Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Aug 22, 2013 09:54 AM

Substandard banquet experience at Farallon [San Francisco]

[Although I'm new to posting on this board, I'm a long-time CHer. And generally, I start threads either to extol a place or to ask a question.]

Last week, I was part of a group of about 100 people having dinner on a Sunday night in the (an?) upstairs banquet room at Farallon. I had nothing to do with the planning of the event, although I did have to pay for my meal (not sure what it cost, honestly, but that isn't the point of what I'm writing).

The event was scheduled to start at 8 p.m., and when several of us showed up about 15 minutes before the start time, instead of being led to the back of the restaurant to the elevators leading to the banquet room, we were gestured to the bar area and handed drink menus. Considering that they were going to have to get 100 people up to the room shortly, by elevator, that seemed a bit odd to me. But okay, maybe the room wasn't ready to receive us.

Once we got to the banquet room, there were plates of butter on the tables, but no bread or anything else to eat. This persisted for at least a half hour, despite wine being poured generously and aggressively. We were given a choice of two white wines. I'm pretty sure people who preferred a red wine had to ask for them, and I'm not sure how many options for reds there were.

We had short menus, and we were given an option of two different salads, then everyone had the same pasta course, a choice of three entrees (two fish and one meat, with a note saying that a vegetarian option was available), and a choice of two desserts. We gave our server our entire set of choices at that point.

Still, no bread on the table. It was getting downright unhealthy, and it was late for a "school night."

Eventually, there was bread, after more than a half hour, and the salads showed up soon afterwards. The meal continued apace. I thought the food was fine, not thrilling, but this was a group of 100 mostly out-of-towners. I was seated next to someone from the East Bay who was a bit embarrassed at the quality of the preparations. I wouldn't say the food was a "wow," but I really thought it was fine.

Then we got our pasta course, and the main courses.

And it was 10:30 on a Sunday night, with no desserts out yet. And no coffee or tea.

Dessert came. No hot beverages.

In fact, the hot beverages were offered after the desserts had been cleared away entirely. Way too late for much of anyone to bother.

However, all through the meal, the wine was poured, and aggressively. It was as though the servers were determined that each person would leave with a half glass of wine left behind. The worst offense, to me, was that we weren't even asked whether we wanted more wine, and often the pourings were into glasses that had been barely touched.

At one point, a server behind me started pouring into my 1/3-filled glass a different wine than I'd been drinking! "I'd been told that the whole table was drinking X," he said when I objected. I said that not only was that not true, but he hadn't even asked if I wanted more wine. His response was that he'd take this big full glass of wine and replace it with a fresh one. Oh really? It's not like we were at a table in the main restaurant and they'd be comping us a glass of wine. Instead, it only added to the quantity of wine the restaurant got to put on our group's bill.

The server seemed offended when I said (while he was protesting that he'd done nothing wrong) that he should ask people if they want more wine before pouring. Gee, you think people might want to be able to keep track of how much they're drinking--and what?

(and yes, I drank the two wines mixed--not terrible tasting, but a real waste of two nice wines, and more than I had intended to drink)

I must say, I loved the over-the-top decor of this place. Not the same, but reminded me of the aesthetic of the 1970's Maxwell's Plum in NYC.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Have you emailed them to let them know your thoughts?

    If the Bar Package was based on consumption, it sounds like they were trying to increase how much people drank for that purpose.

    4 Replies
    1. re: smatbrat

      It sure felt that way, although I know there was a budget for the meal. Perhaps they were determined to "spend" the full amount?

      No, I didn't email the restaurant, since I was merely an attendee.

      Your point is a fair one, though. If this were a restaurant near where I live, I'd talk with the management before I'd make a negative write-up on Chowhound.

      But really, my issues were with the general amateurish level of service at Farallon, and wanted to warn people who might be considering a similar function. Discussion ahead of time about service and timing (and wine!) is definitely warranted.

      1. re: Elisa515

        I would.
        Even though you were an attendee and not the planner, I would let the restaurant know

        How are they going to do anything about it for the next group? They can not correct the action if they are unaware.

        A lot of restaurants count on their private events to bring in new customers, clearly they failed to impress you, I would tell them.

        Based on consumption for wine, they count the empty bottles at the end to figure out what was consumed, I am sure they were trying to increase the number of bottles.

        1. re: smatbrat

          I'll look for an email address for them, and send a bit of a rephrase of my original post on here.

          I do attend such meals frequently enough that I know this one was unusual in terms of execution. And I also know that the boards for areas closer to where I live are frequently full of people looking for locations for larger events such as weddings, engagement parties, and corporate functions.

          If I hear anything back, I'll report it here.

          1. re: smatbrat

            Okay, I wrote to them. I'll report back if/when I get a reply.

      2. The only gripe I see from your account is the issue of coffee.

        As for the bread, most better facilities will bring out the bread after being seated, otherwise it would get stale quickly.

        As for the's obvious different wines should not be poured into the same glass....just as different water should not be pours into the same as well. If it happens, simply point it out and ask for a fresh glass. No big deal....especially, at a catered affair where there are multiple staff servicing many tables. It's not right or proper service, but not really offensive in any way either. Your assumptions about consumption and charges are just that....assumptions. Catered events are generally excessive in terms of consumption and you pay for it whether it is consumed or not per guest, not by the glass, It does not sound like this was a bill type scenario and it would be impossible to keep track. Any established caterer would not negotiate a case consumption price for an event.

        Your complaint seems to me like you do not like the way the party was run...the service seem typical of many events from my experiences as an attendee.

        9 Replies
        1. re: fourunder

          Actually, Farallon's price list for private dining clearly states that beverages are charged by consumption, which gives the restaurant an incentive to pour aggressively.

          Same deal with Town Hall, for example.

          1. re: nocharge

            I stand corrected... and another reason not to like San Francisco

            1. re: fourunder

              Along the same lines as my previous post, the sponsoring Association presumably read the contract before signing. If they were unhappy with it (nothing in the post gives me any information about whether the sponsoring association was unhappy or not) they could have negotiated something different or gone elsewhere.

              I have planned and been responsible for my share of business, and a few personal, banquets in San Francisco, and at the places I've gone this was not how wine was charged. (Edited to add: to be clear, if wine was included we set a bottle limit and asked the restaurant to inform us before exceeding it). Then again, in my opinion, anyone who would judge San Francisco based on a banquet event at Farallon, is going to miss out on a lot of great food and wine. I am quite certain this is not the only city where restaurants take such an approach.

              1. re: susancinsf

                I am not judging San Francisco by this event. I wrote my post for people looking for banquet spots. I've had good banquet experiences there, as has my husband.

                I love San Francisco, and I had several great meal experiences while there. I also had been on a trip to the Farallon Islands a couple days before the banquet, so I was psyched for the theme.

                Describing something in a critique is not equivalent to "judging" a city.

                1. re: susancinsf

                  clam down was meant to be levity.

                  but seriously...around here, restaurants run tabs, not caterers.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    and seriously, I don't parse your answer. Farallon is a restaurant.

            2. re: fourunder

              Please reread.

              My first complaint is that there was no bread until at least a half hour after wine was poured. This wasn't a mingle event, it was a seated one. There was absolutely no food until people had been drinking for a significant amount of time.

              Second complaint is that the server not only poured wine without asking if I wanted more, but he poured Wine #2 into a glass half full of Wine #1. He didn't ask me which wine I was drinking (since he didn't even ask if I wanted more wine).

              Third complaint is that the meal went way too late, especially for a night before a weekday. We should have been well out of there, not being served dessert, at 10:30.

              1. re: Elisa515

                I'm said you paid for your seat to this event. Did you prepay, or will you be charged by the (association) at a later time? If it's the latter, you should question the wine charges.

                This policy for consumption would not fly in my area.simply for the fact it only invites the dishonesty you suspect..

                1. re: fourunder


                  If the event went over budget, the association would have to pay.

            3. If you are going to let the restaurant know your thoughts, you really owe it to the host Association to let them know as well.

              In all fairness, whoever was organizing may have been partially responsible. They may have suggested the timing or format (seems unlikely that the organizers wanted a delay in serving bread, but possible I suppose, although OTOH it is certainly quite possible that it is the organizers who asked for coffee after dessert, since a lot of people actually prefer it that way. Indeed, there are those who think that coffee with dessert is *not* proper service. In that regard, did you ask your server if you could get coffee sooner?)

              Moreover, if the hosting organization did go over budget because of wine consumption, they are in a better position to try and complain about service if they can let the restaurant know that they heard from their participants about issues with the pours. OTOH, again, it is possible that the Association isn't concerned and told the restaurant, 'please be generous with pours, we want to be sure everyone feels they are getting plenty' (or some such). Wouldn't be the first time I've seen such an approach (and frankly, others in the room, including possibly some of the organizers, may not have been unhappy with the fact that wine was being pushed).

              If the server seemed offended and wouldn't comply with your personal preference I guess the next response would have to be to ask him to remove your glass, or ignore it. And yes, I would have made him replace the mixed wines, regardless of who ended up footing the bill (and again, would have included it in my note to the Association if it made me that unhappy).

              My bottom line: if the issue bothers you personally, you should be assertive at the time (about whether to have your wine glass refilled, etc.) And, if in the long run you will be paying the bill (say, because it is a membership Association and ultimately you have to pay their costs through increased fees), or if you will be attending a lot of events sponsored by the Association and don't want to continue to be put in a similar situation, your complaints should include (probably start with) the Association that sponsored the event. To only blame the restaurant may not be productive or even fair.

              3 Replies
              1. re: susancinsf

                IMHO this is unduly harsh. the OP was simply giving her impressions of the service, hospitality and general observations of her experience. If bread goes "stale" in 30 minutes - well how fresh was it to start with? I think being directed to the bar, offered excessive amounts of "unasked for" wine is not only possible bill padding, but rude and irresponsible (some people may have been driving).
                My take away was that the banquet service was impersonal at best, with food and service personnel that did not reflect well on the restaurant. This is useful information for those considering the venue for this type of function:)

                1. re: estnet

                  Umm...OP said nothing about stale bread that I read(only that it didn't arrive in a timely fashion, and indeed, none of her concerns were about the food itself, only about timing and the serving. OP said the food was 'fine') perhaps you aren't intending to reply to me or even this thread?

                  In any event, I certainly don't think my post was harsh, in fact I was trying to make the point that the event organizers may have been responsible for some of the timing issues, not only the restaurant. Sure, it is irresponsible to push wine in some instances but I've been to my share of events where it was the hosts who were directing the servers to push it. (and I am sure the restaurant is happy to comply).

                  My bottom line: if the OP cares enough about the organizer's bottom line that she would actually drink combined wine apparently rather than insist that the server replace it (!) than she owes it to the organizers to let them know how unhappy she was, IMO, not JUST the restaurant. JUST is in caps because as I said in my post I think she should contact the organizers in addition to the restaurant.

                  All that said, as someone who as organized a number of events, I agree the post is useful, as it points out some potential pitfalls of group service that organizers should consider in choosing a restaurant and address with the venue when planning the event.

                  1. re: estnet

                    Thanks, you understood my points exactly.

                    And btw, we were all seated--no one was directed to the bar. We were seated with no food, not even bread, available for at least 30 minutes after the drinking began (and wine consumption didn't start until after 8 p.m.).

                    As another note, I sent a slightly edited version of my original posting from here to the restaurant, as smatbrat suggested. I wrote, via email, on August 24, and more than a week later I have heard absolutely nothing back. Not even an indication that they received my email and would reply eventually. I wrote to the email address listed on the restaurant's website.

                    Want to try an experiment and see if you hear back quickly if you want to hold a banquet there? :)

                2. Farallon is not a restaurant I will return for food or service, after multiple disappointments. The last time I was there was back in 2004, and I ordered a mild fish entree--I think it was halibut. The fish had absolutely no taste. When I brought this to the attention of the server, she told me that was how the food was supposed to taste. I was shocked; this was like telling Melanie "This is how ramen is supposed to taste" or K K "This is how real sushi is supposed to be served." ;-) After a couple of seconds, she offered to bring me salt, which helped just a tiny bit. Thinking about it, she should have offered to take it back or do something else.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: vincentlo

                    Oh dear! And Farallon is one of the restaurants that I have made a reservation for when I make my trip at the end of September.
                    After perusing the menu and reading mostly positive reviews mainly from posts here, it was one of our choices.
                    I hope I won't be disappointed.
                    I know that serving a group of 100 is not like waiting on a table of 4.
                    I will keep the faith. (and cross my fingers...)

                    1. re: arepo

                      I want to be clear: I know nothing of what the restaurant itself is like.

                      Are there fairly recent reviews on Chowhound? I don't think I saw any, or at least not many.

                      We loved our dinners at Betelnut and at Ozumo (the San Francisco one).

                      1. re: Elisa515

                        >>> Are there fairly recent reviews on Chowhound? I don't think I saw any, or at least not many. <<<

                        I always check for Opentable reviews since a) there are usually a lot of them if the restaurant uses OT and b) old reviews are dropped off after a few months so all reviews are recent. And you can only write a review after you've dined, unlike many other review sites.

                        For Farallon the OT rating is pretty low, 4.3/5 from over 400 recent diners. Just based on that I'd avoid the place.

                        1. re: willyum

                          A 4.3 average on OpenTable is a reason to avoid a place? (Who in his right mind reads those reviews anyway?) Last I looked, two Michelin star Coi had a 4.3 average as did hard-to-get-into Rich Table.

                          1. re: nocharge

                            @@ "A 4.3 average on OpenTable is a reason to avoid a place?"

                            It is for me.

                            @@ "(Who in his right mind reads those reviews anyway?)"

                            I do, everytime I make plans to dine in a new city. I compare those results to what I hear on Chowhound and via Michelin (for the few cities Michelin issues guides for).

                            Why wouldn't someone in his "right mind" take advantage of the experiences of hundreds on diners who visited these places in the past few months?

                            @@ "Last I looked, two Michelin star Coi had a 4.3 average"

                            OK, let's play that game the way I usually play it ... wife and I are considering a Bay Area foodie trip (have been once to Napa for FL and Meadowood and enjoyed both).

                            Names that have popped up include Atelier Crenn, Coi, Saison, Benu and Manresa ... checking those on OT and it looks like 4.6 for Benu and Manresa and 4.7 for Atelier Crenn and Saison. Coi stands out at 4.3 ... since I have five choices for two likely meals I wouldn't sweat it much, I'd just drop Coi off my list and look at more detail at the other four and pick from them. I would probably pick Crenn based on some other inputs, plus either Saison or Manresa for the plus one.

                            Do you have a compelling reason why Coi would be a better choice than one of the others I mentioned? When is the last time you dined at each of those places?

                            All the reviews are from people who were there the past six months. I realize you get some out-of-place reviewers in the mix (when they write "the portions were too small" or "they over-salted everything" I figure this guy is to be ignored) but in general I've found the reviews more helpful than, say, TripAdvisor where they never delete old reviews and you don't even have to eat at a place to 'review' it.

                            1. re: willyum

                              The Michelin two-star places in SF are all very unique in their own ways and I would do considerably more research including reading print reviews before picking one. A five-sentence review on OT is just not very useful for understanding if it's the kind of restaurant you would enjoy. The issue with unique restaurant is that people lack reference points. If someone tells you restaurant X is similar in style to restaurant Y and you've been to restaurant Y, you will probably have some idea of whether you would enjoy restaurant X. Unique restaurants, on other hand, are likely to get visitors who leave disappointed because they didn't realize in advance that the place wouldn't be their cup of tea and the further from the mainstream the food is, the greater is that risk. That's probably why Gary Danko keeps outscoring the Michelin two stars on Zagat: Danko serves predictable mainstream upscale food to tourists looking for just that and they won't leave disappointed. That's why the OT review format is a poor basis for decision making unless you are just looking for safe, mainstream food.

                              Speaking of appealing to mainstream tourists: I noticed that if you sort SF seafood places by rating on OT, you have Morton's Steakhouse at number two on the list. The same Morton's has a one-star rating in the SF Chronicle including a rare zero stars for food.

                          2. re: willyum

                            4.3 out of 5 is not a low rating. If you sort Opentable's SF seafood restaurants by rating, Farallon is #4 out of 63.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Robert, you have a good point about how the seafood restaurants are ranked on OT. I was surprised but that's what the data says ... looking at the top 10, some as are low as 4.1/5.0 ... not sure whether Bay Area diners are more stringent reviewers or whether seafood places just get lower scores in general.

                              I checked for Chicago, where we dined recently at a great seafood restaurant (L2O) and the dropoff from # 1 (L2O at 4.7) to # 10 (4.1) is rapid, which I guess indicates it's a seafood thing.

                              Also checked Manhattan since we go there often to dine and the top 'seafood' place is just rated 4.3 (Le Bernardin, which is usually considered the best seafood restaurant in the USA, is under 'French' but rated 4.7). So I'm guessing seafood restaurants in general get a lower rating?

                              Anyway, I still think 4.3/5 is a low rating but I see your point, that it's not bad for a seafood restaurant.

                        2. re: arepo

                          Arepo, I don't think you will be disappointed. What happens in banquets is usually far different from what happens in the restaurants.

                          I have seen this in even the most highly-rated restaurants in the city... Just last week, for example, I attended a banquet dinner at Boulevard which can be argued to be one of the consistently most-recommended restaurant in the city. The banquet service there is downstairs and had too many flaws to even count. But I would eat in the main restaurant without hesitation.

                          And I - for one - adore Farallon as a restaurant...

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            Yes, I, too, have experienced banquet meals that were far inferior to the regular dining experience at many good restaurants, including Farallon. It just goes with the logistics of serving 100 people at the same time: Menu options are limited to a small number of easily mass-produced items that are safely mainstream. The timing of the service is based on the entire dining room rather than your individual two-top. Etc. Essentially, banquets tend to give you the "MUNI bus" experience even at restaurants where the normal diners feel like they are in a chauffeured town car.

                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                              Thank you Carrie.
                              I have decided not to sweat the smalls.
                              Especially being that this choice is more geared toward my grandchildren than my choices with my mate alone (La Folie/Kokkari Estiatoria).
                              I think we'll get through it just fine. The more I read, the more I believe it.

                              I wonder what CHers think about the small, not-so-well-known Seven Hills Italian.

                              1. re: arepo

                                I ate there in June and had a fine meal. Service was very good. I was really thirsty when we were seated and needed something that was non-alcoholic and not water. The server recommended a mango fizz that was so good that my sister and I are still talking about it.

                                1. re: 512window

                                  We liked Seven Hills but do be warned that the tables are THISCLOSE together. I don't mind cozy but you have no choice but to listen to the tables on either side, and there is barely elbow room to cut your food if you need to. Reminded me of House of Nanking in that way (not in food of course!).

                        3. Farallon of today, is not what it used to be. I'd be surprised if it's still around in a year. It lives on its decor and its past. Not a bad spot, but like Tadich Grill, you don't get anyone going there that knows their ass from a piece of foie gras.

                          My friend was one of the original chefs when it opened. They don't have 1 guy of his caliber these days--back then he was one of 3 top chefs.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: hankstramm

                            So Farallon is as bad as Tadich and will probably be gone within a year, yet Tadich has survived since 1849?

                            1. re: nocharge

                              Tadich, location location location. Put it anywhere else, without its lore and it's belly up in 3 months. Food is average at best at Tadich.

                              1. re: hankstramm

                                If you put pretty much any restaurant in the wrong location, chances are it will go belly up. But both Tadich and Farallon are in pretty good locations given their target customers and I would be genuinely surprised if either would fold in the next 12 months.

                                1. re: nocharge

                                  You're missing my point. Tadich nearly anywhere else in the City wouldn't sell a tenth of those boring sand dabs or average cioppino. Put it in the Mission where trendy restaurants thrive or near Gary Danko, belly up.

                                  The food just isn't that good. It has SF nostalgia, that's it.