Tom, Late to the party but I have to weign in. I've been having dinner at Central for about 2 years now with two friends/former co-workers. We never arrive at the same time because we all work for different offices now and whoever gets there first is always seated, without question. I've been asked (more than once) if I'd prefer to be seated or to wait for the others. So either this is a very new policy (which would make me very unhappy and likely to seek a new meeting place) or something else was going on with the situation involving last week's chatter.
Following last week's chat, I heard from David Hale, the general manager and sommelier at Central Michel Richard. His response to the complaint:
" I truly appreciate your even-handed response to the guest, expressing both your sympathy towards their experience and also taking the time to mention the logistics of turn times, dragging of service, etc. and soliciting an industry response.
I wish to clarify with you and your readers that Central does not currently have a policy on seating incomplete parties, particularly smaller parties of 4 or less where the table space would have already been allotted for them, regardless of whether the party in question ended up being 2 guests or 3. I unfortunately have no idea where the host came up with this information, as it isn’t in their handbook or any other training literature that we have, and I will address this with our host staff today.
I was taken aback with our team’s decision to forgo seating the guest, and even more appalled by their inhospitable arguing about why the guest should be kept waiting in favor of other paying customers, leaving the guest feeling as though they were nothing but a commodity to us. Such actions are both inappropriate and unprofessional and run counter to the principles of hospitality that we believe in.
Ultimately, it’s my responsibility to have all of my team understand the attitude and enthusiasm needed in order to properly care for our guests, and in this particular instance I have not done that job to Central’s standards."
Tom here: If the original poster is online today, please identify yourself. Or contact Hale at email@example.com.
I also heard from Maru Valdes, the spokesman for Minibar by Jose Andres, which opened recently without signage. A chatter asked if the ommission was to create exclusivity, and I responded maybe so. Valdes says signage is on its way and should be up soon.
Happy Wednesday, everyone. This will be the last chat of 2012. But I'll be back here again Wednesday, Jan. 2.
Where's everyone off to for the holidays? I'm headed home to Minnesota for some snow and my mom's cooking.
Dear Tom, I ask about a venerable restaurant practice that has clearly outlived its usefulness, if it ever had one. The practice is that of the waiter automatically refilling wine into guestâs glasses. This practice seems objectionable for a number of reasons. First, with a group, or even a couple, some guests often do not want more wine, while others may; the waiter does not know or ask. Second, the idea of pampering a guest by refilling seems about as quaint as 19th century waiter obsequiousness or having the waiter cut oneâs food. The predominant reason for this annoying practice seems to be simply that the restaurant wishes you to finish your bottle quickly, in the hope that you might order another. There is nothing more annoying that having an expensive restaurant so plainly and clearly trying to gouge you financially, especially through a practice that may be against your wishes. I always try to stop the waiter (it is difficult, especially if one is in conversation with a group) by saying, âI will pour myself, if you please,â and often I get surprised or dirty looks. Do you agree that this practice is odious? Sincerely, Paul B. Takoma Park
In the best scenarios, servers "read" their customers to figure out who wants to have their wine poured for them and who would rather help themselves. In fairness to the waiters, however, that isn't always clear. If you don't want anyone else serving the wine at your table, you can certainly make that clear up front. Some guests enjoy the service and consider it part of the restaurant experience.
I, too, object to waiters who dump the entire contents of a wine bottle into a party's glasses on the first round. A good waiter/sommelier should be able to pour wine from one bottle for six diners and have some juice remaining afterwards.
I used to have to deal with the "Well, my friends are on their way!" all the time. Great, you've reserved a table for 8. 4 people show up, and say, "the rest are on their way." I have ONE table to accomodate a large group, which I have reservred for you. And then the other 4 never show. So now my one large table is being taken up by four, and when another large group arrives, I'm scrambling to find two 4-tops and I can push togther for the unexpected (but all there!) group. And it seemed like we never had two open 4-tops next to each other. So, yes, I understand it's a pain when you're asked "Is your party all here?" and being told you cannot be seated until all 3, 4, 5, however many people are present. But understand that it's a pain for the restaurant when part of the party bails, which happens all too frequently. Relax, have a drink at the bar, and understand your hostess has probably had to explain this policy to 20 other peeved guests before you, half of which probably said nasty things.
I bet you were an ace hostess.
Thanks for pulling back the industry curtain for diners to see how their behavior -- not showing up on time, not bothering to let the restaurant know you're bailing on a reservation -- affects the business.
twice this weekend, i dealt with bartenders who touched garbage bins and then wanted to touch my drink. Was i out of line for telling them to wash their hands?
No. I trust you were nice about it, though?
Similar problem: Anyone else out there tired of being served coffee in paper cups from baristas with less than pristine fingers? I don't want my espresso to be sticky with caramel, wet with whipped cream or fragrant with other than my own cologne. Servers, please wash your hands!
Hi Tom, Tim from Vinoteca here, and while I read your chats every week I didn't get to this week's until today and wanted to share some info regarding seating incomplete parties. As you mentioned it's a few bad apples that ruin it for everyone, I'm sure that every restaurant employee can tell you a story about a group of 8 people that has 2 guests arrive on time/early and sit down. These 2 guests will insist that the rest of their party is on their way shortly then after an hour and a half of waiting they find out that the rest of their party a. forgot about the reservation b. thought it was somewhere else or c. over slept (this seems to happen most often at brunch) What you end up with is a table for eight being taken up by two people, which is awkward for the guest and I'm sorry to say a waste of valuable dining room space for the restaurant. As most of your readers know, hospitality workers by their very nature want to make our guests happy, but we also don't want to get burned and tell other groups of 8 that we can't seat them because a table of 2 is sitting at the only table that would fit them. What I do personally I think more restaurants should do, which is seat incomplete parties as long as it doesn't affect the size of the table. I.e. if 3 people from a party of four have arrived we will seat them because even if the party only ends up being 3 they will still need a table that size. However if only 2 people have arrived I wouldn't seat them because if none of the rest of their party show up, they can be seated at a smaller table and still be comfortable while we could allow a group of 4 who walks in to the restaurant to sit at the original table for 4. Anyway, hope that wasn't too long winded and hope you have a happy holiday season.
Thank you for sharing your side of the situation (and a happy holiday to you as well).
Hi Tom, A group of us are trying to plan a brunch for a friend returning to DC after years of living abroad. He has usually thrown an annual brunch for his DC friends each year at Bistro Bis. We would like to go somewhere else for no more $50/person inclusive of tax, tip, drinks, where we could have a private room or separate area. Central DC location preferred, but close-in MD suburbs would be ok as well. There will be about 30 people in the group. Thanks!
Any idea what is going on w/ ex-Goodstone Chef Walden?
I found William Walden on Facebook and posed your question.
His reply: " I left Goodstone on October the 20th and I've been moved to sunny South Florida where I'm opening a new restaurant in Lake Worth and Manalapan." He adds, "I will have my La Fleur de Lis once again. It will be called Bistro Gastronomie and we are expected to open early March 1 right on Lake Avenue."
This is my last chance to ask: we're headed to SE Asia next week and have one night in Singapore--any suggestions for dinner from you or the chatters? We're thinking either the famous chili crabs or the Flyer.
Singapore, chatters? I've never been (but it's on my bucket list).
Tom, I wanted to celebrate my 40th at Rasika with 15 friends but when we called to make a reservation the manager said they will require a $1600 F&B minimum! I found that be outrageous. We weren't asking for a private room....just to make a reservation. Any other suggestions for a lovely fun space, not too pricey and great food that will appeal to a large group? Thanks!
A colleague and I have a tradition of taking the kids out for a holiday meal. We're trying to pick a restaurant for this year's celebration. It will only be about 4 or 5 people, and it will be around 5 pm.We're trying to pick someplace that is festive on its own, and also near other festivities, light decorations, etc. Any suggestions for a restaurant that would fit the bill?
Are you thinking of Dec. 25? I can't vouch for the food yet, but the new Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown overlooks a skating rink and serves dinner on Christmas. And I see that Cafe du Parc, near the White House and the National Christmas Tree, has a 4:30 table on 12/25, too.
Just finished Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Saphires. Have you ever gone into whether or not you keep your identity a secret while dining and how? Or do we have to wait for your post-WP book as well? Do DC restaurants have your picture posted?
I've been to most of the top restaurants in disguise over the years, but it involves a serious time committment for me to not look like myself. I'd rather use that time writing or eating or reporting, frankly.
Over the years, a handful of restaurant employees and strangers have told me they've seen my photos in professional kitchens. Since I don't hang around in them myself, I can't verify those reports.
Technology has made it really hard to dine under the radar, but I still try to dine as anonymously as I can.
This will make me go to the restaurant ASAP. A suitable apology and explanation, well put.
Sometimes, it seems that service is great before and during the meal, but when I am done eating, the server can't be found anywhere. It feels like waiting forever for the server to come back and bring the check. Normally, I pay by credit card, but if I don't know how quickly the server will return, I pay with cash. But, I don't feel as good leaving the restaurant before the payment has been picked up. One, I am leaving cash just sitting on the table and two, nobody has actually seen me pay my bill. The simple solution would be for restaurants to make sure that someone visits the table in a timely manner.
This is a pet peeve of mine as well. When I'm done, I wanna split!
I'm not sure what the easy solution here is, though, except for servers to be more vigilant as diners end their meals. Also, some diners like to linger after the plates are cleared; they see the immediate arrival of the bill as a rush job.
Thanks for all of your hard work this year Tom. You have changed the culinary landscape of this city, and we are all very appreciative of everything that you do. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and safe, happy and healthy New Year.
Bless your heart ... Mom?
Seriously, your kind words mean a lot to me. I'm crazy about my readers and I always look forward to the chance to talk shop with you Wednesday morning. So, thank you.
Planning to take out my husband for a nice dinner as my niece is going to watch the kids. can you please recommend a place in DC, not too loud, nice ambience and good food.
Not sure what your budget is, or whether you drink alcohol, but the serene new Izakaya Seki on V St. is good for innovative Japanese. Mourayo in Dupont Circle is reliable for Greek cooking and warm hospitality, while Mio downtown is fun for refined Latin American fare. That help?
TAAN, the newest ramen joint in Adams-Morgan (some very tasty food, some very pricey drinks) posted on its Facebook page that it was looking to "fill our vacant hostess position." Assuming that "vacant" is describing the position, and not the hostess, I'm still wondering why the greeter has to be female. Is it legal to discriminate like that in restaurant hiring?
Many years ago, I ate at a restaurant where the service was so bad my date said that if I left a tip, I would have to walk home. I'm a soft touch, it was a nice day and I only lived a mile or so away,so I left the tip -- and walked home. Recently my husband (not the same guy) and I have had several comparable experiences, to the point we debated not leaving a tip but wound up leaving less than our usual 20% (higher at Chistmas). We realize slow service is not usually the wait staff's fault, but cold food, not knowing the menu at all, lengthy waits for the bill, coffee refills, etc.and most importantly general disitnerest do not make for a fine dinning experience. A couple times we explained we would have tipped more if service had been better, and once brought this to the manager's attention (he had been hiding out in the kitchen) but no one seemed to care. Wuld not tipping at all get their attention? These are neighborhood 1.5 to 2 star restaurants, nothing too ritzy but we spend around $60 for dinner for 2, more if we have wine. We have been going to one place for years and hate to give up on it, but you can only take so much.
Clip this post, photocopy it and leave a copy in the check folder -- with or without a tip -- the next time you encounter middling-to-worse service. Highlight "our usual 20 %," to let whoever reads your note know you're not just being cheap. And for the sake of fellow diners, please, please try to track down a manager and report service problems. I can't imagine NO one cares to hear them.
Just wanted to shout out to Old Ebbitt for a wonderful dinner Friday night. I am half of an interracial couple and believe it or not we don't always get the best service despite being in our 40s, dressing nicely etc. Anyway, we ventured into Old Ebbitt for a late dinner and had a fantastic experience! The oysters were fresh, briny, and perfectly shucked (unlike others I've had recently that were gritty- I'm looking at you, trendy new oyster bar in trendy new Union Market). The service was spot on and their drink made with cinnamon liquor- the name escapes me- was terrific. Hadn't been bsck to this old DC standby in forever but I happy to report it's as good as always - we will definitely be back again soon!
Thanks for the field report. And can someone PU-LEEZE teach the oyster shuckers how to do their jobs at Rappahannock Oyster Bar? I returned not long ago and found grit (again) in my oysters on the half shell -- and a lesser chowder, to boot. Not digging it as much as when the food counter opened.
I totally understand the host staff's horror stories, and I also agree with the original poster who got an argument from the hostess at Central. Good to point out the differences in circumstances.
We aim for "fair and balanced" news here!
I usually lay my credit card on the table next to my plate when I'm ready for the check.
I hope you keep a good eye on it!
Hi Tom, first timer here! I want to surprise my husband with a night away from the kids and go somewhere for a great dinner, great wine, and great hotel. We love all types of food, but particularly food that begs for great wine to go with it. I'd like to stay within a 2 hour drive. We don't need so high end as Inn at Little Washington, but definitely want something nice. Volt would be a perfect setting because it's a great restaurant in a cute town, but we've already been. Any suggestions for something similar? Here in town we've loved Obelisk, Tabard Inn, Komi, Rasika, Fiola and many others if that gives you a hint of our taste.
We went to this new restaurant in Cascades you discussed several weeks ago and really enjoyed the snack board, flatbreads...a special one with housemade lamb sausage and the scallops. Delicious. Thanks for the notice.
Tom...so many great opportunities in Singapore. I've been about a dozen times and would go back in a heartbeat; my first (very strong) recommendation would be to go to Chijmes. This isn't a single restaurant...it is a walled open-air compound that has a number of shops and restaurants located within. And they are all great: they range from Chinese to a Spanish tapas/sangria place, to a Brazilian steakhouse. And all are authentic...Singapore is a financial hub, and draws people from all over the world. I'm serious...I've been to an Irish pub there that was as authentic as any in Dublin. The Brazilian steakhouse in Chijmes reminded me of Rio. Other very strong recommendation: Sunday brunch at Raffles hotel. I know brunch is usually a loser, but it is fantastic here. The hotel is precolonial architecture, is beautiful, and is a destination all on its own. It has a wonderful open interior courtyard, and you could easily spend a couple of hours there. Also in Raffles is the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented. It's worth experiencing. Also stroll along Boat Quay...lots of good restaurants/bars there. And head for Little India (your hotel desk staff can direct you) for wonderful Indian food. Enjoy!
Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to help out a fellow chatter.
Tonight we have reservations at Rasika West End to celebrate my fiance's birthday. What do you recommend ordering or avoiding? Also, do they have a tasting menu like the original location? If they do, do you suggest going with that or ordering off the menu?
As at many great restaurants, Rasika West End, which does not show a tasting menu online, tweaks its menu from season to season.
Definitely try the chicken kebab, the peppery crab stacked on phyllo and the smoky black lentils. But really, this is a menu where you can pretty much point anywhere on the list and find a winner. Personally, I'd probably opt for a lot of vegetarian dishes and recipes that use unexpected-for-India ingredients.
Hi Tom, I'm curious about your review of L'Auberge Chez Francois in the recent dining guide. You deem this $$$$ priced restaurant one of your favorites, yet you only give it 2 stars. Don't you think customers deserve better than "good" at such an expensive restaurant? Please explain.
Hi Tom, I'm looking for recommendations for a gift certificate to a DC restaurant for my boyfriend. He isn't much into food, but this summer, he did the vegetarian tasting at Volt and his eyes were opened to what a great chef can do with vegetables. Can you recommend places that similarly treat vegetable-focused dishes like star entrees? I'm hoping for restaurants that are somewhat less pricey than Volt. Thanks!
"A good waiter/sommelier should be able to pour wine from one bottle for six diners and have some juice remaining afterwards." ---- I think using a bottle on 6 glasses--nothing left over--is perfect. It's what, 25 ounces? for six people. You're not going to get another glass from it. I'd be a little put off if a waiter did leave a couple of ounces in the bottle, because there's no way it'd be distributed equally around the table later. Better to divide it all at once, for me.
But what I appreciate about that little extra in the bottle is the subtle message that the sommelier isn't forcing another purchase on you right away.
On the other hand, I consider it poor service if the waiter does not refill the wine glasses, especially when with a group. It's not always convenient to reach over or ask a dining partner to pass the wine bottle. And, if there are many items on the table already, it can be difficult to poor properly when seated. Let him poor the wine for me and my table; feel free to tell him that you will handle the wine yourselves.
See what I mean? Different folks have different expectations when it comes to serving wine. Best for the host to let the waiter know up front how he or she wants it done.
Hi Tom- Any ideas for places that might be open for New Years Eve brunch or New Years Day brunch? I have some visitors coming and was hoping to take them out! Also, any news on the new Shaw Restaurant being opened by Sherman Golden? As in, what type of food, how expensive, etc etc. Thanks!
Weekend is working on a curated list of places for recovering from, er, toasting the new year on Jan. 1. Look for some brunch suggestions online later this afternoon.
As for the forthcoming restaurant in Shaw, I spoke yesterday with Golden's business partner and chef, Ron Tanaka. The two hope to open a 70-seater called Thally at 1316 9th St. NW next year. Tanaka, who is wrapping up his time at New Heights, was vague about what he would be cooking, other than to say "food that doesn't suck."
Is there any here in DC?
Thanks for the response, but this doesn't answer the main question. Don't diners deserve better than a "good" overall experience when shilling out $$$$ prices?
One could make an arguement for that.
Tom - I am dining at the Bombay Club, Rasika (Penn Quarter), and Masala Art within the span on one week. Am I crazy or spot on?! Any suggetions about vegetarian dishes I shouldn't miss? I am also one of those, "What would Tom say" folks, and love your chats, thoughtfulness, and general good humor; thank you for everything you bring to our collective table.
I'll be curious to hear your thoughts about Masala Art, which was once one of my favorite Indian restaurants. My last meal there was underwhelming, but it's still a nice place to know about in that part of town.
There is a method to inform a waiter that you do not want more wine - you touch the top of the glass with your finger. However, waitstaff now think that is an indication that you DO want more wine. Classic service training gone awry.
How about puting your palm over the glass instead?
Tom, It is a weekly gift to read all of your comments and advice here. Thank you for a year's worth of pleasure, and happy holidays!
I'm blushing. Stop! Stop!
Seriously, thanks. I certainly couldn't do this without your participation, however.
Hi Tom, Love your chats and sage advice. I'm often a solo diner and am craving authentic Italian flavors. Wondering what your thoughts are on Al Dente as a party of one, as I've yet to visit. Any other solo suggestions are welcome, too. And thanks for pointing us in the right direction each week!
We live just down the street from Bryan Voltaggio's new restaurant Range. It looks pretty expensive, but also kind of exciting. What do you think? Is it worth it for a nice date night?
Hi Tom! We're heading down to the White House for a holiday tour this weekend. what are some restaurants either near the White House or in Penn Quarter that are family friendly (i.e., not the oval room)? We'll have a toddler, a 3rd grader, and a middle-schooler with us. All the kids are great at restaurants so we're not looking for something super kid-friendly, just someplace where we won't get the evil eye for dining with kids. Thanks!
Tacky!!!!! but that is what we do now.
There's a way to do that so it doesn't look tacky. Sometimes, I'll shake three fingers over the rim to signal "no more for me, thanks."
I have found that extending the single digit salute to the waiter when he/she reaches for the bottle is quite effective in getting him/her to stop.
I trust we're both thinking of the "nice" single digit?
My partner and I have a holiday tradition for the last 8 years that we go to Oceanaire and sit at the oyster bar to have oysters-- just like Paris at Christmas. We do this a few nights before Christmas before we leave DC for the holidays. The last 2 years the service has been off, and both years they had to apologize for servicing us room-temperature champagne. Unfortunately, I think we're going to have jettison Oceanaire from our tradition. Any recommendation for an oyster bar replacement for our holiday tradition?
Where would you suggest in DC or MD for an omakase birthday celebration during the week between Xmas and the new year?
You don't need to touch the glass, just wave your hand, palm down, over the glass. In the air. Nothing tacky about it.
Agreed. You put it better than I did. Thanks.
Hi Tom: Have you been to DGS yet? We tried it the other night and thought the food was great (the chopped liver!), but we've heard people complaining because they were expecting more of a deli experience than a restaurant experience. What are your thoughts?
All will be revealed Jan. 13, when I review the latest attempt to give Washington an echt delicatessen.
My husband just finished up his coursework and graduated from a very intense program - yay! When I graduated a couple of years ago from my program we went to Trummers on Main for brunch. What restaurant in a similar price range would be good for a celebratory lunch or dinner? My husband enjoys many cuisines, but especially French and new American.
Another place to consider is the Queen Vic on H St NE. I was there for the second time last week and it had nice food - the red cabbage made me reconsider the vegetable - and a very English vibe, complete with two soccer...errr, football games on the telly.
If I go to a vegetarian restaurant should I expect them to have a meat dish for us carnivores?
I wouldn't count on it, honestly.
"No, thank you" or "None for me right now, thanks" or "We'll pour our own, thank you." Seems to be a very easy solution without the need for secret hand signals.
Easy in theory, but not necessarily so in reality, particularly in large groups, with people trying to have conversations.
My pet peeve with baristas: pushing the lid down with their palms, including the part that will eventually touch my lips. VERY off-putting.
Catch that, coffee makers of the world?
Hi, I like you both but sometimes, you sound "the same"...Why is that?
Our little secret. Hehehehehe.
Last weekend, at Chadwick's in Old Town (I know there are better places, but this was convenient), I was served a sandwich that included tomatoes. No where on the description of the sandwich I ordered was there a mention of tomatoes (I hate tomatoes -- and picking off tomato seeds is not easy). Anyway, when the waiter asked if everything was okay, I told him that I didn't eat tomatoes and that the sandwich wasn't advertised as including tomatoes. He apologized. The next thing I know, the manager is at my table stating, rather gruffly "Is there an issue?" When I repeated the problem, his response was that all their sandwiches came with tomatoes (as I should know that). He offered to bring another, but I had already picked may way around the tomatoes so I declined. And the sandwich wasn't good enough to want to eat it again.
The next time you order a sandwich, you should ask if it contains an ingredient you can't stand -- easier for everyone, you most of all.
I'm still partial to the original Hank's in Dupont Circle. Always get great oysters there and during the week they have oyster happy hour from 5-7 with oysters for $1. Such a deal! Such great oysters.
Out of curiousity, which establishments that you regularly recommend do you get the most disagreement from your readers? I find myself agreeing with you about 90% of the time, but I'm curious to know more about that remainder. For what it's worth, my vote would be J&G Steak. I've been three times, and the cuts look something like one would pick up at Safeway, twice they did not cook the steak to my order, and the "posh" ambiance is confusing to me, as it's something I don't associate with a place branded as a steakhouse.
Hmm. I haven't heard many readers disagree with me about J & G, which, while it has "steakhouse" in its name, is much more than a mere meat market.
I'm heading home to MN too! I'm looking forward to snow, but not temps in the teens. Dress warm. Any tips on newer restaurants in the Twin Cities that are worth checking out. We'll be a multigenerational bunch, so nothing too exotic (unfortunately for me, but maybe my husband and I can slip away for one meal on our own.) We're headed to downtown St. Paul on Saturday, but may head into Minneapolis as well. Thanks!