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Mar 21, 2009 03:59 AM

Marlowe & Sons — Unhappy Experience

My wife and I stopped in at Marlowe & Sons around noon a couple of Saturdays ago to have some lunch/brunch. First visit. We'd passed the place many times, read so many good things about it, now we wanted to try it out.

M&S operates in a very small space. No one was sitting at the outside tables as it was too cold that day, and the front room (the store) was bustling and busy. We went into the back room (the dining room), and were lucky enough to snare a table that was just being vacated. The place was crowded.

So we sat at the table, which had the remains of the previous diners — plates, coffee cups, napkins, etc. We stacked them up just to have a little elbow room.

And we sat. And sat. And sat. There seemed to be employees coming in and out of what must have been the kitchen, and every once in a while one of them would even glance at our table, but no one came over to remove the pile of used dishes. They were standing and chatting with each other, and they had to pass our table to go back into the kitchen, but it was like we weren't there.

It seemed like other diners were going out to the front (the store) and purchasing items at the counter, and then carrying them back and eating them at the tables. But we didn't know if this was how things were done, and we certainly didn't know what to do about the dirty dishes on the table.

So, after about 15 minutes, we gave up and left. We were not interested in a self-service brunch, and there certainly was no other service that we could see while we were there.

Decidedly odd experience...

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  1. BrookBoy
    "It seemed like other diners were going out to the front (the store) and purchasing items at the counter, and then carrying them back and eating them at the tables"
    I've never been there so I'm not defending the staff but is it possible they saw you moving the empty dishes and mistakenly thought you had already picked up food and the dishes were yours?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Tay

      I don't think so. We came in, waited at the table until the previous occupants left, took off our coats, sat down and stacked the dishes, and started waiting.

      The thing about the people buying stuff at the store and carrying it back to the restaurant is that nothing I've ever read about the place mentioned that. Of the posts and other review I've read, many mentioned service, so we assumed that they provide service.

      It is possible that they do not provide service at brunch, that the place is self-service (like, say, Starbucks), but there is nothing to indicate that, either. The fact that we never got any service meant also that we did not get any menus, so we had nothing to guide us.

      Probably the best thing would have been to ask someone else what the protocol was, but by the time we got to that stage, we had pretty much decided to try somewhere else for brunch, so we went to Dumont Burger, where we had a pair of really great burgers, and where we did not feel at all out of place.

      My wife and I made a pact quite a while ago that we would not be shy about leaving any restaurant immediately if we had not ordered anything and we had the feeling that it would be a mistake to stay. That was how we felt, so we left.

      1. re: BrookBoy

        your last graf is something people should read -- indeed, something that should be hung in the chowhound hallways. right on!

        1. re: BrookBoy

          I agree that the "counter-service plus tables" format can be confusing and annoying. The protocol is often that you *are* supposed to be waited on, except you will indeed be waited on in a very casual and indifferent way.

          Personally, I'm always frustrated that I'm not supposed to walk up to the counter and just ask for what I want. I have to wait and tell it to somebody who will then walk a few feet and relay my request, and then wait for her to deliver it. Then (the worst) wait endlessly for a check. And for this I'm supposed to tip.

          However, this is a pretty common format, and this is generally how it goes. I wouldn't take it personally. If you do become familiar with one of these weird, quasi-dysfunctional places you learn what to expect (i.e. not much) and how to give it a little prod when you need to.

          (In your case, going up to the counter and asking "do I order here or is it table-service? Who is our waitress?" would have been nice and assertive.)

      2. FYI M&S don't serve brunch. It's cafe style until dinner service. The people you saw got food in the front and sit in the back and eat in if they so choose. I would have just taken the dishes to the front, or given them to a bus boy, ordered a coffee and picked out a scone and brought it to my table.I wouldn't knock the place, it's good food. I mean no disrespect, but you should have simply asked to find out if you were confused (or do some research beforehand if you want a brunch experience). Knocking it on CH seems unfair.

        M&S have the best coffee and breads sold from the front of the store. If hey have the pizza (slices) available, I highly recommend it. It never lasts long, it's so good.

        6 Replies
        1. re: malibu

          "but you should have simply asked to find out if you were confused (or do some research beforehand if you want a brunch experience). Knocking it on CH seems unfair."

          I would respectfully disagree. The OP was merely relating his experience for the benefit of other 'Hounds who might well find themselves in the same confusing situation. Although many locals may be familiar with the way it's done there, no one should just be expected to know. Some posted instructions would be a much more hospitable (and good sense) way to go. It is, after all, a, for profit business and it should be run that way. Having great coffee/bread does not exempt them from having an intelligently run business.

          1. re: Tay

            Everytime I've been to Marlow on a weekend day it's been pretty obvious. I go there to get coffee before going next door to Diner. They just don't serve brunch! Nor do they serve lunch on any other day. It's both a restaurant and "General Store". I understand that BrookBoy was confused, and I have sympathy, but the title of the thread implies a negative review of the restaurant, which this is not.

            Maybe my opinion is skewed because I've never seen it crowded on a weekend morning.

            1. re: apossibleworld

              thank you, APW for saying what I meant, in a much more eloquent way.

              BBoy, I would give it another chance. Their website says "brunch coming soon" so maybe you can try again when they get it up and running. I solidly recommend dinner at M&S as well. I don't care for the 'cramped quarters'- it is very tight in there, but their selection of cheeses, wines and oysters seriously can't be beat. Their food philosophy is also something I subscribe to. I'm not a heavy meat eater, but their 'whole animal concept' is something I hope to see more restaurants follow. Here's an informative interview about a former chef:


              1. re: apossibleworld

                "the title of the thread implies a negative review of the restaurant, which this is not"
                Actually, to some degree, it is. It's not always the food that is the source of dissatisfaction, as evidenced by the posting.
                I can understand what you're saying, but if the OP and his wife just sat there and no one on the staff bothered to so much as clear away the previous occupant's dirty plates/cups, I'd say that qualifies as an "unhappy experience." What might have been "pretty obvious" to you as a regular customer was apparently not so obvious to a newcomer. :-).

            2. re: malibu

              HI Malibu,

              Thanks for your reply.

              I don't think I was knocking the place so much as relating our experience there. It may be common knowledge to many that M&S is cafe style until dinner, but it wasn't to my wife and me. As far as doing research, I thought we had. We have read about it online on a number of different sites, gathered as much info as we could, and stll did not know the routine for daily service. It certainly isn't made clear on their own website.

              A simple chalkboard message on the wall stating their policy would have worked for us.

              Re the dishes on the table, we did not know it was the routine to take them to the busboys. We had expected the busboys to actually visit the table to remove them.

              If you view my post as a knock, then I suppose it is. From my perspective, it was relating our experience at M&S and how we felt about it. Isn't that one of the aims of this site?

              1. re: BrookBoy

                The restaurant Diner, next door, serves brunch (and lunch), and there is often a wait for tables. Especially when it's cold, people frequently wait inside Marlow & Sons for a table at Diner to open up after putting their name on the list. Not to speculate on motives, but I think it's highly likely that the staff at M&S may have just thought you guys were waiting on a table next door. Sorry you were confused, but I think the M&S staff may also have made the honest mistake of misinterpreting what you were doing. I suggest you give the place another shot, whether for dinner, or to get one of their delicious take-out sandwiches from the counter during daytime hours. Also, the brunch next door at Diner is great.

            3. It's on the 4/09 Saveur magazine's list of Restaurant That Matter...

              1. It's a little unfortunate the place did not have a printed policy, but why in the world didn't you think to ask or stop a server for some information if things seemed off? You might have solved a problem in a fraction of the time it's taken to post this, and at much less agita.