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Your worst Boston area restaurant experience

A recent posting about a bad experience at Taqueria Mexico in Waltham reminded me of an experience we had a few years ago that we still shake our heads in disbelief when the restaurant is mentioned.

About 7 or 8 years ago, my wife was given a gift certificate to Bernards in Chestnut Hill. Living fairly close, we had eaten there a number of times. Food was usually good, service was decent.

One evening we decided to go use the gift certificate. There were told there was a 30 minute wait for a table, that turned into an hour. We could overlook that, restaurant queues are not always predicable.
We were sat, our order taken, and food arrived at a reasonable pace.

A few minutes after our entrees arrived, the staff started to arrange adjacent tables for a large party. It became clear fairly soon, that our table was needed for that party. I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but a check was presented and the staff attempted to take our plates away while we were still eating!

We finished quickly, had any leftovers packaged, and presented the gift certificate as payment - it covered the bill and a decent tip. As we were walking through the restaurant to leave, the manager told us the gift certificate could not be used for the tip. I must have been in shock, because I actually gave them cash for the tip. In retrospect, I should have said something like "Fine, we won't leave a tip".

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  1. The list is long but distinguished, but likely due to the recency effect I will vote for our recent meal at Uni which is detailed here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/856578

    1. i will have to go with Fiorellas in newton. a victim of their own success.

      a fall meal and an "about 45 minute" wait for a table that morphed into an hour an 10, then a solid 10-15 to get drinks and menus, when the (already) harried waitress took our order, i could see that the kitchen was already deep in the weeds, but wife/daughter said " it wont be bad",.

      40 minutes later i managed to catch the waitresses eye and asked that my dinner be packed to go as we had already been there two hours.
      open kitchen running full bore, blue hairs complaining about their food, whole families of with whining hungry chlldren parked nearby like refugees, everyone TALKING REALLY LOUDLY, two women sitting together and both talking on their phones (i just dont understand this), people standing waiting for...what? not sure, blocking doorways and waitresses, and then finally food.

      meh. competent but uninspired, i asked for a check when she delivered the food and it still took 30 minutes to get. comped a couple of tiramisu, which was nice, but i really couldnt wait to get out of there.

      used to be a sweet little place you could get some decent italian for not much. since their build out, they can have it.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hyde

        I agree that Fiorellas is a victim of its own success. The food just doesn't justify the wait and the crowds. A good alternative, in my opinion, is Maria di Napoli in Nonantum. The food is better, especially the pizza which is incomparably so, the owners are lovely people, and there is never a wait.

        1. re: bartleby

          my only quibble with di Napoli is one has to be prepared for a leisure pace at times. not slow, exactly, but a more continental pace between courses. not bad, but not a place to run in and grab something quick. best pizza in nonantum,(though that is a pretty low bar)

          1. re: hyde

            It's leisurely, I agree. I like that. When I'm in a rush, I call ahead.

      2. Many moons ago, when I was much younger, poorer, and less demanding than I am now, the wife and I and another couple went to Biba. We were seated promptly at our time of reservation, and that was the last thing that went right. First we were ignored for about 30 minutes without menus (we were told by the hostess that our server would bring us menus). Finally after 30 minutes our server came over to ask us what we'd like to order! Explaining that we were not given menus, the server left in a huff giving us the impression that this was somehow our fault. Ten minutes later (after flagging down a second server) we were given menus.

        Menus that we were apparently supposed to read in a millisecond as we had just gotten them when our first server came over to take our order. She returned in a few minutes and we ordered. Apps and a bottle of wine appeared in a reasonable amount of time, and while they were very good, I was so unhappy with the situation so far that I couldn't enjoy them as much as I should have.

        We then waited for our entrees. And waited. A table of four was seated next to us, got their apps, entrees, desserts, and paid, and we still waited for our entrees. This time was not spent without complaint. We asked our server numerous times where our entrees were and were told that they "had a new menu" and the kitchen was having difficulty with it. I asked why everyone else in the restaurant was eating entrees, especially the table next to us (two of whom had ordered what we had ordered), and was given a blank stare. We order a second bottle of wine which we finish before the entrees finally arrive. We order a third bottle of wine to drink with our entrees. Three of the four entrees were cold on arrival. I asked finally to speak to a manager. Manager came by and basically blamed the whole incident on us, saying we were being unreasonable. I told him that I didn't think I was being unreasonable expecting that my entrees would arrive sooner than 90+ minutes after my apps were cleared. Also I explained that we didn't expect to buy a third bottle of expensive for us wine either. He sent us 2 free desserts (we didn't order any, and wouldn't have at this point) as a comp. No offer to warm the food we'd gotten cold, no offer to comp us any of the meals or wine. Basically a cluster of titanic proportions.

        It was such a bad experience that I refused for many years to go to ANY Lydia Shire restaurants as I would not give that woman another dime of my money.

        4 Replies
        1. re: kimfair1

          Absolutely agreed. One of the oddest and most expensive meals of my life, even excluding the La Perla models from downstairs traipsing through in their transparent undergarments. Ew. "Gnocchi" with undercooked peas and slippery, unevenly melted cheese. I don't remember the rest. Awful.

          1. re: lifeasbinge

            Don't know about you, but I would certainly endure "gnocchi" with undercooked peas and slippery, unevenly melted cheese if I was forced to eat that while surrounded by La Perla models in transparent undergarments.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              i almost think that you cannot undercook a pea; i just nuke a bunch of them for 30 seconds and they are good to go.

              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                agreed, if I am making them in pasta, I just put them in the sauce at the end frozen, and just let them warm through, and done, as they are blanced prior to freezing anyways.

        2. Absolutely hands down my worst experience as of late was on the roofdeck at Jerry Remy's Fenway. Never in my life have I experienced such slow and inaccurate service EVER. While the waiter was friendly, he screwed up literally EVERY possible aspect of my order... multiple times. What should have been an "easy" 4 person table turned out to be the LONGEST dinner of my life due to slow service. I was also unimpressed by my food, but I'll admit that my selection was pretty bland, so I'll give them a wash on that one. Nevertheless, I have absolutely no desire to dine there again. Luckily for them I will likely end up buying pre-game beers there at some point in the future, I'm sure. Probably the only reason why they are still in business...

          1. I have developed selective memory about awfulness: I generally only remember not to go back, and blot out the horrible, horrible details.

            Probably the standout in recent memory was Sam's at Louis Boston under their original chef. Pretty much everything on several visits was just terrible: ineptly cooked, grossly oversalted, or both. I ended up making some roasted red pepper app the focus of my Stuff review: it was the only dish I didn't hate.


            1 Reply
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              And in fairness, Sam's original chef is long gone. The new crew is significantly better.


            2. I still have to give the gold star of suck to the server at Grotto who poured my beer so ineptly that literally half of what she poured sloshed over the side, across the table and into my lap, whereupon she sat down the bottle and walked away. After about five minutes, I realized she had not gone to get a clean bar towel or something to clean up the mess: she had simply disappeared.

              4 Replies
                1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                  That happened to us at Kingfish hall with a bottle of champagne. Not even the offer of an extra glass from the bar supply. Naturally we never went back to that or any other TE restaurant.

                  Second place goes to Figs on Charles where they apparently had a contest going to see how little eye contact they could have with those awful customers in the course of a night.

                  In fairness both were long ago.


                  1. re: BostonZest

                    I had a horrible lunch at Figs, and do not understand the attraction, see below


                  2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                    I found Grotto pretty awful. Ungodly heavy food, and the wine service was also terrible.

                  3. One was when I went to Tangerinio during RW; after I sat down we were given a regular menu. We told the waiter we'd come for RW, and they provided us with a RW menu, but kept suggesting that we order from the regular menu instead. After we ordered entirely off the RW set-price menu, our waiter proceeded to vanish entirely. After half an hour or so, with no water, no drinks, nothing, I flagged another waiter down, then the manager, and were told our waiter had left for the night. We eventually got our meals. Nothing was comped, we never got an apology or any explanation.

                    I'd also add a bizarre experience at the normally excellent Gargoyle's bar, where I ordered their advertised sake flight. My waitress poured all three glasses so sloppily that they all splashed into each other, and when I asked what the three sakes were, she laughed and said "the hell if I know."

                      1. There were a number of weird experiences that would prevent me from going back to some places:
                        I went to the bathroom at Dok Bua in Brookline and saw overflowing peeled shrimp and lots of filth and garbage nearby on the way. Quite gross.
                        I excitedly went to Cafe Brazil as I don't think I've ever been to a flat out bad Brazilian restaurant before, the food was nearly inedible because there was no seasoning nor was it cooked properly. We should've realized when they put out wonder bread at the start.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: fara

                          Now my experience with Cafe Brazil is dated (I last ate there at least 12, but more likely 15 to 18 years ago), but they used to serve a very soft bread, not wonder bread (pullman sliced) but more like a soft white bagette? Do they no longer do this? I used to really like the food there (the beef rolet was awesome, cheese, wrapped in bacon, wrapped in steak!) I wonder if they were having a bad night, or if it's gone radically downhill since I lived in the area (admittedly as an Allston punk, with less of a mature pallette back then)

                          1. re: devilham

                            Dozens of Cafe Brazil experiences covering over a decade, most recently about 6-8 weeks ago: no Wonder bread. Ever.

                          2. re: fara

                            Wonder Bread at Cafe Brazil? In my experience they've always served a pretty standard semolina type bread, one that pairs well with the pepper/garlic oil they leave at every table. Sweet Cheeks is the only place I know of that serves actual Wonder Bread.

                          3. Since when is it proper to use a gift certificate to cover a tip? I always thought that was a major no no. Even if the bill comes to $60 and you use a $100 gift certificate, I thought it was standard operating procedure to leave cash for the tip. Can you really rely on restaurant management to make sure the wait staff is properly tipped when only a gift certificate is used regardless of amount?

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: Gordough

                              By your logic tips should always be cash, as how can we rely on restaurant management to pay out of credit card or checks? I have wondered if they deduct the credit card fees from the tips.

                              1. re: jira

                                No, tips do not need to be cash but at least if you tip with a credit card, there is a record (for both customer and restaurant) of the tip and the amount. I have never ever heard of anyone paying with a gift card and including the tip in the amount of the gift card. At best it is tacky and at worst it is a big F U to your server.

                                1. re: Gordough

                                  how is it a big "FU" if they still get the exact same amount of money?

                                  1. re: Beachowolfe

                                    My guess is because the restaurant often just gives the gift card (with the tip balance on it) to the server rather than trading it in for cash. This is my understanding of how that works at some places, at least.

                                    1. re: purple bot

                                      As a waiter, let me weigh in on this- Most restaurant gift CARDS allow you to include any amount of the remaining balance as a tip for the server- it prints a slip like a credit card slip for you to fill out as a paper record, the server's cashout adjusts their tips accordingly. In contrast, gift CERTIFICATES usually have no cash value and any remaining balance is trash, so tip cash.

                                      1. re: phipsi102

                                        Hence my comments as the original poster indicated he/she used a "gift certificate" to cover the tip.

                                        1. re: phipsi102

                                          Thanks for your input, that's good to know. However, I know of at least one high end restaurant that does not cash out gift cards for tips. Seems unfair. I think what we can take away from this is it's just safer to tip in cash and not assume anything.

                                2. re: Gordough

                                  I'm baffled by this notion that a gift certificate at a restaurant should be able to be redeemed for cash for tips (that's essentially what is being requested). You would never go to Home Depot, pay with a gift card, then request the remainder in cash so you can tip the guy that delivers your mulch (or whatever, you get the idea). I just think it's weird. To me, a gift certificate/gift card doesn't equal cash, but product. But hey, what do I know?

                                  Oh, and I also agree with other posters: I'd rather talk about good experiences at restaurants rather than bad.

                                  1. re: purple bot

                                    I would point out that for something like a massage gift certificate, you typically will include a tip. I think the idea in some circumstances is that it would be rude for the giftee to have to pay anything at the time of redemption.

                                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                      I definitely get your point (although I'm not sure I'd qualify it as rude).

                                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                        Agree with Bob. Also, using a gift certificate or card is little different than using a credit card, at least from the waiter's perspective. Typically whatever computer system the restaurant uses should calculate the tip a server receives in cash at the end of a shift (or however it is managed). Because it is usually automated, crafty restaurant management shouldn't be able to modify the amount a server receives. At least, this was the case when I was a server eight or nine years ago.

                                        With that said, I do often try to pay tip in cash for other reasons. But I find nothing wrong with including it on a credit or gift card if I don't happen to have to correct amount or denominations in cash.

                                  2. I had a meal at Legal Seafoods down by the aquarium maybe 15 years ago where I had the only order that was clearly forgotten at a table with a bunch of people and the staff were so annoying they didn't even play straight and tell me they had forgotten it, they just kept coming over every couple minutes to tell me it was "coming right out". It finally did once everyone else was practically done eating, but I can tell you that I have never spent another cent at Legal Seafoods. And never wiil.

                                    1. Folks, it's fine to discuss negative experiences at specific Boston-area restaurants, but we have removed some posts that were more generally focused. We know it's tempting to share horror stories but the aim of a thread like this is to help local diners winnow out the bad so they can focus on the good. To that end, we do ask that the restaurants being discussed are still open for business, and that posts adhere to our guidelines at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/367605, in particular our policies on posts mentioning health violations such as food poisoning and vermin/insects/foreign objects in food.

                                      1. My worst local meal of recent vintage was at Scholars on School St. near Downtown Crossing. First, it was so loud that I literally had to have the waitress lean down so I could scream in her ear to order my food.

                                        Everything we ordered came out stone cold. My friend ordered onion soup and it was so cold that the cheese on the crouton had hardened. Everything was soggy, cold, bland, misrepresented (since when does beef tongue look and taste like deli roast beef??). I ordered a jalapeno fish and chips, and the fries were so soggy that they disintegrated when I tried to spear one with my fork.

                                        Needless to say we left 90% of our food uneaten, paid our bill and walked over to Chinatown where we started dinner again.

                                        1. I had a waitress spill two glasses of icewater on me at Elephant Walk (Brookline) at lunch a few years ago.

                                          One basically on my head and one on my lap.

                                          Not even an "I'm sorry." No offers of napkins or towels. Other patrons were quick to help but the waitress just moved on.

                                          When I asked to speak to the manager, they claimed that he was not in. When I asked to speak to the acting manager, they said no one was.

                                          So we left no tip and went back to the office with me a bit of a drowned rat.

                                          Needless to say, Ive never been back.

                                          1. Amazing how most of these stories involve service issues and not food issues.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                              Yes. I must say, I've had my fair share of bad experiences, but I really don't like this thread. Let the rough nature of the business take care of bad restaurants, we don't need to expedite their death-- it will come fast enough. And as for the good spots we all catch on their off-nights... well, I'd rather not celebrate those moments publicly. Just my opinion.

                                              1. re: maxinboston

                                                OR, maybe all the people in the business who read these threads (we all know they do), will get the point, and understand why their business is not doing well, and they can stop blaming it on the "economy".

                                                If I'm going to drop $100 on a dinner out, I would like to enjoy it. If it's a good spot on an off night, there may only be the occasional story about it. But, when you hear the same thing over and over about the same place, well, where there's smoke there's fire.

                                                1. re: mwk

                                                  Agreed. I also feel the negative reports from posters I have similar tastes with are as useful as the "raves". Note that the poster you replied to IS in the business locally, so that sort of sheds light on the POV.

                                                  1. re: Gabatta

                                                    Not in the business any more, but, yes, definitely have worked in it. I am acutely aware that it is a mixed bag-- some of the industry is devoted to hospitality and food quality, some are more ambivalent and just looking for a paycheck. I imagine that is true of any industry. I just empathize with victims of the rule of 5-- if someone has a good experience dining out, they will tell 1 person. If someone has a bad time, they are more likely to tell 5 people. Chowhounds are probably the exception to the rule, but I still feel the sentiments expressed above.

                                            2. Many moons ago, just after we were married, my husband and I took our wedding planner to La Campania in Waltham for what we'd thought would be a lovely dinner to thank her. We ordered very expensive bottles of wine and a three-course meal which I as I remember was delicious. But as we got our dessert and coffees, they dropped the check. OK, fine - odd, but whatever. We were enjoying dessert & coffee when the manager approached our table and told us that they needed the table and that we'd have to leave!? It was completely bizarre - we weren't there a very long time at all, and certainly hadn't lingered. We've never gone back.


                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: gansu girl

                                                My first visit to Dali was a really lovely first date, and my first experience with tapas, so it felt really special -- up until the moment while I was still eating my entree and was asked by a polite and embarrassed server (handing me the check) if I could please finish my entree quickly so that they could have my table.

                                                I was baffled and confused as we left, but then the manager pulled us over and apologized, explaining that someone had just shown up and demanded a table. They comped part of our meal, and the manager gave us glasses of sherry to drink at the bar. That was a classy way to handle an awkward situation, and I've happily gone back many times.

                                                1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                  You are way more forgiving than I am. I'd love to know who this "someone" was who not only "demanded" a table but received one--apparently they were important enough to risk alienating other customers!

                                                  1. re: LeoLioness

                                                    The manager seemed really ashamed. I had the feeling that it was more a case of overbooking and bad planning than a VIP suddenly demanding a table, and our table was likely needed for a larger party that wasn't factored in to the reservations very well. In any case, his attitude, the fact that he stopped to chat with us and buy us drinks, made an awkward situation into a reason I'd actually choose to go back to his restaurant.

                                                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                      I always thought Dali didn't take reservations (I remember when some friends planned a birthday dinner for me at Dali, there was a convoluted system of someone having to show up early to claim the table) which is why I responded so negatively. If it was more of a legit overbooking type situation, I would be much more sympathetic too.

                                                2. re: gansu girl

                                                  That must be a habit at Campania. Had a similar experience...we were a party of 8 or so and, apparently, had the only largish table in the place. When we were mostly done with entrees, in through the door comes some Media Talent-with-entourage. Campania devoted slavish attention to him and you-have-to-get-up-and-go-now-cuz-we-wants-the-table behavior towards us.

                                                  Like you, never been back.

                                                  1. re: hondodog

                                                    It's too bad. It's generated a lot of ill-will on our part, we always steer people away from there, and they're missing out b/c we spend good money on good food! Their loss.


                                                    1. re: gansu girl

                                                      As much as I have enjoyed the food at Campania I find their service cold and unfriendly. The last time I was there I found the owners and one of the waiters who I believe has been their a while to really be cold and unfriendly. I too am willing to spend good money on good food but I find La campania less then gracious. I always feel like they only are nice to the big wigs and the people who get really dressed up to go there and no one else. The last time I ate there was last summer and have not been back because of that.

                                                    2. re: hondodog

                                                      Good think I wasn't at that table, because they probably would have had to call the cops to get me out of the chair...and THEN I'd never come back...

                                                      1. re: mwk

                                                        Yeah, well, it was my wife's b-day dinner and my cousin-in-law was with us and she's a minister and it seemed like bad juju to create a Real Big Scene. I did talk with the manager, who sorta seemed to get it...after a while. But still. Like GG, there just ain't no goin' back.

                                                        1. re: hondodog

                                                          Worst experience ever was at Lolita. Our server was clearly on something. She got every single dish wrong -- going so far as to repeat it back to us incorrectly while laughing. Sat down at our table with us. Grabbed my hand at one point. Slurred her words. Insisted we ordered things that we never ordered, then said the manager (?!) made her bring us different food because he thought we should try it. The manager ended up giving us a gift card.

                                                  2. At a restaurant in my town that is now out of business, we sat for dinner on the front patio. We were served the wrong appetizers, then a glass of wine with bright pink lipstick on the rim (yuck!), entree of chicken was still raw in the center and the finale: my spouse ordered a glass of cognac and the waiter dropped it as he approached our table, splashing it and shattering broken glass all over my feet (I was wearing sandals). I had to spend the end of the meal picking glass shards from my toes rather than enjoying dessert. Now I appreciate the "only plastic cups outside" rule.

                                                    1. Toss up between Biba and Craigie (the original). Supercilious service, ridiculously reverential references to "Chef", though Clio may have been worse bc somebody's bathtub overflowed upstairs at the hotel and we suddenly had a leak - dining partner's jacket got wet - they never offered to clean it though they did move us to another table.