after reservation. The hostess may have seen you were enjoying your drink and in conversation and you may have not been in a hurry. Sounds like it could be a really good hostess but only you were there to decide. Jfood normally approaches as the time of the reservation gets within a minute or two and asks if it is OK to be seated.

                  So jfood finds that if these things bothered you, gotta relax. None of these even hit the issues list in jfood's opinion.