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Mar 11, 2010 11:51 AM

What do you think of this "forkage fee"? [Moved from Manhattan]


From the New York Times Diners Journal, March 11, 2010:

On her blog, Rose Levy Beranbaum writes about a not-very-sweet experience at the Breslin.

She and some pastry chef friends arrived there at lunch after she had videotaped a cooking piece. She brought out “a little box containing two small slices of chocolate cake leftover from the taping.” They asked their server if they could have plates and forks and explained that they wanted to try the cake that had been prepared for the shooting.

I gave him my card and asked if he would like to offer one of the pieces of cake to the pastry chef. He revealed that she wasn’t there, so I offered him a taste of the cake. “I don’t do that kind of thing,” was his haughty reply…

The wait person brought back four forks, pushing them onto the table, but no plates. We started to taste the cake, still set on its plastic wrap “plate,” when he returned with the information that he had reported us to the chef who said we’d have to pay a fee for the forks. I asked him if it was a “forkage fee” and he smiled and said “yes.” I suggested that he might have mentioned that before he brought out the forks.

The bill came, and that fee for the use of four forks was a shocking $25.

  1. I read that and while it's a high fee, I don't see why the group couldn't have eaten it at home or elsewhere. It's one thing to have a specialty birthcake made and bringing it to a celebration (and still paying a "forkage fee" for the pleasure of eating it) but it's another thing entirely to bring a slice or two of cake to avoid buying dessert. The $25 fee is what they would have paid if they all ordered dessert at the restaurant, so I can understand.

    16 Replies
    1. re: stephaniec25

      I don't find a "forkage fee" particularly different from a sharing fee or a corkage fee. In this case, I do find the blogger's behavior rather tacky and if the response was an expensive comeuppance, I'm OK with that.

      1. re: Jane A.

        I don't find her behavior tacky at all. She asked first, she offered a taste to the pastry chef...I think she behaved exactly right. If they wanted to charge a small fee to account for the plates (if there had been any) and forks being used, fine, and they should have told her up front. In my opinion corkage on wine is to pay for the use of the restaurant's glasswear and servers, NOT to make up for what a bottle might have netted the restaurant.

        But to be rude and snarky and unhelpful (no plates, remember?) have "reported" me to the chef? Good Lord, I'm not sure I could have controlled myself. And I would have tipped zero and would have called/written to the owner the next day. WOW! Normally, the "poor me" stories I read about treatment in restaurants strike me as boring and overblown by people with entitled attitudes. But for some reason , this one makes me fume!

        1. re: danna

          It seemed to me that they didn't really ask ....they just told the waiter what they were going to do. quote"After several reproachful comments from the 20 something year old, along the lines of: "this is a restaurant..." " Sounds to me like they would not take no for an answer.

          1. re: danna

            Hear, hear. The tip line on my credit card receipt would read a total of "FORK YOU".

            $25 for the use of four forks is thievery, and the attitude of the waiter is unacceptable.

            1. re: vorpal

              the restaurant and waitperson would probably have thought it was a good deal to get stiffed on the tip as long as it also meant that Beranbaum would never set foot in the place again.

              some customers are just that bad. . . .

          2. re: Jane A.

            Agreed. I find it v. tacky and also a sense of self-entitlement.

            1. re: gloriousfood

              Please elaborate. What part do you find tacky? Asking to eat their own cake in the first place? If so, do you find bringing in a special bottle of wine also tacky? Or was it the offering of a taste? Or was it suggesting to the waiter that he should have mentioned the corkage in advance?

              I'm not trying to be confrontational, I just can't figure out what you guys object to.

              1. re: danna

                Don't bring food to the restaurant.

                If you insist on bringing your own dessert, you should expect to pay a fee. its as simple as that. just as you would if you brought a bottle of wine with you.

                Could it have been handled better by the restaurant, sure but that doesn't make this tacky snob right.

                1. re: danna

                  "do you find bringing in a special bottle of wine also tacky? Or was it the offering of a taste? "

                  Well, when I bring in a bottle of wine, I expect to pay the corkage fee, and yes, I will offer a taste to the sommelier /waitperson. And will use their stemware and am pleased to pay for this.

                  She did exactly the same thing. But with cake. Not on the restaurant's menu, offered a slice to pastry chef and server, and then was charged a fee. Why the need for the ugly blog post? Why is outside wine different than outside cake?

                  1. re: chow_gal

                    Yeah, I understand the fee (although it is WAY too much and should have been mentioned in the beginning.) It's the attitude and nasty comments from the server than amaze me.

                    She had a $145 bill. Even if she was already on the servers nerves (which I realize could be possible based on her tone in the Cake Bible), I just can't understand why the restaurant couldn't wash 4 forks gratis, or at least charge for them w/ a gracious demeanor.

                    1. re: danna

                      why should they? they are giving up more than just forks - they are giving up time, table space, forks, plates, waiters, busboys, etc. And the sell dessert - so this is cutting out the bottom line, and also cutting into the tippable amount on the bill.

                      But the worst part is the idea that because she wrote a book about cake she has the right to better treatment than you or i would get in the same situation. That somehow she was special enough that she could condescend to the staff.


                      1. re: thew

                        But you're assuming they would have ordered dessert if they hadn't brough some. I don't see this as an issue where they just wanted to eat some cake...they were examining a work product, sorta like if I took up table space to go over a spreadsheet w/ my work buddies after we ate.

                        I don't get why people think she was after special treatment. I know I would have expected to ask nicely if I could have some utensils for my cake. I probably would have been overly verbose (no duh) about exactly WHY I wanted to try this particular peice of cake now, and I would have expected the server to be friendly and forthcoming with me in return.

                        Maybe that's why this story hits such a nerve with me. I find that if I'm sincere, frinedly and ask politely, people will let me have whatever I ask for...or at LEAST look regretful when they tell me no. maybe this is a regional thing...

                        1. re: danna

                          it is NOTHING like you taking up space with a spreadsheet. it is more like you went into your competitor's office and asked if you could use his computers printers and staff

                        2. re: thew

                          Actually, if you read through all of the discussion, they WERE planning on buying dessert but were denied the opportunity by the server (they inquired about available ice cream flavors and were presented with the check).

                      2. re: chow_gal

                        completely concur with chow_girl on all points.

              2. Presumably they justified it as being the equivalent of the desserts that were not ordered because the ladies brought their own. Charging "cakeage" is fairly common, as a cake for a special occasion (i.e. birthday cake) is one food that people are likely to bring to restaurants. However, the amount in this case seems excessive; it should have been disclosed when the forks were requested; and for $25 I'd expect plates and a knife!

                1. If you read the original post (on Beranbaum's site), she notes that they did ask their server if it was okay to bring out their cake. If it wasn't, or if they were going to charge a fee, they should have been told before forks were delivered (and how passive aggressive - bringing forks but no plates!)

                  However, she also starts her post by saying that back in the "good ol' days" she used to be able to sample her cakes whereever she wanted... which makes it sound like she's a bit put off mainly because the people at the Breslin didn't know who she was and that she was entitled to taste her cakes when she wanted, etc, after she handed over her card.

                  I think it's a little rude to expect to be able to eat your own food at a restaurant, but I also think the Breslin should have expressed their "forkage fee" earlier if they were going to do so.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: leanneabe

                    I think the issue, and the handing over the card thing, is that for Beranbaum, a piece of cake is not dessert, it's her work, and this cake was the product of a work session. It's not as if she was bringing cake to the restaurant just for the sake of eating cake!

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      And I think you nailed it, the only person to do so on this site or Beranbaum's.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        She is eating outside food at a restaurant. She needs to get over herself.

                        1. re: ESNY

                          Agreed. If she's a professional, surely she has more suitable venues for sampling her results. Going out should be seen as an opportunity to sample her fellow professionals' work. Respect goes both ways.

                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                          how astonishingly self-centered to think that since cake is 'your' work, the restaurant is supposed to treat you and the cake any differently than they treat any other customer and any other cake.

                          when my sommelier friend brings wine to a restaurant, he completely expects to be charged corkage, AND completely expects to provide tastes, at the very least, to the waitstaff and to the restaurant's sommelier. it should be noted that he expects to be charged corkage EVEN THOUGH he always orders an additional bottle from the restaurant's wine list.

                          the haughtiness/hubris being demonstrated by the blogger has me speechless.
                          the cost of the forkage, like the cost of corkage, should have been about what would have been charged if they all had ordered dessert at the restaurant.

                      2. It's not completely clear from this excerpt quoted in the original post, but they did spend over $100 on lunch before asking if it would be okay to eat their own cake.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: khoffdenver

                          $109 before the forkage fee, pre tax. 4 people, maybe three her article just states one person suggested it and then she called two other food friends, so I will assume 4 people total, not all that much money.

                          Bottom line is the waiter should have informed them before bringing the forks.

                          1. re: khoffdenver

                            what is your point here?
                            truly, the cost of the lunch should have had nothing to do with it.
                            (my take is that they had an inexpensive lunch and then were so tacky that wanted to bring their own dessert without being charged.)

                            1. re: khoffdenver

                              <<they did spend over $100 on lunch >>
                              my local burger joint charges about $15 for a burger or a salad.
                              spending $100 for four people in an upscale manhattan eatery is NOTHING.
                              bolsters the argument that they were UNdeserving of any special treatment.

                            2. There's a lot of wrong to go around, here. The server could certainly have handled the situation a lot more graciously. But I read the entire blog post, and good lord, Beranbaum does not inspire much sympathy. She drops enough names to fill a bathtub, for starters. And her sense of entitlement nearly leapt off the screen and smacked me in the eyes.

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: small h

                                I must have missed something here. Like the part where Ms. Beranbaum actually ordered something from the menu. That she intended to pay for. In a restaurant. I'm in the industry too, but if this actually happened the way it's portrayed.......wait a minute. She actually walked into one of the hottest restaurants in town, sat down with her friends, and proceeded to eat the food she brought with her? And ordered nothing......but forks and plates? And there's someone here who has some sympathy for this spectacularly self-absorbed display of crassness? I'd love to hear a correction, explaining that she actually ordered lunch and then wanted to know if she could also have her cake. If not, then the it seems the douchoisie really are trying to take over. Off with their heads.

                                1. re: BLAST

                                  According to RLB's account, they DID have lunch.

                                  "We enjoyed the food and each other's company but it all fell apart when we brought out a little box containing two small slices of chocolate cake leftover from the taping of the day before."

                                  1. re: BLAST

                                    No, BLAST, they had $109 worth of lunch pre-cake. Here's the entire post:


                                    And a photo of the bill:


                                    1. re: small h

                                      But I read the entire blog post, and good lord, Beranbaum does not inspire much sympathy.

                                      Indeed, it inspires a great deal of sympathy in me -- entirely for the restaurant! Overblown prose aside, nothing about her post suggests anything of concern for mere mortals with normal manners eating at the restaurant. It just reads like a venting of frustrated semi-celebrity spleen rather than any sort of useful review of the restaurant.

                                      1. re: MikeG

                                        And did you read the replys she made to people who didn't agree with her? WOW!

                                        1. re: LaLa

                                          BTW, this thread is linked to by one of the commenters on her blog (and my, she certainly is full of herself in those comments, isn't she?)

                                          ETA--the comments in the NYTimes are running in the resto's favor. Not surprised here.

                                          1. re: LaLa

                                            No, I draw the line at slogging my way through her whole initial post.

                                            As far as I was concerned, she lost all sympathy by not making her request before the meal and then persisting in the face of initial reluctance when she awkwardly pulled out the cake at the end of the meal. Of course the restaurant could have gone above and beyond to graciously accomodate a difficult customer, but I don't think it's much of a criticism to say that they did not. Needless to say, it's no criticism at all that they didn't recognize her or weren't impressed enough to give her special treatment.

                                            1. re: LaLa

                                              This was my favorite response she gave:

                                              "thanks zach! i'm not sure if any of you realize how, with the touch of a button, i can delete any comment on this blog. but i've left them all here for all of you to see who you are and what is in your heart and mind. no response or defense is really necessary. what you write says it all."

                                              Before reading that I was squarely on the fence of both parties handled the situation poorly and both overreacted. However, after reading that response I have absolutely no sympathy for her as it seems she is indeed quite full of herself and high on her horse. She comes off quite hypocritical -- shame on those who exert power and/or opinion, yet that is exactly what she did both at the restaurant and in her blog.

                                              1. re: pollymerase

                                                This reminds me of the scene from the Golden Child where the evil demon tells Eddie Murphy that he could kill him, just like that ;)

                                                1. re: pollymerase

                                                  I, like you, was on the fence. It seems both sides could have handled things differently. I would never do what she did, but i also thought the restaurant could have been a little more customer friendly. But after reading more from this lady, i am really not surprised that someone like her would get less than friendly and welcoming service. She comes across as quite entitled. I do not feel sorry for her at all!

                                                  1. re: iluvtennis

                                                    Agreed. After seeing her blog, I had to chuckle reading her description of the waiter as "haughty". Talk about entitlement. Wow. She should have called in advance and asked if it was permitted, and if so, what are the fees if any. And playing the "Do you know who I am" card? Sheesh. Pompous, overbearing, insulting, and pretentious behavior. She needs to get over herself. But they should have given her plates, especially at $25.

                                                    1. re: Leonardo

                                                      I agree that the $25 is insanely high.

                                                      I think both sides just got their backs up and the situation escalated as they each upped the ante.

                                                      I hear that in real life RLB isn't quite so awful.

                                            2. re: small h

                                              Agreed with the sense of entitlement. And giving the waiter her card? Perhaps she was just annoyed that she wasn't recognized (neither her face nor her name). Another point is that we have only RLB's account here--you can always spin everything in your own favor on your own blog. It would be interesting to hear the waitstaff's version of this.

                                              1. re: nofunlatte

                                                And when I read this - "So, what do we writers do when so deeply offended? We write." - I suddenly had a vision of her jumping onto a chair and shouting "I'm going home to post this on Yelp!"

                                                1. re: nofunlatte

                                                  Kinda reminds me of the pro athlete or movie star who is pulled over by the police while blowing a 1. whatever breath test and going to the "do who know who I am card?" Pure entitlement.

                                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                                    Good analogy! And if the waiter was a 20-something, he'd not know who she was. She's more well known to an older demographic.

                                                    1. re: nofunlatte

                                                      I'm 27 and my immediate response to this post was that I, if I'd been the server, would have taken up the offer to taste a Rose Levy Beranbaum cake and been quite happy at the chance.

                                                      I really feel this is more like someone else bringing paperwork to a restaurant than like someone else bringing their own food.