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(MSP) W.A. Frost - Unhappiest Hour Ever

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I'll preface this by saying I have a pretty high tolerance for awful service. Heck, I even recommend Cafe Maude.

But, yeah, W.A. Frost has been promoting their new happy hour, yesterday was a beautiful day, and patios are good. So I met some former colleagues at W.A. Frost. No big whoop.

Thanks to an almost comical series of encounters with road construction, arrived to find my companions seated, bar menus in hand. I ordered a glass of happy hour chardonnay, and our waiter noted that happy hour was only good in the bar, which was the other side of the patio. We asked if we should move, and he said it was for future reference and that a lot of people were confused.

So I got my happy hour chardonnay, which was predictably awful.

After about 45 minutes, our waiter did the shift change cash out thing. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I wasn't jumping out of my chair for the opportunity to tip him, but we played along.

For the next 20 minutes, we were summarily ignored by the waitstaff. We finally flagged down a waitress, and asked if we could order food. She responded by saying "oh, you came for lunch, but you're staying for dinner?". We had arrived at 4pm.

We then tried to order off the happy hour menu, and were informed of the geographical happy hour distinctions, and that we were not allowed to order from the bar menu at all. The happy side of the patio was full by this time, so we explained our situation, and asked if we could continue to enjoy our happy status. She apologized and impolitely refused, explaining that she doesn't make the rules.

Irate, I asked to speak with the manager. Instead of speaking with us, the manager nodded to the waitress to accommodate our request. This raises all sorts of questions, such as why we were given bar menus when we weren't in the bar, why W.A. Frost cares so greatly which side of the patio you are on, and why their waitstaff is not permitted to make reasonable accommodations in the midst of a largely empty dining space.

The food itself was fine. The wings were very good, the croquettes were very not, the pork belly was peculiar and the fries were fries.

It's a beautiful space. I'll return when a restaurant takes over that isn't staffed by jerks.

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  1. As a happy hour appreciator (ok, tightwad) ill say that expecting first rate service at happy hour isnt advisable: think about it - the combination of busy restaurants and lower prices (read: lower tips) can certainly disincentivize servers (this is not offered as an excuse, but merely an explanation).

    As for the geographical issue, its one ive encountered before and both understandable from the restaurant's end and frustrating as a customer. i think a good rule is to make clear your intentions to order happy hour (though walking into any bar/restaurant at 4 should make that pretty plain) when being seated - were your friends misled when they arrived or simply not told anything at all?

    It does sound like a pretty dreadful experience, but if its not too painfull i would like to hear a bit more about the food (i think that service can be inconsistent, especially when you have an awkward shift change as it appears you did) but bad food is not acceptable. what did you mean by peculiar? Can you describe the fries a bit more?

    1 Reply
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      Well, we were given bar menus, and only bar menus, and my friend always makes a point of ordering a happy hour chardonnay. If the original waiter had just explained that we needed to sit on the other side of the patio, there would have been no problem. It actually looked more comfortable, so I assumed that was the non-happy side.

      Sure, happy hour usually means less tips (though we still spent about $80 between the three of us). But it also means more customers during down times (like, for example, 4-5 in the afternoon on a weekday). And there is no excuse for being unpleasant.

      As for the food, the Asian wings were very solid. The sweet Thai sauce was flavorful and nuanced, and the mint yogurt sauce was a nice counterpoint.

      The pork belly came in fried cubes that looked like tofu, and were smothered in peanut sauce that tasted more like peanut dressing. It was a curious execution.

      The fries are the twice-fried variety, and come with a trio of aiolis, which all tasted the same. Not bad fries, by any means, but for $5, I want something special.

      The shrimp croquettes were burnt, dry and chewy. They were probably just left in the deep fryer for too long, but the flavors weren't particularly compelling.

    2. Urgh. These types of reviews make me so mad. You are right--there is No excuse for rudeness... or the inconsistency (OK to sit there with some wait staff, not OK with others?). If the HA is that confusing for people, the waitstaff should be instructed to explain the situation fully to everyone who walks through the door--not seat you and then say, "by the way, you can't order this or that here."

      I have had similar experiences of being straight up ignored by waitstaff there--FOREVER. And I'm similarly not that picky about service... usually I lose track of time and don't even realize someone hasn't been there to take my order for 30 minutes. WA Frost is so darn lucky to have that gorgeous patio. I don't think anyone would put up with that attitude, the so-so food, or the prices if it wasn't such an awesome environment. I hope they shape up!

      7 Replies
      1. re: midwaygirl

        Kevin, I don't necessarily want to disagree with your review, but I went to WA Frost on Saturday and had a great time.

        I read in a magazine (can't remember which one) that pets are welcome on the patio, so we decided to take our dogs to dinner with us. There aren't many places that allow that, so it was nice to bring the dogs.

        The construction was a bit annoying and honestly I didn't know what to do because I'd never been there before. Since the road was closed I didn't know how to get there, so we just parked a couple blocks away and walked. It was beautiful out so we didn't care, but it would have been nice to know a better way to actually get there.

        We were seated promptly and nobody had any problem with our dogs. In fact, most of the waitstaff made a point to come over and pet them. The space is absolutely gorgeous.

        We both ordered the prix fixe. I had salmon and she had some kind of bone in chicken. The chicken was extremely good. The salmon was decent, but nothing really to rave about. They even allowed me to make a change to what was offered on the prix fixe menu. I honestly don't think it was a big deal, but I could tell that changes weren't something that they would like to do on a regular basis, but the waitress allowed me to do it without making me feel like I was asking for too much at all. I ended up getting a type of salad that wasn't on the prix fixe menu and we both got desserts which were small, but quite good.

        Food, a bottle of wine and 1 after dinner drink each came out to $100. Very reasonable if you ask me.

        All in all it was a very nice evening. The weather and patio surroundings are what really made the night for us. The food was good, but not world-class. It was good enough that I would return to WA Frost even without the patio atmosphere, but being able to sit on the patio especially with our dogs really made for a great night.

        1. re: whoopdido

          The waitstaff were all petting your dogs? I hope they were also promptly washing their hands. I love dogs, by the way... just not the hair in my food. or drink

          1. re: whoopdido

            Well, now I can officially say we were treated worse than animals. Just kidding... Kinda.

            That said, I will disagree with your review. $100 for some kind of bone-in chicken, salmon, and a bottle of wine is extraordinary in this market (temporally and geographically), and downright vulgar if the fish is nothing to rave about. Petting animals mid-service is something I expect from an autistic teenager working the curd booth at the Dakota County Fair.

            But yes, the patio is lovely this time of year, isn't it?

            1. re: kevin47

              jfood would be proud to have an autistic teen serve him curds or anything else, any time, anywhere.

              BTW - The avatar is a Therapy Dog that helps autistic children learn how to cope with the real world. Petting them anytime is a pleasure they rarely get to experience. Pre-service, mid-service or after-service, the head and nape are ready to assist. Pet away.

              1. re: jfood

                Well, I can't say for certain that the waitstaff prompty washed their hands because I didn't follow them to the restroom, but I can only assume that they did. They said that they were going to and others said that they couldn't pet them at that particular moment.

                As far as the $100 bill being too high, I would disagree. Like I said, that number included a bottle of wine and 2 after dinner drinks, so $40 of the bill was alcohol. Oh wait...duh...the price of the prix fixe was $30, so I didn't have to do that math. Oh well. Anyway, for what we got--3 good courses, I found it to be quite reasonable. Yes, the salmon was not world-class, but it was good.

                Like I said, the patio and the weather was what made the night the most enjoyable for us, but the food was good...again, not world-class, but good enough, especially for $30.

                1. re: jfood

                  Thanks, jfood. No matter how terrible the food or service, there seems to be no reason to lash out at autistic teens, who are just people laboring under a disability over which they have no control. Lashing out a cheese curds is another matter entirely.

                  1. re: suestlawrence

                    Sorry, I probably shouldn't use the term "autistic" so loosely.

                    I'll say this, and then I'll be done. Yes, the space is gorgeous, and you pay a premium to experience it. No problem there. But, when I'm paying big dollars for intangibles, the intangibles should knock my socks off.

                    Chicken and salmon are wedding dishes (I'm generalizing here). Sometimes good, sometimes bad, seldom mindblowing. Venues can charge $40+ per plate because of the overall experience. If the waitstaff at Axel's got snippy during my wedding, there would have been no excuses. Somebody would be fired, dead, or both.

                    Frost pitches itself in this sphere. It's a decade-anniversary, kill for a V-day reservation type place. It should live up to that promise. That we have to make excuses for it proves this is not the case.

          2. what-- we're giving away $50 bottles of wine as party favors now to everyone who comes into a restaurant, just because the economy is bad?!? what are they giving away at the audi dealership? :-P

            w.a. frost has never been a cheap restaurant, & it's not like they can sublet their wine cellar as temporary student housing or something. . . $100 for 2 prix fixe, bottle of wine and 2 cocktails is a good price for a meal there imo.

            the bigger restaurants around town sometimes do have service issues on the patio at the beginning of patio season. you wish it wouldn't happen, especially at the higher price points, but it does-- it's new staff, who are less experienced with the menus or maybe are (young) seasonal help who are new to serving in general. the combo of new staff and a "new happy hour" seem to have been a perfect storm for Kevin's experience.

            i'm not much of a patio lizard, but i've had really good service inside the restaurant, and the food was frankly a lot better than i expected. it was very good! here's my review of a brunch there:

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/500508

            1 Reply
            1. re: soupkitten

              I have never had any particular problem with patio service at other restaurants. If WA Frost is picking up inexperienced seasonal help, then that speaks volumes about its commitment to service. That still doesn't explain the manager not speaking to me.

            2. I've been to WA Frost a handful of times and I've always found it to be very average. I agree with your observation that you're paying for intangibles at a restaurant like this, because if you look at the food alone it is obviously not a good value. I think above all else you're paying for their reputation and history at WA Frost, and I hate paying for an undeserved reputation or a reputation that is no longer valid.

              Chicken and salmon is exactly what I would expect a "fine dining" restaurant to serve as a low cost prix fixe.

              1 Reply
              1. re: galewskj

                I have also had rather average food at WAF. And I would add that if the salmon was wild and fresh, and not overcooked, and the chicken was free range such as from Wild Acres, the entrees could be excellent and worth some money. The farmed versions of both are 'cheap proteins'.

              2. My last bar visit was less than satisfactory. Some of the items were fantastic. Some were kinda just plain bad. Service was just plain bad as well. (not at the actual bar - but seated at a table within the bar)

                Giving the patio an annual shot tonight. fingers crossed for great service!

                1 Reply
                1. re: St Paul Susie

                  Well that didn't work. Service was bad. Waitress and other staff really didn't care.

                  Food was pretty good to average depending on the dish.

                  Patio was nice - but man they've crammed a bunch more tables in.

                  I'll be back in the middle of winter to enjoy the bar, at the bar, not a table.

                  Its amazing how good the bartenders are and how disappointing the rest of the staff is.

                2. I guess I am confused why so many people go to W.A. Frost's. I have never found the employees welcoming, the food any good, or the prices in check with reality. They have a great patio, which would entice even me on a nice summers eve. Other then the patio, why do people go back? Is it because that is where the movers and shakers in St. Paul hang out? You go there on any given Friday or Saturday night and sure to spot some of the City's highest paid staff & politicans. I would much rather take a table across the street at MOTH or La Grolla, which offer both good food, great staff and atmophere not to be confused with competing with Mr. & Mrs. Jones.

                  1. *Really* getting a kick outta this thread.

                    I'm currently unemployed and willing to do just about anything where I'm able to control my income based on *me* vs. the government's largesee. All the ads for waitstaff, et al, that I have come across have stated "experienced" wanted and anything less need not apply.

                    Now, to silly me, the onus is entirely on the restaurant, meaning WAF should have assumed everyone walking in the door was dumber than a box o'rocks and/or approximately the age of three, and their experienced host/hostess/waitstaff, blah, blah, blah should have preformed accordingly:

                    Right out of the gate the party should have been questioned as to why they were there ("Good afternoon. May I interest in you a dinner menu or would you like to relax during our happy hour?")

                    Dufus Waiter #1, when cashing out, should have passed the baton to Dufus Waitress #2 as to the slight misunderstanding previously encountered and how party was to be accommodated for happy hour. I'm not in the food service industry, but I do know the customer comes first and if expectations are not set forth - and it's the restaurant's responsibility to properly educate their clientele - lack of respect and common sense on the establishments part is only going to make a bad situation worse.

                    But what can you xpect when the manager isn't even experienced? Very sad to read WAF is using their reputation of years past to skate on thin ice.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: green56

                      I agree with your post, green56. It's up to the establishment in question to explain any gotchas to the customer. I shouldn't be expected to already know that happy hour is served in one area but not another.

                      From my experience, WA Frost hasn't really changed in the last 10 years. Well, maybe the bad service is new as I've never had a problem there, but from my recollection they've been serving average food at above-average prices since my first visit.