tisdag, oktober 16, 2007

Put a Cork in It!

Whoa. On Monday night I went with friends to one of their (former?) favorite restaurants in Delray Beach, Florida. It's a little Italian restaurant with something of a dining rarity in this central/south portion of the state's Atlantic coast: an open view of the ocean.

We sat inside, though the large windows of the place were thrown open so that it was like being out doors. Our table was breezy and one side of the table cloth flapped incessantly, often folding up onto the table.

The sun was setting. It was a lovely evening.

So there we were. It had been a long day of work, but now we were to relax. We ordered some sparkling water. They brought us wonderful garlic bread rolls and a dish of olive oil teeming with whole caramelized garlic cloves. We ordered the wine.

And then the dinner fell apart.

The wine we picked was one my friends had really enjoyed on a previous visit. And it must be noted that, without question, they've spent thousands of dollars at this place over the years. Seriously. Thousands.

Does this entitle them to special treatment? No. Does it entitle them to the same sort of respect that a restaurant should offer every customer (as a new customer is a potential return customer)? Damn straight.

The wine was brought, but the waiter made a dismal state of the cork. Happens to the best of us, right?

Ten minutes, three cork screws, six servers and one gaping-jaw busboy later, we were still without wine. They'd managed to tear the cork to pieces and had finally retreated behind the bar with it. A waitress stopped by and asked if we really wanted a filtered bottle because that seemed to be the only solution they'd come up with. No, we didn't.

You can do that at home, sure. But when a place is charging 400% or more above cost for wine, and when you're paying them $60 for the bottle (as it was in this case), no way.

So we canceled that order. We requested another bottle. "I'm sorry," the waiter said. "That was our last bottle."

Cool. We selected another, but since they couldn't provide us with the wine we'd ordered (and which had been in stock until they butchered the cork), we asked if we might have the new bottle ($85) at the other bottle's price ($60).

"I'll see what I can do," the waiter said.

Something I should have noted at the outset is this: On the menu's opening page is a statement from the restaurant that "A pleasant demanding customer makes us better."

So now the manager--"Ted"-- comes out. He's in a huff. He tells us he can't give us the $85 bottle at the $60 bottle price.

"That's not my problem," he says of the wine. His tone is unexpectedly brusque. "That's the bottler's problem. I've already lost a bottle of wine. You want me to eat another $25? I can't do that. That's not my problem."

Pause. We're all a little taken aback by his manner.

He asks, "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Ian replies brilliantly: "I understand what you're saying, I just don't think you should be saying it."

Ted repeats his position, turns, puts the wine menu forcefully back in its cubby at the wait station, and huffs away.

What is he thinking? If they sent out a plate of crap they'd charged $40 for and you said, "This isn't right," they'd apologize and comp it. Why would he think any differently about wine? Especially when one considers the alcohol mark up.

Two bottles sold at $60 and $85 = $145 of business. The maximum price they acquired each of those for is probably $20 and $25. I'm overestimating that, really. But that's an acceptable figure, so $45 cost of acquisition.

Had they sold the $85 bottle at $60 they still would have made $15 on the two combined AND they would have sold $150 - $200 or so of food. (We'd already eyed two appetizers and three entres and one never knows about dessert. Room is made when one sees the dessert menu.) It seems Ted was not just a crappy manager but a crappy mathematician.

So we left.

We went next door to a place called Shore. We ordered a wonderful Italian (Barbera grape) bottle of wine. We had an appetizer of tuna, corn salsa, avocado and creme. We ate rack of lamb and grouper. We had coffee, molten chocolate cake, and pumpkin pie. We left $200 lighter and pounds heavier and feeling good.

Good enough to author a complaint letter to the restaurant that had been such a disappointment. I don't know how the letter ended. It was still being edited last I saw it. But I thought it had a beautiful final line in the draft:

Ted was just plain rude.

He was.


Blogger Mike said...

It's shocking that someone in a service industry could be so short-sighted. Not only will your friends not go back to that restaurant, but they'll also tell everyone they know about their terrible experience. You've already posted on your blog about it. That's quite a loss over a $25 bottle of wine.

4:40 fm  
Blogger cK said...

Mikey! Happy days, kid. We need to do brunch soon. Maybe Merlins? They are starting up weekend breakfast soon.

4:45 fm  
Blogger Lollie said...

I left a pointed note on Luna Rosa's website and referenced your blog posting! Hope to hear from them soon...

7:55 fm  
Blogger Sassmaster said...

Bravo! What kind of restaurant manager behaves that way? Dang!

11:37 fm  
Blogger Night Editor said...

Ahh, the power of story. We went out to dinner Thursday and as we talked about the wine I told your story. Everyone was interested because they all have bad restaurant stories. And then one said to the other, who had missed the ending of the story, ". . . and plus, he has a blog!"

2:31 em  
Blogger Claire said...

Man, don't you hate bad service? The meal you wound up having, though? Sounds delish! Good to have you back blogging, sir!


2:43 fm  
Blogger cK said...

Sassmaster: I love it when you write "Dang!" But I'm spoiled. I know you well enough to know the sound of it first-hand. (And I love that writing this note may make people believe it's a really outrageous pronunciation. For example, sound as heard through slow-motion video.)

Night Editor: True! Bad service rots, but it does produce some entertaining stories.

And Claire: Thanks for the kind words! One of these days I'm going to try and tackle one of the memes you do, but I'm always so intimidated.

Back in Saint Paul now and soon to blog much much more. Woop!

9:41 fm  

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