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

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boris_qd Mar 18, 2013 09:15 AM

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.

Service:

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.

  1. d
    DavidT Mar 18, 2013 09:29 AM

    Where is this place located?

    1 Reply
    1. re: DavidT
      b
      boris_qd Mar 18, 2013 09:32 AM

      Schmidt’s
      2400 Folsom St (@20th)
      San Francisco

    2. Steve Green Mar 18, 2013 09:50 AM

      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. Robert Lauriston Mar 18, 2013 10:22 AM

        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
          v
          vulber Mar 18, 2013 10:31 AM

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

          1. re: Robert Lauriston
            Steve Green Mar 18, 2013 10:37 AM

            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
              Robert Lauriston Mar 18, 2013 10:53 AM

              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
                s
                SteveG Apr 3, 2013 02:23 PM

                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. m
              ML8000 Mar 18, 2013 10:41 AM

              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
                b
                boris_qd Mar 18, 2013 12:33 PM

                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
                  Robert Lauriston Mar 18, 2013 12:48 PM

                  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
                    b
                    boris_qd Mar 18, 2013 02:01 PM

                    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
                    m
                    ML8000 Mar 18, 2013 01:03 PM

                    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
                      b
                      boris_qd Mar 18, 2013 01:58 PM

                      Ok.

                      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
                        m
                        ML8000 Mar 18, 2013 02:11 PM

                        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. s
                  saffrongold Mar 18, 2013 10:55 AM

                  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.

                  1. Mission Mar 18, 2013 12:24 PM

                    Next time you may want to try Gaumenkitzel in Berkeley.

                    Great German food,service and euro modern ambiance.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Mission
                      j
                      jaiko Mar 18, 2013 03:14 PM

                      OP said >>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.>>

                      You are certainly not going to find that at Gaumenkitzel. Gaumenkitzel has very high quality, very spare food in small servings with a lot of greens. Order a salad, and the chances are a similar or identical salad will also appear with your (small) meat course. I like Gaumenkitzel, but there is no spirit of gemutlich there, in decor or food.

                      Maybe at Teske's in San Jose; but not even Speisekammer in Alameda makes a great schnitzel.

                      I grew up on great German and Polish food in Chicago. You don't find it here. I do love Gaumenkitzel's sauerkraut, but Speisekammer's is almost as good and their Nurmberger sausage/sauerkraut starter is a terrific bargain. Very good Kassler; almost as good as Wente's and a lot cheaper (along with being nearer to our house, LOL). Good service, they wouldn't have batted an eye at 10 or 12 people for dinner.

                      Teske's makes a dynamite Jagerschnitzel, but their sausages are vastly inferior commercial links to Speisekammer's and Gaumenkitzel's housemade ones.

                      1. re: jaiko
                        m
                        Malcolm Ruthven Mar 18, 2013 04:27 PM

                        jaiko, while you're watching this thread, it's time for me to ask you if you know a place in the Bay Area that serves excellent sauerbraten.

                        1. re: jaiko
                          m
                          mdg Mar 18, 2013 09:47 PM

                          In general I agree about the quality of German food in the Bay Area, but Leopold's in San Francisco makes one heck of a great schnitzel. I generally get back to Germany once a year to calibrate myself. Still don't know where to find an excellent sauerbraten here though.

                          Michael

                          1. re: mdg
                            j
                            jaiko Mar 19, 2013 03:57 PM

                            I agree with Michael on the sauerbraten (and thanks for the tip on Leopold's, I'd heard about their schnitzel but we seldom get into the City any longer).

                            Speisekammer makes a superb Schweinebraten, though: it's described as Roasted Pork in Beer Sauce but tastes more like a braise. Thick, tender, juicy slices in a good gravy.

                            The trouble with CA's mania for range-fed beef is that it's too lean for good stewing beef. It's enough to make one go out and buy a larding needle again.

                      2. s
                        SteveG Mar 23, 2013 08:01 PM

                        I have to say I think this is quite unfair of you. The restaurant's web site says family style is required for parties of 8 or more. Making the reservation gets you the nice big communal table. The price is only $25 per person including dessert, which with 2 beers per person is about exactly what your total came to if your 18% tip was $80.

                        I went to Schmidt's for my birthday a few years ago, and they handled our group beautifully with the family style menu. They took good care of the vegetarians, giving them special orders of things like the pea pancakes without the smoked salmon. Large platters of fresh salads, sausages, and other tasty foods abounded.

                        Their kitchen and staffing is simply too small to handle large groups with custom orders. But for our group, following the rules, we got prompt and friendly service, with good food.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: SteveG
                          s
                          Spenbald Mar 24, 2013 12:58 AM

                          This is unfair of you. The OP received a confirmation from restaurant staff that his/her request would be accommodated. Regardless of this, it doesn't excuse the bizarre service they encountered. It's lovely that your experience went smoothly, but that doesn't mean the restaurant didn't really screw this one up.

                          1. re: Spenbald
                            Robert Lauriston Mar 24, 2013 08:24 AM

                            There's nothing very bizarre about the restaurant having an epic fail when a large party showed up that they had not prepared for.

                            The only odd bit was that an untrained person answered the phone and screwed things up.

                            1. re: Spenbald
                              s
                              SteveG Apr 3, 2013 01:37 PM

                              The OP hasn't said if he was the one who made the reservation. I don't think they had a reservation. If they did, they would have been seated at the communal table, which seats 14. The fact that they were juggled about on smaller tables suggests the restaurant had no notice of their size, or they would not have seated other parties at the large table. Perhaps the person who answered the phone said if they didn't mind being seated in smaller groups they could order a la carte. If there was really a reservation for 10 people on the books, multiple staff members had to have screwed up to explain the seating issue, not just the person who answered the phone. If they made a reservation for 6 and then expanded it to 10 and expected to have a good experience, that really isn't fair.

                              In any case, we chowhounds know that ordering the right items, or asking the right way, can work wonders in a restaurant. Working within the constraints of a restaurant to get what you want is always going to be more successful than demanding something they don't have the facilities to do, that they have policies against doing, and that they don't want to do.

                              1. re: SteveG
                                b
                                boris_qd Apr 3, 2013 08:10 PM

                                We had a reservation and it was when they called us back to confirm that we talked about the changes we'd like and they agreed.

                                In fact, some details I omitted from the first description. When we arrived a party of 3 or 4 was sitting at the large table. That might be why they tried to put us at a smaller table (although it was clear we wouldn't fit. I can't really say why they then tried to seat us at another table that was too small. Maybe the four at the large table were VIPs?)

                                I'm not sure about "we chowhounds" (I've been posting and reading for something like a decade now - does that make me a chowhound?) but if you ask for something different than policy, and they agree, they need to follow up with proper service. The restaurant doesn't have to agree to exceptions but if they do they should do it right. That's what a quality place does. Once we arrived it was too late for us to change our plans.

                                It was also clear they had our reservation because when we walked in they we gave our name and they said something like "you're the large party of 10" and we said "yes".

                                I find posters who try and blame us somehow for Schmidt's messing up (either through poorly trained/new staff or some other miscommunication) somewhat comical. I had never been to Schmidt's and leave it up to them to decide what they can handle. Am I supposed to measure their kitchen, check their staffing and second guess what their staff says on the phone? Is that what "we chowhounds" do?

                                I any case. Discounting the service problems the food (as reviewed above) wasn't particularly good German food. It wasn't bad but it wasn't good German food either.

                                1. re: boris_qd
                                  s
                                  Spenbald Apr 3, 2013 11:05 PM

                                  Thanks for the follow up and further explanation. I've found, to my dismay, that some on the SF Chowhound Board in particular are very quick to discount, chastise, and belittle, and are incredibly pedantic. It unfortunately belies the spirit of Chowhound in general.

                                  1. re: boris_qd
                                    Robert Lauriston Apr 4, 2013 08:41 AM

                                    When they don't have a large party booked, the large table is communal. They seat walk-ins there.

                                    They clearly somehow sort of half-booked your party. They had the reservation in the book / computer but they neglected to hold the communal table and maybe add an extra server.

                                    You're not to blame for that, but asking a restaurant to make an exception to its large-group policies is asking for trouble. One employee screwed up royally, but the problem's not an indication of any general problems with service there.

                            2. t
                              tjinsf Mar 24, 2013 07:09 AM

                              I've been there three times, two of the three times we had poor service with our waiter forgetting out drinks, one time for forgetting a dish and another time seeming to forgot us completely once we got our food and we were parties of 2 and 3. Their neighbor above them has signs that say "bad neighbor" and it seems to translate to lackadaisical service. So it may not have just been you were a larger party.

                              I found the portions per price to be small.

                              Regardless of whether the person taking your order did the wrong thing (and it sounds like they did) the manager should have jumped and help the waiter if they were overwhelmed. The customer should never even know there is an issue.

                              A German friend calls it pre-packaged German since much of the food is already made like the sausages & the cured meat and imported and it's like all the food is the idea of the German dish without the skill to make it.

                              The fact that you pre-ordered the strudel and they didn't even make a note of that when they took the reservation is a huge fail.

                              1. s
                                sheriff Apr 4, 2013 09:55 AM

                                Just want to provide another opinion to counterbalance. I've been to Schmidtt's many times (but never in a large group), and have always found the service to be pleasant, albeit casual. We've been many times with our newborn (ticking timebomb), and they always get us out of there in just about an hour.

                                In addition, I've always had good experiences with the food, but then again, I get the sausage and beer and probably am not expecting much. I do think it's good value though, often taking home lots of potato salad and sausage. I agree that the pork chop is too sweet, and can't remember the schnitzel at all. In general I think of Schmidtt's as a reliable place (that accepts walk-ins) for a casual dinner, and have always been quite happy with the experience.

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