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Jun 3, 2011 12:38 AM

Was sooo looking forward to Eleven Madison Park, but...

We had a 9pm reservation and arrived perfectly on time... we waited in the bar for a couple of minutes for our table to be ready, and then we ordered the tasting menu. It was a Thursday night and the dining room was quite full (and loud!), so we didn't think ordering the tasting menu would be a problem, even with a semi-late reservation. The courses were timed well and service was fine, if a bit distant (we felt kind of ignored a little) until we got to the end of the meal. We weren't offered a kitchen tour - and I'd been so looking forward to getting to watch them make us a nitro cocktail - and at the end of the meal, we were never left the complimentary bottle of brandy/port/digestif. We just had the check put in front of us, and as soon as my husband added the tip and signed the check, the waiter swooped it to grab it almost as soon as it hit the table, before we'd even left. It just kind of seemed like he wanted to hurry up and get us out of there. Only after the fact did my husband say that he *should* have said "Oh, wait a sec, we weren't quite done with that" when the waiter went to take the signed check... and then he should have reduced the tip. And finally, as we got up to leave, no one wished us a good night or thanked us for coming, and no one offered to help us get a cab. So yeah. Not such a fan of the service we received, especially after reading all the raves on here for EMP *AND* having read Danny Meyer's book "Setting the Table" about the hospitality his restaurants aim to provide. We dined at Alinea last month, and despite its more modernist, "cold" approach, the service was much warmer.

On the bright side, the food was good to great, and there were maybe one or two truly outstanding dishes. Most of it was not blow-me-away-amazing, though, and unfortunately I didn't leave there on the same kind of "food high" I've gotten from 40 euro dinners in Paris. But still, it was quite good, and I wouldn't have complained about the food. The room was beautiful and had a great energy (if a bit too loud at times). But the service kind of killed it for us. And it was made worse by the fact that we saw other tables around us being offered tours of the kitchen and being given the bottles of digestif. So my question is: Is this normal at EMP - that a kitchen tour and nitro cocktail and digestif isn't something that is proffered? You have to be a regular, or know someone, or just specifically ask? Or is it unusual that we didn't get to experience those things? Regardless, if it turns out that most diners don't get the special treatment, I still think it was rude for the server to take our check before we'd left. We spent $800 on dinner for 2, and you hate to leave the restaurant feeling a little deflated.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010

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  1. Not everyone gets a kitchen tour. It would be impossible to give every single table a kitchen tour and a special in-kitchen cocktail.

    I think it's quite normal for a server to take a check before you leave....otherwise how do they check to see if you've signed it and all is in order, before you leave?

    3 Replies
    1. re: gutsofsteel

      I know people are going to come down on OP for knocking EMP (though I have enjoyed my meals there, and one was spectacular, they have been uneven), but there is a big, big difference between letting a check sit for a while on the table/asking if it can be taken and what the OP described, which was basically taking the check as it was being signed as if you were at a Denny's.

      Danny would be pissed if he knew OP's story and that is how you know OP wasn't treated right.

      1. re: nmprisons

        Thank you nmprisons! gutsofsteel, i have eaten in many, many restaurants, and it almost never happens that a server takes the check before we leave or at least before we've gotten up and are walking to the door. If someone cared so much about whether it was signed, then they could have just watched my husband sign it (which I think this server did; otherwise how did he swoop in so fast?)... and our credit card had already been processed so they knew it was good. Only the tip remained and we tipped 20+% on the entire check... food, alcohol, and tax. But when a waiter grabs the check while you're still sitting there, it makes you feel awkward anyhow.

      2. very few places offer to get one a cab in NYC. and really - reduce the tip because the waiter was eager to end his shift and go home? that seems a bit extreme to me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: thew

          "and really - reduce the tip because the waiter was eager to end his shift and go home? that seems a bit extreme to me."

          I beg to differ. Part of the waiter's job responsibility is to make the customer feel welcome and be of service. Using body language or actions that make a customer feel the opposite is indeed grounds for a reduced tip. If you are scheduled to work a certain shift, you take all the responsibility that goes with that shift and you suck it up. Even if it means staying late. It's called being a professional.

          1. re: ttoommyy

            i agree the waiter should have been more aware. however i do not agree his tip should have been docked for "grab[ing] it almost as soon as it hit the table, before we'd even left."

            i'd say at least 95% of the time a waiter will take the check before the customer leaves. this covers his ass from having to pay for a meal they didn't sign for, to check that they didn't forget to tip, and if they did tip poorly to ask them what he did wrong to deserve being shorted.

        2. To respond to your perceived three service flaws:

          1) nothing wrong with the server picking up your check after it's been signed. I hate leaving a signed credit card receipt on a table unattended for security reasons. It's for your protection that it was taken and not left.

          2) you sound like an "out of towner" since here in NYC, no restaurant calls for a taxi. There is no taxi service from which you can order a taxi-personally, I wish there was-especially on a rainy night.

          3) I dine a few times a year at EMP, and have only been offered a kitchen tour once more than a year and a half ago. On my most recent visit (last week) I didn't notice any of the tables near me being given a kitchen tour either. I think it may be due to how busy the kitchen is. BTW, it took until my fifth visit to Per Se until I received the kitchen tour.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ellenost

            1) It is like a thieves den in the dining room at EMP after 11:00, I guess. I certainly would have found it rude for the server to rush to take my credit card slip as soon as possible. That combined with the other end-of-meal error(s) would make me feel unwelcome and rushed out the door. Remember, OP watched others get more gracious treatment and then felt like she got the bums rush. It wasn't just the credit card thing, but the whole way the meal ended.

            2) OP said "no one offered to help us get a cab," not "no one offered to call us a cab." A number of places in New York assist with cabs (last night, for example, I walked by Del Posto after having dinner at C & Sons and watched numerous diners being escorted into cabs as I read their menu displays), though you are correct on the calling. It is not customary to be asked as you leave if you need assistance with a cab, that much is certainly true, but when you are near the last one to leave a place, it is something that is done. I am not saying it was a slight for them to fail to do this in this instance, but at least read OP's post before disparaging them as an "out of towner" who mis-perceived the level of service us New Yorkers are accustomed to getting.

            3) I have never been offered a kitchen tour at EMP, though I don't particularly like them, and rarely accept when offered (unless one of my friends is in the kitchen and I want to say hi). That said, with everyone gushing on these forums about spending time in the kitchen at EMP, it was certainly reasonable for OP to believe that was part of the tasting menu. It isn't. Not a slight, just a fact.

            Del Posto
            85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

            1. re: nmprisons

              1. It's also possible from their expressions/body language, the server read/misread cues that they wanted to leave quickly.

              2. From a posting last year it appears the OP lives in Des Moines, Iowa%3


              nd yes, ellenost is correct: there is no central dispatch service for yellow taxi cabs in NYC, unlike other major cities. There is central dispatch for livery cabs (town cars) but they also aren't allowed to catch street hails. Only yellow cabs can pick up street fares.

              I actually can't remember ever being offered assistance from a restaurant to hail a cab here in NYC.

              3. FWIW, I've also never gotten a kitchen tour. Nor have I been given a special post-dinner drink at EMP.

            2. re: ellenost

              @ellenost Five visits to Per Se!!!!! I'm so jealous. I had to save up my bonus just to go once :) I was lucky that on my only trip they graciously accepted my request to have the kitchen tour as a going away gift to myself :)

              Per Se
              10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

              1. re: kelea

                Don't be jealous: it was 5 visits over 7 years. Last visit was almost 2 years ago for my mother's 85th birthday.

                1. re: kelea

                  For what it's worth, I was offered a kitchen tour on my first visit to Per Se, but never at EMP.

                  Per Se
                  10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

              2. To the original poster's defense, I've had less than stellar service at EMP also. I found that they ignored us for the most part throughout our meal and then took forever to bring us a check. It almost felt like we were wasting their time dining there. While I have been there when the service is quite good, it isn't always the case. I think this board has a lot of regulars that get over the top service, so it can appear that this becomes the case for anyone that walks through the doors.

                2 Replies
                1. re: howo5

                  I hate that i'm going to be sound like a bandwagon fan but I'm not a regular by any means. My visit to EMP (just last week) was my first and only to ANY of Danny Meyer's establishments. The service I received was stellar - attentive, friendly and not intrusive. Warm, pleasant and smiling at all times. I would consider i was the youngest in the resto that night (in my late 20s but look younger) made no difference to the staff (I'm only saying this, cause I know a few posts on diff top restos have indicated that younger guests gets the short end of the stick)

                  I didn't get the tour which I wasn't expecting but I did receive the digestif (which I sadly could not appreciate). The only 'downside' to my meal is that because the initial payment discussion was overhead by the waiter that my friend wanted to treat me, the waiter took both our cards, and only billed my friend. Not really a true downside i guess...

                  1. re: howo5

                    i also had less than steller service there, mostly it fell apart at the end when there was no offer of coffee or after dinner drinks (although they did leave the bottle of pear brandy), and it talked forever for someone to give us our check. oh and the sommerlier never came over even though we requested one a few times.

                  2. What's so great about touring the kitchen??

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Monica

                      I agree. My girlfriend works in one and she told me recently that it was a distraction to have people come through during service. I asked her if that included me. She sad yes.

                      1. re: nmprisons

                        To be honest, I'd rather the kitchen staff concentrate on preparing wonderful food, and not concentrate on "entertaining" me.

                          1. re: nmprisons

                            I guess everybody wants to be treated special(which isn't such a bad thing btw). I am sure if bathroom tour was given at a high end restaurant, people will look forward to that too.

                            1. re: Monica

                              I personally like seeing the space and getting an idea of the operation, and sometimes discussing food with the chef. For EMP specifically, while I haven't had a tour personally, CHers report back that they sometimes get an extra preview of a predessert as part of the tour. I think that is the main answer to your question regarding what's so great about touring the kitchen.

                              1. re: fooder

                                Maybe you are the special case who really appreciates the tour but for most people, I don't think kitchen tour has any impact on their culinary adventure.

                                1. re: Monica

                                  For me, Thomas Keller has been my idol for 10 years. I love his philosophy towards food and ingredients. And cause of that, I wanted to see what he envisioned in the space that inspires him to create the dishes he does. Seeing the kitchen at Per Se made me respect and love him that much more.

                                  That being said, Per Se and French Laundry would be the only kitchens I would ever really want to tour of.

                                  Per Se
                                  10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

                                  1. re: kelea

                                    I'm more after the quality of the food, but if offered kitchen tours, I'll take it and consider as part of the restaurant's pride and commitment on the quality of their products. Besides, it is educational for me too.

                                    We were offered and a took tour of French Laundry and were plesantly impressed when amidst paperwork, Keller himself came out of his corner desk, introduced himself, shook hands with each one of us and politely asked us about our dining experience or if we have any questions.