Tom Sietsema on the DC dining scene: Credit card numbers for reservations, 'stupid' hostesses and more...

Jul 20, 2011

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema entertains your dining questions, rants and raves.

Find all of Tom Sietsema's Washington Post work at

Tom, What's your view of restaurants that want to take credit card numbers to "guarantee" a reservation? A while back I made a reservation for Palena's dining room and they would not make a reservation without having a credit card number. This practice implies that the customer cannot be trusted, and makes a high-class joint like Palena look bad. It also starts off on a sour note (at least for me) what should be a lovely dining experience. What do you think? PS Palena uses a paper book for reservations, which means the credit card number is sitting out there when the reservation book is, rather than being stored safely.

Here's one reason why restaurants ask for credit card numbers:  Just this past Saturday night, six people failed to show up for two reservations made in Palena's formal 38-seat Dining Room. When a manager called one party to inquire about its whereabouts, the man on the other end of the line ... hung up.


Chef-owner Frank Ruta says, "We're not out to start the evening on a sour note."  Asking for a credit card number, "Keeps honest people honest."


No-shows might be charged $25 per person, but Ruta says he rarely follows through on the fee, especially when people call to cancel and have a valid excuse. (Some of the charge goes to servers who lose that business.  Which brings up another issue, says the chef: "No one wants to sit in an empty dining room.")


Ruta figures some people book multiple reservations at different restaurants for the same date and time and end up choosing which one they want to eat in at the last minute -- without bothering to cancel the other reservations.


"We didn't start out with this policy," says Ruta. As of this week, no one can book in the Dining Room without providing a credit card number at the time of the call. (Some would-be diners used to get away with telling the host,  "I'll call you back with my card number." That's no longer possible.)


The reservation book at Palena is kept out of public view  below the host stand and is taken out only when reservations are being made or details are being changed, says Ruta.  Even when it's briefly semi-public, "it's not easy to read."  The daily reservations sheet on the podium  shows only the guests' names, the times and the numbers in their party. 


In brief:  I'm cool with restaurants asking for my credit card number.


Good  morning, everyone. Welcome to another hour of food and restaurant talk.  Bring on your questions and comments.

You noted in last weeks discussion that you were waiting to hit up Graffiato. I cannot wait to see this review and see what decibel level it clocks in at. I went with a few girlfriends just a week or so after they opened. I couldn't hear the person sitting next to me in the booth and even the waitress got our order wrong becuase she couldnt hear us! I walked out with my ears ringing. And even worse was that the food was a bit of let down.

I now can vouch for what you're saying about the noise level at Graffiato. * But the food? Details, details! What did you try and what was amiss?


* People who think I devote too much attention to noise in restaurants don't see my email or get the earful I do from readers -- of all ages -- who are tired of the aural assault in new places in particular.

Do you really care why someone may be posting early? Why do people feel compelled to tell you?

I love it when chatters post early, because it gives me an opportunity to chase down rumors, investigate concerns, fact-check details, dig out my notes from the road and offer my audience a better show from 11 a.m. to noon every Wednesday.  All too often, I get detailed questions or comments after start time; at that point, there's no way I can give them the kind of attention they might deserve.


But to answer your question:  You're right.  I do not need chatters to tell me they're posting early. I like when they send in stuff as early as the day before the discussion, but they don't need to state the fact. The sense of urgency is often the result of a looming deadline: a special occasion or out-of-town trip.

Tom, since I travel so much for work, your postcards are a godsend. I loved your most recent London postcard -- I still dream about Rasoi, but I haven't made it out to Harwood Arms yet. However, a couple weeks ago, I went to a different gastropub and though you should add it to your list, and let chatters know about it. It's called The Bull & Last, and it's near Hampstead Heath. Excellent service (especially for a solo diner with no reservation!), very attentive. But the food, the food, the food. Fried dug egg with confit hearts, sauteed potatoes, Alcase bacon Lardon and wild mushrooms for a starter - wow. Slow-cooked ox cheek with parsley risotto, marrow bone and fois gras for a main. I just didn't have room for dessert. All in a cozy, almost rustic atmosphere. It's a bit of a hike from the Tube (Tufnell Park), but it's well worth it. OK now I'm hungry.

Me, too. Thanks for the food tip. (I assume that "fried dug egg" is actually fried DUCK egg, though?)


For the London-bound among you, here's my most recent dispatch.

Hi Tom, I'm hosting a going away party for 50 or so on a Sunday night a few weeks from now. I'd love to rent/reserve a private room somewhere in NOVA or DC with great appetizers or small plates. I have a message in at #9 Lounge at Evening Star but would love a few more ideas if you have them.

Other spots that come to mind at the moment:  Lyon Hall in Clarendon; the second floor of Birch & Barley, called Churchkey;  the wine room above Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown; upstairs at Ardeo + Bardeo in Cleveland Park;  the rooftop at Perry's in Adams Morgan; the second floor of Bayou on Penn in the West End;  upstairs at the new Virtue Feed & Grain in Old Town; maybe Mandu  (love those chicken wngs!) on K St. ...

Hi - Pet Peeves first: 1) If i order water as my main refreshment i think i should be given an additional glass. Recently i ordered water and was only left with the very small water glass already on the table. It was constantly empty and i had to ask my dining companions for their water. 2) If bread is served it should be hot. Stone cold, thick and chewy bread serves not purpose. Finally the question - when a dining experience is so bad that it is not even worth alerting the manager? At a recent dinner (for a special occasion) both of the above occurred in addition to food so salty most entrees were left untouched, a surly waitress, and a dining room so loud no one at our table could talk to each other (though we did enjoy eavesdropping on the tables near us). The experience was so bad we did not even think it was worth it to mention it we just wanted to leave as soon as possible. Should we have said something? We certainly didn't want any free inedible food or a gift certificate...

In order:


1) You lost me here. You *have* a glass and you want a second one for your water? Why not just ask for a larger glass or let your server know from the start you're a big consumer of H2O?


2) I'm cool with bread that is room-temperature. Bread shouldn't be cold, however, and neither should the butter with which it's served.  Hate that.


3) You'd really be doing the restaurant -- and future patrons of the place -- a huge favor by letting someone in charge know how you feel.  Just state your criticisms diplomatically, and quickly, as you're departing. How else can a business improve if its faults aren't brought to light?  If someone tries to give you a gift certificate, simply say "thanks, I appreciate the gesture, but that's not why I'm airing my issues tonight."  Then decline it.

Tom, I've not read any reviews of this restaurant. We have reservations for tomorrow night. Any advice?

 The formal review of Harth (pronounced hearth) won't be in print until August 14. But I'm hearing good things about the (Hilton) hotel restaurant's design, its flatbreads, flounder and poundcake with butterscotch sauce.

Tom - My husband and I are moving back to DC after five years in Boston. Favorites from five years ago included Hank's Oyster Bar, 2 Amys, Tabard Inn (brunch), Rasika, and Komi (we ate there the night we got engaged, a few weeks before moving to Boston). What is new or improved in the last 5 years that we should make sure to try now that we're back in town? We like everything, and we're interested in places across multiple price ranges. Thanks for your consideration of my question, and look forward to reading your columns and chats again - it's good to be home!

Welcome back!


The scene has changed dramatically in the past several years.  Lots of new players in fresh destinations. A short list of must-tries just in DC would include Kushi on lower K St. NW for sushi and grilled skewers of meat and seafood;  the expanded Palena Cafe in Cleveland Park for more of Frank Ruta's brilliant Italian-centric cooking; Ethiopic, perhaps the area's best place for lamb tibs eaten with injera, in the Atlas District;  Cork Wine Bar in Logan Circle for brunch;  America Eats Tavern, chef Jose Andres's exciting new ode to American food in the former Cafe Atlantico space in Penn Quarter;  Et Voila! in the Palisades for Belgian food in cozy digs;  Estadio for Spanish fun in Logan Circle; Masala Art for solid Indian in Tenleytown;  Ripple in Cleveland Park for Logan Cox's inventive American food and groovy setting ...


How's that for a start?

Last week someone posted a comment that "The Inn is out" and went on to explain how the menu hasn't changed and Patrick seems to have grown "complacent" and, among other things, the upgraded room they received had an uncomfortable sofa, a ripped pillow and very cold bathroom. Well, our trip to the Inn this past Sunday couldn't have been more different. The menu seemed smart and fresh (watermelon bubble tea shooters, for instance) to us. Granted the wine is pricey, but we opted for the pairing with dinner and felt we got our money's worth there -- besides getting to enjoy 7 or more different wines, we had long discussions with the sommelier and were treated to extra tastes of things we especially enjoyed. Much better than ordering 1 or 2 $100 bottles in my estimation. After dinner we went into the kitchen for the obligatory tour and had a 15 minute conversation with Patrick about restoring old houses and heirloom tomatoes and how one keeps a kitchen that is used so much so very very clean! He was charming and gracious with his time and he made us feel so special, when I know he sees hundreds of patrons a night. We too were upgraded to a lovely suite (in our case, the Charlie Trotter). The antique sofa wasn't terribly comfortable, but we soldiered through. Our room had a private garden which had been beset by mosquitoes and when I mentioned it to the staff they were quick to come up with bug towelettes and some citronella candles for us, and inquired about their effectiveness at several points during our brief stay. The bathroom was cold - but given the heat wave we enjoyed the chill and adjusted the air conditioning when it felt too cold. If we had been opposed to the housekeeping staff adjusting it, I would have either placed a call or written a note and put it by the control. These folks would have gone out of their way to honor a request. We had breakfast delivered to our room the next morning and our omelets were large and came with a glorious baked tomato and potatoes, so perhaps the complainant should turn to the omelet instead of the eggs benedict when (if) they ever return. Everyone at the Inn was gracious and friendly and the food really was wonderful -- we've dined at Komi and CityZen several times and love them but also love getting away to Little Washington for a treat. Patrick doesn't serve a lot of foams and test tubes full of bubbling liquid (book at Alinea for that), but the food is really wonderful and pays homage to the Virginia countryside. In my humble opinion, The Inn is definitely still in.

I imagine some smiles in "Little Washington" about now.


Thanks for taking the time to share your experience at the Inn.


Patrick O'Connell responded to last week's complaint via email. I'd like to share part of  his note:


Dear Tom,
We were all so saddened here to read the posting at the end of your chat today from a guest who apparently waited nine months to share her perceptions about a visit to The Inn.   As you are probably aware, we employ numerous procedures to measure our guests' satisfaction during their visit and attempt to elicit a superlative expression during the course of their dinner and again at departure.  These comments are tracked and discussed at our daily meetings.  In the event of any negative feedback we attempt to address the issue while the guest is in our house and rectify the situation to their satisfaction before they depart.  But no system is infallible. 
Obviously we would love to have an opportunity to prove to the guest in question that The Inn at Little Washington is better than ever and continues to offer excellent value. We would be grateful if you could invite them to contact us directly through our General Manager, Kaan Caglar at (540-675-5227).  We greatly value any feedback which helps us improve our guest experience here and have already been able to act on several issues which this poster raised.

Any update on Banana Leaves? Wok and Roll just isn't cutting it as a substitute in the neighborhood. Thanks

Banana Leaves suffered $200,000 in damage after a fire in early March.  I haven't heard whether the neighborhood pan-Asian restaurant plans to re-open.

Hi Tom, I'm already trying to plan for Restaurant Week. Most of my friends are vegetarian, though I am not (but happy to eat a delicious vegetarian meal!). What are your top picks for vegetarian offerings during Restaurant Week? Virginia's best, but I'll go to DC for something excellent.

Some 200 area restaurants are participating in that annual rite of summer, Restaurant Week, which this year starts August 15 and runs through August 28.


I haven't seen all the menus, but I have a hunch the following might be good places to start your search: Agora in Dupont Circle, any of the three Jaleo eateries, Me Jana in Arlington, Neyla in Georgetown, Rasika in Penn Quarter, Vermilion in Old Town, Vidalia downtown ... anyone care to weigh in with more ideas?

Hi Tom. My partner and one of our new friends are planning a big night Saturday, and we would like to follow it up with a filling and reenergizing brunch!!! What places would be good first choices for on Sunday (not too early) for three throroughly exhausted males? Anywhere in the DIstrict or NoVa would be just fine. Ciao!

Is it just me, or does this post sound R-rated?


But I digress. Filling, fun --- and definitely served on the later side of the day is the menu at The Passenger near the convention center.

Tom, thanks for researching my question with the owner himself. It's rotten and inexcusable that the party of six behaved the way they did. I'll get over it, but I guess it's irritating that a few bad apples' dishonorable conduct leads to a policy that implies distrust in the customer. Or maybe I'm ignorant and lots of restaurants are now doing this.

Ah, you're still with us. Thanks for replying.


I get similar complaints from diners trying to reserve at plenty of other restaurants. The way I see it, if a diner truly plans to honor his engagement, what's to be upset about?

I've been invited to a businesss lunch at Kinkead's. Suggestions? Fried clams, lobster roll? Anything?

Here's my most recent take, published in the spring dining guide. (Your hunches are on target.)

Some family are in town this weekend, and we are planning to spend the day at the Newseum, then attend the DC United game at 7:30 pm. We are looking for somewhere to have dinner in between. We will be probably be dressed on the casual side, due to our evening entertainment. Any suggestions for a place where we could make reservations (since we need to be done with dinner by 7), yet would not mind our jeans? Many thanks!

I'm thinking the Hill might be your best bet. Think: something fishy at Johnny's Half Shell, something Greek at Cava, possibly a pie at We, the Pizza or steamed mussels at Belga Cafe.

Have you heard anything about Lavagna, the new entrant onto the Barracks Row scene? The yelp reviews have been terrible, but I'm always in the market for some good red-sauce Italian. The fact that the chef is from Zest down the street doesn't appear to bode well for it. I'm thinking of cancelling my reservation for Friday to give them some time to work out the kinks.

For those who might not know, Lavagna Italian Cuisine has replaced Starfish Cafe.


I've not been to the new place, but if  "the chef is from Zest" as you say, that's interesting.  At the time I previewed the bistro last year, the owners told me they opened Zest with the help of a consultant and a kitchen manager in charge of some line cooks.  Not exactly encouraging.

Your post yesterday re: Lincoln reminded me that I never received a response from the restaurant's management with respect to an objective, non-demanding/entitled email I sent about a month ago following a horrible lunch-time meal at Lincoln (no host/hostess, told they wouldn't serve us lunch despite being there within lunch hours, absentee waiter, missing items, had to get up and ask someone to find our waiter to get the check -- twice!). In any event, I was expecting at least an acknowledgement that my email was received, if not a personalized response, but nothing?!? I am really disappointed in the experience which saddens me because I loved the menu and the space! While I assume the window has now passed, I wondered, what is the appropriate timeframe for a response?

It depends in part on the contents of the complaint: someone who had a bottle of wine dumped on her by mistake should probably get preferential treatment over someone who  thought his waiter hovered too much, wouldn't you agree?


In general, however, I think it's important for a restaurant to at least *acknowledge* receipt of a complain, pronto, with a promise to investigate the matter and get back to the customer.  Diners who don't hear back within a week should follow up and resend the original note.  (I'd give a business some slack if the complaint was made, say, during Restaurant Week or in December.)


What sayeth the peanut gallery?

As a single female diner who travels constantly for business, I have had it with the simpering stupid hostestess that restaurants seem to employ these days. I am doing the restaurant a favor by chosing to dine there. The restaurant is not doing me a favor by letting me spend my money there. All I want is a greeting and a table. Ignoring me pisses me off and looking at me like I hav grown a third eye in the middle of my head makes me mad too. There seems to be an epidemic of brainless twits being employed by restaurants these days. They give you a far away look when you request a table for one and then 15 minutes later when you ask about a table, they don't remember you. It doesn't matter if it's DC, NY, Atlanta, or Chicago- they all seem to come from the same mold. Please restaurants teach your people to greet people and at least try to look enthused about the job.

Yes, ma'am!


Seriously, I think you make some good points in your post. We all want to be acknowledged and we all want to be treated with respect.  Don't forget, though: There are inferior *male* hosts out there, too! 

...but is there anyplace else serving Portuguese food in the area that we should try? Nando's is good, but doesn't count for this purpose.

I'm unaware of any other reliable purveyor in the area. There's a joint called the Portuguese Club in a strip mall in Silver Spring, but it's really strange. Not very welcoming to outsiders.

I'm planning a night without the kids at the Westin in Georgetown to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Where should we go for dinner? We'd prefer something close so we can walk.

 Congrats! I'd wander over to La Chaumiere for an old-fashioned French experience, Bourbon Steak for great cocktails and the obvious protein (or the signature lobster pot pie) or Sushi-Ko (ok, it's in Glover Park) for a chance to sit at the counter and watch your meal assembled feet in front of you.  Raw fish and sake sound the most enticing to me at the moment. 

Dear Tom. Thank you for reading my question. I lost a beloved pet to a sudden illness this week and have been a bit of an emotional wreck. My boyfriend has been very supportive. I would like to take him out to dinner as a thank you. Do you have any recommendations that would also be comforting to me? (ie more nurturing with tasty food than chic ambience) Preferably northern VA but not Alexandria - never have good luck with the parking there but willing to go to DC. Would be a plus if the average entree price is less than $35. We both love seafood as well as French, Italian, Scandinavian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and classic American. Thank you.

My condolences to you. 


In Arlington, I think a meal at Liberty Tavern might cheer you up. In Falls Church, I think the tiny La Caraquena, where the menu is half Bolvian, half Venezuelan, might do the trick.  The service and Vietnamese fare at Four Sisters in Merrifield are sure comforts, too.


Hang in there.

The parents make dinner reservations! What do you think of my choices? Palena (dining room), Komi, 701, J&G, City Zen. Would you switch any? This is the first time we'll be home alone for a week without the kids with both at sleep away camp!

Hey, can I join you?


You have a starry, starry list there.

Hi Tom - For the chatter headed to Harth, one cool thing is that the wine list is on iPads! Each table gets one -- there were 30 or so stacked on a credenza the night we were there very early. The ambiance is lovely, the service was excellent and the best thing we ate was the bacon spread that is served with the brea. It was so over-the-top deliicous. Apparently they plan to bottle and sell it. If you want a true taste sensation, mix it with an order of mac & cheese.

iPads and bacon? Count me in.

get the cannoli! and possibly the tiramisu. if you have room. they have a drink called the mister jenkins which is their take on a manhattan. really good. i was there for the soft opening so they still had some kinks to work out but the food was great. i could eat the radiatore everyday.

I first read that as "radiator." (Stop the presses!)


Thanks for writing.

Tom, Where would you take someone for a birthday dinner if you only had $55 in your budget and were looking around Alexandria/Arlington/Falls Church? Any cuisine; $55 includes tax but not tip. Thanks for helping this student out!

Try Bamian, the handsome Afghan restaurant in Falls Church, the friendly Boulevard Woodgrill in Clarendon, the Greek-themed Vaso's Kitchen in Alexandria. All fun.

Tom, in my view a restaurant that fails even to acknowledge a polite, detailed e-mail (submitted directly and via Open Table) about service lapses and other problems doesn't deserve a second visit. It's even more egregious when a brand-new restaurant drops the ball. Would be happy to tell you which one I'm talking about, but here's a hint: It's in SW DC.

I think I know which place you're talking about ...


So, what time frame do you give a restaurant you've written to?

Hi Tom, Love your insight into the area's dining scene. I won't say my parents are foodies, since I know that word's been banned on your chat. I will say that they appreciate good food and ambience, but they are slightly limited these days by hearing challenges, and also a need to be in a comfortable space where they won't have to maneuver around tight tables, etc. They are not (and probably will never be) early-bird diners. I would like to treat them to a few nice meals (but doesn't have to be the Inn at Little Washington, etc.), preferably in MD (close-by parts of DC and possibly Northern Virginia might work as backups). Thanks so much for your help. They may be old, but they still like to eat!

Quiet, *quality* restaurants are so rare these days. But I think your discerning parents might enjoy the lovely Villa Mozart in Fairfax, Bezu in Potomac, Corduroy near the convention center, a sound-absorbing booth at J & G Steak in the W Hotel and perhaps Tosca downtown (although the Italian restaurant really needs a design make-over.)

Hi Tom! I live in Capitol Hill and I feel like I have exhausted my brunch options in Eastern Market. What are you favorite brunch options in the H Street-Atlas District neighborhood?

Believe it or not, I've started a few Sunday mornings off with injera and the vegetarian platter at Ethiopic in NE.

H St NE is also betweeen the Newseum and RFK. The already-mentioned Ethiopic takes reservations and jeans would not stand out. (And if you are not driving, you can take the X2 bus directly from Ethiopic to the RFK parking lot.)

Ethiopic is getting some love today. (I love the new front window. The restaurant looks like a fresh arrival.)

the pasta is shaped like little old fashioned radiators. hence the name. granted the sauce that comes with that pasta is good, i would eat an actual radiator covered in it.

Boy, that post went right over my head. As Ann Landers used to say, "Three lashings with a wet noodle for me!"

Good morning. I am looking for a great place to take my daughter(a D.C. resident) for brunch. Maybe someplace a bit off the beaten path. Thank you so much.

Do *not* go to The Passenger. You might run into those randy dudes I replied to, above.


More parent-sibling friendly: Cork Wine Bar in Logan circle, Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle, Cashion's Eat Place in Adams Morgan.


Chatters, feel free to share your favorite eye-openers with me.


If you are willing to go outside of the beltway there are a couple places in Manassas. Espresso Café & Restaurant is on 28 and has been around for awhile. The clientel is mostly Portuguese. They do a good job with most traditional dishes. There is also Columbus grill with is more Spanish/Portuguese. I prefer Espresso, but they also have some good dishes. In downtown Manassas City, there is Carmelos and Little Portugal. It's more upscale, but I haven't tried the food in years. Hope this helps!

This group is so smart. Thanks for writing.

Why doesn't the $55 include tip? Why not specify $65 including tax and tip?

Poster, are you still there?

If they are willing to stroll a bit further than a few blocks, Bistro Lepic in between Gtown and Glover Park is a lovely, romantic spot to spend an anniversary dinner.

Oui, I appreciate Lepic, too, although the tables are thisclose together. No conversation is very private there.

Actually most male hosts I have encountered have at least acknowledged me in some way even if it is to look at my boobs. LOL I guess young single girls don't know that as you get older, you can actually dine alone and be OK with it. And I guess young girls don't realize that acting stupid doesn't really get you anything in world.

Okaaaaaaay then.

Tom, your defense of Palena's credit card practice was well thought-out, but it ignores the fact that how Palena does collects and stores the information fails every standard of PCI compliance. In this day and age, customers need all merchants to be fully compliant in protecting the integrity of credit card numbers. Writing them down in a book just doesn't cut it, and Palena' bank would be very unhappy to learn of their sloppy data collection and storage practices. I would urge you and the restaurateurs on this chat to read more about PCI compliance. Maybe start at If you're going to collect credit card numbers, make sure you're doing it in a safe way. (And I'm not even a banker or accountant, but I know the importance of the PCI standards!)

Food for thought. (Can't believe I typed that, but I did, Blanche, I DID!)


Any restaurateurs care to weigh in?

Thanks for the great attention to Shaw this weak, from our neighborhood gem Beau Thai to Seasonal Pantry. I happened to be strolling by Seasonal Pantry just days after it opened and bought a few of his homemade BBQ sauces as well as a small container of salted caramel ice cream, and everything has been excellent. It's a great addition to the neighborhood as a shop, not just a restaurant. Thanks for paying attention to our growing neighborhood!

Just doing my job! But thanks for noticing.


Beau Thai is a sweet place. And it will be interesting to see what the young chef at Seasonal Pantry will do once/if he gets a true restaurant space.

When I feel like really treating myself (on a budget, too!), I always head to Hank's Oyster Bar DC. Nothing like a (huge) order of fried oysters with cheesy mac and one of their great $5 Bloody Marys!

Have you had your cholesterol checked lately?

seems to work for those Kardashians.


Hi Tom - wow some people are cranky today! The OP with the two peeves and a question sounds like a seriously high maintenance diner. Neither of the 'peeves' seemed much like real complaints. And I am somoene who also drinks lots of water! Also, the post about brunch definitely sounded, um r-rated. Or worse. One of our 'new friends'??? Too funny.

I went to a barbecue this weekend where one of the guests told me she was a huge food lover and could she join me on a review? Then she let loose with a string of "I don't eat this and I can't stand that." One of her dislikes: "Squishy food."  So creme brulee was out, for instance.


I have no idea why I'm sharing this. I was just amused by the exchange.

As a 40-something woman who also travels and dines alone fairly often, I have to wonder whether this chatter is unintentionally conveying some attitude toward these hostesses -- because I just haven't had this experience. Being outwardly nice and holding back the condescension can do wonders.

You said it. I merely published it.

Is it ever appropriate to bring up to a restaurant that their hosts are pretty consistently terrible. If so, who do I contact? There is a restaurant in town that I really enjoy, but I've never had a good experience with whoever is working the host stand. There are usually two people, and they are always flustered - can't find reservations, ignore disability accommodations that I called in about in advance and were noted on the reservation, don't know what tables are open, completely ignore patrons when they are getting busy (instead of acknowledging them and saying "just a moment").

I'd ask for the name of the owner and send him or her an email. Letters, I've found, sometimes get, um, "lost" by those who open the mail at the restaurant.

I have been ignored by hosts/hostesses with a big group of people before. Just because someone is pretty doesn't mean they will make a good host/hostess folks! It is a hard job - customer service skills are the most important requirement, Time management and organizational skills help too. Not pretty hair.

For sure. Hosts/hostesses are often responsible for diners' first impressions of restaurants. 

Tom, I recently called to make a reservation at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, MA. They ask for a credit card number when taking a reservation and explained their policy which seemed fair to me: If you cancel more than 24 hours out, then you're not charged. However, if you cancel w/ less than 24 hours before your reservation, they will charge you $25 per person if they can't fill your table. Personally, I hate it when friends cancel last minute on me, so I can understand why a restaurant (who probably buys for the day based on the number of reservations) would have that policy in place.

Sounds like a fair policy to me (although having dined at Craigie, I bet the restaurant has no trouble finding replacements for AWOL guests).

Art & Soul has a lovely brunch.

Seriously? My last meal there was underwhelming.

Thanks, Tom. I was sure you'd know the establishment I was referring to! But to answer your question, I would say a manager should be able to send at least a pro forma reply within two weeks. Or is that too harsh?

Two weeks is pretty generous. I think a week makes a better impression on a diner with a complaint.

Hi, restaurateur here. This is something happened to us recently: We had a dinner reservation for 10 in our private dining room on a Saturday. We assigned our best server to that room and assigned the rest of the servers accordingly. Nobody showed up at reservation time, we called no answer. Same story for the next hour, eventually noone showed up. We ended up with a frustrated server, couldn't assign him to another table since we didn't know if the party was coming. At the end of the night the server lost his salary because we had to cut him off early, lost his tip (which we had to compensate somewhat from the revenue), and another party who wanted the space originally went somewhere else. Irresponsible reservations do not help anyone. After that we had to instill a policy of credit cards with reservations. In that case, even if we had a card and charged $25 per person, it would be much less than what would have been, not to mention having an empty private dining room. Oh also, the chefs had ordered accordingly, so we had leftover food...

Thanks for taking the time to write, Restaurant Owner.  Examples such as yours help explain how a few bad apples ruin the fun for everyone.


Great chat, folks. Gotta go. See you here next week, same time.



In This Chat
Tom Sietsema
Weaned on a beige buffet a la "Fargo" in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. In thinner days, he was a critic for Microsoft Corp.'s and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; and a food reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the '80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section's recipes. That's how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

He covers the local scene in his Dining, First Bite and Dish columns; keeps tabs on the world at large in his Postcard From Tom column and moderates the Sietsema's Table discussion group. His new video series, Tom Sietsema's TV Dinners, pulls back the curtain on a critic's life -- in and out of the dining room.
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