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Jul 21, 2010 12:14 PM

ABC Kitchen: The Worst Service We've Had In 8+ Years of NYC Dining

I have to share with you all a tale of epic restaurant incompetence, because even a few days after it all went down, my fiancé, Fleur, and I are still scratching our heads and saying, "Wait, really? Really?!"

On Sunday afternoon, we head down to ABC Kitchen for brunch because we've heard excellent things about the food. Two hours later, I am convinced the front of the house job interview consists of two questions: "Can you be extremely awkward at all times?" and "Can you guarantee shitty service?"

We arrive around 1 p.m. and can see the place is about 1/3 empty. We don't have a reservation, and one of the three hostesses tells us there'll be about a 45 minute wait. Seems odd, considering how many empty seats there are, but maybe they have a lot of reservations coming in. We say we are fine to wait and head to the bar for a cocktail.

Here's where things start to get weird. The bartender is clearly overwhelmed and giving off that stressed energy that makes everyone uncomfortable. After five minutes of waiting, I finally get my hands on a cocktail menu and ask about a drink with organic gin and Pernod.

"It sucks," he announces from halfway down the bar, in ear shot of the diners he's serving.


"Unless, you like the taste of licorice, it's a terrible cocktail."

Well, I actually do like the taste of licorice, which is why I asked about a drink with Pernod, but there is clearly no way I'm ordering it now. Instead I order two brunch-y ginger margaritas and head off to wait.

About 20 minutes later, a hostess comes by and says our table is ready. She awkwardly brings us to a tall bar table about five feet from where we are sitting. It has been EMPTY since we sat down 20 minutes ago. Bizarre. We say we want to sit in the dinning room, which still is 1/3 empty and which we didn't realize we had to specifically request. After a brief conversation, during which one hostess actually looks at the computer, they whisper to one another about how there is PLENTY of space back there and take us to a table in the dinning room.

Strange. Such an unnecessary wait, so awkwardly handled. Then 10 minutes pass and no waiter stops by. We have to flag a busboy to give us menus. Another 10 minutes pass before our waiter arrives. We start to get really annoyed. We put in our order, trying to wrap our heads around this crap service and watching the table next to us desperately try to flag their own waiter to get a check.

Eventually we manage to order two glasses of white wine, but they don't ever actually land on our table. About 20 minutes after we put in our order, and after we ask a busboy to inquire about the wine, another person comes over to us and says, "It seems your order was lost. Can you order again?"

At this point, the terrible service is starting to get funny, which we let this guy know. A few minutes after he leaves, a busboy comes by with bread. What?! Is this just another lapse in service (delivering bread 45 minutes after we sit down) or just some crappy consolation nosh with which ABC has gifted us?

Who cares? Not us, as we hungrily eat the bread and wonder how Jean-Georges could allow his FOH to become such a disaster. Because here's the thing: the food is great. We have crab toast that is divine. My omelet is light and fluffy and everything an omelet should be. Fleur's roasted carrot salad is just OK, but I mean how often do you have a salad that's more than just OK? The question Fleur and I keep asking ourselves is: How can you have such a disciplined kitchen and a FOH that is so aggressively incompetent?

Our tale of woe continues: we're waiting for the omelet and salad when our blasé waitress pops over asking if we'd like to order another glass of wine. Fleur says, "Actually, we planned to have our wine with our main courses, but after you lost our order and we still don't have our food, we finished our wine."

"We didn't lose your order," she replies.

"Then why did some guy come by and say you lost our order?" I say. "Why did he retake our order?"

"That's not what happened!" she says, at which point we get into a snitty fight with the waitress that is so aggravating that even thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise. The testy exchange ends with her huffing, "So there's something you want from us?"

I have the urge to say, "A comped meal would help," but instead we just smile at her. She hustles off and returns about 10 minutes later with two free glasses of wine.

That Chardonnay is bittersweet, friends. Our final bill comes (minus those two glasses of wine), we pay and rush out because even a super humid NYC street is more welcome than being in that restaurant another second. And yeah, no matter how good the food is, we will never, ever, ever return to ABC Kitchen.

ABC Kitchen
35 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Were they very short-staffed and therefore, shunting people to the bar as a pressure valve? Sounds that way. Which would explain why the bartender was overwhelmed.

    Why did you stay? I learned years ago the hard way. If my antenae pick up BS, I leave. When I was much younger, I used to be so polite and solicitous that I would just grin and bear it and sulk. But nowadays, I have no qualms about walking out. Shitty service = shitty tip, or none. Or I leave. OR, you could have treated it like a comedy of errors and had yourselves a good laugh or two. OR, you could use the opposite tack - play the super nice guy in the face of a catastrophe, and complain really nicely. Sometimes the staff will see that you're suffering and will comp you really well. Sorry, I don't mean to come off as blaming the victims. I feel bad for your and your fiance. I hope these tips help. Thank you for the very informative report on your very frustrating experience.

    1. I went there once and the dining room was completely empty, we asked for a table and they led us right to the bar tables. We asked to sit in the dining room, they said they were all reserved, so we left. But am very curious what you tipped these people??

      1. How full was the restaurant by the time you left?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Noodle fanatic

          remember brunch is the shift no one wants to work. The unfortunate employees that have to work sunday brunch are nearly always the junior varsity (regardless of who owns the place or how high end it is) and given that it was a sunday in the summer, the chances are that the vast majority of the staff was hungover is very probable...not an excuse just a fact of life in the big city....

          1. re: Cpalms

            In Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" he reccomends NOT going to Sunday Brunch as you may be eating last night's reconstituted leftovers and that the restaurant puinishes the staff by making them work Sunday Brunch (no/low tips)

        2. The original comment has been removed