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Bad experience art Sparrow

First off let me preface this review by saying I know Sparrow has gotten rave reviews on this board so by posting my experience I know I will be subject to criticism. It appears to me that sparrow has fallen victim of its own success. first off, I avoid restaurants during peak hours as I have a speacial needs child who can grow easily impatient. However, this past Sunday we had to be out of the house from 2-4. seizing the opportunity to enjoy brunch I called to make a reservation for myself and children. We were told that they would not accept reservations for fewer than 4 people. the person on the phone assured me that at 2 the crowd would be thinned out and we should not have to wait too long. Upon arriving at 2 there was a considerable line up. I was asked at the door if I had a reservation. I told the young lady that since we were three we could not make a reservation and that 2 would be a good time to come. She told me the wait would be 15 minutes. My kids watched as people enjoyed their meals and appeared to linger. after 30 minutes we were assured the next table up would be ours. The owner came over to apologise for the wait. I told him we had tried to make a reservation and his comment was that they were using the system that worked for them and that ment no reservations for parties less than 4. I said I understood that the weather was particularly bad probably contributed to the crowd. Actually, he said the popularity was due to positive reviews the restaurant had received. after 45 minutes we were assured that the next table would be ours. sure enough, a family of four walked in with a reservation and were immediately seated. We left and headed to Lemeac. Well treated, solid service great donuts. My review is simply to point out that you are definiately at a disadvantage if you are a party of three. Also, can you really expect a special needs child to wait for an indeterminate amount of time while others around are gleefully eating and comfortably seated. Not family or kid friendly for brunch.

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  1. Sorry for your bad experience. What an odd reservation policy. Guess we won't be trying them for brunch since it's usually just my wife and me when we're in town.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rcianci

      It is too bad about the odd reservation policy. If there's just two of you and you don't mind sitting at the bar like my friend & I did, you may get seated faster. We were there at 11 on a Sunday and were seated at the bar immediately.

      1. re: rcianci

        It's not just the minimum of four persons that's odd. According to their Facebook page, the only way to make a reservation is to send them a text message on a cellphone. In other words, screw you if you only have a land line. Sounds like a stealth way of keeping out -- i.e. discriminating against -- people they don't consider partying-type enough or hip/connected enough. While I can't condone not playing by the rules, looks like I'll just be sitting this game out.

      2. Sorry for the bad experience but I was kind of glad this wasn't about the food.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Evilbanana11

          That's the same thing I was thinking :o It's unfortunate that customers are standing at the door unsatisfied with their policies, but if that's the only negative thing people have to say about them at the moment, well... that's pretty good.

        2. bummer, I live a ways away and probably wouldn't chance it without a reso. Sorry you were treated that way, glad Lemeac worked out for you.

          1. i went a week ago and was told the same thing on the phone. we showed up at 2 pm as the girl on the phone had recommended and said the wait would be minimal.... when we showed up she said that we would have to wait an hour... so we put our name down and went to Bouchonne to have a bottle of Savennières.... came back an hour later and had a very enjoyable brunch at the bar food, staff, and service were all above par....

            while i liked it a lot my regular spot is Griffintown, but in truth it's worth the detour for the food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: KzenCass

              So you can put your name down in person but not make a reservation over the phone? What's the difference? Seems like a dumb policy to me, and little things like that could bite 'em in the behind when the hype wears off.

            2. Shit happens with restaurants without reservation (for small parties), even if you call ahead and they tell you it should be ok, people can still come out and "flood" the place in the meantime anyway.

              iMO, one should approach such restaraunts with a different frame of mind, and accept the fact that there can be a an un-expected line-up.

              1. Actually, I'd say Sparrow is very family- and kid-friendly, but obviously not when there are long waits. Perhaps if you'd explained your situation on the phone, they may have made an exception to their reservation policy. Waiting in line with any kids, special needs or not, is never fun...

                7 Replies
                1. re: cherylmtl

                  I hate waiting in line and am very impressed you waited as long as you did. Your children must be very patient too. Sounds like an irrational and unfriendly reservation policy. Thanks for the alert.

                  1. re: Plateaumaman

                    I haven't been to Sparrow, but it was on my list. Having said that, I am very hesitant now because of your experience. The service industry is a tough one, but really we could learn a lot from our American neighbours. Waiters, barmaids, restaurant owners all go out of their way to make you happy, IMHO in Montreal, that is not the case. There is no way in H*LL that you should have been refused a reservation after stating your situation and never should you have to wait in line. Goodwill goes a long way, and this was not only bad business but insensitive. Not impressed.

                    1. re: bistrobabe

                      I would have reserved a table with a credit card if they had requested it over the phone. I spend considerable time chowing in manhattan and know owners dont want to hold a table for a no show at the risk of losing money but some exceptions apply and I know it is the extra mile that will make or break a place (husband sold restaurant after 30 years) sooner or later the critics who give rave reviews move on and you are left with a devoted clietele for whom you have tried to accomadate....or not.

                      1. re: crispy1

                        Sparrow is the hottest brunch place in town right now.

                        I've always wondered how profitable a brunch business can be, prices are low, no wine is served and people linger over the meal........
                        mind you, eggs and bread don't cost much.

                      2. re: bistrobabe

                        "The service industry is a tough one, but really we could learn a lot from our American neighbours. Waiters, barmaids, restaurant owners all go out of their way to make you happy, IMHO in Montreal, that is not the case."

                        No thanks, I abhor the fake friendliness when I go to the United States, just give me courteous (not fawning) and efficient service. I would much prefer a polite waiter that knows his stuff to over-friendly, in your face service.

                        I find service staff in Montreal to be efficient, courteous and (mostly) knowledgeable. I couldn't care less that they fawn over me or make me feel 'special'.

                        Unfortunately this plague seems to be making its way up here...

                        1. re: jfprieur

                          "Plague", really?? I was a restaurant manager in the states for many years and I can understand your feeling of a certain insincerity on the part of some waiters, that can happen, often in chain restaurants. But it is a server/manager's job to make the guest happy, always. If I had an employee who did not get this, we had to part ways, because if people did not come in our doors, we would have been finished. It seems to me that in this situation, the wait time was misquoted, and the host and/or manager should have addressed this situation. Quoting a time is not easy to do, but when you are way off, which it sounds like they were here, the guests should have been notified and apologized to, not told it was merely due to their popularity.

                        2. re: bistrobabe

                          Glad to see there are others unafraid to express the opinion that there is a culture of poor service in Montreal restaurants.

                    2. i suffered the same reservation system and so when we arrived at the magic time there were a lot more people around than expected. We decided to wait and luckily on a Saturday it moved quickly.

                      It's just not a good place to drop by, for now.

                      1. Make a reservation for 4, show up with 3. I know it's dishonest, but what goes around comes around.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: The Chemist

                          As long as the restaurant don't enforce a policy of each people of the party must be at the counter when calling your name before they sit you, or even worse, wouldn't honor your reservation at all

                          They do have a very weird reservation policy, as number of people don't necessarily mean a higher bill. I agree with certain restaurant policy to only make reservation for large group, but discriminating at 4 person is strange.

                          1. re: The Chemist

                            I am a die hard capitalist. My wallet speaks volumes. Snub me once shame on you snub me twice shame on me. Plenty other restaurants in the city would welcome my reservation for 3. As for the sparrow I will check in on them some mid winter week night on my way somewhere else.

                          2. My complaint with sparrow is that I have gone three times and the first 2 times it was closed. The first time was a fluke, as there was a notice on the door stating it was closed for a wedding a honeymoon for 2 weeks. I went a 2nd time around 11am on a weekday - closed.. no hours posted. Finally went this last Sat around 1pm and it was open... BUT the wait was over 45 minutes and we didn't want to stick around. So maybe eventually I'll get to try it out. Lucky for me its not too far from where I live.

                            1. Sparrow has updated its website.

                              The site now states that reservations for groups of four or more can be made by texting or calling. There's also a link to a discussion board topic about their reservations policy, in which they explain that:
                              - reservations are accepted for large groups only because this expedites reconfiguring the restaurant and, according to them, reduces wait times for everyone
                              - last weekend was their busiest ever (a response to all the great press they've been receiving, one assumes) and they acknowledge that they were somewhat overwhelmed and regret that people were kept waiting longer than usual
                              - they plan to limit reservations even further to reduce wait times for walk-ins
                              - they don't want to become "the sort of restaurant one feels they need a reservation to get into" (huh?!)
                              - if crispy1 had made her special circumstances clear to them, they would have tried to accommodate her. They also claim they brought donuts to her children to eat as they waited and offered to seat her group at the sofa table (is this true crispy1?).

                              While others may feel differently (think L'Avenue), queueing an indefinite amount of time to get into a restaurant holds zero appeal for me, especially as it means not only not knowing when you're going to eat but also not knowing whether you're going to be able to, say, make it to a film afterwards. I also find the "what's best for us is best for you" reasoning a little, well, if self-centred is too strong a word, maybe insufficiently customer-centred isn't. But kudos to them for addressing the issue and attempting to clarify.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: carswell

                                I have to say (partly because i'm a lifer in the industry) that i'm impressed with the fact that they even take reservations for brunch with a restaurant their size..... Brunch is all about fast turnover and the 15-20 minutes that a table can stay open waiting for a reservation is lost money... especially when you take into account that the covers aren't huge per person. I find the prices very good for the quality of food and produce that is in play here...

                                While i would love the ability to reserve and drive across town and have a table waiting, i see this as a difficult prospect for a restaurant to deal with. Most breakfast places don't take reservations and are line up only. Yeah there are exceptions but those places have more seats to work with and the ability to keep seats waiting and deal with no-shows.

                                While i agree with original poster that some thought should have been given to her special circumstances. Then again i've been to Sparrow and seen how busy they can be and that the staff probably doesn't have the time to process special circumstances into a service that is probably constantly "in the weeds"....

                                Really it comes down to this... Restaurants have policies for a reason. Usually it's part of a bigger picture that the client doesn't comprehend or doesn't want spend the time to try to, but in the end it probably saves the client and the restaurant money... Things are rarely done arbitrarily in the service industry and this policy seems to have a solid reasoning to it.

                                1. re: carswell

                                  After 30 minutes they sent a donut for each of my kids. As far as making special circumstances known I called in advance and was told no problem at 2:00. I arrived with my son to the awaiting queue and did not feel that it would be appropriate to mention in front of my son his condition. When the couch became free it was offered to us but it would not have been appropriate for my son. When we called we were told there would be no wait. when we arrived we were told it would be 15 minutes. After 30 minutes they sent over a donut for each child. We were told the next table would be ours. It wasnt. Reservation policy only for parties of four or more. I didnt explain when calling for the reservation our special circumstance as I was told there would be no wait.

                                  1. re: crispy1

                                    thanks crispy1 for details, does not seem familyfriendly restaurant to me nor does the wait appeal to me, may give it a try when weather gets bad, hoping others stay away! Always surprises me lineups for breakfast in the restaurants on montroyal ave. , I would rather go somewhere else. I had thought it might be better later in day but not so from your report.

                                    1. re: crispy1

                                      Sounds like an unfortunate combination of crossed wires and extenuating circumstances. Still, if you're going to slag them in public, you should have given the full story. Sounds like they tried to make amends on a beyond-their-control day and would have done even more had you not kept them in the dark about your needs. You probably feel differently, but they've redeemed themselves in my eyes, though I still think their reservation policy sucks.

                                      1. re: crispy1

                                        Did they at least ask whether they could give donuts to your kids? it sounds like a weird thing for them to do, give sugary, fried foods to someone else's kids and do it before lunch too.

                                        1. re: hala

                                          Indeed. What awful, awful people they are. They should be dragged naked through the streets and stoned in public.

                                          People need to get a grip, here. I'm really sorry for crispy1's unfortunate experience, but I don't see a reason to make such a stink about it. I think The Sparrow was just a bad fit for them. I don't see how such a small place could take reservations for whatever sized party, have to deal with late arrivals and no shows, and keep charging the same prices. They are a neighbourhood place and if they want to be there in the long run, they need to build and keep a crowd of regulars. The foodies driving across town to try the new hyped restaurant will eventually move on to the next big shiny thing. Why risk alienating the people that keep you in business just to please a bunch of fickle foodies. If anything, I think they should stop taking reservations altogether. Fist come, first served makes more sense for that type of set-up anyway and nobody will have a reason to complain.

                                          1. re: SnackHappy

                                            I agree. The no-reservation policy seems to work fine for brunch at Reservoir, which I see as being a similar type of place. It makes no sense to me that The Sparrow should bother taking reservations for brunch at all.

                                        2. re: crispy1

                                          I have not been to this restaurant. However, after reading the whole story I cannot help but be favorably impressed but the efforts made by the staff of the Sparrow in this matter.

                                          1. re: thomasein

                                            Agreed. I withdraw my comment made when I first read the thread. I had no idea they were that small, and also assumed they did dinners and that was their policy at that time, too. As others have said, breakfast reservations for any size party are already an exception to the rule in the industry.
                                            I'm also very impressed that they would publicly explain their side of the story in detail. Then again, if they hadn't, I would've never known they were that small.

                                            Oh that and, in this particular case, cripsy1 was offered a table, she just didn't accept it because it was unconventional. Rather major detail omitted.

                                      2. I've been to Sparrow twice so far, once with children, and once with my husband. We will definitely be going back in the near future. It opens at 10 a.m. on weekends, so we just show up at 9:55 a.m. (we get up early) and are always guaranteed a table with no wait. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is very cozy. If the restaurant starts making exceptions for one family, then they will have to make exceptions for others with different, but equally difficult circumstances. For those of you who are hesitant, give it a try and make sure to have the English breakfast. The bubble and squeak is heaven in a bowl.