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Apr 2, 2009 07:22 PM

Perturbed at Le Bernardin

Bad experience with LB - made a reservation for four people about three weeks ago, called tonight to confirm and was told on that call that our 6pm table HAD to be vacated by 8pm, that we would not be allowed to have a tasting menu. When we objected and responded that it was quite rude to stipulate such a duration for such a meal we were told by the reservationist snappily that it would be "rude of us to hold up a table", even though our meal has preconditions that were undisclosed until a day prior to this meal. We are not lingerers, and it isn't that we were that interested in sitting around the dining room for 3 hours+, but to go into a special meal at a place like that with no option for the tasting menu and a mandate that came 24 hours prior to dining we are quite turned off. We've eaten at LB twice previously and had wonderful experiences, but this seems particularly, well, rude. Realizing that LB may be somewhat protected from the economy by their reputation (and quality), it still feels off considering that they are alienating a repeat customer willing to spend $135 per person (basis) in the midst of a recession.

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  1. Wow, that's pretty rude, especially for the amount of money you would be spending. Are you still going to go? Maybe for now they are protected from the economy because of their reputation and quality, but if this is a regular way they treat customers, I can't see how they could stay in business.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Suburban Girl

      No, we will not be going. Very disappointing - as I mentioned my wife and I have been twice for special occasions and had nothing but a great, delicious, pampered time. We are quite taken aback by the change in tone and basic lack of politeness.

      1. re: andyb1068

        I think you are making a good choice not to go. You have to vote with your dollar, as they say. How dissappointing though, that you were looking forward to it. I don't get exactly get what a tasting menu is, but I don't think it takes longer, does it? Also, it's been a long time since I worked in restaurant, but if someone overstays their welcome, there are gentle ways of letting them know and getting them to leave. It's not a good idea to be a jerk to them before they even get to the restaurant - that has predictable results.

        1. re: Suburban Girl

          Suburban Girl. would you please share some of the gentle ways to let people know they are overstaying.

          1. re: phantomdoc

            from where I used to work we'd go along the lines of:

            "Would you like to have coffee at the bar?"

            Sometimes we'd even go so far as: "We'd like to buy you a drink at the bar if you'd help us accommodate some of our guests"

            They appreciate it, they get the clue, they feel they're part of the success in the restaurant and they get free booze if needed.

            1. re: jecolicious

              That is a very cool way to urge vacation from the table.
              I thought that most methods would be insulting.
              What if they ordered the coffee or after dinner drink at the table, not taking the hint?

              1. re: phantomdoc

                After the bill has been paid, the waiter can:

                -Strip the table of virtually everything, which is a pretty clear indication
                -Offer more coffee/water, which prompts guests to make a decision to stay or leave
                -If the guests are still lingering, return once the table has been stripped and ask if there will be anything else
                -As a last ditch effort, ask if the guests would like the valet to ready their cars

                These are things I've done in the past. They've worked well.

              2. re: jecolicious


                anecdote: a very long time ago (senior year in college) my best friend and i went to Gotham Bar and Grill for our mutual birthday celebration...we loved the place and ordered a full meal with many courses, dessert, etc...but we had stayed a very long time and they needed the table (this was probably at the height of Gotham's popularity)...the manager came over and chatted with us in a general way, accepting compliments about how much we liked the food, etc and then offered to buy us each a cognac at the bar: she not only treated us to the drink but also stayed and hung out for a few minutes and was amazingly charming...

                i know this example is extreme in its conviviality, but for two 22-yr-old guy customers, it was the exact perfect way to clear the table...we left there raving about the food and the charm and the nice digestif (and we tipped extremely well as a thank you for the hospitality, good vibe, and free brandy)...

                i'm not saying restaurants need to offer freebies, nor be over the top gracious the way the manager at Gotham was...but it's a sad state of things when places like LB start kicking customers out before they've even walked in the door...and i think the disparity between the way customers are often treated in NYC vs. the way they are treated in polite cities like, say, Vancouver, is pretty huge...

              3. re: phantomdoc

                I'm not suggesting that this is a subtle or good way to indicate that tables should vacate (and, indeed, this applies more to the restaurant shutting down as opposed to turning a specific table), but a friend and I were musing the other day over what we call the "get the f*** out" music. That is, cranking up off-putting music to Volume 89 on the dial.

                1. re: ulterior epicure

                  Aack!!! Who let you in on my secret weapon?? When I had my restaurant, we'd sometimes have to resort to the "gtfo" music to pry the clueless lingerers out of their seats. My fave was to put on Teena Marie doing "Square Biz" (whose first lyric is "EVERYBODY GET UP!!"), this, after much Sarah, Ella, Miles, Dizzy, etc. Never failed to clear the room, and the waiters and bussers loved that song!!! adam

                  1. re: adamshoe

                    Um, "Square Biz" is a little more subtle than "HIT THE ROAD JACK," which I have personally been accosted by at one late night eatery. In case you think I was one of THOSE diners who permanently ensconce themselves past their welcome, there happened to be at least ten other couples/parties in the restaurant. I think the staff was just wanting an early night.

                    1. re: adamshoe

                      And, really, adamshoe, it's not a secret. Anybody who dines out regularly has encountered the "gtfo" music.

                      1. re: ulterior epicure

                        You guys are cracking me up! I'm not sure the "gtfo"-bomb is one that the public should even be aware of, but since we're sharing secrets here . . .

                        - The "gtfo" tactic should only be used when you're at least 30 minutes past closing and any remaining guests have finished their meals.

                        - At 35 minutes after closing, the music is turned up two clicks.

                        - At 40 minutes (no sooner!), the music is turned up another two clicks.

                        - Repeat, as necessary, every five minutes until the guests decamp.

                        - At 60 minutes past closing, switch tracks to some really LOUD symphony (anything with lots of kettle drums will do - I've got a specific playlist, but it's only got three pieces on it, as I've never needed more than that). Classical music is perceived as more respectful than rap or dance tunes, but the message is clear -- It inspires you to march!

                        Disclaimer: I do kind of like it when my guests are so comfortable that they don't want to leave. That's why the "gtfo" plan, when implemented, is incremental.

          2. that sounds awful...personally, if that happened i would cancel my reservation and then write an email to the management expressing displeasure...

            1. If you were a walk-in and they were trying to accommodate you, that would be perfectly acceptable. If the 2 hour time limit had been mentioned to you at the time of the reservation - when you could still decide whether or not you were ok with it - it would be reasonably acceptable. But what you describe strikes me as inexcusable. I've only been to Le Bernardin once, and the service was terrific. Maybe this is just one surly reservationist? I would definitely contact the management. Who the hell are you being evacuated to make way for?

              1. We faced almost the same situation many moons ago when my husband and I reserved for just the two of us at Lutece. I said "almost" because unlike you, we were informed at the time we called about the time constraints. Tasting menus were not served in those days, and two hours seemed more than enough for the two of us to have three courses, so we aquiesced. But to be honest, I would not do the same now. As it turned out, the experience was quite disappointing, though that was not because we were rushed in any way. Rather, the meal didn't live up to all the praise Soltner's cuisine garnered.

                As I said, I have a different view of this kind of treatment now. I feel strongly that a restaurant of Le Bernardin's caliber should be able to figure out how to time table turnings so that early diners can have any menu they desire and not be rushed out.

                Were I in your shoes, I'd tell them to take their reservation and stick it where the sun don't shine, and I'd take my money and go somewhere else.

                1 Reply
                1. re: RGR

                  Similarly, both times I have reserved at Corton, when making the reservation, I was told until what time I could have my table (because the table was booked again at a later hour.) And in one case the allotted time was less than two hours. I find it off putting, and noticed I was concerned whether we were on pace to give them their table back on time, taking away from what should have been a relaxing (and not inexpensive) dining experience. Turning tables is the restaurant’s business, not mine. If a customer lingers, take care of the situation when it happens, but dealing with lingering preemptively in this manner, assuming every early table will linger, sets a very unwelcoming tone.

                2. I think that's so unacceptable to be that snappy and rude to a customer whether it's McDonald's or LB. It's just a shame that a restaurant can work so hard to get to the reputation/caliber as LB and some $10/hr snooty reservationist just lost $800 (+ future visit rev) in a heartbeat.