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Sep 19, 2009 02:52 PM

Service Matters: Chez Panisse Cafe

I have been a faithful patron of the Cafe at Chez Panisse for more than fifteen years, but I have been very disappointed in the service the last two times I have been there. Just the other night, two friends and I went there to celebrate a 50th birthday. We were looking forward to sitting down, toasting one another with a glass of champagne and discussing the menu. We were seated almost immediately, but waited 25 minutes before our waitress paid us a visit. Instead of apologizing for ignoring us for so long, she simply asked, "Do you have any questions about the menu?" We explained that we wanted to order drinks. She took our drink order, and disappeared again. One of our party spoke to the Maitre d', who apologized and brought olives. Nice gesture, but we really wanted our drinks. Finally they came, a full 35 minutes after we had been seated. By then we were hungry and ready to order, but the pace of the meal felt off kilter after that.

Mistakes happen, but it makes a big difference if people own up to them and apologize. This experience came not long after another CP Cafe meal of missteps and mistiming (salads arrived before wine, entrees arrived before salads were done, and the birthday boy's dessert order was first forgotten, then arrived after a reminder but without the ginger cookies on the side that had been the reason for the order.)

Am I being too picky? I am not inclined to return any time soon, especially for a special occasion.

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  1. On the first visit did you write a letter to the restaurant to voice your complaints? Did you write a letter to the restaurant after this visit noting two disappointing meals?

    I'm not going to comment on service one way or another, but the regional boards are more about where to find good food. This makes a better Not About Food post. I recently had a horrid ... horrid ... service issue and I wrote about that, but also described the food which was actually pretty good. I made it pretty clear to the manager how awful the service was. If I complain to the proper people and they responsd like they care, I'll go back. If they just don't give a fig then the decision becomes if the food is good enough to outweigh the service issuce. IMO, if you have not written to CP and got a resonse one way or another, there are still some steps on your part that need to be taken.

    I've had lots of service issues that I never mention on the forums because it was more effective to deal with the restuarant. If they don't know about it, they can't fix it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      " If they just don't give a fig then the decision becomes if the food is good enough to outweigh the service issuce. "

      I'm sure David Tanis would have been more than happy to give a fig.

      1. re: rworange

        This seems more appropriate to SFBA Board to me ... helps to be familar with
        CP Cafe ... a place I used to offer up as an example of a fantastically well-oiled
        machine (I havent been back there in a while ... In that price range I just tend to
        eat in SF now).

        Although the poster asks a question at the end about his/her own standards, it seems clear he/she is also advising/seeking feedback on CP Cafe trend line etc.

        And there is a difference between "dealing with it" and wondering about the trend line.

        1. re: rworange

          Thanks for the advice, rworange. I appreciate it and will write the the restaurant as you suggested.

        2. It might have been more productive for your friend to have talked to the host after you'd been there for a few minutes without seeing your server. That can happen when there's confusion / miscommunication about who's covering a table.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Tonight was the first time I've had dinner upstairs. I must say that service was excellent. The waiter at the outset asked what sort of time constraints we may have, and we said none, and that we had all evening. We shared 2 starters, and each one was presented as a separate course, which made for nice dinner spacing. Overall, the service actually exceeded my expectations. The thing is (referring back to the OP) that for some reason, I'd likely never consider the cafe for a special occasion dinner. All that said, if there was a serious service faux pas, I'd not have hesitated to go to the maitre'd .

          2. Rude and/or inattentive service can put the damper on a meal.

            This past Saturday I had been looking forward to lunching at Greens-To-Go. Perhaps I brought it on myself when I asked if I could exchange my curry rice bowl for a premade Quinoa salad, but the server became huffy and then even more so when I asked for whipped cream on my pear/blackberry cobbler. She tossed the cobbler container onto the back counter and gave me several evil looks.

            It prevented me from going back to buy even more desserts. No matter since I had already bought the last 2 cobblers and last 2 brownies. Still I now have negative feelings about Greens even though the food was more than fine.

            My last visit to CP Cafe was a pleasant experience, even though the gracious hostess had no walk-in tables for an impromptu birthday lunch and sent me packing.