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EMP Versus Morality

I guess I'm in need of a little ethical help here.

I've been a long time admirer and ardent fan of Eleven Madison Park. I went a couple of times prior to the menu change, convinced my mother to have her birthday in the room upstairs, had my graduation lunch there and freaked out when I met Chef Humm when I went solo for lunch one day (one of many times, including one memorable time when I ordered the duck for myself and could barely walk out of the restaurant). Needless to say, I really loved the place.

And second (barely) to the food was the service - I often felt as if I was the only person in the restaurant. Their marks for service are oft quoted here so I won't go into details, but I will say that a large part of the reason why I kept on returning was because of how comfortable I felt there, even when dining solo.

Yet, earlier this winter that all changed. I knew that game season was drawing to a close and I wanted to try Lievre a Royal. It's been a "grail" dish so to speak for quite some time and, given my relationship with EMP, I thought I would call them and ask if they would be willing to make it as a special addition to their regular menu (obviously, I was willing to accept a surcharge). Having received the card of their manager on previous visits, I called up said person and left a message explaining what I was hoping for. This was when my troubles began.

For a week I waited, and nothing. Perhaps I misdialed, or just my message never went through. No worries, I thought, and I called the reservation office, explaining my story. They assured me that the number I had was correct and that were I to call again, the manager would call me back. In addition they too would speak to the manager on my behalf. So later that day I called the manager again and once more laid out my request in voicemail. Once more, a week went by and no response. So I called the reservations office again. They told me they were surprised that the manager had not gotten back to me (because they had passed on my request) but this time they told me that they could handle the process of inquiring about the lievre themselves and that they would get back to me later that day. I waited and yet never got a call. Undeterred, I called the next day, checking up on the progress. To my surprise, I was told that there was no record of my request whatsoever, and when I asked to speak to the manager I was told that it would not be possible, despite the fact that said person had given me their card.

By this time, I was more than a little annoyed. I've spent considerable time and money dining there (and enjoyed every minute of it) and to find out that during this entire two week period I was given the runaround was a blow, especially considering how they pride themselves on customer service (and having been a recipient of that excellent service in the past). What's more, upon calling Daniel - a restaurant I had never been to - I was told that day that making a lievre wouldn't be a problem. So I vowed that I wouldn't return.

Whether or not EMP could make the lievre was no longer the point. I just felt that this entire experience was a textbook case of how to loose a repeat customer who wanted nothing more to go there in the first place. And I've made good on that promise, thus far. Here's where I need opinons/help. I have the opportunity to go to EMP within the near future. Two things are compelling me to go: the company I would go with (who are not at all involved in my experience) and the fact that I really like what Chef Humm is doing there.

Yet, my sense of commitment to the promise I made myself weighs heavily against that. I don't really want to sacrifice my moral integrity (or what little shred of it I have) for a good meal. But what if my morals were out of place the first time? Was this an overblown reaction? Do other people have vows not to visit restaurants after bad experiences? Should I just get over this? I don't want to sound like a total a** to my friends and excuse myself from their party because of my own problems with EMP, but this also matters to me. Does this make any sense? If any of you would share what you would do/advise/have done in the past in similar situations that would be great. Whatever you think, I'd like to know.

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

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  1. Obviously no one on here can tell you what to do, but don't you think it will sound silly to say to your friends, "Oh, no, sorry, I can't go because EMP never called me back that one time when I asked them to make something that was off-menu, expensive, and likely difficult to source."

    I guess I feel like there's something entitled about calling up a restaurant and requesting them to make something and then getting pouty when that request isn't honored—not to mention you're cutting off your nose to spite your face in a way. It's bad form and unlike them that they totally didn't acknowledge your request, but human errors plays a role in even the best operations.

    2 Replies
    1. re: loratliff

      Yeah, I can't say I've ever made a request like that, even at restaurants where I was on a first-name basis with the chef or the GM, let alone somewhere I've only visited a handful of times. However, I can also understand the OP's frustration as he/she absolutely deserved a call back, some kind of answer, especially after being assured by the reservation office. The restaurant essentially "led him/her on" by not giving a definite answer and wasted his/her time.

      OP - If I were you though, I would not hold onto my "vow" of never returning, especially if it's a group situation that brings you back there. Things go wrong. Stuff happens. Life is too short to have your morality get in the way of good time with good friends and good food. Who knows, they may even make an extra effort if you give them a chance to explain, make up (not that you are expecting this, obviously.)

      JMHO, of course.

      1. re: uwsister

        I have specifically been told told request setting special by the manager at one of our regular fine dining establishments but am reluctant for fear of this situation.

    2. Ms. L. of Per Se also never answers the phone although I have her business card, and even if I leave a message, she never calls me back. So far, Per Se is the only fine dining restaurant in town whose manager never calls me back. These days, I don't bother to call her. I just call the reservation center and enjoy dining there. :)

      1. I think EMP was in the wrong for having failed to get back to you as they promised despite your multiple attempts to contact them. In the case of your dilemma though, which do you value more? The company of your friends or the vow of not giving a restaurant that you have a grudge against anymore business? Is it possible to convince your friends to eat somewhere else?

        1. EMP is so far out in the sticks, I am sure they know every repeat customer by voice.

          I hope the OP is not in sales, as you have to go through many nos before a yes, and the OP seems to have a low tolerance for no. As my first mentor in sales taught me, if you want a yes, you have to ask belly button to belly button. Then look them in the eye, and get it on paper.

          5 Replies
          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            The problem is, EMP never gave the OP a yes or no. They failed to respond altogether despite promising to do so.

            1. re: Cheeryvisage

              Sorry, I grew up in a time where two phones in the house was upper middle class, and there were no answering machines, let alone instant gratification cell phones and texting.

              I feel, rightly or wrongly, that special requests require special communications.

            2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

              Just curoius about what you mean when you state: "EMP is so far out in the sticks".

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  Ohhhhhhhhhh, thanks for clearing that up for me : )

            3. If Ithey didn't call after the second call with a yes or no answer that would be the end of it for me. If I were you I would never go back. There are plenty of other great restaurants in NY and if this is their policy I would definitely forget about them. It is not a matter of food, it is a matter of principal, especially you being a good customer.

              1. I think we can all agree, OP was owed a callback, not owed the lievre.

                Logically speaking - assume that it is a fact that the manager never returns any calls if the call is to request a special off-menu dish - should this fact keep you from dining in the restaurant? It is very rude not to call you back - however - It shouldn't keep you away unless you plan to request the lievre every time you go. If you don't plan on requesting a special meal each time, your subsequent meals should remain unaffected by the lack of return phone call.

                So it's a personal choice - should you get over the fact that you were treated rudely for the sake of enjoying an evening of Humm's delights?

                Personally, I would return and make it a point to speak to the manager in person. I'd thank him for another memorable meal and also mention my ignored quest for Lievre and how it almost kept me from returning...

                I've said this before on the board but EMP has some of the best and thoughtful service in town. You also seem to agree (prior to this experience). I think if you speak to someone face to face, you will get a genuine apology that might allow you to keep your morality intact while still enjoying EMP :)

                (cue the EMP cult accusations...)

                3 Replies
                1. re: chloes

                  Speaking of talking to the manager in person, every time I've had a special request for a meal at EMP, I popped in at dinner or lunch service a few days prior and asked in person. (Of course, my request didn't involve something like this, but they were all honored.) OP, after the second ignored call, why wouldn't you have dropped by in person to ask if you wanted the dish so badly?

                  1. re: loratliff

                    "OP, after the second ignored call, why wouldn't you have dropped by in person to ask if you wanted the dish so badly?"

                    Perhaps the OP doesn't live near the restaurant, or it just wouldn't be possible to "drop by in person." Personal schedules, busy lives, etc. If it's a destination restaurant, I might not be able to make the trip to find out the answer in person when they should have correctly responded to my phone calls.

                  2. re: chloes

                    >>>
                    Personally, I would return and make it a point to speak to the manager in person. I'd thank him for another memorable meal and also mention my ignored quest for Lievre and how it almost kept me from returning...
                    <<<

                    By far, IMO, the most sensible answer I've seen. However...

                    >>>
                    I think if you speak to someone face to face, you will get a genuine apology ...
                    <<<

                    Considering how many times the OP left messages, my money is on a Lip Service Apology. I would graciously accept said LSA and get on with my life. And, yes, I would return.

                  3. This has more to do with your reaction to one employee's behavior than it has to do with morals or ethics.

                    You should just get over this.

                    After having a bad experience at a restaurant I generally like, I make a cost/benefit analysis. I ask myself whether the food of the talented Chef is worth the stress of dealing with the employee/manager/restaurant owner who disappointed me. I then ask myself whether I should let the management, restaurant owner or Chef know about the disappointing experience, to hopefully avoid a similar experience at the same restaurant in the future.

                    While the manager didn't respond to your requests, it doesn't sound like the manager was intentionally rude or mean. I'd just chalk the manager's behaviour up to a busy manager who might not be good at responding to phone calls. Might be annoying, but there are worse sins committed by restaurant managers than failing to respond to phone calls or special requests.

                    1. Hi folks, please pardon the interruption, but we've had to remove a number of replies from this thread, and wanted to take a moment to explain:

                      We realize that the OP is specifically soliciting other hounds' opinions on the matter at hand. Having said that, we'd ask that regardless of your opinion, you keep the focus of your replies on the OP's decision, not on the OP. And as always, please keep the discussion civil.

                      1. Sometimes in business and in life, no answer = "no". That said, yes, you did deserve a response.

                        I'd chalk it up to experience and still enjoy meals there. For me it's not a "moral" issue but a small service failure.

                        I'd go with your friends and "shake it off" if you can, and enjoy. I'd hate to see it color your future experiences with the place.

                        1. Hm. I don't really think of this--a bad customer service experience--as a "morality" issue, although I understand you made a promise to yourself. (I once also vowed never to go back to a restaurant I frequented often after an egregiously bad service experience.) Honestly, in this case, I would go, because I think politeness to colleagues at your company trumps personal ethics for something like this. If this were another issue (like you saw the chef hitting his staff or serving shark's fin or something else that I think of as a more inflexible case of personal ethics) I would answer differently.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: PegS

                            I agree; I think it is a customer service issue, but I don't think it is an ethical issue and was surprised once I read the post that it was labelled as such.

                            As a customer service issue, I'd send an email or letter before writing the restaurant off, particularly if I loved it. Some people and businesses don't do well with phone.

                          2. i wonder if it occurred to the op that the restaurant may have thought it was a crank call?

                            if i were serious about this request, i would go in to dine, and at that point i would tell the mgr that i was after a proper lievre de royal, and that i had 7 friends on board w me willing to split the cost of a $1000-$2000 (base price, just for the lievre course) special group meal-- and i would ask to speak to the chef. the manager won't be cooking the food nor sourcing the ingredients, and can not answer whether it is possible, so there is only so much s/he can do to answer a customer request of this unusual nature... but over the phone it is a difficult thing to take seriously, sort of like many requests restaurants get via phone or email.

                            otherwise, yes, imo the op should get over it. the manager could not answer the question without info from the customer re: putting $ where mouth is, and the chef re: feasibility, sourcing, food cost. the chef (in his right mind) would not research the sourcing etc. without some sort of assurance that the customer was actually serious (and will pay). a face to face with the customer & chef would go so much further than a phone call in this situation, with the mgr standing by with the res book and credit card swiper.

                            imo phone conversations with booking staff/foh at restaurants are almost a completely separate deal from the restaurant's *actual* customer service (which for me, is the service actually given to diners eating at the restaurant). yeah, please don't lose my reservation or leave me on hold forever about an ingredient check... but the weirder the request, the more likely the ball is apt to be dropped at some point, and it's hard to pin the blame on one person only. if the op has enjoyed the food and the real customer service at the restaurant, there is no reason not to return-- and indeed, to bring up the lievre to the restaurant's staff in person, if it's a serious request.

                            1 Reply
                            1. It seems that I am in the minority here, but I think the OP deserved a response or an
                              explanation. If the general manager does not ,as a policy, respond to special requests,
                              he should have been told that at least by the second call - but I find it hard to believe that
                              this would be the policy at a Danny Meyer's restaurant. He might try to e-mail or snail
                              mail Danny or his guest relations manager, listed as Mandy Laterveer on their website,
                              and politely express his disappointment at the lack of any follow up after all of his
                              positive experiences at the restaurant. I would be surprised if fhere was no response.

                              1. I wonder exactly what time of year you meant by "earlier this winter."

                                If it was before the holidays, the manager may have been absolutely 100% under water with work and holiday parties and special requests, etc.

                                Like everyone else, you deserved a call. But if the manager was in the weeds, he may simply not have gotten around to calling you back because there were larger fires to put out than a single diner.

                                No value judgement. Just saying there may have been extenuating circumstances.

                                1. Well...............IMHO........... the OP deserved a response, but taking this so far seems to fit under the category of "Life's Too Short". I don't know that I'd go out of my way to return there, due to the discomfort of this memory, but I certainly wouldn't let this keep me from enjoying the experience with friends. As I said......."Life's Too short!".

                                  1. You don't have enough frequent flyer miles at EMP for an over the top special request. Keep flying or go Greyhound.

                                    There is no morality issue here.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      I thought New York City had gotten over itself by now. ;o] ............and I was born there.

                                    2. While you should have received a callback, I offer this:

                                      Restaurant managers aren't exactly sitting in the office on facebook and chowhound all day- they are busy putting out fires, interviewing, ordering, inventories, etc etc etc. Chances are, he got the message, kept intending to call you back, got busy trying to get that stupid light that keeps going out to work, and forgot about it until 2am when service was over. Of course, s/he's not going to call you then. Not to mention, throwing in trying to get an answer from a chef who happens to always be offsite/ in a meeting/etc when you finally have the chance to ask. What good does it do, after all, to call you back without an answer? So trying to track down the equally busy chef, who has to track down an equally busy supplier, and get all that information relayed may not be an easy task.

                                      Does it kind of suck? yes. That's what face to face is for. If it's that important to you, I suggest making the trek up there, on an off hour, and ask then. Chances are you'll get an effusive apology about not having the chance to get back to you, and you'll get your answer within 10 minutes. To write off one of the best restaurants in NYC because an overworked manager couldnt get all the dots in line fast enough seems like a silly reason- life is too short to quibble over such frivolous things.

                                      1. The issue is two fold.

                                        Yes, a response should have been given - the ball was dropped somewhere along the line. Given the request falls out of day to day norms it should not be surprising though.

                                        The second aspect is the OP had developed expectations of a personal relationship based on past exceptional service. "given my relationship with EMP" Service is part and parcel of the experience they strive to give each guest. While the OP may be visually recognized as a returning guest, the treatment received should not be interpreted as anything more than a very nice business relationship.

                                        The jolt of failed relationship expectations is a pride issue not a morality issue. To refuse to join friends there for this reason would be misguided.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: meatn3

                                          >The jolt of failed relationship expectations is a pride issue not a morality issue. To refuse to join friends there for this reason would be misguided.

                                          I think you hit the nail on the head, meatn3. It is a pride issue, not morality. Very well put.

                                        2. I certainly vow not to return to restaurants after bad experiences. Remember, it's your vow - they won't know anything about it.

                                          But consider the possibility that the manager may have thought it was a crank call. This is a dish that they don't have on their menu that is almost fiendishly difficult to make.

                                          If you really want to find out if they will make the dish for you, return to the restaurant in person and ask them. Then, you can work out terms.