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Service: Can we get on the same page here?

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Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby jjoyce » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:17 pm

Standard operating procedure in this town is for people to whine about service. Well, having dined here for over 20 years and comparing service here to other cities, it's become clear that it's just not as good. But mostly it's passable and often better than that.

What is it people are expecting and not getting? True, servers here are often not as attentive as what I've seen in New York, San Fran, Chicago, Minneapolis... but there's a professional waiter class in those cities that doesn't exist here. In Madison, students work at restaurants and the service industry's best practices are usually not their highest priorities.

As long as they're friendly, prompt, don't forget parts of the order, and don't leave dirty stuff on the table, I'm fine. A recent trip to a beloved pizza joint included a forgotten item, dirty dishes sitting around and a mistake on the bill. THAT's bad service. But I haven't had anything like that in so long that it was pretty glaring. Usually, I'm very happy with the service I get at the parade of mid-priced casual eateries I frequent.

All too often, marginal service is a product of a kitchen that doesn't communicate ("I just found out we're out of that..."), a manager who doesn't do a good job of training and communicating or both. If it's clear that the waiter is trying hard and continues to be friendly, I'm likely to cut him some slack.

What are you usually complaining about when you gripe about the service?
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby TheBookPolice » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:35 pm

For me, it's usually the relationship between overall busy-ness and speed of service. Though pulling an "absolutely no rush on this"/(here's your check, slapped down right next to the plate you're eating off of as I say it) twofer is pretty obnoxious.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby depinmad » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:39 pm

for me to get riled up enough to complain about service, the wait time for a server to greet me, get me drinks, and take my order has to be inappropriately long in relation to the amount of business being done at the establishment at the time i am there.
i have had this happen to me an unfortunate amount of times here in madison: staff outnumbers customers and i still find myself waiting ten minutes for an initial greeting, a glass of water, etc.
that stuff drives me nuts.
however i've recently experienced a streak of absolutely outstanding customer service around town. as i've mentioned in other threads:

40+ dollars in free food after a relatively minor mix up at ian's pizza

a free additional order of ribs based solely on the fact that the server decided my original batch wasn't up to standards at texas roadhouse

and not mentioned before but i will now - a month or so ago at david bacco's (now db creations or something like that) my wife and i went in before a movie at sundance to have a few chocolates. we are huge fans of the caramel cashew sea salt squares. we each ordered two and sat down to eat them. the guy behind the counter was very friendly and struck up a short conversation with us then left us to our chocolate. a few minutes later he came back around the counter and presented us with four more of the precious squares, saying that these were "too small" for him to sell and would we help him out by eating them.
the squares were to our eyes as large as the ones we had paid for but we happily accepted the additional chocolate.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby depinmad » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:40 pm

man, kyle and i have been thinking alarmingly alike of late.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby TheBookPolice » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:45 pm

depinmad wrote:man, kyle and i have been thinking alarmingly alike of late.

Agreed; which one of us has become more like the other's brand of asshole? Or are we meeting in the middle?
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby depinmad » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:52 pm

i think we are meeting in the middle. also, i've been thinking we should collaborate on a fringe foods: video edition one of these weeks for isthmus on the...
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby HOMOsapien » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:54 pm

Some people expect a lot more than what they are willing to pay for. That goes without saying.

If people who eat out a lot want a servant who speaks liberal, is well versed in exclusive service mannerisms, and dresses in a suite and neck scarf while serving you, you should expect to pay more than $70.00 for a dining experience, per person. Because $20.00 of that $70.00 is the cost of your perfection mark-up.

Madison isn't NYC. If you want NYC, you're living in the wrong town. If you want Europe, you're living on the wrong continent.

Its too bad those of you who grew up in the Midwest have such disparaging attitudes about where you grew up. Just because so-and-so-important-because-they-say-so says here isn't as good as there doesn't mean anything. Have some pride. As for the coasters; you wear too much make-up, you bitch too much, and I don't care how they do it in Brooklyn. You're not as cute as you think you are.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby rabble » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:05 pm

The worst experience we've ever had was at Bunky's. We had made a 7:30 reservation that morning and arrived at 7:15. They took my name and said something like "Okay, got it, we'll call out your name when you table's ready." There were people lined up waiting on the stairs, outside, and everywhere. We watched other people get seated as 7:30 came and went. I asked a couple times and got a very nice, respectful brushoff. "We'll call you." or something like that. No apology. No time estimate.

At 8:15 I told the young woman at the desk that we were leaving, and asked if maybe she could find someone to give the little old lady in the hall over there a chair because she'd been standing for 20 minutes and looked a little wobbly. We walked over to Harmony and had a good meal.

That was summer of 2009. Haven't been back.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby boston_jeff » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:22 pm

I think there are a few issues going on here:
1. Some people will complain about service no matter what. In my experience these people are generally whiny people.

2. If a place is super-busy, you need to be flexible. Most of the time you will get a comp if you are patient--particularly if it is a nice establishment. Recent example: comped free round of drinks at Fresco when we didn't get seated on time for our reservation during Restaurant Week. We were pissed and it was obvious, but my party of four kept it in check and no one was rude to the hostess.

3. Do not expect fine dining service if you are not at a fine dining establishment. You get what you pay for. Comparing Madison to bigger cities is folly--apples and oranges. That said I find that we get very comparable service at fine dining establishments here. No, its not the same thing you get in Europe or in NY or Chicago. But its generally cheaper and the service is nice, even when you go to these places for Restaurant Week. I have definitely been treated rudely by waiters in Boston and Europe who made assumptions about me ("Ohhh-is this a special occasion?" as if two rubes like my wife and I weren't on the same level as their typical clientele. Also, been rudely corrected by more than one server when attempting to pronounce menu items or wines).

What Jason says about the professional wait staff class in bigger cities is certainly true. You get some of that in Madison, but generally you are dealing with students, etc. There are also differences in what is appropriate to wear and tipping practices here. Not sure if that has anything to do with service. I feel that if I am friendly and ask questions, dress and tip appropriately, and go with the suggestions of the chef (this can be huge), I get good service and often perks.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby chainsawcurtis » Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:24 pm

boston_jeff wrote:What Jason says about the professional wait staff class in bigger cities is certainly true. You get some of that in Madison, but generally you are dealing with students, etc.


I think this is right on target. My wife and I used to stop at the Chili's on Hwy 20/East State outside of Rockford when we shopped at the big Media Play store for books and disks. Three times at least - the food was great (for a big chain), reasonably priced and the service was outstanding. Most of the staff was older. What I determined as restaurant "lifers." Folks who had a lot of experience.

Based on these experiences we stopped at the Chilis on the west side of Madison. The food was mid-grade chain, the service mediocre. The staff of servers was all kids. Maybe students, maybe not, hard to tell. They all seemed to be stressed,confused and uncommunicative. This was a while ago and it may have changed because more "adults" are working the service industry but we'll never go to that place again.

My 2¢
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby rabble » Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:41 pm

Just in case you guys are talking about me, I tried pretty hard not to be rude to a staff who didn't look like they cared much how I felt, and we were both pretty hungry. In my book, 45 minutes is too long to wait for a reservation, comp drink or no. And we got no comp. We got no nuthin.

I'm willing to cut some slack, but I can get disrespected for free.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby boston_jeff » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:01 pm

Naw, sounds like you had a bad experience. I've heard similar stories re: Bunky's.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby TAsunder » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:12 pm

For me, this is largely a function of expectations and atmosphere. Having been to places that run the gamut from local dives all the way to world-class restaurants, I've learned to set my expectations according to the meal I'm about to have. The margin of error at less fancy/expensive restaurants is higher. When I'm paying more for service, I expect better service and notice it more when it's not up to par compared to the rest of the meal. There are a lot of service errors I might notice only at a really nice restaurant. For example… at North Pond a while ago, a few of us noticed that the servers brought out some of the food while two of us were in the restroom. That stuck out at a place going for the level of sophistication that North Pond is. I'm sure it happens regularly at more casual places, but it wouldn't stick out as much.

I don't think Madison is a bad service town so much as Madison just doesn't have a lot of true fine dining. There are only a handful of places where I might even have noticed the service error that occurred at North Pond.
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby supaunknown » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:14 pm

boston_jeff wrote:I have definitely been treated rudely by waiters in Boston and Europe who made assumptions about me ("Ohhh-is this a special occasion?" as if two rubes like my wife and I weren't on the same level as their typical clientele. Also, been rudely corrected by more than one server when attempting to pronounce menu items or wines).

"Why yes, it is a special occasion! I just got released from an institution for the criminally insane. They say I stabbed a snooty waiter and then started eating little bits of him while he begged for his life. Funny thing is, I don't remember a thing! I must've totally blanked out. Crazy huh? Gosh, I sure am hungry ... "
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Re: Service: Can we get on the same page here?

Postby Henry Vilas » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:24 pm

Understaffing. Yes, I know that business is down because of the economy and I'm not talking about Monday or Tuesday nights that might get an unexpected crowd. Are wait or kitchen staff calling in sick too often or is the management trying to save a buck by not scheduling enough people?

Penny wise, but pound foolish.

Best service interaction I had recently was at David's Jamerican, the seven of us out for the monthy "Vilas" clan dinner, on a Tuesday night. We are loud, but not that fussy. Big bar tab with our dinner and we tip well. With the Monona Ave. reconstruction, their business is down... I think they might let us come back.
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