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Mar 2, 2010 06:41 AM

Restaurant Service in the Triangle

The recent thread on Piedmont got me thinking. How do you feel about the level of service in some of the better restaurants in our area?

Clearly many diners feel that sub-par service at Piedmont makes it a no-go, even if they like the food. A friend recently told us about a visit to Zely & Ritz in Raleigh. They liked the food but had a problem with poor service. I could commiserate because the one time I tried to eat there the staff was so indifferent that we walked out before ordering. (They let us sit for a half hour in an empty restaurant with just a glass of water on the table. We couldn't even make eye contact with anyone so we put down 2 dollars for the "bother" of having to wash our water glasses and walked out. No one even noticed that we left.) At another upper end restaurant in Chapel Hill I once sent back an uneaten main course because it was room temperature and inedibly oversalted. The waitress never noticed and didn't question my satisfaction until I forced the issue with her. I never got an apology from her or the manager.

Is this something of a pattern in our area or a series of unrelated incidents? It seems that in a region that boasts one of the "Foodiest Cities in America" we should be getting a reasonable level of service.

What do you think?

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  1. I was dining at an establishment in Durham recently and the waiter had a hard time looking at us when speaking. He seemed nice, but the lack of eye contact was a bit disconcerting. I think it was just habit more than being persnickety.

    I can't say I've had bad service overall in my Triangle dining experiences. The one place where we too were sitting around for 20-30 mins (and without even so much as a drink) has since closed and rightfully so. Also a Durham restaurant.

    I do get the gut feeling that some chefs/managers act like their "stuff" doesn't stink and maybe that attitude is coming down to the waiters/waitresses. Perhaps they are being mistreated and/or since pay is lousy they are using the customer to alleviate their own feelings? In other cases, it may just be a simple case of oversight or a place being understaffed. Of course, this is all speculation. My bad service experience has been very few and far between that or I'm not that demanding.

    I'm not sure I understand the difference in a waitstaff being indifferent and being unattentive.

    2 Replies
    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

      Indifferent, inattentive, oblivious, moronic - all synonyms in this case, as far as I'm concerned.

      1. re: rockycat

        I thought more about it I think indifferent is more of an attitude and inattentive is more of a casualty of an overly busy place (or being absentminded). That is, I can be slow refilling your water but being nice about it or I can be indifferent and just refill you water with the emotions of a robot. Moronic, again not having had such bad service, is a bit harsh to me. Although the 30 mins without any water IN an empty place mind you was the worst and that was moronic. If it's packed and you can't think straight, either ask someone to man your table and excuse your self to the bathroom and sit for a moment to breathe. But in an empty place and this isn't figuratively empty.. this is literally empty.. 30 mins without even asking if we had anything to drink is a big no no and I'm glad that placed closed down...

    2. I lived in Asheville prior to moving to Raleigh. Service in Asheville is generally pretty poor. Average service seems exceptional there. By comparison, I've been much happier with service in the Triangle!

      Poor service at Piedmont along with hit or miss execution has kept us from going back. Federal can be pretty uninterested in your experience, but the food has always been very good - so we still go.

      Most service in the area is fairly good. I've had terrific service at J. Betski's, Porters, Watts Grocery, An and Coquette. I have had two instances of poor service at Coquette - at brunch and lunch, so I now only go there for dinner.

      All in all I find service better here than in many areas.

      4 Replies
      1. re: meatn3

        I lived in Boone and being that it was a college town the service was surprisingly good from what I remember. This in a place known for pot, beer, and football.

        1. re: meatn3

          Yeah, we lived in Charlottesville for a year, and the service there was - across the board - unbelievably bad. This seems like a paradise in comparison. There are definitely exceptions (and I totally agree on the Federal: sometimes fine, sometimes really indifferent, but considering the room and how good the food is, it is worth it). FWIW, I waited tables for 5 years, and try to be very understanding (although I tend to notice the mistakes right away too).

          1. re: LulusMom

            In Chicago a waiter once put out a cigarette in my plate of unfinished food.

            We tend to be pretty easy going about service. At the same time, we try to reward good behavior from restaurants that provide good service (extra-generous tipping, positive comments to management, and return visits).

            1. re: brokegradstudent

              Oh definitely. Being a good tipper and a regular will get you good service in most places.

              Appalling about the cigarette. Just horrible.

              In C-ville once, we sat for over an hour and our food still wasn't there. The waitress came over and said "so how is everything" (table totally empty) and I said "well, we haven't had anything yet, so I can't really tell you." She just shrugged and said "oh." Never had anything even close to that around here.

        2. Could it be because most of the service industry people are artists or college grads who couldn't get a job in the field that they desired?

          There are plenty of exceptions out there and every restaurant that I've worked in the Triangle there have been some really talented food savvy folks . However, most are indifferent and enjoy the benefits of the 3 or 4 day work week making really good money.

          My suggestion is to have low expectations and give the waiter some direction. Either that or approach the manager/owner yourself. Otherwise, eat at home.

          1 Reply
          1. re: initialdrew

            Wow, that's some choice. Pay big $$$ and accept crummy service or stay at home. Sorry, but that just doesn't work. I believe I have a right to something better than "Do you want fries with that?" when I'm at a white tablecloth restaurant.

            Frankly, I think your final paragraph expemplifies everything I feel is wrong with restaurant service here.

          2. Our guidelines for choosing where to go to dinner and how to maintain which restaurants are on our restaurant rotation:

            1) Can we afford it? Has to fit in the budget. This limits the # of times a year we eat at Bonne Soiree. I'm sure if it was $5 a person per evening, we'd be on Tina's doorstep every night.

            2) Is it good to eat? If we can make it at home equally well or better, then there would have to be another compelling reason to eat there. Often, places that fit this requirement have higher prices, so see #1. This is why, although I admire the product that Sandwhich puts out, I don't eat there *often*. I can make the same or similar at home fairly easily, for less money. I would still eat lunch half as often if I was poorer to eat there rather than eat at a fast food chain. I admit that really good french fries can make the difference at lunch...

            3) Atmosphere. Don't really like eating in a garage or being over-crowded. Piedmont fits the first category, and Magnolia Grill fits the second, as examples. If I can't hear myself think for either the acoustics or the proximity of flesh, I'm not likely to want to eat there as frequently no matter what.

            4) Quality of the food. Local, sustainable, fewer pesticides on plants, no antibiotics or hormones, humanely raised and/or slaughtered animals get the nod over places that don't. One of the reasons we like Panzanella, since even though it's like a Garage, it fits all the other requirements.

            5) Service. Any place that makes the cut to this point runs into Service. Places like Pancuito and Jujube where the service tends to be exemplary get the nod over anywhere the service is average. We tend to drop places where the service is less than average from the rotation permanently (Rockwood Filling Station, for example). Service really does tend to be about the individual as much as the corporate policy. There was a hostess once at Panzanella who was so good that we actually ate at Fearrington House more after she got a job there. Service may not get you onto the list, but it will definitely take you off, more or less permanently. I got into a shouting match with the owner of a restaurant on Rosemary Street once, and refused to go back no matter who was paying for nearly a decade. I still avoid it whenever possible, and I'm sure he and I are both happier that way.

            We are bears about service. I had a restaurant manager tell me once that he always winced to see me, but also always loved to see me. He would periodically ask to try a new waitstaffperson on me and then come to ask my opinion. We tend to lavish praise to a similar order of magnitude as our criticism (hopefully both where deserved), and are good tippers. We also share any fancy wine we might bring, even leaving what we don't drink "for the kitchen". People who like us tend to really like us, and people who don't . . .well the relationship tends to not be continued for too long.

            1. This topic brings to mine the list that was created and I think published in the NYT about restaurant service (2 parts)



              3 Replies
              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                Initially,. I thought I'd suggest that if service was poor. the diner should escalate the issue to a manager. While I'm perfectly comfotrtable doing that on a phone call, I think at a restaurant at the end of a meal, it's too late. The damage is done.

                I think back to my exemplary service at Chef and the Farmer. It was truly a team effort with multiple waitstaff serving and clearing. Perhaps one reason for the solid service was the fact that they have an open kitchen and the executive chef was expediting, clearly able to see service and it was clear by the body language of the staff that she was watching.

                With the state of the economy, very good people are willing to work hard for a good job, so don't expect your server to be an aspiring actor or model.

                On the other hand, as a diner, we have responsibilties, too. I'd think the guidelines are in general to follow the Golden Rule, simply, "Don't be a jerk.". If the server asks if you want another drink, paraphrase the question as, "Do I want another drink with my meal?" rather than, "Am I ready for another drink this instant?", so that the server doesn't have to make three trips to your table with one drink each. This is an area I need to work on.

                1. re: Tom from Raleigh

                  Normally I abstain from +1 posts, but you bring up an excellent point which I plum forgot to include. "Don't be a jerk" sums it up nicely. I see jerks regularly, and then I wonder why they wonder why they can't seem to find good service anywhere.

                  1. re: fussycouple

                    Yeah we are never jerks. I mean I may seem aloof to the waiter, but we always say hello and if asked how we are then we respond in kind and ask the same. We say thank you after all refills and plates being served or taken away and after being read the menu and specials, etc. I mean I really have to rack my brain to recall the few times (here or anywhere) that I've truly deplorable service or even seen someone treating the service horrendously.

                    Now I will say that I experienced something odd at Rue Cler the one time I was there. Our waiter wound up switching to the table beside us and a new waiter wound up finishing our service, but I don't know fi that was a shift change or not as we certainly weren't rude. Just was sorta strange to us.