Tom, thank you for hosting these weekly chats. I love your work and hope you can offer some advice. Many restaurants seem to pride themselves on their servers' ability to remember orders without writing them down. Unfortunately, this too often results in mistakes - wrong entrees, wrong sides, "no sauce" requests ignored, etc. I've gotten to the point where I can pretty much tell that a server is going to mess up my order. What's the best way to handle this? I worry that it would be rude to ask them to write it down or repeat it to me, but I don't like having to spend time sorting out their mistakes after the food arrives.
You can always say, "What an impressive memory you have! How do you remember it all without writing anything down?"
Say it as if it were a compliment, which it is -- at least until the server screws up your order, at which point you can remind him or her of your initial concern.
To all waiters: There's no shame in taking notes. Just do it.
Happy Hump Day, everyone. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Let's rock 'n' roll.
Hi Tom: I am treating myself to a short trip to New York for the first time in years. Where would be a good place for me to go for brunch by myself? Where I can sit at the bar and not feel like a social outcast? Sorry to have to ask you this, but I am stumped.
You must have covered this at least a dozen times, but I don't remember what the answer is. Restaurants have, for a while, been adding "for your convenience" suggested tips at the bottom of their bills. Their suggestion typically starts at 18% and goes to 22%. I have no problem with that range though I recently tipped 15% for bad service and 25% for exceptional service. But my question is about the base for the tip. The restaurant calculates their tip on the total bill, including DC sales tax of 10%. I always thought that the tip is calculated on the pre-tax amount, so that the restaurant "suggestions" are misleading. Now, this is all about norms and expectations, but where do you come out on this? If I leave 25% on the pre-tax amount will the server see it as 25% or "only" 23% of the post-tax bill?
I typically tip about 20 percent on the sub-total and round the amount up by a few dollars. Works for me. (At least no one has chased me out of a restaurant for under-tipping!)
Hi Tom- went to Le Diplomate this Saturday night - made the reservation at 12:01 exactly 30 days before to get our party in so we were all very excited. The food and atmosphere were generally terrific, but we did experience one issue though that we weren't sure how to handle. Me and another person both ordered the steak frites- I ordered mine medium and he ordered his medium-rare and subbed out mashed potatoes for frites. When the plates came, the steak that came with fries (mine) was very rare, while the one with mashed potatoes was more medium. We had already eaten several bites of each steak before we realized this issue (since the ends are usually more done anyway it wasn't immediately obvious). We had already sat through one delay in the meal when one person received the wrong salad so instead of sending the steaks back, we just switched our already partly-eaten steaks. I guess we should have spoken up at the time, but we really didn't feel like making everyone wait yet another time with food in front of them. It did mar an otherwise great special occasion meal however. Do you think we should have spoken up and waited for new steaks or did we do the right thing in just trying to salvage the meal for everyone? Thanks!
Given how busy Le Diplomate is, and the time it would have taken to reorder, you and your companion were smart to swap plates. Obviously, that's something other folks might not be able, or want, to do, but good for you for being open to the trade.
As I've said countless times before, it's always better to raise an issue the moment a problem arises. While I know your party didn't want to wait any longer than you had, you might have let the waiter know what you were doing, and why.
For future reference, some people check their steaks as soon as they hit the table, by slicing into the center of the meat to test doneness.
Do you take it as a bad sign when restaurants post for waitstaff or BOH positions on Craigslist?
Hi Tom! I'm glad you came to our restaurant Mazagan (I'm Chef Riyad Bouizar's wife and co-owner) and we really appreciate the visit from a critic of your caliber but I am getting a lot of questions from our patrons in Columbia Pike about the star rating (1.5) with a rather complimentary write-up. We are taking all your suggestions to heart and I do hope that you do come back to our establishment soon to re-review. Is that really likely? Is it a policy of yours to come back to give a new establishment another chance? Thank you!
Thanks for taking the time to write, and also for identifying yourself.
I generally don't re-visit restaurants that have just been written about unless there is compelling reason to do so -- a chef change or some such -- and even then, I'd wait. There are too many other restaurants competing for a limited number of reviews in the Magazine.
I gave Mazagan a 1.5 star rating, which translates as "satisfactory to good." While I like the design and some of the cooking, especially the bisteeya, or shredded chicken pie, and the liver kebab, the service proves mixed and the tagines lacked that desirable, long-cooked flavor and melding of ingredients. Seasoning was off in some dishes, too.
One of my all-time favorites came from a Siberian menu a friend had saved, with some pretty wobbly translation to English. A dish featured "oil of god's liver."
Ha! I want what *he's* having!
Although I haven't been there in a few years, Cassatt's Kiwi Cafe in Arlington, VA serves one. It is still on their menu and I recall it as being very good.
After almost 45 years of going to the"original" Ambrosia Restaurant on Rockville Pike it has disappeared - not even a note on the door. I, and my friends are devastated(I always order the Ambrosia special). Have you heard anything about the closing and if they plan to reopen? Don't know where to go for good, basic Greek food in the Silver Spring/ Rockville area. Have any ideas?
Speaking of closings, I understand the long-running Listrani's in the Palisades has also gone dark. I bet the neighborhood isn't happy about that.
Tom, I am the poster who wrote you some time ago about losing out on a gift certificate from Citronelle due to the restaurant closing. You may recall I was contacted by the company for my address after writing to you and I believe you were also assured that gift certificates would be compensated. I have not received anything more from them and am frustrated. Was their offer just a way to ward off bad publicity? Our friends gave us the certificate to Citronelle as a wedding gift just a couple of weeks before the original closure "for renovations." I'm sure they believed (as we did) that our favorite special occasion restaurant would be re opening. I am disappointed that I have not received any results from the company and ow believe they were acting in bad faith. What are your thoughts? Thank you,
Sorry to hear you haven't been compensated yet. I address this issue (yet again!) in my Dining column this weekend.
The person to contact is Fadi Ramadan, senior vice president of finance for the Arlington-based Interstate Hotels and Resorts, which managed the hotel Citronelle occupied. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-387-3295.
Let me know if you don't get a prompt response.
We are trying to find a nice restaurant to celebrate our anniversary within walking distance of Clarendon. Flavorful food that we can't make at home is a must, but everything else is flexible. We were thinking Fuego, but is there somewhere we are overlooking?
Tom, last week a thread was started (AGAIN!) concernng servers introducing themselves at the beginning of service. This is absolutely THE chance for the server to get a read on the table to adjust service needs for the guests seated. In this increasingly competitive dining market, both the restaurants and the staffers must employ the simplemarketing strategy of "branding" to imprint their logos, image, faces, and any other possible possible element into the diner's memory to encourage repeat visits in the future. In addition many restaurants are now corporatized (multiple locations/concepts) and want a standardized approach to service rather than loose cannons doing things their own way. And then there are the mystery shoppers that can tear a server apart for not meeting that standardized criteria that the company is looking for......
I'm totally sympathetic to servers who are required to introduce themselves and recite from a script. Maybe one way around that is for the diner to take charge: "I'm aware of the restaurant, thanks. If we could just have a few minutes to look over, that would be great."
Tom, first of all thank you very much for the work that you do so we can have some good eats! I'm hoping you can help me out with this "project". My husband is going to travel to Warsaw for work next week for six days. I am putting together a list of places for him to try, he is kind of shy, and does loves food; but without some encouragement, he might end up dinning at the hotel restaurant all week. Thanks!
I've never been to Poland. Can anyone help out a Warsaw-bound diner?
Tom, if you are interested in speaking with the manager of a restaurant (not to deal with an on-the-spot issue about your meal, but for a question, special request, etc.), what is typically the best time of day to catch him or her? Late morning, as they are setting up for lunch? or mid-afternoon before the happy hour/dinner crowd hits?
Good question. Since schedules vary, I'd call and ask the host or whoever picks up the call what a good time would be to discuss something with a manager.
just wanted to give a shout out to the restaurant on D St.--the food was fantastic, wait staff was solicitous and careful about an allergy in our party, service was in general just perfect, and let's get back to the food: fairly priced, tasty, interesting, and it felt like a really special evening. Thanks for the recommendation!
You are welcome!
Reading complaints last week about service at various Lebanese Taverna locations, I found myself glad we live near the counter-service location in downtown Silver Spring. The prices are cheaper, and we've never had a problem with the simple delivery of food to the table. I particularly like that a few of the meal options are set up for you to choose small portions of 3-4 mezzes with one of the schwerma meats, so you can taste different options without having to pay for several individual mezze. Perhaps readers who miss the food could check it out! It's a nice option paired with a trip to the Saturday morning farmers' market.
Here's a post from a detractor of the place:
Totally agree with the chatters last week- fairly good food, horrible service. been to the Bethesda location a few times with ridiculous outcomes: once with a large group of friends they forgot half our drinks and disappeared for almost an hour then tried to charge us for the missing ones anyway, another time just wanted an appetizer tasting platter as my main course and the waiter literally would not accept that order and insisted I reconsider and pick more food and walked away to give me time to "realize it wasn't enough food"- had to flag down another waiter from another section when ours wasn't looking to get what i wanted. if it weren't so funny of a story i would have been much more upset.
I think most people would walk back 90 percent of their complaints about servers if they remembered they are people. I'd rather have an imperfect human serve me food than a kiosk or an ipad. Just sayin.
Well, sure. But it helps if a waiter is trained to "read" a table and detect when diners need something, or want to be left alone.
Dining in Warsaw is pretty pedestrian -- it's mainly a business town, none of the charm like you'd find in Wroclaw or a smaller Polish town. There are good dependable restaurants on the main road through town, and we enjoy a Georgian restaurant that has locations throughout Poland -- Gruzinskie Chaczapuri. He'll find lots of Italian restaurants and coffee shops as well as some good German food too.
Georgian food is some of the best, anywhere ....
When did the "standard" tip increase from 15% to 20%? I know it's been around a while, but daddy always taught me 15% and adjust from there.
"Daddy" must be over 60.
Seriously, 20 percent has been the norm for years now, at least with business types.
Hi Tom - Consider me a faithful follower of your reviews. Based on some of those, I wanted to try Water & Wall in Arlington...made reservations for the 7th through the Water & Wall web site, showed up on time, and the place was closed. I stood on the sidewalk with my dinner companion and and handful of others, stupidly looking at the locked door and dark interior. Is the place out of business or - ? Can you please let me know if I should try again or consider it a lost opportunity? Thanks so much!
I reached out to chef and co-owner Tim Ma, who followed up with this note:
First and foremost, I want to apologize to your reader for the missed opportunity to cook for her and her friends. We are so grateful for all of our diners and their amazing support for both Maple Ave and Water & Wall and never want to take that for granted.
Water & Wall is not CLOSED, rather the restaurant was closed for an offsite team appreciation day along with Maple Ave Restaurant on Monday, July 7th. Both teams from cooks, dishwashers, managers, bartenders to runners have worked so hard since day one, and we wanted to show them how much we appreciate their hard work, loyalty, and dedication to the vision.
Again, very sorry to hear that she made the trip out to Water & Wall to find out that we were closed for the day. CityEats blocked all online reservations for Monday July 7th many weeks ago. We ran a search for Monday July 7th and found no reservations, we also contacted CityEats to see if it could have slipped through the cracks but they did not find any reservations either. Possibly mistaken for a different day?
Regardless, they made the trip expecting dinner and we disappointed them, and I want to make this up to her and her guests. Would you mind having the reader contact myself directly so we can work out a day I can host them personally?
I appreciate the chance to respond, in this really competitive market, sometimes you never get a chance to make it up to them. Hopefully here is a chance for me to do so. Thanks Tom!
Maple Ave/Water & Wall
I like to read a menu before I go to the restaurant, often before I make a reservation. However, I'm tired of reading a menu, going to the restaurant, and then finding that they have taken the item I want to order off the menu. Sometimes the actual menu offers better options, sometimes not, but it is always a bad way to begin an evening, and it starts the relationship off wrong. I realize that restaurants have daily specials and posting them may be awkward, but is it unreasonable to expect that when the fixed menu, wine list, or cocktail list changes that the restaurant will also post the new menu on line? How hard can this be?
Let this serve as a reminder to restaurants to put one person in charge of updating online menus. It's *not* that hard and it makes for good public relations, as evinced in the post above.
Meanwhile, if a diner has his or her heart set on something on the menu, it would behoove him or her to call the restaurant and verify that that dish, drink or deal is in fact being offered.
My wife and I went to Osteria Morini in the Navy Yard for dinner with some friends two weeks ago and as per your recommendations had a number of desserts. After we ordered the cherry cobbler dessert special, the pastry chef came out of the kitchen to let us know that they had just given out the last one. He apologized and said that we could choose any other dessert from the menu and enticed us with the Lemon Tart, which we loved. He was so nice and considerate to come out of the kitchen and talk with us, and it was the highlight of the meal to meet one of the chefs. Is it common for chefs to do this kind of thing in your experience?
I think most chefs enjoy interacting with the people they're feeding, provided there's time and they're not in the middle of a dinner rush.
Tom, when I was a server, I preferred to take notes. Certain employers, however, dictated that servers not take notes because they thought it looked sloppy or tacky. (You're not looking your guest in the eyes. You're holding a pen and a pad of paper.) Also, when I was able to take notes, a few times I was criticized by diners for doing so.
Seriously? A diner chastised you for writing down an order? I mean, that's common practice. Plus, as noted above, jotting things down helps keep errors to a minimum.
Hi Tom, First, thanks for doing these chats, they're a great inspiration when I'm trying to decide where to dine. I'm planning a dinner for a special occasion and my SO and I have yet to try either Komi or Minibar. If you had to choose one, which would you go with? Thanks!
They are two very different experiences, both memorable in their own way.
In brief: If you want to watch dinner theater and don't mind frequent interruptions, try Minibar. If you're more about being whisked away to a four-star Greek restaurant where everyone speaks English, go for Komi.
My dad is about 70 and tips 15%--give or take-- for good service. When the server has been especially nice, he'll even say he'll leave a good tip ... and then tip 15%. I feel a little embarassed about it when I'm dining with him and he's paying the meal. Is there anything to be done? If I tell he should tip 20%, he would get irritated and not do it.
You can always slip extra in the check holder when he's not looking!
Do restaurants train their waiters anymore or at least give them some sort of norms and expectations for how they should speak to customers? We've been eating out a lot this week and I'm taken aback by some of the responses I get from waiters. "Have you dined with us before? You have? Fabulous." I don't see what is fabulous about that. I could understand "We're glad you've returned" but "Fabulous"? "Could you please refill our water glasses?" "No problem." Of course it's not a problem. That's your job. Why do you even introduce the word "problem" into the conversation. "I'll have the duck." "Terrific." Isn't every dish on your menu terrific? Or is it only this one? Should everyone at the table order the duck? This just seems to me like bad training, but I've encountered it at some very good restaurants that charge high prices and expect large tips. This type of airhead-response service does not measure up to the standards that the restaurants aspire to.
You're preaching to the choir. I, too, detest being graded on my choices and being told a request is "no problem." Let's hope your post is tacked up on restaurant bulletin boards everywhere today.
Allow me to throw out another service gripe: servers who touch customers. I know the shoulder rubbers and arm patters mean probably well, but the behavior isn't to everyone's liking.
No, absolutely not. Not everyone eats on an expense account, this is isn't NYC or London, where Wall Street and City types throw around cash like it does in fact grow on trees. It's 15% for satisfactory although in DC that satisfactory is a very low bar. 20% is easier math, but not the norm, with the possible exception of a very nice restaurant or when drinking alcohol. Fundamentally there's a difference between the service I expect somewhere where the bill for two will exceed $100-200 for two and one where it only exceeds $50-75.
I always tip MORE at the lower range. Maybe it comes from having been a waiter in another life, or thinking the staff needs the extra bills more than I do. Restaurant work is hard.
It doesn't impress me that you were able to get our order correct without writing something down. The order is supposed to be correct regardless of whether you wrote it down or not. All too often when someone doesn't write it down they'll come back and ask something like "You wanted the salmon, right?" "No, I wanted the lamb."
I've noticed something new lately: A waiter takes down everyone's order and sticks around to go over the entire request a second time, as if the first line of questioning never happened.
Restaurants would do well to clearly state the online menu is a sample and may not reflect what is available on any given day. If I see a dish online, I always call and check to see if it will be available. Same with wine lists.
Sample menus are OK, as long as they change with the seasons and the prices are accurate. Good for you for verifying!
Just wanted to say thanks for the tip you gave to another reader on Seasonal restaurant and Weinbar in NYC! I am originally from there but can't keep up with all the new and interesting places to eat and was about to write you to ask for suggestions when you answered another reader's exact same question (going up to NYC for a show, where to eat in the area). We had a fabulous meal - each did the 3 course tasting with wine pairing to try a variety of things. The upscale Austrian food was just the thing to get us in the Hedwig mindset. :) Thanks so much!
Hi Tom, when we were reminiscing about long-lost restaurants it brought Gerard Pangaud to mind. Gerard's Place was my go-to for a lux night out and I really REALLY miss it! Have you or anyone rated the restaurant he works with in G'town? Thanks!
For the Clarendon diner, we love Green Pig Bistro, we also just had a really great meal at Water and Wall. The decor is really nice, the food was very creative and well executed. I had scallops and soft shell crabs. Hubby had the chicken, which was a great dish, something we wouldn't eat at home, but so much better than a normal chicken dish and I think good value to what we got. Even the desserts did not disappoint! And it's only a few blocks from Clarendon.
And I always tip way better percentage wise on a cheap meal. Those people's base pay is the worst and they probably work the hardest to earn it.
My thinking, too.
"No Problem" has become part of our day to day language and the whiner needs to get over it. If you're going to complain and moan about tiny little things you perhaps should stick to McDonald's, where no one is ever happy to see you, nothing is fabulous and nothing you order is terrific. The pettiness is just appalling!
Well, this is a forum for sharing the good and the bad, your rants and your raves. Who knows? Maybe the post above will result in fewer "No problems" out there.
Hi Tom, In response to the poster wondering about the original Ambrosia, it still exists! It just moved further down the Pike in Rockville into the Montrose Crossing shopping center. More info here: http://www.theoriginalambrosia.com/ Thanks and love your work!
Glad to be able to correct the information in real time. (One of the dangers of an online chat is not always being able to verify everything that comes my way after we get rolling.)
I sincerely doubt that someone saying "fabulous" or "terrific" is actually grading you on your choice of restaurant or entree. This kind of stuff makes me glad I'm not a server anymore. What one person appreciates as enthusiasm another person detests as air-headedness. What person appreciates as professionalism, another person detests as stand-offish. Good servers can read their tables and hopefully sense which type of personality their diners are, but is it really that bad if they don't get that you're not a "fabulous" kind of diner? I rolled my eyes so hard at this notion, they may be stuck.
Bottom line: Sometimes you can't win!
I don't think anyone here is in danger of forgetting that. I don't see any complaints that are frivolous, just diners wanting to optimize their dining-out experience. Waitstaff are in the service business.
My father often stiffs waitstaff by tipping about 12%, so I got into the habit of carrying some extra cash and slipping it in before we left. Not a bad habit if you know you're dining with someone with stubborn, bad habits of their own!
Don Draper probably doesn't tip that low! And he's living in the 1960s!
I'd certainly rather have that happen than have the waiter come out over and over (or even once) to confirm orders -- the latter is keeping our food from getting to us in a timely manner.
I hear you.
Tom, I enjoyed your First Bite on Macon Bistro and went shortly thereafter. It was really quite good. There's so much attention to restaurants on 14th Street and Shaw these days, plus an unfortunate exodus from Cleveland Park, so it's nice to see something new in Upper NW that's really worth going to. Will you be doing a full review of Macon?
Hey Tom, We'll be visiting LA and San Diego for our anniversary soon. Any places we have to try?
You know what's fun? Cocktails on the terrace of the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood. I stayed there for a few nights in December and loved the old-school glam of the place, which has amazing city views to boot. I also had an enjoyable dinner at the newish Republique in the former Campanile space.
Anywhere care to weigh in with other West Coast ideas?
Yes it's closed. It moved well over 10 years ago so I don't think anyone who was going for over 45 years is merely mistaken about its location.
Whoever hopes to dine there obviously needs to verify if Ambrosia is still open. Sorry for posting unchecked information, above.
We were travelling up to Massachusetts this weekend and were disappointed to see that the restaurant was out of one of its desserts, "hazlenut mouse". I wanted to see if they'd left the tails on. In their defense, the flan I had instead was wonderful.
Tom, I love to laugh at some of the "problems" posted on here. But I loved your answer about tipping more on the low end. If I'm at a breakfast diner and get a $10-$15 meal, I'll always leave $5 or so. But then as we progress up, I'm fine tipping in the normal 20 to 25% range for a nice meal. But all diners should remember that extra dollar or two at an inexpensive place could really make the difference for the worker. Tipping 30 to 50% at these places really doesnt dent your budget, but when added up could really help the servers and bussers.
Yep. But there are plenty of people who are going to disagree with us ...
Tom, why do waiters tell diners, "My favorite is..." I don't know this person, so his/her opinion doesn't help me. It's slightly better if they say "Our customers' favorites are..." If I haven't asked for their input, why do they give it? Thanks!
I always think of Yelp when a server says something along those lines. ( "Um, can I see your bio and clips, please?")
This reminds me of my late MIL who was a lovely lady but whenever she picked up the check, my wife or myself knew to slip the server a few extra bucks. Some of her friends were the same way, nice people but lousy tippers even at places were they were regulars!! Maybe it was a generational thing.
I think it might be.
Whisk-n-Ladle in San Diego is in our top 5 of all time in the country. We liked it so much when we were there a few years ago that we cancelled plans at another restaurant so we could go back. It's a pretty casual place in the La Jolla area. Also in that neighborhood we had a fabulous, fancy meal at George's Modern.
Thanks for chiming in.
Obviously, you should bring the scripted responses for your waitperson to use. You are complaining because someone responded to your order with "terrific"? Wow--what a horrible, horrible world you live in...
I did something I've never done before the other night.
After my waiter asked, for the nth time, "How is everything?" I looked at him and said, "Everything but the service is fine."
He got bug eyes.
His manager got bug eyes.
My friends got bug eyes.
Then I said, "I'm kidding! I'm KIDDING!"
I wrote in last week for a recommendation of where to eat pre-Kennedy Center. We decided to take your separate recommendation of Soi 38, which worked out perfectly! It was mostly empty on Saturday at 5:30, service and food were excellent, and we had plenty of time to walk a few short blocks to the KC shuttle by the Foggy Bottom Metro. And it's way cheaper than Marcel's or the Roof Terrace. I'll be doing this again.
Tom - one of our faves was at a very nice seaside restaurant in Del Mar, outside San Diego. It was a beautiful, but quite sunny day, and we asked why our server, who was not wearing sunglasses. The reply, "management does not allow it because diners want to see the whites of our eyes".
Ha! (Poor guy, though, in sunny California ...)
Is okay in places with brass poles and live entertainment as long as the waiteress is attractive. Yeah I have stiffed waiters for touching my girlfriend and literally drooling over her. I have also ahd them fired whn she has told me they asked her for her number etc. She is 50yo boys and old enough to be your mother. And BTW I am kept her 9 zeroes after the decimal point savings trumps my measely eight. but I ahve excellent oral communication skills. You dont.
Sir, let me take that drink away from you ....
Do you think they would have left the antlers on a "hazelnut moose?" ;)
Chatters, you are cracking me up today!
I'm in my 70's and regularly dine with others who are 10 and 20 years older than I. With one exception, a woman in her 60's, we always tip a minimum of 20%. (we are all women)
Please accept my apologies. No slight intended!
With all do respect to a server's obligation to management's branding strategy and the need to imprint "logos, image, faces, and any other possible possible element into the diner's memory to encourage repeat visits in the future," I'd suggest that good food and non-annoying service tics accomplish all that much more effectively than false bonhomie.
We really enjoyed this small restaurant and so did the friends we sent there.
And that's a wrap for today, folks. See you here next week, I hope, and until then, NO DRINKING BEFORE THIS CHAT ENDS. Deal?
Ciao for now.