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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.

            1. It looks like I'm in the minority, but I say "eat the beet, for heaven's sake!"
              I know NY diners are a spoiled lot, but the responses thus far sound like crib-notes from the court of Louis XIV. Not my style, anyway.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Phil Ogelos

                This made me laugh. Ditto. But at a restaurant of that caliber, I do get it... its just not done!

                1. re: Phil Ogelos

                  I agree with you, to some extent, if the beet merely rolled onto a counter that was clean, I would not have a problem with this. However, if the diners at the counter had already started to eat, and the beet rolled into their serving area, it should not have gone back onto the plate.

                2. Regardless of the restaurant there is no reason to feel intimidated or awkward when making a reasonable demand, in this case for a new plate of food. Eating off the counter, no way! No need to worry about what the waiter, those nearby, or anyone else thinks, especially when you are the customer and you are paying.

                    1. "I also did not have an issue with the cleanliness of the beet"

                      Why then do you think it should have been replaced?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: FrankJBN

                        on principle, I would hope all food service businesses operate with enough dignity and pride to not serve customers food that has fallen off of customer plates. Replacement of fallen food should be automatic and part of standard operating procedures for the business, and it should be done without the need for customer request. I think this becomes increasingly important as the aspirations of the business increase in atmosphere and price, as well as in open-kitchen and counter dining establishments.

                      2. I probably would've handled the situation just as you did, justtryit. I wouldn't have said anything about the beet, eaten it, had an enjoyable evening and left a significantly lower tip than expected. I probably would not have taken the time to fill out a comment card or otherwise mention it to anyone, though.

                        1. Am I the only one worried about beet juice on the table top?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: mpjmph

                            Sounded like it was a bare counter top, not a table with table cloth. :)

                            1. re: Cheeryvisage

                              The bare surface is actually what concerns me - don't want to get juice transfer from the table to my sleeve!

                              1. re: mpjmph

                                The beet is covered in an ash coating and charred...totally dry exterior with no juice transfer. Check out the photo in the link.

                                1. re: akq

                                  Don't care whether the beet was wet or dry, it should not have been put back on the OP's plate. Good thing the beet was dry or it could have stained the OP's neighbor's clothes.

                          2. I was totally shocked until I looked at the picture you linked to...the beet is covered in charred hay ash skin. While still weird, this is more understandable than having a waiter expecting you to eat a wet beet rolled off your plate leaving a trail of beet juice on the table. More like if a roll rolled off your breadplate on a clean table. Like you, I might very well eat the beet. I would not have docked the tip without speaking up, though.

                            1. The OP notes that s/he "had no issues eating it", "did not raise the mistake to anyone else's attention" and "had a great time during the rest of the meal".

                              I think that, other than asking the server to have it replated, the OP did exactly what I would have - just got on with enjoying the experience. Of course, sending food back usually ruins the experience of the meal, as whoever you're eating with is going to be getting on with their dish while you watch, and then have to watch you eat yours. Not a great date in those circumstances, which is why we almost never send anything back (and wouldnt have done in these circumstances, although I agree I'd expect the server to have taken it away for replating).

                              The OP also notes that no discount was given on the bill. That may or may not have been due to the fact that the OP had not raised the mistake to anyone's attention, or have been that the server did not think it a matter to suggest to their manager, or the manager may not have considered that a discount was warranted for such a comparitively minor incident.

                              1. Since it was a tasting menu and a date I would not have said anything. I wouldn't want the pace of our meal to get of kilter. But I would have not have eaten it.

                                The server didn't want to bring his/her mistake to the kitchens attention. An untouched plate WILL bring it to the kitchens attention in a high caliber place. The server lacks the training needed for this type of service. Ultimately the servers actions put the diner in an uncomfortable position - which is unacceptable. Adjusting the tip is completely reasonable.

                                1. Actually, I think that I was seated, not that far away. When the beet headed toward my seat, I just plucked it up, and ate it, assuming that it was some special presentation...


                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    are you saying that this happened to you as well and another customer's beet rolled off their plate and towards you?! Or was it your own beet rolling off of your own plate?

                                    This was definitely not the same night as me, my beet was given back to me and I ate it myself. If this happened more than once, Lightner needs to consider cutting a flat edge on the bottom to make it more stable, or pulling something like the "slice of lemon" trick from the 80s and put some other piece of food or sauce down there to stick it on the plate.

                                    1. re: justtryit

                                      I suspect he is pulling your leg...

                                      1. re: justtryit

                                        I think that the beet in question came from elsewhere. I was at the counter, and suddenly a beet came at me. I watched it, and it was definitely loose. No one was reaching for it - patron, or server. It was as though I was the only one, who could see the beet, as it rolled right toward me. I looked around, and no one seemed to be claiming the "free range beet," so I grabbed it, and ate it. It was very good, and no one stared me down. Whose beet was it? I still do not know - no one stepped forth to claim it.


                                    2. Update: the restaurant has since contacted me to apologize for the beet incident, and stated that nobody else was made aware of the mistake while we were at the restaurant. Our complaint about my date being bumped several times without apology was not addressed, which in our eyes, is a bigger negative than the beet mistake.

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: justtryit

                                        agreed. the beet thing was weird, but remarkably... honest. surely people don't think the entire dish gets recooked because a beet falls off! maybe a new beet gets put on ... (maybe, being frugal, the old beet goes on the next plate! -- it's clean after all).

                                        I'd have put down "bumping is rude. not apologizing for bumping repeatedly is excessive" and used that as the reason for the lower tip.

                                        1. re: Chowrin

                                          I certainly wouldnt have expected the dish to be recooked. In fact, what I would have expected to happen is that the plate and beet would have been taken away. The beet would have then been put back on the plate (or possibly a swap with another beet if a similar dish was about to go out) and the plate served up again. Which is why this matter wouldnt have been a problem for me.

                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                            Now, if the menu mentions "21 beets," and now, there are only 20, is that not reason to add a beet?

                                            If the photograph of the dish, in the laminated place mat, clearly shows 21 beets, should they not replace the escapee beet?

                                            So long as it was NOT the rolling beet, that I ate, I feel better.


                                            1. re: Chowrin

                                              "surely people don't think the entire dish gets recooked because a beet falls off! " The one beet *is* the entire dish. Look at the link in the OP to see it.

                                            2. re: justtryit

                                              I only hope that the security cameras did not catch me eating that errant beet. Then, I would feel very bad, but the beet was very good. [Grin]


                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                Now I really look forward to trying the beet! Hope mine doesn't roll away!

                                                1. re: ellenost

                                                  When the DO roll, due to their shape, it can be difficult to catch 'em. It's not like a caper berry, or similar.


                                            3. im just surprised no one gave a shout of "free willy" or "you can't catch me, i'm the gingerbread man"

                                              1. This really made me chuckle and I do not understand what the big deal is. The server "graciously apologized", it was within the 10 second rule on a counter not the floor and it was already covered in ash. Seems to be no harm no foul to me.

                                                1. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                                                  FloFab's response:

                                                  Aren’t you lucky your dinner didn’t roll onto the floor! If I were you, I would have refused the return of the beet — not that I think there was anything really wrong with it, but on principle, it should not have been put back on your plate. There’s no reason to allow serving staff to intimidate you.

                                                  The way the server bungled the beet might have had less to do with poor training or management and have simply been a matter of appalling judgment. It might never have occurred to the chefs or the manager that an ingredient could take off to visit other customers, so they probably did not include this scenario in their training. I can imagine the whole scene as pretty hilarious in the hands of Woody Allen.

                                                  Since you did not speak up, the fact that you got no other consideration is not surprising, but were you to be confronted with a situation like this in the future, you have every reason to insist that the dish be changed or replaced. An elaborate tasting menu is a performance, and anytime the sequence is disrupted, it throws the whole thing off, but professionals should know how to deal with this.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                                    Oh, methinks the restaurant will now regret the, rather blase, response they sent to the OP.

                                                    1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                                      Guess I won't see any rolling beets (or anything else) when I dine at Atera in a few weeks. It's a shame that a silly mistake on the server's part needs to cause so much embarrassment to the restaurant. But if the restaurant needs to better train its staff, that's a good outcome.

                                                    2. The server's behavior was unacceptable, out of Fawlty Towers. Like you, I would have been astonished. It would have taken me a minute or two to figure out what to do. I would have called the server or manager over and asked them to replace the dish. With the jostling, I would have asked to speak to the manager and asked him to ensure that the staff were more careful not to bump your companion and to excuse him- or herself if they did. In a busy, crowded restaurant with tables close together, jostling happens. At Atera, even if you're sitting front and center, that shouldn't happen. I'm glad that you enjoyed your meal nonetheless.

                                                      1. I probably would have acted the same as you, befuddled this just happened but not really feeling like making a big deal out of it since it was an otherwise enjoyable evening. I agree that in a high end restaurant you shouldn't have had to ask for a new dish.