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Mar 18, 2013 09:15 AM

Schmidt's: Bad service. Ok food. [San Francisco]

We had a big (~10 people) birthday dinner at Schmidt's on Friday night. Although the party went well the service was horrible and the food just ok.


The thing that stood out most about the experience was the slow and uninterested service. It started when we first arrived when they sat us at a table too small for our party. This was repeated not once, but twice.

Then they asked us for our drink orders going around the table. After taking three orders the waiter left to go wait on some other tables, leaving the rest of the table waiting and confused. After 20 minutes they brought our drinks (20 minutes to pour 4 beers?) and still didn't ask the rest of the table for their orders. Then finally we had to ask them to come take the rest of the orders. After going through our orders we waited another 20 minutes for the second round of beers.

This was all before the restaurant filled up.

When we called to make the reservation we asked if it would be ok to order a la carte instead of eating family style (which they suggest for large parties - but with a collection of vegans and meat lovers, graduate students and well paid techies it's just too complicated to do family style). The person on the phone said 'no problem' but when we got there they said that they didn't want to serve us a la carte and made a big deal about the fact that we didn't know the name of the person who told us that it was ok.

For the appetizers they repeated the performance with the drinks, taking just a couple orders before disappearing for 20 minutes.

When the food did arrive some people wanted more beer but were told by the waiter that he was 'busy'. We walked up to the bar instead to order and get our drinks. While not horrible, is a bit odd when you're being served in a restaurant by a waiter.

Food & Drink:

They have a selection of German beers, including some nostalgic ones for me (Fruh on tap, which is just an ok beer but if you lived near Cologne for a year holds a special place in your heart). I was excited to see Berliner Weisse 'mit schuss' available and I'm a huge fan of the woodruff (waldmeister) syrup. When I was little I would be sent into the forest to collect it in the spring when snow was still on the ground and we would make special woodruff flavored dishes. Unfortunately they only have the artificial flavored syrup, which, to be fair, is more common in Germany as well, but I was hoping some of the Northern Californian respect for fresh ingredients had rubbed off on them. Solid German beer selection, slightly high (I think the cheapest pint is $8) prices.

We ordered a meat plate appetizer. The meat was just ok and the bread not good at all. A somewhat lackluster and slightly dry (old? stale?) pumpernickle. The German couple in our group frowned at the bread - I think because Germans take pride in the quality of their bread and this just seemed like a bad advertisement conforming to all the bad expectations about dark bread.

Of course, it's probably a mistake to take German people to a German restaurant - I know that when I'm in Germany the last thing I want to do is go to an American restaurant for hamburgers (uniformly horrible in Germany btw.)

The entre plates were surprisingly small - sort of jammed onto appetizer sized plates. This was my first (and maybe only?) time going to Schmidt's so I can't say if this is what they normally do or if they just ran out of regular plates. The schnitzel was ok but nothing special - maybe slightly over browned - but certainly without the great juicy-fatty-salty-crispy spark a good schnitzel has.

The Kassler (smoked pork chop) was way way too sweet and a bit too salty. Germans generally use a lot less sugar than American's and this was not in the German style.

Spaetzle (fried egg noodles) was ok but there were too many burned pieces.

While waiting for the bathroom I noticed one of the kitchen staff opening a large plastic bag of sausages. Which sort of surprised me - I would think that a fancier german place selling $12 sausages would consider making their own. In the end it's just the same sausages you could get anywhere. I didn't have a chance to try one to check.

We had preordered apfelstrudel for desert for the entire table (with birthday candle). We were told however that there were only five pieces left so we wouldn't be able to all have a slice.

That said, the strudel was great. Flaky, not to sweet. Just right. It's too bad that the only flawless item had such limited distribution....

Despite all the problems I think everyone enjoyed themselves. In the end company is more important than food.

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  1. Where is this place located?

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT

      2400 Folsom St (@20th)
      San Francisco

    2. Wow. Thanks for the heads up. I love German food, but after reading about your experience I wouldn't go near the place. Zero clue about good service.

      1. Sounds like the problems all stemmed from whoever answered the phone not properly enforcing the "parties of eight or more can only order the family style menu" policy and apparently also not doing the normal follow-up for scheduling large parties (setting up a large enough table, juggling stations around as necessary so that the large-party server is not overextended).

        4 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          agree - i've always gone there in small groups and never had an issue.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Clearly the problems started at the time of the reservation (family-style policy, table size, not reserving the strudel, etc), but it sounds like some of the problems could have been fixed at the time of the party, if some competent manager had stepped in. Two seatings at tables that were too small, two instances of partial table orders that weren't followed up, waiter "too busy" to bring more beer, etc. This is all either FOH incompetence, understaffing, or both.

            1. re: Steve Green

              If the incompetent person who answered the phone had enforced the large-party policy properly, management would probably have added another server to that shift or at least rearranged the stations so the server for the large party would have had far fewer other tables to handle.

              I've had meals with large parties only slightly larger than that where we had our own dedicated server.

              1. re: Steve Green

                There's a large communal table at Schmidt's which they reserve for large groups with reservations. Lines got badly crossed on one end or the other, but in my experience with Schmidt's arranging a similar party, they were 100% professional. I called them once or twice to update the group size from 10 to 12 (response, "no problem, once you're at the communal table you can go up to 14 without any trouble"), and then they called me to confirm the reservation and that I understood their policies.

            2. Sorry to hear it. No one likes that.

              That said, honestly if a big group of 10 techies, vegans, grad students, etc. came in and you were the server at a family style service model, what would your reaction be after hearing a la carte for 10?

              a) "Oh this will be easy and by golly I just know they're going to leave a big tip!" ..or..
              b) "A**holes!"

              Imagine if you tried this at a different family service place, like R&G or Capp's Corner. You think they'd be happy?

              Also not ordering family style probably meant tiny portions and slower service.

              No it wasn't professional but from the server POV, sure looks like a no-win situation. Did they add on a 18% and did you ask for separate checks?

              Sorry if this sounds harsh but think about it for a second.

              The drink service however has no excuse, 20 minutes for 4 beers is nuts. However I'm guessing they knew if your party were drunk, it could be worse.

              6 Replies
              1. re: ML8000

                They included the %18 in the bill (around $80) and that's what we left (more or less). We did not ask for separate bills and split it ourselves at the table. We were out of there in time for further seatings at the table.

                Why should they be thinking we're "A**holes!"?

                Not ordering family style should mean you get whatever they normally serve. It's a restaurant with a a la carte menu. We ordered from their menu. I'm confused that you seem to think we gave them a reason to do a crappy job or that we should get smaller portions. We should get exactly what they serve anyone else who orders from the (standard) a la carte menu. Nothing more, nothing less.

                They didn't do family service for any of the other tables either (groups of 2-6). Sure they have a policy for larger groups but they agreed to waive it for our group. I still don't see why that should mean we get bad service.

                And I'm also not sure what you mean by "no win" situation. We weren't particularly demanding of their time (not that they gave us any) or with special requests (unless you count ordering off their normal menu).

                Also when you write: "...I'm guessing they knew if your party were drunk, it could be worse". Are you saying they plotted to give us poor slow service to keep us not drunk? Has that ever happened to you before? Bad service - before anybody orders even one drink - just to possibly keep you not drunk? Really? This doesn't make any sense.

                (As an aside that is actually completely irrelevant, nobody had more than two beers - either since the servers didn't come around or their own abstinence. It's not like we were some loud obnoxious party drinking and harassing the staff. Dare I say, we were even a family friendly crowd).

                I find your comment confusing.

                I think that the problem stemmed from a lack of planning by the manager. Our table wasn't arranged, they re-seated us twice because of a lack of organization (and counting ability?), the server was (apparently) over extended, and they probably should have either informed the staff that we would be a la carte or told us it was impossible when we reserved. And they should have communicated that we reserved strudel for 10 not 5.

                That said, once we were there they also should have done a proper job. Isn't that the professional thing to do?

                1. re: boris_qd

                  The problem stemmed from a lack of planning which was probably due entirely to the person who took the reservation making multiple mistakes so that when you showed up they weren't able to handle your party properly.

                  If they were shorthanded it was too late to do anything about it. They hadn't reorganized the stations to deal with the large party, and other parties were probably already seated in such a way that it was too late to sort it out properly. They were in a lose-lose situation.

                  That's why they were so interested in getting the name of the person who took the reservation. They'd probably fire them.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    You're probably right about this.

                    But that said, they even made us feel awkward with the press for a name (which we didn't know since we didn't think the remember who said "Hi this is ___ from Schmidt's calling about your reservation..." when they called us).

                    And the short staffing doesn't really explain the beer ordering problem since the place was essentially empty when we arrived (just one or two couples at other tables).

                  2. re: boris_qd

                    Take it for what it's worth, or not. No offense meant but if a party of 10 comes into a restaurant with a family service model and orders a la carte, with varying needs, you're asking for trouble or confusion.

                    It's as simple as knowing that these places are use to throwing down big portions on a platter and delivering it to a table. 4-5 platters, plates, silverware and delivered, you're ready.

                    10 plated a la carte orders, from a place use to platters, it's going to take a lot longer and there might be resentment or simply a lack of desire to move fast.

                    The a-hole comment is stuff servers think when they see trouble. Sorry if that was harsh but ask a server in that situation what they really think.

                    Yes, they should have explained the policy (and stuck to it) but think about it from their POV. Think if this was reversed - you went to a formal place and wanted family style...they could do it but since they're not use to it, the experience will likely suffer. One special request like a child, no biggie..but the whole table? They're going to ask themselves, why are you here?

                    Again no offense but what did you expect? It's not unlike going to a place that specializes in a certain dish or kind, say Cuban food...but you order the spaghetti.

                    See what I'm getting at? By requesting a change in food or service model that isn't their focus, you risk a bad experience. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, just it's more likely to happen.

                    1. re: ML8000


                      Just a small remark. It's not a "family style place" - most of their order are a la carte. There were no other family style tables - everyone (including us) was a la carte.

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        My bad on that, and seriously sorry for the bad experience. No one likes that. Perhaps email or a note to them would be worth it. If they really wanted the reservation taker's name, they should also be interested in making some amends.

                2. Sorry to hear you had a crummy experience. I've been there twice and food and service was very good. It's been about a year, maybe personnel has changed.