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How do you overlook a restaurant owners' behavior?

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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.

                    1. They may have thought you had plans to eat your own cake elsewhere because you didn't order dessert, which may have been comped, candled etc - who's to say? They were wrong to treat you badly after you got rid of your cake, but honestly I also think it was wrong to bring a cake to a pastry chef's restaurant. So in balance, you should
                      return to the restaurant if you think you will still enjoy yourself there.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: julesrules

                        I agree. If no one in the party mentioned the birthday directly to the server, and it wasn't noted when the reservation was made, the server probably did not know. Even Denny's hasn't done free birthday desserts in a long time, so I wouldn't expect for them to just bring something out even if the server did know about the birthday. The special birthday treatment was more likely a candle and happy birthday written on the plate, but that only happens when you actually order dessert. If a restaurant wants to give me free/extra food, I'd usually prefer them to comp something that I ordered because I wanted it, not just send out some random thing that I may or may not like. If the birthday girl really wanted chocolate and the special surprise was the famed coconut cake, would she have been happy?

                        It's really too bad the OP didn't call ahead to make sure it was OK. Many times it's not, and this was one of them. One of the arguments from people wanting to bring cakes to restaurants is that many restaurants don't have traditional layer cakes on the dessert menu. Since this restaurant does offer cakes, bringing your own is a pretty big "F you" to the pastry chef.

                        1. re: babette feasts

                          I was wondering if the pastry chef/owner was insulted that a cake was brought in, especially given that the place is known for its coconut cake. That's no reason for rudeness, if that was the case, but the whole situation could have been avoided had the OP called ahead a few days. As for the chef only meeting selected tables, there's no way to tell why the OP's wasn't selected so I try to go w/ the benefit of the doubt.

                          I'm also thinking, if they charge $100 for a cake, this must be a pretty high end place and it's not the type of place to bring a home made cake.

                          1. re: chowser

                            i'd written a longer response, but i think that in lieu of posting it, i'm just going to agree with this post. uh, plus one.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              +1 as well.

                              And if we're going to play "who was ruder", I'd have to say the customer in this case.

                      2. People can guess all they want about what actually happened here, but the fact seems to be that the owner stated that they do something special for birthdays and then didn't do anything........ OR didn't ask if the party wanted them to do anything (giving her the benefit of the doubt here).

                        It's pretty hard to believe that the owner forgot after having refused the cake that was brought in. Without having witnessed the original conversation one can't really know if the tone of it could have caused the owner to intentionally snub this party on the birthday issue. That would be incredibly rude and unprofessional, but (as is said in another post here) not everyone in the restaurant business actually understands who's doing who the 'favor' here. At the very least I'd call and mention it as nicely as possible. Perhaps the owner was under some unknown stress that evening? I've always felt that anything worth keeping you from enjoying a favorite place is worth the time to see if a repair can be made.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Midlife

                          Doesn't sound like they requested the special birthday dessert. Sounds like the OP snubbed the pastry chef twice, first by bringing in a cake without permission or even asking, and then again by not requesting the special birthday dessert.

                          1. re: wyogal

                            Let's wait for cooking4watts to come back and clarify what was said/not said about the special dessert. If it was a general statement like "We don't allow people to bring their own birthday cakes, we do a special dessert for birthdays", it's easy to see how the customer could misinterpret that. Especially if (putting myself in their situation) they were feeling a bit flustered or embarrassed about having their cake turned away. In hindsight, for example in this thread, it's easy to have all the answers, but how many of us would have the presence of mind on the spot to ask all the right questions ("Oh that sounds nice, can you give me more details? How much does it cost? Is that for the whole table or just for the birthday person? OK, so can we have that tonight? Do we need to tell the server or will that be taken care of?" Etc. etc.)

                            1. re: DeppityDawg

                              But yet there is an expectation for the restaurant owner not to be flustered.

                              To me, it's like taking a friend to a place that specializes in pulled pork and because they don't eat pork you decide to bring their favorite beef brisket.

                              Clearly desserts in this restaurant are not an afterthought. I think the OP was fortunate all she got was a "dirty look."

                              While people like to believe the customer is always right. Reality is they are not. This whole dinner got off on the wrong foot because of the customer, not the owner.

                              1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                Your response made me think about this a little more, JFR, and what I eventually came up with was this:
                                Based on societal norms and just plain politeness, when you call a restaurant you are basically contracting to eat THEIR food and pay them for it. A deviation from the contract needs to be agreed upon by both parties beforehand for everything to come out to everyone's satisfaction.
                                Just sayin'.

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                  I don't expect the owner not to be flustered, and in the heat of the moment, it's hard to suppress a spontaneous reaction, like a dirty look. Fair enough, only human. But that's as far as it should go. I agree with you that the customer is not always right, but when the customer is wrong, the I expect the restaurant owner to respond with professionalism, not hold on to their wounded pride and indulge in tit-for-tat vindictiveness.

                                  I'm not saying that's what happened in the OP's case, since we only have one side of the story. But there is an idea in many of the responses here that OP's initial error was so egregious and insulting that their entire party deserved to get the cold shoulder all evening long. In my opinion, as soon as the offending cake disappeared, the problem was solved, and everyone should have gotten over it. It was the OP's fault that the dinner got off on the wrong foot, but if the restaurant owner contributed to _keeping_ it on the wrong foot, then she is also at fault.

                                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                                    Well stated, DD! IMO, since the owner/hostess is in hospitality business and depends on its customers to survive, she should have gone out of her way to be gracious and help smooth things over so the rest of the evening would be pleasant for her customers.

                                    I have no problem at all with the restaurant's policy and support their right to refuse outside food in their restaurant. But no need to be snotty about it and if she had any kind of class, she should have realized that the OP could have been flustered and could/should have gone out off her way to keep things pleasant and festIve.

                                2. re: DeppityDawg

                                  "any advice or suggestions" on an online forum, just doing that, from my perspective.

                            2. "How do you overlook a restaurant owners' behavior?"

                              I confront either at the time or by phone next day, tell my concern, and if their behavior isn't satisfactory I tell them we/I won't be returning.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: iL Divo

                                Me too. I would definitely email/call and express my displeasure/disappointment and let them know that I won't be returning or recommending the establishment to anyone.

                              2. I think you could have checked with your restaurant, before taking in any pre-made desserts. It's because of their policies ..that a place becomes great.

                                1. Well, it's a bit of a dilemma, but I THINK she was trying to tell you that, when arranged in advance, the resto. does a bday suprise for the bday guest. The language "We do a special bday suprise" can't be construed as "we'll have a suprise from OUR kitchen at the end of the meal for her." Although you're known at the restaurant, the mistake was in not calling ahead. It was correct of you to take the cake back to the car. Even though you're regulars there, you can't make assumptions about the degree of laxity you have there re: the policy of bringing food in.
                                  I'm sorry it was a funky experience, but I'd suggest a call to the owner and make the apology you owe, so as to clear the air. Of course you can voice your misgivings about the way she handled the situation. She may have been flustered too, not knowing how to deal with the situation herself; thus she avoided you.
                                  I really also think that if you love the place, you should go back once the call has been made. If you love the chef and the food, why cut off your nose to spite your face?
                                  Call, clear it up, let it go, and move on so you can enjoy the delicious food there, and the Chef too.

                                  1. I'll just say this.....the cake should not have been brought in without consent....since it was denied upon entering with an explanation of house policy, the explanation should be accepted and the matter forgotten. The visit to the table....forget about it as well. My experience is the better i know the chef or owner...the more it costs me to dine there. Having been told it was a birthday dinner, the house should stepped forward and done better all around

                                    Since you are a frequent diner......at the very least, they could have provided free desert to the Birthday Girl.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: fourunder

                                      Playing devil's advocate, because the OP is a regular customer she should have known what an insult it would be to the owner to bring in one's own cake. My guess is the owner has different expectations of a "regular" customer as well.

                                      To me it reads of "I've insulted you, now give us something for free."

                                      1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                        I have never understood the need to take a birthday cake into a restaurant. If the OP didn't call then that part of the issue is, in my mind, a non-issue. They don't allow outside food. That part I get. Now, if the OP is a regular customer, and the restuarant obviously knew it was a birthday celebration, then the hostess/owner/pastry chef, whatever certainly dropped the ball.

                                        If it were me, and I was still upset, I'd call and talk to the owner and clear the air.

                                        1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                          I certainly would never suggest to someone else how to run their business...or give advice unless asked.....but it seems there is a perception problem here now between the customer and owner. In previous visits, did the owner, and or chef, always stop by for a visit? If so, I could understand the disappointment of the OP and feeling her business is not appreciated.

                                          I'll be the first to tell you the customer is not always right and my history here tells you I find the notion of comping for free food or drinks laughable when customers feel there has been any mishaps ...but the bigger picture here is, does the long term relationship and patronage continue or does it end based on an oversight or misunderstanding? If a special order cake is $100, then it's safe to assume dinner per person is at least $75 per person....desserts probably are $10-15.

                                          In my circle of friends, we always go out to dinner at a well respected restaurant where we treat the Birthday boy or girl, and the bill is divided between all others. The group is about 12 people on average and the split typically is $100+. While I do not expect all restaurants to do this....the owners here always pick up the dessert for the table and a cake is also prepared. In this case, the owners see the larger extension of our patronage...and the house decision of springing for birthday desserts.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            I understand what you are saying fourunder. We are regulars at a number of places where we get special comps, consideration, etc.

                                            At the same time, we try to be good customers...not going on Mother's Day or V-Day, showing up on time for reservations. IMO in order for the relationship to work, both parties have to do their part and respect the other.

                                            Based on what the OP has shared, the owner is a skilled and proud pastry chef. It's an upscale restaurant and there was no notice this was a birthday celebration.

                                            As a "good and regular" customer, I would have called ahead and said "We are bringing a friend for her birthday. We love your coconut cake, but unfortunately the birthday girl doesn't like coconut. What do you suggest? I know she loves chocolate."

                                            The OP stated she was paying for dinner and didn't want to spend $100 on cake....understandable. I'm sure if she had (a) called ahead and (b) not overtly insulted the owner/pastry chef, they could have come to a win-win situation. But I find the thread title very telling in that she believes her faux pas (which I believe is far worst than the owner's) to be overlooked while no wanting to overlook the owner's reaction to a situation she created.

                                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                              Maybe the OP is used to celebrating birthdays at Chinese restaurants...

                                              : 0 )

                                      2. In your case, although you could have phoned ahead. The special B-day surprize promised was owed to you and, It is worth mentioning to the owner or management.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: hetook

                                          The special birthday dessert was never "promised." They were told that the restaurant has one, but from what was posted, it was not requested.
                                          Nothing is owed to the OP. It was rude to bring in a cake without asking the establishment, first. Then when being told about the birthday special, they could order it. From the OP, that was not done. In fact, the OP said at the end, when the hostess/server (whatever) came back and asked if there was anything else, the OP did not mention the birthday special nor request it. The OP "hoped" it would arrive.

                                          1. re: wyogal

                                            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.
                                            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                                            this could, or would, suggest implications were made otherwise.

                                            1. re: fourunder

                                              But, they didn't say to go ahead with the birthday special. It was not ordered. it was assumed. Just because there is a special, doesn't mean people are automatically going to get it.
                                              In my opinion, the OP made two blunders, first, bringing a cake to a restaurant without getting permission (and in this case, it is owned by a pastry chef with special cakes on the menu), then to fail to order the birthday special yet expect it to show up. The hostess obviously knew they had cake in the car. If it was not requested, why bring it out?

                                              1. re: wyogal

                                                There can be more than one birthday special like a simple slice of cake with their name scrolled on the plate with chocolate sauce.

                                                The OP has been upfront with her details and admission.....I make no assumptions on what was said between the two...but as I read what's before me....the OP believed something special would be done for birthdays....words made by the owner. Whether preordered in advance or not, the owner was made aware the dinner reservation was for a birthday guest when the OP checked in.

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  and they didn't order it, were just told that they have it, and it was available.
                                                  and why bother when they had their own cake?

                                                  1. re: wyogal

                                                    This interesting. Was the *special Birthday something* free or was it one of those expensive add-ons? Did the OP assume,when told not bring in the cake, that the surprize would show up as a replacement?

                                        2. Going forward, I think good food trumps everything if you love what the chef does, you should keep going back to the restaurant.

                                          I DO think I would mention it to the owner, however, just to clear the air. You could say "I'm sorry about the unpleasantness last week, I didn't mean to insult you by bringing my own cake. You seemed to be avoid our table after that and didn't send out the special dessert you mentioned...so i hope that doesn't mean you're upset with us." If this doesn't bring on a flood of explanations and apologies, i'd be surprised.

                                          btw, I think the correct response from the hostess would be something along the lines of "What a lovely cake! We'd be happy to cut and plate that in the kitchen after you present it to your friend. Our standard charge for that is $4 per person, is that OK?"

                                          18 Replies
                                          1. re: danna

                                            I disagree....the hostess isn't hosting a party, it's a business. Perhaps the OP should have brought some appetizers for the table as well and the hostess should have served them for a fee.

                                            1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                              I'm under the impression that plating a cake is a common practice, although of course one would call first and ask. Are you also appalled by the idea of bringing in a special bottle of wine and being charged corkage?

                                              1. re: danna

                                                Not if the restaurant offers it. I've not heard of a restaurant "inviting" you to bring in your own dessert.

                                                Corkage is new to Virginia, so it's not common here.

                                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                  Yes, one key element of bringing wine is that it is not on the restaurant's wine list.

                                                  The OP did not mention the restaurant, but the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC (OP posts on Carolina boards) has an Ultimate Coconut Cake that they sell online for $100 plus shipping. (I've heard that coconut cake is big in the South, but how many places sell them for $100?). The restaurant also has a chocolate cake in the dessert menu: Chocolate Extravaganza - Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Ganache. If this is the same restaurant, bringing a chocolate cake when there is already chocolate cake on the menu is really inappropriate. Even before calling the restaurant to ask if she could bring a cake, the OP should have checked the dessert menu online to see if there was something chocolate that her friend would have liked, and could have called the restaurant to pre-order one with a candle and a happy birthday. And have you ever seen a dessert menu without at least one chocolate dessert? I usually have two on mine, one intensely dark chocolate and one where the chocolate is secondary or milk.

                                                  It's too bad, because anyone who cooks knows the birthday cake was made with love and the best of intentions. The dessert scenario just needed a little more consideration before the cake was made.

                                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                                    Peninsula Grill has a nice dessert menu: http://65.110.65.195/downloads/menu/d...

                                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                                      The Peninsula Grill (from its website) looks like a very nice restaurant, if that's the one in the OP, and not one where I'd ever consider bringing a cake, especially given what's on the menu. In the past, I've argued that it's fine to bring a cake to a restaurant IF it's a very casual place, it's been cleared with the restaurant and it's off hours. But, this wouldn't be the case here. That coconut cake looks amazing, btw. I can't get over that it would cost close to $200 to have one shipped to me.

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        I imagine the pricing has to do with supply and demand, as in they are a restaurant and don't want to become a coconut cake factory. The $100 price tag makes it available, yet guarantees that they won't be overwhelmed with orders. FedEx next day for something that's a couple of pounds isn't cheap, and packing a frosted cake to survive shipping has got to be tricky. It is amazing sometimes what people will pay for things. I wonder how many they actually sell.

                                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                                          I would not even THINK about showing up at Peninsula Grill with a cake. Gives me the vapors just thinking about it.

                                                          1. re: babette feasts

                                                            Have you tried it? Is it that good? It looks good enough that I'd go to the restaurant if I were in town but I can't pay that price for cake. I wonder if many people would pay that--maybe a special occasion for someone who's really missing it.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              It's 10 bucks for a slice.....

                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                I'd pay $10 a slice since I'd only have one slice. And, I'd be on vacation...

                                                              2. re: chowser

                                                                Yeah, we shared a piece once. It's large, multi-layered and it's fine. CC cake is not my favorite so I haven't had it since. But I daggone sure wouldn't consider bringing my tupperware cakeholder into Peninsula.

                                                                1. re: Sue in Mt P

                                                                  notice that Sue says it's "fine". That's about it. IMHO, the only reason that cake is famous is because they cut such massive slices. It's just a big cake, and too heavy for me as coconut cake goes. Mine is at least 3x better. ;-)

                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                              The OP stated that she has been visiting this restaurant since it opened 3 years ago. Peninsula Grill's website says in opened in 1997. There are a few other details OP provided that do not mesh with the description of the Peninsula Grill.

                                                              1. re: jlhinwa

                                                                It was just a guess, based on them selling $100 coconut cakes. I never would have guessed the $100 coconut cake was a common thing! I mean I love coconut, but seriously?

                                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                                  I thought about that too, but I knew by the OP description it wasn't Peninsula Grill. But it was a good guess! That cake is famous around here.

                                                                  1. re: Sue in Mt P

                                                                    Whatever restaurant it was, I'm sure they have more than one dessert on the menu, and I can't imagine them not having something chocolate.

                                                                  2. re: babette feasts

                                                                    I know, hard to imagine that there are lots of restos with $100 coconut cakes! My brother, who is a coconut freak, would be all over it, though.

                                                    2. It seems to me that bringing a cake into a restaurant is similar to brining a bottle of wine into a restaurant. If restaurant policy allows it, it's perfectly acceptable. If it's against policy, don't attempt. If you don't know the policy, find out in advance.

                                                      Personally, I'd feel extremely embarrassed bringing a cake into a restaurant (especially one that's known for their cake) and asking them to serve it. Seems to me that the owner was rightly peeved.

                                                      1. Hind-sight being 20/20, I am sure the OP agrees it was a bit of a faux pas to have brought the cake without asking. Honestly though, it sounds like a number of posters here think it was a deliberate affront to the restaurant and chef. I just don't see that at all. To me, it was an "oops...wish I would have thought about this ahead of time." There are many many reasons a detail like that could have been overlooked.

                                                        Since the hostess/owner is in the hospitality business and has been the recipient of repeat business from the OP and friends over the years, it would seem like her best choice would have been to point our their policy tactfully and do her best to smooth it over so there wasn't any embarrassment or discomfort. I am a little shocked at all the people who think the OP is the one who was so out of line.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: jlhinwa

                                                          I'm in the same camp with you.... evidently there are many assumptions being made without true foundation. It's one thing to make a mistake or an error in judgement, but to attach such harsh assessments as being rude or insulting for this infraction is too strong....especially when it was meant as a gesture for her friend.

                                                          1. re: jlhinwa

                                                            I definitely don't see the OP's actions as an affront to the restaurant/owner/pastry chef and think she had the best intentions. I do see, though, how it could have been taken as such by the pastry chef, who is known for her special cake. Had it come off as a deliberate affront, I think the responses would have been much harsher.

                                                            1. re: jlhinwa

                                                              I completely agree with jlhinwa, although given some of the things I've read on Chowhound before I'm not surprised the OP was ganged up on.

                                                              1. re: jlhinwa

                                                                I think the problem is that many of the 'facts' as presented are subject to interpretation (the owner's tone, not getting a tableside visit, whether or not it was implied that the birthday surprise would be forthcoming). The only sure fact is that the OP brought a cake to a restaurant that not only serves cake, but is owned by a famed pastry chef - the very same person who the OP was dealing with. That is something I would never do, frankly. I do understand that the OP did not have bad intentions but I think she used bad judgement here. It also sounds like the owner could have been more gracious once the cake was made to disappear, but again that is a little more subjective, with lots of room for misinterpretation on both sides.

                                                              2. I can't imagine a restaurant owner who knows anything about liability agreeing to serve a home-baked cake, so I would overlook their behaviour (without commenting on yours).

                                                                1. A large part of hosting is making sure everyone is comfortable. There are ways to tactfully explain policy without anger, attitude or rudeness. Handled with finesse the hostess/owner could have turned this into a win/win situation.

                                                                  In some areas bringing in an outside cake for birthdays is not uncommon. In my server days this would happen a couple of times per month. I can only remember one time when the customer asked for permission in advance - and that was only because they wanted to bring an ice cream cake and needed freezer space.

                                                                  I was initially surprised - I had never come across this. Each manager/owner stressed that this was relationship building and that we were fortunate that the group wanted to celebrate at our venue. None of these restaurants charged a fee for serving the cake. And really, from a servers perspective, it was just a blip in the evening - some tables linger, some don't - just part of the rhythm of service.

                                                                  End result, a professional in the hospitality business should have the ability and sense to ease the discomfort after a guest has realized they made a faux pas. By the end of the evening the guest should leave with a good taste in their mouth - not the sourness from stress and unease.

                                                                  This disrespecting the chef thing is getting out of perspective imo. You could be the greatest chef in the world, but without returning happy guests you aren't going to be successful as a restauranteur. These are paying guests, a business arrangement not a delivery of tribute to a god.

                                                                  The OP seems to have quickly removed the cake from the business. At that point the restaurant should proceed as water under the bridge. A wise host would try to be sure the guest felt comfortable.

                                                                  I can see where the OP thought that a dessert was going to be served. When dessert orders are requested in this situation there is often uncertainty. If dessert is a surprise, the server might be just helping to maintain the surprise. If the patrons think the details have been arranged they might stay quiet so the surprise is in tact. This is the part of the evening where communication fell apart for whatever reason.

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                                    nice post, well said.

                                                                    1. re: danna

                                                                      But we still haven't reached a concensus!! :)

                                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                                        Consensus on how the OP should proceed?

                                                                        I lost sight of that, felt the OP was getting a bit ganged up on and wanted to present another point of view....

                                                                        If it were me I would dine there again and see how it felt. Everything had been great before the cake incident. That situation showed the hostess/pastry chef off her "host" game. The other situations of the evening are just that, situations. They may have nothing to do with the cake incident. But I would not expect an apology - if the hostess handled the cake this awkwardly then I suspect that social nuance is not her best talent.

                                                                        I would not call and try to revisit the situation. If this happened with a friend, then I would do whatever I could to make sure we were both ok with it. But this isn't a friend, it is a business. When you deal with the public you eventually see everything. Behaving professionally allows a business relationship to proceed smoothly regardless of personal differences.

                                                                        Had the OP pulled a hissy fit or brought the cake back in then the obligation to make things right would be on her. She acquiesced once presented with the restaurants policy and continued the evening with positive expectations.

                                                                        If the next visit doesn't feel comfortable then I would stop going for a while. Doesn't really matter who did or said what - if you are not comfortable there is no sense spending your time and money there.

                                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                                          How often is there a consensus on anything at CH? I'd venture that pigs haven't flown yet.

                                                                          1. re: rasputina

                                                                            I don't think anyone has defended Paula Deen yet. Maybe I'll go over to Food Media and do that, just to keep things interesting.

                                                                            ;)

                                                                        2. re: danna

                                                                          I agree.

                                                                        3. re: meatn3

                                                                          Right on meatn3.

                                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                                            "This disrespecting the chef thing is getting out of perspective imo. You could be the greatest chef in the world, but without returning happy guests you aren't going to be successful as a restauranteur. These are paying guests, a business arrangement not a delivery of tribute to a god."

                                                                            Well said!

                                                                          2. I have a solution. Call the restaurant not saying who you are and just ask some questions about birthdays such as do they have a special dessert, do they need to know in advance or just when ordering dessert, etc. Just ask the questions and you will likely find the answers you are looking for about what happened once you know how to get the dessert served in the future. that will likely clear up the confusion about what happened after it was stated that special birthday dessert was available.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Astur

                                                                              nice .

                                                                              1. re: Astur

                                                                                Or tell us the name of the restaurant and we'll do it for you.

                                                                                1. re: Astur

                                                                                  Another perspective..................... My guess: "available" = at a price. Therefore it wouldn't be volunteered by the owner. It's possible that the owner, having banished the brought-in cake, might have felt reluctant to solicit a paid-for dessert, but not reluctant enough to offer it gratis.

                                                                                  It's not exactly the best way for this to have happened, but it might explain why it seemed that the guest would have had to request the dessert for it to have been the subject of any further discussion.

                                                                                  Just sayin'.

                                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                                    or, the restaurant, given advance notice, really does put something special together for birthdays... either complimentary or purchased-- but without the advance notice, the restaurant does not necessarily have the item on hand. in that case the owner was pretty much explaining: "if only we had known/you'd told us."

                                                                                    "something special for birthdays" = free dessert for 3 people is really tenuous. i don't know any place that does a whole free course for a group table, just because someone is celebrating a birthday. i think it's perfectly reasonable for the restaurant staff to infer that the party was going to skip dessert at the restaurant and go somewhere else to eat the homemade cake. awkward all around.

                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                      The difficulty here seems to stem from the apparent fact that neither the guest nor the owner followed up on the celebration question. To decide which side had the greater burden is difficult at best.

                                                                                2. A small aside re: the custom of using birthday cakes (for adults) as edible horizontal foundations upon which to implant vertical candles to be then blown out while 'making a secret wish'.

                                                                                  As what I am going to say will likely be universally unpopular, I'd like to preface my statement and state that I believe the OP to be a genuinely lovely friend for going to so much effort so often for her friends. As Frank Burns once said "it's nice to be nice to the nice". The OP is clearly nice.

                                                                                  Now: except for those among us raised in tiger cages by waterboarding guards, I don't understand why adults continue this particular practice (candles on cakes for B-Days) far, far into adulthood. There is an age beyond which most of us cease to be special and unique snowflakes, and that age is 10 years old (adjustable by a year or two in either direction). By 10, I'd had at least 7 or 8 cake/candle experiences at my birthday parties with other special snowflakes. I'd guess most kids have had a similar percentage of such experiences, again, not counting those raised in uncaring or otherwise impoverished homes ( a growing number, I'm sorry to surmise). But now at age 50, I've had nearer to 30 or more such experiences. Even genuinely wonderful people have been treated as king/queen for a day in this manner more than enough by age 21 or 31 or 41, etc.. As with Christmas, as a 50 year old man, I don't need a dozen shiny presents awaiting me under the tree - one or two is more than enough. How much more extravagantly do any of us need to be reminded that we are so precious? I think by age 10, most kids can figure out that this day upon which I celebrate my birth will not be like the sighting of Halley's Comet (sp), and that the following year, will be that much further removed from that special snowflake state that can rightly have a place in fond childhood memories.

                                                                                  Wanna be a cool friend and treat me special for my adult birthday - just keep being a good friend and pick up that phone call from me when it rings at 3:00 a.m. from the bailbondsman's office. Or remember to top off the gas tank the next time I lend you my convertible for the weekend.

                                                                                  Lastly: isn't the symbolism of blowing OUT candles a bit of a backward message. "Happy Birthday!. Now, take the breath-of-life and extinguish that warmly glowing light before time and circumstance do it for you!"

                                                                                  Growing up, what made that first crush or first kiss or first true love so uniquely special was that it happened only once. If I am falling in love daily, are those memories so very special? Just sayin...

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: silence9

                                                                                    Lol, silence9, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, sardonic, ironic, or serious. In any case, my middle-aged arthritic, myopic, gimpy, chubby, scrawny, grumpy, balding, female-mustache-sprouting, flabby, special snowflake friends & I still enjoy candles on a cake, though not at restaurants. Re-lighting candles are still funny too.

                                                                                    We still show up in the waiting room when they have a heart cath, and we help move their little brother when he gets evicted; we laugh when they forget to turn the oven on at Thanksgiving (again!). The memories are what's special, candles just part of the fun. :)

                                                                                    1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                                      Hi... I like your perspective. You sound like a very nice friend as well. Glad you have discovered and continue the social practices that are menaingful - and fun - for you and yours... Pax

                                                                                      1. re: silence9

                                                                                        And peace back atcha, silence. :) We probably think quite alike; it's the people that matter.

                                                                                        I don't like to involve restaurant staff in our celebrations. They're pretty busy and they don't know us. We like a fun birthday or anniversary out, but none of us want singing, candles, chocolate script messages on a plate, or a freebie handout. We may ask for extra wasabi for spoon-shooters, but we'll pay for it, and there's always a Designated A**hole Wrangler to make sure that that last tequila shot didn't make anyone act stupid. :)

                                                                                    2. re: silence9

                                                                                      I agree that blowing out candles as an adult is silly and don't understand it. If you and your friends enjoy it, great. But it is something else to involve restaurant staff. I say enjoy what the restaurant has to offer and keep the homemade things at home.

                                                                                    3. +1 in agreement w/ meatn3 above. Truly good service means you do not ever make the guest feel like an idiot, even if they've done something "wrong". Yes, you should have called in advance, but the hostess should have said 'we don't usually do that, but...,' and served up your cake anyway, or she should have given the birthday-person dessert on the house to make up for the awkward start to the evening. Good will is worth more than cake (or her ego) if she's going to make an expensive restaurant work for the long haul.

                                                                                      I think it would be fine to send a a note saying you know you should have called in advance about the cake, but you feel disappointed with the way the matter was handled. But if you don't hear back from her, you can't really go to the restaurant again, can you? Since you love the food, I'd say let it go, and if she acts weird next time you visit, never go back.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: ninrn

                                                                                        The restaurant is entitled to decide on a policy and stick to it. They are also entitled make random exceptions to their policy, but this could just cause further problems. (Can you imagine the OP's next thread: "We went back to that restaurant tonight and the table next to us brought their own cake and the owner made the chef come out and sing happy birthday to them! How do I overlook this?")

                                                                                        That said, I completely agree with your point about putting service over ego in this case. A service professional should be able to pull off a sincere-sounding "I'm really sorry, but we have a general policy about that, thank you so much for understanding" even if what they're really thinking is "Hell no you can't, and **** you for even asking!"

                                                                                      2. I am a huge fan of a politely worded letter expressing just the things that you expressed in your message. YOu sound like a reasonable person with a reasonable issue. However, there may also be a reasonable explanation. I know that I always feel better if I get a chance to let management know of my issue. This would not be the time to VENT. Mention the things that you liked about the restaurant and how surprised you were about how you felt you were treated. If nothing else you received two things:
                                                                                        1. The satisfaction of knowing that you were at least heard and
                                                                                        2. The potential for a positive response by the management which will, in turn, return the restaurant that you love to your good graces.