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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.

                  1. Wow, I am really shocked. Le Bernardin has been my all-time favorite restaurant in NY. While I haven't been in a while I always had an absolutely exquisite meal with impeccable service.

                    I don't plan to return given your experience. It is rather sad if it's just one rotten apple as kim e suggested. But the reservationist's conduct speaks volumes and why take the chance. How sad.

                    1. That's disgusting treatment for a 3* restaurant to which you've previously visited twice in the past. I hope you let them know at the time that they where alienating a repeat customer and I also hope you get in touch with management.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Notorious P.I.G.

                        6 of us tried to go in February for a 40th birthday and their $300 up front... 1 page contract was absoulutely ridiculous.... We went to Daniel had a wonderful experience from the hostess, bartender and the great servers to Daniel who stopped by to ask if everything was ok.. plus no contract and cash up front....

                      2. I am also disturbed that a restaurant of LB's reputation would allow for such conduct from its reservationist. I think that you made the appropriate decision to cancel your reservation. I am not sure who has the responsibility to inform the management of the situation. You certainly could, but, given your experience so far, would you want to make the effort. Do restaurant managers monitor websites like this? I recently had an excellent meal at noca in Phoenix and I know their owner (or chef) has thoughtful replies to postings on Chowhound. I wonder if LB realizes that a website like Chowhound can have a strong effect on its potential customers? At least one other poster on this thread has said he/she won't return given your experience. I have thought about going to LB, but I'm not sure now...

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ChemWork

                          We are certainly going to write a letter. We love the restaurant and would like to go back. I hesitate to blame the reservationist, however rude, since I can't imagine this being anything other than a management-driven policy or directive. But that's the confusing part - for such an amazing restaurant, one at which we have had nothing but tremendous service and zero attitude from anyone, it seems like such an inappropriate policy.

                          And really, in the end, we are talking about probably a half hour, maybe 45 minutes at best here, their refusal to accommodate that is also hard to explain. It's important to write the letter I think, since if it was an anomaly it gives the restaurant a fair chance to respond. If they clarify that this is their policy then that makes any possible decision in the future about returning much easier - we won't go at all.

                          We are very lucky to have found a table a few blocks away at the same time, and we are going to Jean-Georges instead.

                          1. re: andyb1068

                            I'm not so sure that having such a policy is "inappropriate," per se. But to have such a policy and NOT inform you about it at your initial booking was wrong.

                            1. re: andyb1068

                              I'm happy to hear you were able to get a table at Jean Georges with no strings attached.

                              I agree with you that despite the reservationist rudeness, for which there is no excuse, it was not her decision to limit your time at the table. I have my doubts that it is set policy, because if that is the case, why would it not have been mentioned when you originally reserved? Whatever... If/When you hear back from Le Bernardin, I hope you will let us know the result.

                              1. re: RGR

                                UE: I agree - if the policy is disclosed then I don't have a big issue, I would have had the choice to either make or refuse the reservation based on that stipulation that we vacate the table after two hours. I also just looked at both LeB's main website and also their OpenTable page to see if there were disclaimers hidden unbeknownst anywhere, in writing, and I don't see anything at all. The first we learned of this was last night, during the call to confirm.

                                And absolutely, I will post if/when we hear something. Thanks for all the comments.

                          2. My mouth is agape and my head is wagging. As one who has had nothing but the highest regard and the immutably great service from le Bernardin (at least, where the reservation is concerned), I *CRINGE.*

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: ulterior epicure

                              I am surprised that Le Bernardin acted in such a way. I have had the tasting menu many times at early sitting and been out by 8pm. I will take issue, though, at those who say that they will not eat at Le Bernardin because of this event. There is not one restaurant in the world that has a 100% customer satisfaction rating. I like to think that Le Bernardin approaches that lofty goal, as does Jean Georges, and Per Se. I am also sure that if you wrote Ben, the General Manager, you will be pleasantly surprised by his response.

                              1. re: sethd

                                The LeB website shows a different name for the GM...any ideas to whom we should post our letter?

                                1. re: andyb1068

                                  Ben Chekroun, is the Maitre D'. I would write to him.

                                2. re: sethd

                                  Did your early hour tasting dinners take place mid-week or on a Friday or Saturday night? Were you alone or with a party of four? Larger parties take much longer to finish eating than do lone diners. In fact, even without a tasting menu, two hours can be rushing things for a party of four. Most restaurants allocate approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours for parties of two, and from 2-1/2 to 3 hours for parties of four.

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    I am a regular customer at Le Bernardin, having eaten there on average of once a month for the last 8 years. When I eat alone, I usually spend about 2 hours at the restaurant, regardless of the menu that I order. At lunch, it is rare that i am there over 90minutes. I have eaten at dinner as a party or two or three and my dinners have lasted about 3 hours.

                                  2. re: sethd

                                    "There is not one restaurant in the world that has a 100% customer satisfaction rating"

                                    I agree with that 100%! One individuals perception can be vastly different from another.
                                    What if this individual was new? Having a bad day? No longer works there?
                                    There are a lot of facts not in evidence for people to avoid this establishment.
                                    As an aside I was astounded by all of the negative write ups on CH about Rick Bayles's Frontera in Chocago. In spite of several very negative posts we had a fantastic meal and service.
                                    It's always nice to read the experiences of others (good and bad) yet I rarely let that rule my own choices.
                                    No restaurant or individual is perfect.

                                3. Since everyone (including me) seems to be surprised at this event, it makes you wonder if we have the whole story. I somehow doubt it since my experiences with them have been so positive. I'll bet that there is another side to this event that we ar not hearing.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: trouttr

                                    There's no more to the story. Stuff happens. Like someone said earlier, no restaurant is perfect. The restaurant still owes an explanation, which they would not/could not give to us over the phone when we asked why we needed to be done by 8pm. We explicitly asked them on the phone "does this mean we cannot have the tasting menu?" and were told that no, we could not have it.

                                  2. If the 2-hour limit is revealed upon reservation, jfood has no problem with it and normally hits this timeframe easily, as long as the restaurant cooperates as well.

                                    But 24 hours before is a bit unacceptable. The only caveat jfood could think of is if the reservation was made through OpenTable. He has yet to see a "limit" or "restriction" whenever he has made a reservation.

                                    Coincidentally jfood made a reservation at one of his gotta-trys last week through OT. When the restaurant called to confirm the day before he was told that the menu for that night, a Wednesday, was the Special Wine Tasting Only menu. Drats, since jfood does not drink. Jfood had to scurry to find another restaurant.

                                    And if those were the exact words spoken by the reservationist, jfood would have been furious.

                                    1. It sounds like someone is coming in after your table whose money is more important to the restaurant than yours. I would take that message and let them cater to those they think are more important, and they could do without my business. It's this whole VIP type thing that can really sour you on a place and that's what this smacks of to me, also the last-minute notice, which would be classic for a VIP since they expect everyone to say "how high" when they say "jump."

                                      1. I hope that you do write, and receive a satisfactory explanation from the Maitre d'
                                        Also, I hope that when you do that you post back to this board.
                                        Unfortunately (or not) CH doesn't let restaurants reply directly to negative posts (or such was the case under our hero Mr. Jim's reign), so I think it's important that you let us know the conclusion of your gripe w/ LB.
                                        I read Ripert's book and the Maitre d's 129 rules for staff is to never say "no".

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: NYchowcook

                                          We've sent an email, a letter will go out today, we'll update if we hear anything back.