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Jul 24, 2012 08:00 PM

Atera service mistake and restaurant etiquette

My girlfriend and I went to Atera on Saturday night, and a service mistake happened to me that I don't think I've ever heard about, in any kind of restaurant. I would like to get opinions on if our expectations were off, and if the way we handled it was appropriate. This is long, but I feel like the details are important to know before people start replying.

We were sitting front and center in the middle segment of Atera's U-shaped counter. On that night there were about seven cooks in the open kitchen, including the head chef, along with one main service captain stationed behind the counter. This main server seemed to be the most senior FOH person there and looked to be managing each party's progression throughout the meal and firing each party's ~26 tastes.

The mistake happened in the middle of our meal, during the beet course shown here:
The main server first set down my girlfriend's plate. As my plate was being set down the beet rolled off of the plate, onto the counter, and then proceeded to roll about a foot to my left into the personal dining space of the guest next to me. That guest's two other dining companions were directly facing the oncoming beet. The beet sat on the counter for a few seconds. Meanwhile, my beet-less plate was properly set down in front of me while the server was graciously apologizing and reaching for two saucing spoons. The spoons were used as tongs to pick up the beet, by which point I'm guessing at least 10 seconds had elapsed from the time the beet started moving to the time our server picked it up.

The server moved the beet directly from the bare counter back onto the plate in front of me, in its originally plated position among the other elements of the dish. Finally, both of our plates were sauced and we were told to enjoy the course. Shocked at what just happened, I felt awkward challenging the server's professional choice not to re-cook and serve the course, especially knowing the incident was visible to everyone else in the restaurant. I also did not have an issue with the cleanliness of the beet, though I did pause and wonder if onlookers thought it was weird that I did not request nor receive a new one. I enjoyed the course nonetheless and had no issues eating it.

Most importantly, we were stunned and confused about how to handle the situation, especially since at no other point during the remaining two hours of our meal was the mistake acknowledged by our server nor any other member of the staff. To be fair, we did not raise the mistake to anyone else's attention and we had a great time during the rest of the meal. The same server later gave us the option of the supplement cheese course, and told us it would be at extra cost. No discounts were given to us on our final bill.

At the end of the meal and after much debate, we chose to tip low and write a comment on the card for why the tip was low, and hoped that the restaurant could use the feedback to improve. I noted the beet mishap, and also several servers physically bumping my girlfriend multiple times without apology. We decided to leave a tip because we were not comfortable penalizing the server for one mistake during an otherwise enjoyable four hour meal, and we also complimented the server, who was our favorite among the staff.

More than anything, I feel like the beet mistake was a reflection of management not training their staff how to properly handle the situation. My expectation in that caliber of restaurant would be for the fallen beet to have been immediately thrown away, and then both of our plates cleared, to be re-served asap. Given my experiences in other fine dining restaurants, I would also expect an apology or acknowledgement from the head chef or floor manager asap, though not necessarily any discounts or gifts from the restaurant. I have not received any reactive communication from the restaurant, though I left my email on the comment card.

We are interested to hear how anyone else would have handled this situation from our customer point of view, as well as how people feel the restaurant should have handled it. Though we hope we're never in a similar situation again, if we are we'd like to know the most appropriate way to behave.

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  1. I have a reservation at Atera coming up in a few weeks so if my beet rolls across the counter I will request a new plating of the dish, and hope the server doesn't merely put the beet back on my plate. Actually hope the server would bring a fresh plate on his/her own without needing to be asked.

    1. Yeah, how the server handled the situation would have been unacceptable in my book. I would have just asked for a new plate (with the rogue beet replaced). I don't think you were wrong to reduce the tip. The server gave you pretty poor customer service and lacked common sense/hospitality.

      1. I might have done this at home with husband or kids and we could laugh about it - or I could see a cook replating if it happened out of view in a clean area, but in a restaurant of this caliber with the customer and everybody looking no way! They must just not have been thinking or not really properly trained in serving.

        1. I don't excuse the server. Yes, the proper procedure should have been part of the training, but I would also expect that in hiring servers for this caliber of restaurant there is an expectation that the server knows how to handle such a situation. There is also an expectation that management be aware of any mishaps and make sure they are handled properly. The fact that no one did anything about it is upsetting. I can understand your not wanting to make the meal less pleasant for yourself, so you are certainly not to blame for letting it go at the time. I think that otherwise you handled the situation well, and it is disappointing that you have had no response from the management.

          1. Are you kidding-not say anything???? I would without hesitation exclaim WTF??? Are you crazy not to replace??????? Then again-I'm not the shy type.