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How do you overlook a restaurant owners' behavior?

This past Saturday night, I made plans to meet a good friend and several others to celebrate her birthday. We live an hour apart and made reservations at a favorite restaurant that is in between but certainly favors her - it's her birthday! It's a neighborhood bistro and prides itself on making upscale comfort food from local ingredients. We love the chef - he is a genius and we have frequented this restaurant a good bit in the past 3 years that it has been open.
I made the friend a birthday cake. She claims to "not like sweets" but will eat anything that is chocolate. I think that everyone should get the opportunity to blow out candles and make a wish on their birthday so I make A LOT of birthday cakes - from scratch, made with love.
My husband and I arrived at the restaurant about 20 minutes before our reservation with the intent of having a pre-dinner cocktail. I made the mistake of not calling ahead about the cake and when we arrived the hostess / owner gave me a dirty look and told me they preferred to not bring dessert into their restaurant. She then went on to tell me that they do something special for birthdays and that it was not to serve "outside cake."
I quickly returned the homemade cake to the car and went back in for a cocktail - excited to see what they would produce for the birthday girl.
We had a nice dinner with several bottles of wine and multiple courses. When it was time for dessert, our server came to ask if anyone wanted anything. I was hoping that she would produce the very special birthday surprise. She never did.
The owner made a point of bringing the chef out of the kitchen to speak with several tables but avoided our party. She has yet to say thank you for dining with us or thank you for understanding our policy. And she has yet to come wish our friend a happy birthday.
We passed on dessert and went to parking lot to give the cake (and candles ready to light!) to our friend and went on our ways - not having a place close by to share dessert.
Should I still be miffed and frustrated or should I just forget about it as my husband keeps urging me to do? And should we continue to frequent the restaurant? We really like the chef!!! And finally, should I contact the restaurant and air my frustration - knowing that I am expecting nothing in return since our bill is paid and the night is over.
Any advice or suggestions are welcome....

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  1. Well, sounds like the meal wasn't actually bad, you just disagreed with the service regarding the birthday cake issue. Rather than rudeness on the part of the staff, I would tentatively suggest that it was just a difference in expectations. Give them another chance and don't agonise over it too much. Special occasion meals, large numbers of guests and stuff like that can sometimes bring up service flaws in restaurants that are otherwise pretty good anyway, but in this case it really does sound like the meal itself was fine...it's just that you wanted to give a birthday cake and the restaurant did not really want you to do it there!

    I'm guessing you didn't know this, but the birthday cake thing is apparently something of an issue in restaurants. There was a thread on CH not long ago about charging for cakes and I was in a small minority who thought that birthday cake was kind of sweet and not necessarily a horrible tacky thing to do in a restaurant. A lot of places charge a fee for you bringing your own cake (which, as long as it's not excessive, I don't mind) but other places just don't allow you to do it at all. They would rather sell you a dessert and I'm sure you can understand that. In this particular case, I guess they didn't manage to hide their annoyance at none of your party having a dessert, which is a shame, but I think it's forgiveable if you otherwise like the place.

    1. There is no need for them to have been rude. I personally would not go back. Should you have called first, yes. You forgot, it happens. They are within their rights to not allow you to bring a cake in. But they don't need to be jerks about it or allow it to affect your service during your meal.

      If it was really the owner you dealt with, I wouldn't waste my time giving them a second chance, there are other good restaurants with great service around.

      4 Replies
      1. re: rasputina

        It doesn't necessarily sound like the owner was rude, it just sounds like the OP didn't get what they wanted. There's a difference. Many restaurants find it fairly insulting to bring in outside food *particularly* without asking first (which the OP realized). Also, in my experience, it's not likely they would go ahead and bring out dessert if the table, at the end of the meal, said they didn't want dessert. For all the restaurant knows, the party has made other plans or is simply too full.

        Edit: reading down more, I can see why the owner (and pastry chef!) was a bit insulted. But it sounds like the OP handled her(?)self graciously. As far as feeling snubbed by not being acknowledged, maybe your table was having so much fun they didn't want to interrupt? I'm just saying don't look too hard for perceived snubs. If you like the place, I say go back. Perhaps, as someone else suggested, just give a call to clear the air first and tell them of your disappointment.

        1. re: purple bot

          To me, getting a dirty look from an owner or staff constitutes rudeness. He could have graciously said, I'm sorry but we have a policy against allowing patrons to bring in outside food, but we would love to have you try some of our desserts, with sincerity not with eye rolling or dirty looks.

          1. re: rasputina

            What is the hostess/owner wasn't rude? Not saying that the OP is lying, but it is their interpretation of the express on the person's face. The owner did say that they preferred no outside cake (didn't say that they outright ban) and that they do something special for birthday's. When the OP left to put the cake in the car without an argument (the right thing to do) she lost the opportunity to explain why this cake was special and to ask for an exception (which again was the right thing to do). And the restaurant did give them the opportunity to try the desserts and they turned them down. Would it have been nice if the hostess/owner passed along to the server that it was a birthday celebration? Yes. But if the OP never called the restaurant beforehand to tell them about the cake, did the OP ever tell them beforehand that it was a birthday celebration? Restaurants aren't mind readers. I don't think that the owner was rude. However she did miss an opportunity to make the dining experience better. But to answer your question: If I was disappointed, but not angry I would say something before leaving. "I was disappointed with....because....but other than that I really enjoyed....thank you" If (unreasonably) angry I would wait until the next day after calming down. If needed immediate attention have the BF say something (he's more level headed). And if you aren't good with talking (in person or phone) I would drop a note/email the next day.

            It's not fair to you to have to dwell on a bad experience and not fair to the restaurant to not have an opportunity to fix it.

            1. re: viperlush

              What if the hostess/owner wasn't rude?

              I'm taking the posters word for it, I have no reason to doubt the posters account of what happened. And the fact that she is a regular customer makes me believe that she is capable of telling the difference between good and rude customer service in this restaurant.

              I already posted that if the owner had been gracious I'd have no problem going back. But she apparently wasn't.

              I agree with saying something before leaving, but you know it was a birthday party and I could see not taking the time to discuss it when she has a birthday cake in car she needs to give to the guest of honor.

      2. If you otherwise enjoy the place, go back. Don't let one "dirty look" from the hostess stop you. While she should have masked her distaste better, a look is just a look. And without opening up the entire bringing cake thread that Muchlove mentioned, there are many counties where outside food is a health violation and not allowing cake is just part of following the rules. Sure, lots of restaurants bend those rules, but we shouldn't expect them to.

        11 Replies
        1. re: mojoeater

          I should have clarified - the hostess is the owner and the pastry chef. She makes a GREAT coconut cake and I would have ordered a piece along with the birthday cake and probably another to take home to the babysitter! It's a very small restaurant and she knew exactly who we were - and the business we have given her over the past several years - and made the choice to not acknowledge us.
          And I appreciate the lack of desire to tangle with health code. I took my cake back to the car. I am more miffed that she never produced the "special birthday dessert" that she claimed when we first arrived at the restaurant.

          1. re: cooking4watts

            "I should have clarified - the hostess is the owner and the pastry chef."

            Ah well, I sense personal annoyance that she could not disguise! Since it's a place that you know well and that knows you, it might be a good idea to give them a ring and air things out. By that I mean admitting a bit of wrong on your part but also explaining that you were a little disappointed by their reaction. Give and take on both sides, you know?

            But, as I said, I do think you should let it slide this time. I think you can understand why the owner/pastry chef got a bit arsey, even if you disagree with her. Don't forget to order dessert next time to sooth her feelings!

            1. re: Muchlove

              I would have asked for that special cake they promised. But, must say, IMHO, you were in the wrong for taking a homebaked cake without calling first to find out if allowed, or what their protocol is. Forgot? You remembered to take the cake, so forgetting is hard to accept. Just my 2 cents. I'd definitely not rule out this place for future dinners, especially since you like the food.

            2. re: cooking4watts

              "I should have clarified - the hostess is the owner and the pastry chef."

              In that case, why didn't you pre-arrange for her to make a birthday cake?

              1. re: Jay F

                Because she charges $100 for her famed coconut cake. I love my friend but she does not love coconut and I don't spend that much on birthday gifts - in addition to dinner & wine.

                1. re: cooking4watts

                  She couldn't make another cake? A cheaper cake? A coconut-free cake?

                  1. re: Jay F

                    Probably not, small restaurant, pastry chef, only so much time on one's hands. I can only imagine asking a pastry chef to make a different, cheaper recipe instead of what is probably her "signature cake".
                    I think it was sweet to make a cake. It was not the best move to show up with it without notice. It was handled by the OP well, as the cake was removed. It seems clear that the hostess/owner/pastry chef was miffed and took her displeasure out on the clients. Not cool.
                    I'd be calling the hostess, saying something like sorry about the misunderstanding with the cake. And saying something like I couldn't help but notice that you were a little upset? and just talk it out.
                    Communication might be able to resolve this. The hostess/owner may have recognized they were having a crabby off-day but still feels a bit put upon faced with a home cake. And it sounds like you'd like to resolve this too. Grab a coffee, talk it out! I'll bet this turns out just fine. Its only a cake...seriously!

              2. re: cooking4watts

                Wow, it's even more shocking that she would treat good customers so poorly as to give them a dirty look and ignore your party under these circumstances.

                1. re: cooking4watts

                  Did the owner actually promise this birthday special for your party, that night, or was she just informing you about what they do in general when people plan a birthday dinner at their restaurant? Did they know ahead of time that you would be celebrating a birthday, or did they only find out when you walked in with the cake? If you didn't arrange anything with them beforehand, either your cake or their cake, then I'm not really surprised that you got neither…

                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    In line with this reasoning, I wonder....if the party had ordered dessert, perhaps the pastry chef would have dressed up the birthday girl's portion, done candles, etc. But when no desserts were ordered at all, it added to the whole incident and not only prevented the hostess from doing what she had said the restaurant could do, but also proved correct her assumption that the OP bringing a cake meant they would spend less.

                    It's a shame, and actually I think there was "fault", if you can call it that, on both sides. Since it was obvious that you already had a cake, the smart thing for the hostess to do would have been to make it clear to you that the restaurant is not normally happy for patrons to bring their own cakes but that on this occassion she would allow it (since you are a regular) with a cakeage fee of $X. This would have allowed the OP's party to have their birthday cake and also made the restaurant some money.

                    But even if the host didn't want to do this and set a precedent, she could have at least informed you a bit more specifically about the special birthday things they can do...something like "When you guys order dessert, I will arrange a special piece for the birthday girl" would have encouraged you to spend more and reassure you that the restaurant weren't ignoring you (though you may not have been happy to buy desserts when you had a giant one in the back of your car).

                    Overall, silliness all around but I still maintain it wasn't an unforgiveable offence and I think you'll now be able to go back to the restaurant knowing that they take their desserts very seriously, which is fair enough.

                  2. re: cooking4watts

                    I guess I missed the part where you told them to go ahead and bring our their special birthday dessert. I thought you said that this person told you that they do that, but sounds like you didn't order it.
                    They knew you brought cake, probably thought you would eat that elsewhere.

                2. Sounds like a little bit of wrong from both sides to me that combined to make an unpleasurable experience. Bringing in outside food into a business that makes its money by selling food is generally a big no-no unless you have planned ahead and have been given permission by the establishment. That being said it sounds as if the restaurants handling of the whole incident was very poor. It sounds as if you were very cooperative, and if this is the case, the restaurant was very much in the wrong for making you feel uncomfortable after the situation had been resolved. Its the hospitality industry, it is their job to make all of their customers feel as though they are treasured guests (unless the guest gets completely out of hand). If you are genuinely bothered, you should call and speak with someone. If they are apologetic about the situation you can return and feel good about it and chalk it up to a bad night and a couple of small misunderstandings leading to an unfortunate incident. If they are standoffish about it, take your business elsewhere.

                  1. "I made the mistake of not calling ahead about the cake and when we arrived the hostess / owner gave me a dirty look and told me they preferred to not bring dessert into their restaurant."

                    They can have whatever policy they want, I suppose, but there was no need for dirty looks.

                    "I was hoping that she would produce the very special birthday surprise. She never did."

                    I think at this point I would have reminded the waiter, "the hostess tells me you do something very special for birthdays, Is it on its way?" It could just be that the hostess never communicated to the wait staff, or forgot.

                    Same with the chef. It doesnt' sound like she visited every table. For some reason there was a break in communication between the hostess and the wait staff and chef, and for some reason you didn't want to speak up in the moment to remind them this was a special occasion.

                    "Should I still be miffed and frustrated or should I just forget about it as my husband keeps urging me to do?" Your husband is right. This is small potatoes. Don't take it personally or get bent out of shape. Keep frequenting the restaurant if you like it. And don't call to complain this late in the game. Let it go.