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Oct 7, 2012 10:15 AM

sur la table or Williams-Sonoma

If you had to choose between these two stores, which one and why.

I find Williams-Sonoma to be more expensive than sur la table, but I think Williams has better customer service.

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  1. While I like both, I have to give Sur La Table the edge - they just have much more merchandise and brands than WS. And it's a more fun place to shop - you can get a bunch of little things for $1-$2, and there's always a clearance shelf. I've found the service to be good also, but I guess that could be location/person/time of day specific.

      1. I've always liked Sur La Table, since frequenting their original store in the Pike Place Market (Seattle) in the 1970s. I liked their large selection of small tools. It always has seemed more like a place for practical kitchen equipment than for expensive gifts. In recent years, however, they seem to be more like W-S, that is, "precious."

        With the closing of their downtown San Francisco store, I don't go to SLT much anymore. Online shopping has made the loss less important than it would have been. I get the SLT catalog, but buy from it only rarely, as it is not comprehensive. W-S, never. Part of that is brand loyalty, I suppose.

        2 Replies
        1. re: GH1618

          SLT is in SF Center, 5th and Market.

          1. re: mwhitmore

            Also in the Ferry Building. I liked the one in Maiden Lane. I did go the Ferry Building store recently, and to the one in Walnut Creek awhile back, but neither is in a good location for me.

        2. Have found that while the previously fabulous return policy at WS has gone south, still their super sales can be amazing. l tend to go to SLT for specific items, like the giant ice cube trays.

          14 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Agree on the WS return policy. At my local WS manager did absolutely positively everything possible to not process a return. It became comical. Eventually she relented but I could tell she very much did not want that return processed. Mr. CB bought something bright and shiny and crazy expensive, I returned it immediately unused and in the original packaging, I wasn't trying to return a questionable item.

            I do love their sale table and have gotten some great deals.

            1. re: cleobeach

              glad to know it's not just me. i ran into a TON of resistance when i returned a Vitamix to W-S recently (about 10 days after i bought it because i was really unhappy with several aspects of its performance). the salesperson and the store manager were jumping all over me with questions and skepticism, challenging everything i said and trying to change my mind. it actually pissed me off enough to deter me from shopping there again.

              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                And I have had exactly the opposite experience. Had some quality problems with the liner of the All-Clad Slow Cooker about a year after I purchased it and WS replaced the entire unit - all handled over the phone.

                I shop both stores - depending on special offers. I, too, fondly remember shopping at the original SLT and still enjoy browsing that shop. WS sometimes has a bit more "polish" or I believe a reader above described it as being "precious" - but sometimes I like that.

                1. re: libstewart

                  Maybe they can more easily return the item to the manufacturer (in this case, All-Clad), then they can to another (Vitamix).

              2. re: cleobeach

                Me too. Factory sealed, <30 tons of flack.

                1. re: JavaBean

                  I really don't understand this kind of WS attitude when the return policy clearly states:
                  "At Williams-Sonoma, we take great pride in the quality and craftsmanship of our products. If you are not completely satisfied with your purchase for any reason, please return the item for an exchange or refund of the merchandise value."

                  I had a run-in once at one of their stores that got pretty nasty. I'm not sure why great customer service is on a case-by-case basis at WS.

                  1. re: emily

                    I certainly don't know "why" it is this way anymore, but I did work at WS years ago and things did change dramatically when I was there. But for a few hours a week in exchange for 40% off I was happy with the whole thing.

                    First: Let me just put out there that there is a tremendous amount of fraud with returns. It was common for people to return items to WS that were clearly never purchased as WS. People would return pan sets (say from All-Clad) that were combinations of pans that WS never carried as a set (most manufactures make specific combinations for specific chains so a 10 piece set at WS versus Bed Bath and Beyond don't contain the same 10 pieces). People would return designs of Le Creuset that WS never carried.

                    But we always returned them with the closed SKU we could find in exchange for store credit or help them ship them back to a vendor for a replacement if it was a vendor we sold.

                    People could return things from decades ago and we would swap it out for the most similar item still on our shelves.

                    But there was an abrupt change to that policy (this was probably 12-15 years ago now, I can't remember exactly, it was a while ago). I think it was due to a change in incentive structures for our Regional and Store Managers.

                    Returns come off the store's bottom line and the bottom line was used to determine how well managers were doing. So if you bought something at store A and returned it to store B - store A was getting credit for the sale but store B was getting dinged for the return.

                    So we had to ask all these questions that we never had to ask. If they had the receipt we had to call the store and have the other store handle the return over the phone so it was in their system not ours and even bill the return shipping to the other store. It was a ton of paper work and definitely a huge change in customer service.

                    But that was in my experience when the change happened. And WS actually has many many employees (hourly sales people) that have been with the company for very long periods of time (which is a good thing for WS) but I think some of the differences are based on when people started working for WS.

                    I have no idea how their return policy is now, I don't really ever shop there anymore.

                    1. re: thimes

                      "[I]ncentive structures for our Regional and Store Managers"

                      That concept alone sounds like a problem to me.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        I was in retail and eventually regional management for many years and the concept is nothing new.
                        Our bonuses,stipends, even company vehicles was dependent on everything from shrink,net earnings,refunds,worksman comp,slip and falls,turnover and yes Returns which we were encouraged to prevent by "Excellent customer service",technicalities or outright refusal...... which would in turn impact CSI.

                      2. re: thimes

                        I have no problems at all with stores limiting returns to items and sets actually purchased there. Sadly people abuse liberal store return policy all the time.

                        1. re: rasputina

                          Having spent about 40 years in retail in table top and kitchen ware salesperson, buyer, and department manager. Some of the things people have returned, or tried to, was mind boggling.
                          One tried to return a stick blender cobbled together from 2 different blenders. She probably bought it at a garage sale. There was one guy who tried to return an Aerolatte. It did not work he said. He tried this more than once. He was swearing that the thing had to be defective. His battery was dead. He tried to protest that it could not be the battery, his battery was rechargable. It took replacing his battery with a fresh one to convince him. Another priceless one was a bride who was returning some gifts broke a china dinner plate just in front of the store. She brought it in anyway and wanted us to issue a credit to her for something else because it was broken on store property. I never got that reasoning, but the answer was we are so sorry but we cannot take it back. It must be in original condition. I could tell many others. Some of these things are astounding.

                          I buy a lot of things on line, but I love SLT's after Christmas sale. I love the food oriented ornaments. I give them as gifts to my fellow foodie friends and collect them myself.

                      3. re: emily

                        Hi, emily: "I really don't understand this kind of WS attitude..."

                        Three little words: It's big business. Somebody gets rewarded by trying to deny you what you're entitled to. Enough people walk away screwed so that management looks good. Just like insurance and most other big biz.


                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          It's not "big business". It's poor management. Plenty of large corporations have great customer service.

                          1. re: emily

                            Hi, emily:

                            Generally disagree, sorry. I think there's a pretty clear correlation between large size and bad customer service. Especially when you take into account companies like Pottery/W-S that *say* they have good service policies and then shine it off. After the Wharton/Stanford/LSE MBAs get ahold of them, the die is pretty much cast. JMO.


                2. In general, I'd say "neither" because they both cater to 35 year old Sandra Lee wannabes with way too much money and not enough good sense.

                  But if I *had* to pick one or the other....I'd go with WS, even though SLT is a local company for me. They tend to have a wider selection and better sales. Plus, their customer service is better.

                  31 Replies
                  1. re: Quintious

                    Neither....There are so many alternatives on line that if you know what you're looking for, choices and selection abound usually at better prices.
                    I still like to browse if I'm in the city or some mall but find it difficult to justify the prices at either store for what basically amounts to attractive bric a brac for the trophy kitchen.

                    1. re: Duppie

                      I agree with Duppie. I buy little from either, preferring online shopping, or a 'real' kitchen supply store.

                    2. re: Quintious

                      <they both cater to 35 year old Sandra Lee wannabes>

                      Ouch. There are people who want to be Sandra Lee?

                        1. re: GH1618

                          :) The future NY first lady, and possibly the future first lady of the United States (give it 8-12 years).

                          She is a famous home celebrity cook, and currently the long term girlfriend of NY governor Andrew Cuomo:


                          (not sure if your question is serious or not) :D

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Oh, it was serious. But then, coincidentally, I saw her video on the Pyrex web site (see most recent "Pyrex explodes!" thread).

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              She's one of the most annoying and horrible cooks (if you want to even call her a "cook") on the Food Network, but they keep giving her shows. It's really sad.

                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              If you don't know, you are better off for it. She is awful, and sometimes I wonder if she is sober. She really likes her cocktails. She takes every short cut she can. I guess everyone should see one of her shows, complete with "tablescapes" just to see her and know what to avoid!

                            3. re: Quintious

                              Wow, thanks! I actually enjoy both stores, and don't consider myself to fit that description at all.

                              1. re: NonnieMuss

                                Yeah, I better stop shopping there. I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm a "Sandra Lee wannabe".

                                1. re: Quintious

                                  I don't see it at all, her stuff is usually very budget conscience and she comes from a very humble background. Not exactly the two things that WS is known for catering to. But then I completely ignore their mixes. If I'm there I'm looking at cookware or books.

                                  1. re: Quintious

                                    I see Sandra Lee wannabes shopping at places like Michael's, Artco, World Market, Cost Plus and the Party Store.

                                    1. re: libstewart

                                      I shop at world market because they have the best foods (cookies and candies, esp) I grew up with.
                                      Bounty, digestive biscuits, bird's custard, etc.

                                      CURLY WURLY!!!

                                2. re: Quintious

                                  <"neither" because they both cater to 35 year old Sandra Lee wannabes with way too much money and not enough good sense >

                                  Hardly. This seems to be a petty and small statement.

                                  I've been going to SLT and WS LONG before Sandra Lee and her nighmarish ways made their way to the airwaves. And anyone who "cooks" the way she does has no use for quality cookware or good cooking tools...Walmart and it's Chinese garbage would do just fine for Sandra Lee wannabes and supporters.

                                  1. re: FoodChic

                                    >>Secondly, anyone who "cooks" the way she does has no use for quality cookware or >>good cooking tools...Walmart and it's Chinese garbage would do just fine.

                                    I agree with you FoodChic, but unfortunately Aunt Sandy frequently uses items like this to serve her slop. I guess it matched the tablescape.


                                    And, let's not forget that she has her own line of products now too. At Sears and KMart.

                                    1. re: FoodChic

                                      It's not so much a "need" or "having a use for" - but let's be 100% honest here: They market themselves to the Holly Homemakers who think emptying a can of Hormel onto some Tostito's chips is creating a gourmet Super Bowl snack - yet still want all the appearance of (to steal the VERY apt description posted by someone else in this thread) a "trophy kitchen".

                                      It's not being "petty" or "small" (hell, every piece of cookware in my house is either All-Clad or Viking, have pretty much every gadget known to man, and I have knives that cost more than my mortgage payment, and *all* of my Staub pots are from there via last year's "get $50 store credit for every $100 you spend" sale, so I'm clearly not green with envy at people with disposable income), it's just stating a fact that their core demographic, the people they set out to market to, are people with more money than sense or understanding of the value of a dollar, given that they will pay a premium for products they can get equal-or-better than elsewhere (oftentimes the exact same products) for less money.

                                      1. re: Quintious

                                        At that time went in to longingly look at the staub 3 Quart sapphire sauce pan that l had browsed many, many times.. When it was priced out it was not 250, not 175, but 129, l said thank you and handed over the credit card. Still do not know why the price was so low, but l love the saucepan.

                                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                          That was a deal. When I started collecting Le Creuset, I did not know about Staub. I am sorry I didn't. The colors and design are much better than Le Creuset. But that was almost 40 years ago.

                                        2. re: Quintious

                                          We must be in different realms, because I can tell you most people that cook like Sandra, or the hormel way, will not spend the money for quality products. Wanting quality products comes from experienced cooking.

                                          All of my non-cooking friends think I'm crazy for spending what I do on cookware and tools because they don't know the difference...much like Sandra and her friends.

                                          1. re: FoodChic

                                            The part of Seattle I live in (an Eastern suburb) is chock full of socially awkward techies who make a lot of coin, and the trophy wives who love....their coin. It's allllll about image with this crowd, and I can tell you from potlucks that many of these women could find a way to burn water, yet have the most impressive kitchens you could ever hope to have.

                                            1. re: Quintious

                                              I'm with you. Here in Central Jersey....home of the Mac Mansion,Wives who cocktail, 80k kitchens with the requisite pasta pot taps,Blond granite tops,36 inch Vikings, built in wine chillers filled with acai vitamin water and stretches of bright, shiny and idle WS appliances... both WS and Sur le Table does very well.

                                              1. re: Duppie

                                                This is an incredibly small portion of our population. And I"d bet an equally small poriton of WS and SLT shoppers.

                                                1. re: FoodChic

                                                  I venture more than you would believe.My close friend is a whole sale distributor for premium appliances for central Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania and according to him business is booming. He said the only category that slowed down was outdoor appliances such as bar fridges,built in grills and flat tops.
                                                  So go figure.......

                                                  1. re: Duppie

                                                    What does that have to do with WS and SLT?

                                                    1. re: FoodChic

                                                      Its about a class of people W-S and SLT cater to, who may or may not be actually interested in food and cooking.

                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                        Thank you K, I didn't think I would have to explain but perhaps I should have.
                                                        Thanks again.

                                                        1. re: Duppie

                                                          There was no explanation needed.

                                            2. re: FoodChic

                                              I recently went to K.C. Mo. It was my mom's 90th birthday. We had a surprise party for her. Family came from both coasts. I had a new 14 C. Cuisinart Elite processor. It arrived as we were leaving for KC. I was taking my DCL 8 to my neice with a few other appliances of which I had duplicates. My uncle commented when I said I had brought that for Rach because I just got the 14 C. "what? you bought anther kitchen appliance?" He has never been my home. He lives in Friday Harbor, Washington and I live in Bloomington, In (that is another long story). I guess my reputation in the family has been well established. Yes, I am going to have the proper tools. Some think I too am nuts. You have to have the proper tools if you are going to get the job done.

                                            3. re: Quintious

                                              The single biggest upside of places like WS and SLT is that they reliably stock products that are at least decent and sometimes quite good. This is useful for people who don't research their buys extensively.

                                              But more often than not, there is a bit of an upcharge compared to other retailers selling the same products. Also, their products are sometimes only marginally or superficially (aesthetically) better than other products that work just as well but cost much less.

                                              Willingness to research one's purchases before pulling the trigger makes SLT and WS less useful. Willingness to buy online from other retailers also makes them less useful. WS and SLT still have their place. In some cases their return policies can be very useful, and at times their sale prices are good. Still, generally you will get cookware that is as good or better while saving money if you research your purchases and buy mostly from other retailers.

                                              I do get annoyed sometimes at the misinformation in some of their product descriptions (especially WS's), but then again, that applies to many cookware retailers.

                                          2. re: Quintious

                                            Is there someone out there who wants to be Sandra Lee?? (I see Chemical Kenetics has already said this ;)

                                            I agree with the consensus that SLT is more fun. I buy from both. Haven't yet had a return problem at W-S. Everything I've taken back was clearly defective, and I certainly haven't tried to get cute with them with fraudulent returns.

                                            W-S tends to have more functional things, SLT tends to be much more browseable & have more interesting merchandise.