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unfriendly service leaves bad taste in Ambler

  • m

Last night we had an odd and unpleasant experience at Saffron in Ambler. The food was okay--a not so good potato dosa, but decent tandoor chicken and a very nice vegetable dish. After dishes were removed from the table and we were offered desserts, I asked if they would remove bits of food that had fallen to the tablecloth, thinking that they'd overlooked this. But they essentially refused! Ordinarily this would happen, without a patron asking for it, in most restaurants. I ended up asking for an extra napkin and cleaning it myself. I won't go back. Despite convenient location, decent food, low prices--it was unpleasant. (They also requested that we pick up our knives and forks and hold them while they changed plates--but I've encountered that before, so I wasn't too surprised: often it's finer and more expensive restaurants that include fresh cutlery in the service.)

It seemed like the owner or manager thought I was asking for something that was beneath him rather than normal. It wasn't a huge mess--just a few crumbs of food, and a stray pea. Bring your own scraper.

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  1. wow, that's your criteria for unfriendly service? Unless I'm paying high dollar for a meal I do not expect them to clean up the crumbs, etc unless it's really messy.

    1. Scraper service at an inexpensive Indian or Asian restaurant? Never heard of it. When I or my tablemates have been really messy, the waiter will change the tablecloth for us, if asked. Of course, that's really my fault for being so messy.

      1. wow....We are FREQUENT visitors to Saffron in Ambler and have never had anything but WONDERFUL service....and GREAT FOOD!!! Sorry...can't agree with you or the review on any area....hope you are not too hasty in your decision about not returning!!!

        1. Sounds like you are more used to fine dining type restaurants. While the service you expected is certainly standard at a fine dining restaurant, and I would have had the same reaction to the service you got at such a place, I have never experience, nor would expect, that kind of service at a place like Saffron. While it would be nice, you just can't expect high-dollar service at a casual place. Sorry it turned you off so much.

          1. This comment is VERY unusual! We frequent Saffron and have never had anything but very friendly and considerate interactions with the entire staff and the manager is also very responsive, more than polite and considerate! What was your demeanor when asking for this service??? It is just very hard to believe there were not extenuating circumstances or something more than just a poor attitude by Saffron. Never had heard of anything like this before. Perhaps as you noted you should not return, bad Karma!

            1. Like my fellow Hounds, I am quite surprised at your review! Saffron has wonderful Indian food and we have always been treated with amazing friendly service. You were not dining at Lacroix after all.

              1. The customer is always right myra. Seems like a simple request to me and not very gracious of them not to accomodate you. I had Indian food last night with John at Cross Culture in Doylestown and it was swell Might have even seen bucksguy there too!

                6 Replies
                1. re: givemecarbs

                  Ok "the customer is always right" well while we are using hackney phrases -there are two sides to every story- a simple answer to a complex problem is seldom correct-one is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. Based on the overwhelming responses it is clear this is an unusual occurance at this establishment. That is what is being said. Not that, if fairly represented , that this non-response should be accepted, it should not. One simple answer given which might be correct is Cross Culture!

                  1. re: givemecarbs

                    Thanks a lot for your responses. I found them informative and useful. i think maybe you're right, I was expecting too much. I'm not eager to go back there, but now I know what to expect.

                    1. re: myra

                      Do check back on monday myra when more people are back to work and thus reading and posting on chowhound. A few more hounds may weigh in on this.
                      Jonn and my other friend and I were treated like honored guests at Cross Culture even though we showed up without a reservation at eight thirty on New Year's Eve and they were quite busy. I got the idea to go there from this board, bucksguy I think it was.
                      There is a thread somewhere asking how people got hooked on chowhound. For me it was the kind supportive and thoughtful responses when I posted complaining about a restaurant that is no longer in business. I don't complain much and I did so with anxiety, fully expecting to get slapped down hard if anyone responded at all. I was filled with awe by the kindness and sympathy I received from my fellow hounds. It was like coming home.

                      1. re: myra

                        Expectations always play a big part in judgements. Some times I have found some items not really to my liking. This is not the best Indian restaurant I have ever been too and certainly not the most proper in setting or service. My expectations for Saffron are generally good Indian food at reasonable prices, in a sparse but clean setting from polite friendly servers. If I had been as annoyed by my experience there as you were, I would not be eager to go back either.

                        1. re: Bacchus101

                          We all have our own set of tolerances and expectations, but as others have pointed out, they may not always be appropriate to every situation. I don't expect to be greeted by a Maitre 'd or fawned over in ANY ethnic restaurant (unless you consider "French" ethnic.)

                          IMO, if you want that kid of attention, be prepared to pay for it, and patronize establishments that provide it. If you expect a shot and beer bar in Kensington to provide the same experience and level of service as the Swann Lounge, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment.

                      2. re: givemecarbs

                        No bucksguy at any restaurant/bar on NYE, carbs! The bucksguy will never go out on amateur night! I will side with most of the comments so far. I've had nothing but good food and good service anytime I've been to Saffron. I've cleaned crumbs and a stray piece of meat/fish or vegetable from in front of me after my plate was taken. If I was at LBF, I'd expect the staff to be on top of that and have it cleared right after the plate disappeared. At Saffron, I just push it away with my napkin. It's no big deal!

                      3. I have never been to Saffron so I have no loyalty issues involved in offering my 2 cents. And with that said, "scraper service" is something I only expect at higher end/fine dining establishments--in fact it's something that tends to make me feel uncomfortable when done as it just seems to point out "oh look what a sloppy eater you've been!" To be honest I'd rather clean-up detail wait until after I'm done eating unless something has truly been spilled and is going to make enjoying the rest of the meal difficult. I don't see how a single pea and a "few crumbs" were so offensive to be left on the table...

                        Hearing that there is a bit of a language barrier at the restaurant (again, never been, going by other comments) I would imagine they might not have understood the request, and perhaps thought the OP was asking for the entire table to be redone or something? I don't know. I certainly wouldn't stop going to a restaurant if the food was good over a minor service quibble like that.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: sockii

                          I wish there was a "Like" feature!

                          1. re: sockii

                            I agree completely. And for the record, I have never been to Saffron either. My earlier comment was based on my general perception of the OPs comments and my experience with similar restaurants.

                            1. re: sockii

                              India (by population) is the second largest English speaking country in the world. Granted, the accents can be difficult to manage sometimes, but I don't suspect many Indian folks working in Philly area restaurants would have a language issue with English. Their total number of English-speakers will likely dwarf our own in a few years.


                              1. re: phillyjazz

                                as i mentioned....not necessarily that they don't speak/understand english...but rather I have found some of the servers are unsure of the american "slang" (for lack of a better term) that might be used...

                            2. Whether it was a language misunderstanding or expectations better suited for a higher-end restaurant both the OP and Saffron (where I've never been) would be best off if OP went someplace else for Indian food.

                              They didn't overlook anything. "Decent food + low prices" = using the same utensils throughout the meal -even picking them up while plates are changed- and leaving crumbs and a stray pea on the table throughout the meal.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: george2

                                Exactly george2. It is quite evident by the support via posting here from those who have been there, and especially those who frequent Saffron, that this is a nice Indian food option with friendly service, and reasonable prices. Them "essentially refusing", (what does that actually mean?) is quite out of character and practice. Set your expectations for friendly service and nice Indian dishes in a simple, plain environment and it is our belief you will not be disappointed., And if you do not control your fork or whisk away any small crumbs yourself, they will most certainly do it for you, with great pleasure and aplomb. Even OP did not mean for this to take on a life of its own and morph into opinions on diner vs white gloves service(?) practices. OMG!

                                1. re: Bacchus101

                                  It's like being refused when asked for a refill on a glass of water but hey, if you're ok with someone refusing to do that for you where you go, that's great
                                  (it's not a comparison of a diner to white glove service, Puhleez)

                              2. I've also been to Saffron in Ambler a number of times. Once we went with a large (somewhat rowdy group) and the waiters were more than attentive. We have always had an enjoyable time. Their food is terrific- wonderful samosas, tasty mutter paneer and saag paneer. Looking forward to our next visit to Saffron!

                                1. "After dishes were removed from the table and we were offered desserts, I asked if they would remove bits of food that had fallen to the tablecloth, thinking that they'd overlooked this. But they essentially refused! "
                                  I've never been to Saffron, but in my "past life" I had waitressed places that ranged from white table cloth, gloved service to diners and everything in between.
                                  If a customer had to ask me to remove crumbs in a high end place, I'd likely not have a job there very much longer.
                                  If a customer in a diner asked me to swipe crumbs off their table for them, I would have done it with a smile, because as a server it's my job to make my customers dining experience enjoyable, yes, even in a diner or a dive bar or whatever. Just because someone's not paying $75 for a steak, doesn't mean that a simple request of swiping crumbs off the table should be refused.

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: cgarner

                                    Looks like you me and the OP are the only ones in agreement on this cgarner. I was so bewildered by all the scolding on this thread that I was thinking of starting a post about it on Not About Food or something just to see what hounds in other places thought.

                                    1. re: givemecarbs

                                      I agree too! Although the customer is obviously not always right, a well-run restaurant, whatever it's price range, should do it's level best to honor any reasonable request (and if possible the unreasonable ones). And wiping down a table is hardly an unreasonable request. I wouldn't automatically expect it at a typical ethnic restaurant, but I would be surprised if my request wasn't honored. That's just good business.

                                      In my review of our chowdown at Han Dynasty last week, I forgot to mention a very good example of this. We were byob'ing, and personally I hate to drink good wine out of mediocre glasses (which for breakage reasons is what many byobs offer their customers). So I brought my own Schott Zwiesels in a velvet lined carrying case (OK, make fun of me, I'm a wino!).

                                      During the course of the dinner, we managed to spill one of our dishes, which had a particularly oily and sticky sauce, right in front of my plate and all over the bases of my wine glasses. At the end of the meal, not wanting to get all that oil in my carrying case (and after trying to remove it with some paper napkins), I asked our excellent waiter if he would ask their dishwasher to give them a quick rinse. Without batting an eye (I did assure him they were titanium crystal and virtually unbreakable), my glasses were whisked off, and returned a few minutes later washed and dried.

                                      This was a $15 meal.

                                      I've never before asked a restaurant to wash my glasses, and I'm sure it's a rare occurrence at Han. But that's the kind of customer service that leads to customer loyalty. Which is always good business.

                                      By the way, I was just at a well-known Sichuan restaurant in a famous Chinese food meca (Flushing NY), and Han Dynasty was way, way better.

                                      1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                                        A restaurant refusing a reasonable request is unacceptable and in this matter I chalk it up to a language issue. If not, then shame on the restaurant. I wouldn't go back either.

                                        What I was pointing out, as was everyone else were the OP's following statements that are unreasonable for this level of restaurant. If these are her expectations it's best she dine elsewhere:

                                        " I asked if they would remove bits of food that had fallen to the tablecloth, thinking that they'd overlooked this." Sorry, but nothing was overlooked. It's something that's never done at inexpensive restaurants.

                                        "Ordinarily this would happen, without a patron asking for it, in most restaurants." See my comment above. After 35+ years of dining out only high-end restaurants "ordinarily" scrape the crumbs.

                                        "(They also requested that we pick up our knives and forks and hold them while they changed plates--but I've encountered that before, so I wasn't too surprised: often it's finer and more expensive restaurants that include fresh cutlery in the service.) " I think she's got it!

                                        "It wasn't a huge mess--just a few crumbs of food, and a stray pea. Bring your own scraper." No, she just doesn't get it.

                                        1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                                          Thanks Tir, I was feeling lonely. Great story thanks for telling us. I hope Myra comes back and reads some more takes on the matter. I know how it feels for my comments to be dismissed. It's only happened once here on chowhound but I did just slink away with my tail between my legs. Was on site talk of all places. I'm still cringing just thinking about it. Good thing I have leftover Smoke Daddy's to cheer me up!

                                          1. re: givemecarbs

                                            I am amazed, sort of flattered and also embarrassed by the wealth of attention and consideration that my post received. I don't think I've ever written anything else that received close textual analysis. I must sound obnoxious, and I didn't mean to, so it's unfortunate.

                                            1. re: myra

                                              You aren't at all obnoxious myra and I'm sorry you were made to feel that way. I was hoping you would check back and see that some hounds agreed with you.
                                              I stopped in Saffron last night with two friends and shared an enjoyable meal. I noticed a few things. The prices are about the same as at Cross Culture. The tablecloths and napkins are linen and we were seated and handed our menus and our waters were refilled. As at Cross Culture bottled water awaits diners on the tables as they are seated, in Saffron's case two different kinds. Most people were asking for tap water or brought wine and beer.
                                              If there was a table right in front in the window and I could have snagged itI would have loved it. Lots of people to watch walking around ambler on a slushy night where the air was not bone chillingly cold. We got the table right behind the register which was cozy. The tables are packed in and I was really embarassed when I accidentally brushed up against the shoulder of the gentleman seated at the deuce right next to us. The place filled up shortly after we got there and we had to weave our way carefully when we left, it was kind of like a military operation but fun. I didn't even try to put on my coat until I was near the front door.
                                              Just as I left I noticed someone's take out order on the windowsill and I remember thinking that the food in it was going to get cold faaast.
                                              I made a joke about how much I love naan when I was ordering three orders of it (two regular and one garlic) and I was grinning with happiness. Our server didn't even crack a tiny smile, which was no biggie, but at the risk of unleashing the hounds again, the staff seems a lot friendlier at Cross Culture.

                                              1. re: myra

                                                Ok myra, a few or perhaps many of us were hoping this would just work its way off the front page as I am sure Saffron was also. Had my comment added another day I wouild not have posted. Because of a few crumbs and an essential refusal (however that manafested itself) they have been front page under Unfriendly Service ---in Ambler for days." Convenient location, decent food at low prices"; the glass is more than half full. According to Uncle Al neither you or he will be going to Saffron based on those crumbs and your comment, good idea. You made your points, cost them customers and put a microscpe on a small local business which makes no claims of being perfect or of scraping crumbs, but packs em' in most nights anyway.

                                                1. re: Bacchus101

                                                  I don't think this discussion has cost them customers at all. Most people wrote about how much they enjoy and appreciate Saffron, so it was wonderful publicity for them.

                                                  1. re: myra

                                                    Was thinking that also myra. I had been meaning to go to Saffron for some time but your post and some of the indignant responses gave me the extra nudge. I see hounds are still scolding you however. I was given a card when I payed at Saffron inviting me to join an email club. Hmmm.

                                      2. I too would be unhappy, if I requested a simple service and was refused. I have been in business for a very, very long time and always try to please my customer no matter how ridiculous his or her request. It is just common sense that the primary goal of any business is to please its’ customers.

                                        In this case, the waiter embarrassed the customer for no good reason. It would have taken, literally, ten seconds to have complied with the simple request to sweep the crumbs from the table. This was a stupid mistake that cost them the return business of the customer. I am unlikely to go to this restaurant because of this post.