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Mar 18, 2012 09:38 PM

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.

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. :)

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