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Special Occasion Dining - what are your expectations?

My husband and I recently celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary. We decided to go to brunch at the hotel we spent our wedding night. The location has a lot of sentimental value - we also went there the morning after we got engaged, and (sadly) was the spot we went to after his father passed away.

When making the reservation, we requested a two-top by the window, and also noted it was our anniversary.

When it came time to seat us, the window seats were occupied. Because of the breakfast hour, the 6 tables by the window seemed to turn over quickly (at least they did while we were there). I don't know if this is true, but it appeared as if they didn't make any attempt to reserve the requested table. I realize that all table requests cannot be accommodated, but it would have been nice if they tried.

Aside from that, the thing that rubbed me the wrong way was no mention of the special occasion. I didn't desire anything to be comped, but a simple "Happy Anniversary" from the hostess or waitstaff would have been sufficient. It obviously didn't ruin our experience, but I found myself surprised they didn't mention it.

So - it got me thinking about what the general consensus was for special occasion dining and made me wonder if they dropped the ball a bit. I realize I'm there to DINE and it is not their responsibility to congratulate me on whatever event is occurring in my life - but, I definitely think a simple 'Happy Birthday" or "Congratulations" in such events, goes a long way.

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  1. I recently celebrated a round b-day at Tinto's in Philly. While the food was nice, it ended up being a lot more money than I would've wanted to spend on 'nice' food, as opposed to *outstanding* food. I guess that was to be expected, given that it's not a fine dining establishment.

    I had mentioned, however, on my opentable rez that this was a birthday celebration, and the dessert (a slice of chocolate mousse cake) came with a little candle. Nice touch.

    I think if they hadn't acknowledged the occasion, I might have been a bit peeved... because if I didn't give a shit, why would I have mentioned it in the first place? So I get your disappointment.

    1. Whenever I have mentioned in a reservation request that I am celebrating something, most finer restaurants have acknowledged this in a discreet but warm manner. I've had any one of these happen: a comped dessert; a comped drink; "Happy _____" written in chocolate on the plate rim of a dessert; and warm wishes from the waiter. I think it is part of the service of a finer restaurant to acknowledge this if you mention it at the time of reservation. Many restaurants want to know about special occasions beforehand and have plans in place to acknowledge and help celebrate the fact.

      1. My expectations for a special occasion meal are pretty much my expectations for every restaurant meal. - good food and service. I don't always have my expecations met for every meal but try to ensure they are for speciall occasions by ensuring the reservation is at a place where good food and service is pretty much guaranteed.

        I have never mentioned to a restaurant that it was a special occasion and never would. Of course, that means we miss out on the freebie that seems to be the reason why folk would mention it. I am more than happy to miss out on it.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          It's pretty clear that the original poster had no such intention: " I didn't desire anything to be comped, but a simple "Happy Anniversary" from the hostess or waitstaff would have been sufficient." There is absolutely nothing wrong with requesting a table when reserving and nothing wrong with mentioning a special occassion.

          1. re: lifeasbinge

            Entirely agree that the OP appears not to have an intent of seeking a freebie - although the first two respondents clearly did - but presumably had some intent, otherwise she wouild not have mentioned at the time of making the booking.

            1. re: Harters

              "Entirely agree that the OP appears not to have an intent of seeking a freebie - although the first two respondents clearly did..."

              I guess that means me. Let me clarify a bit: I have worked in the service industry and I know for a fact that many finer restaurants have policies in place for guests that are celebrating a special occasion. They WANT to to know this so they can be accommodating. Remember: very good to stellar service means a slightly larger tip for the wait staff and helps to ensure that the guest will be a repeat customer. It's all part of the business called running a restaurant.

              1. re: Harters

                I don't remember mentioning any "freebies", or expectation thereof.

                1. re: Harters

                  My intent in mentioning it was to increase the odds of getting a 2-top by the window (where we spent the other mentioned memorable occasions)....

                  It's also been my experience that people seem to be more congenial when it's a special occasion - but, perhaps that's only because there's something to discuss that the patron is excited about.

            2. Your post just made me think of when Mr. Huntress and I celebrated our first anniversary last year. We went for degustation at his favourite and restaurant and one that I had desperately wanted to try for quite some time (having been a single mum and a student previously the pleasure was well out of my reach). As we were seated we were asked if we were celebrating anything in particular and we mentioned it was our first anniversary. The waiter congratulated us and the evening went on with dish after delicious dish being presented. I completely forgot that we'd mentioned it was our anniversary so when the second dessert course arrived with 'Happy Anniversary' in chocolate over our plates I was very surprised and felt, well, kind of warm and fuzzy about it. I never expected such a thing, but it was a nice touch. I suppose it is nice to have such occasions acknowledged with a congratulations (or whatever is appropriate for the occasion), but as long as the food and service is good that's good enough for me.

              6 Replies
              1. re: TheHuntress

                Why mention the anniversary in the first place? What were you hoping to achieve by this? You said you didn't expect anything so what was the point in telling them, did you really want some random person to wish you a happy anniversary whilst you were having brunch?

                1. re: davidne1

                  I'm sorry, but are you replying to my post, or the OP? Because in mine I do specifically mentioned that we were asked by the waiter if we were celebrating a particular occasion.

                    1. re: davidne1

                      I assumed the OP told them it was an anniversary in the hopes that it would mean the table request would be filled.

                  1. re: davidne1

                    I always let a restaurant know when we're celebrating so they don't anticipate an hour long table turn. When we celebrate, it's often a 3+ hour occasion (especially since having a baby- the nights out are so much rarer that we maximize). I don't want a freebie of any sort.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      "I always let a restaurant know when we're celebrating so they don't anticipate an hour long table turn."

                      That is an excellent reason. I'm glad you mentioned it.

                2. It is a nice touch, but definitely not required or even expected depending on the place and the occasion.

                  I also think that you going there for brunch makes for less of an expectation of acknowledgement than dinner would (I'm sure others will disagree with me <g>). How nice is the hotel? What price point is the brunch/dinner/overall menu?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Janet from Richmond

                    It's the nicest hotel in the area - 5-star, long history of service, etc. They used to do a brunch that was $75/pp, but they scaled it down to exclude what you'd normally find in high-end hotels, and it's $30/pp.

                    1. re: The Oracle

                      Sounds like it's a former 5 star hotel and they are scaling back on some "high end" perks one would usually find.

                  2. I think your choice of dining in a hotel restaurant at the breakfast/brunch hour had more to do with the lack of any special treatment. Unless the restaurant was run by some “name” chef, my guess is that its run by the hotel as little more than a fancy cafeteria and is probably not a “fine dining” spot. That’s been my experience in staying at way too many hotels during business trips. That impression is reinforced by your observation that the tables by the windows were turning over quickly. People dine and dash in these places and the staff makes sure that happens especially at breakfast since there are probably lots of business types.

                    As to expecting special treatment on special occasions, I’m with the camp that says we don’t tell the staff its a special event. I do well enough that we eat out at high end places on a regular basis. I expect to get good service regardless of the reason I’m out. Expecting it to be a special event will often end in disappointment. And the last thing me wife wants to have is some off key tenor singing happy birthday to her. Makes her cringe.

                    1. What I never understand is this: You call a place to make reservations, and they say "is this a special occasion?" and you say "yes, actually, it's our anniversary" and then you get there and there is no mention of such. I really don't WANT a creme brulee w/ a candle in it (although if someone shoved a glass of champagne in my hand at the door I wouldn't complain) , but I don't know why they ask in the first place if they have no plans to acknowledge it.

                      On the other hand, even though it's a little bit cheesy for people who think they're hip...still, I remember that night's menu had "happy anniversry Mr and Mrs Danna" printed on it at a restaurant in Sedona 10 years ago....and I'll probably remember that Passionfish had the same scrawled in sharpie across our paper table cloth this spring. It's just nice.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: danna

                        From the OP's post I get the impression she told them it was their 1st anniversary, not that the restaurant asked "When making the reservation, we requested a two-top by the window, and also noted it was our anniversary."

                        And it is nice.....I took my husband to The Inn at Little Washington for a night for his birthday this past spring and they went all out (as one would expect) and we often have our anniversary dinner at Lemaire here in Richmond, VA at The Jefferson Hotel (since it's December and the hotel is decorated for Christmas and we usually stay they night) and they always acknowledge it somehow, but both places asked when we made the reservation.

                        The Inn printed a special menu for us with "Happy Birthday to _____" at the top and a card wishing him a happy birthday and welcoming us from Patrick O'Connell in our room.

                      2. I think they blew an easy chance to score goodwill, which should be very important during these hard times.

                        My family has a episode that we have never forgotten. When my daughter graduated from college in LA, she and my wife wanted to go to high tea at the Ritz Carlton Huntington in Pasadena. Sadly, they were booked, but when they found out it was a special occasion, they set an extra table. Then the hotel presented the plate pictured below.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: BN1

                          That is not surprising at a Ritz Carlton.

                          1. re: BN1

                            That's actually where we went (only it's not a Ritz Carlton anymore).... but the hotel tries to maintain that same level of polished service.

                            1. re: The Oracle

                              Oracle, you hit the nail on the head with "tries to maintain....." The chef has changes twice since the sale. I was sad when it changed hands, since I always got a deal on my room and once my wife got a return-welcome letter on her pillow hoping that we would make the Huntington our home away from home. That is just what we would have like to have done.

                          2. The weirdest was I phoned and made a reservation for 12 people at a restaurant near me. I was asked by the person on the phone, "Is it a special occasion or is anyone celebrating anything?" Responded to the prompt, I replied, "Oh it's a birthday." Then the person said, "What is the birthday person's name?" Caught off guard even further, I answered, "Michael."

                            We went through the whole dinner (a week after this phone call) without any mention of the birthday, and I could not (to this day) figure out why they asked so many details if they weren't going to do something about it -- maybe just market research! :)