By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
Some people are of the opinion they are beyond reproach, and that, regardless of the circumstances, they are the victim and the world owes them something. Fortunately, the backlash against entitlement and the disdain for pretension have exposed some of these individuals.
Enter semi-anonymous, “opinionatedchef” Chowhound extraordinaire, Mindy. The first obvious hint of Mindy’s persnickety nature is gleaned from her choice of Chow handle. The second is her body of work–while often very informative, there’s also a snotty tone in her posts that I’ve been reading for several years. Last week she outdid herself.
In her post about the very-popular Sycamore restaurant in Newton, MA, Mindy referenced two “uncomfortable service confrontations” in her opening paragraph. A lot of people only scan Chowhound, so if they read the title of her post, “Sycamore: Stellar Food but People Problems…,” along with the first paragraph, they’d be left with a negative impression of the hospitality at the restaurant. However, when we dig deeper into Mindy’s post, we find the root of the “confrontation”:
Now, last Wednesday we were 30 minutes late for our 5PM Sycamore reservation. And Sycamore is very small and usually booked solid, so 30 min. tardiness causes them big problems. I get that. And I own the responsibility. But still, the last thing you want to hear FIRST when you arrive late from a miserable over-extended crazy-Boston-drivers tempest – is how much of a problem you’ve caused and how the ONLY solution is for you to depart by such and such a time. And ONLY after you agree to that condition will you be seated.
Mindy prefaced her comments by distinctly identifying the General Manager who spoke with her, and summarily upbraided him in her post. And in a bizarre attempt to bolster her argument, she also interjected the name of a popular Boston restaurateur and concluded what he would have done in that circumstance to make her feel welcome. How clairvoyant.
She concluded her post with, “Next time? Well, hopefully, we will find a more relaxed and welcoming tone [from the staff], but if traffic blockades us…, I think we might just cancel and try for seating (elsewhere).”
What Mindy omitted in her post, but revealed later in the thread, is the fact that she failed to call the “usually booked solid” restaurant to let them know her party was running late. If she “owned the responsibility” she never would have publicly singled out the GM and bitched about the hospitality, period. In fact, when called out on the fact that they didn’t call ahead, she stated, “…we have no cell phone. we left home with ample time to arrive promptly, but the traffic gods had other plans…”
Yup, 2014 and they don’t own a cell phone. And yup, judgement.
Chowhounds can be a very cliquey, insular bunch. Regardless of extreme opinions, there is usually someone who will side with the OP (Original Poster), Mindy in this case. This is the first time I can remember unanimous disagreement with an OP. At least 25 different ‘Hounds’ weighed in supporting the restaurant GM and/or denouncing Mindy’s handling of the situation. Several posts were removed by the moderators (for being too ‘personal’ and attacking the OP), and the thread was locked the same day it started. Here’s a sampling of the comments(I copied and saved some of these before they were deleted):
Gordough: And I am sorry, but you lose me with the no cell phone thing. Totally fine and commendable if you want to attempt to live a completely cell free life but this situation could have been made all the better with a heads up call to the restaurant. I always call if I am going to be more than 5 min late and I can’t tell you how gracious the hosts and hostesses are when I call. To me it seems like common courtesy but so many people don’t do it. And I am also surprised that just based on Sycamore’s tiny size (do they have more than 12-15 tables?) you weren’t more understanding how 30 minutes can mess them up.
Bugsey34: After 30 minutes, I believe you become what is called a “no show, no call.” I think you’re lucky they would have been able to seat you at all, really. I would have expected no soup for you. It’s not about being rude, it’s actually just mathematics of the small number of tables and how long it takes guests to eat there.
MC Slim JB: Might be time to look into a cheap mobile phone and pay-as-you-go plan for emergency use. It’s really not acceptable to make a reservation, miss it by more than 15 minutes, and not give the restaurant a heads-up as soon as you know you’ll be late. It’s worse at a place that is really small and has an early rush like Sycamore.
TimTamGirl: I have to agree with the other commenters that it was pretty awesome that they were able to seat you at all the first time. I understand that you would have preferred a gentler tone, but honestly, under the circumstances, I’m not sure one was warranted – especially since it sounds like you were expecting to be given a comforting hug after your crappy drive. I understand that you had had an unpleasant experience, but that’s… not on the restaurant. At all.
midnightboom: I have several years of experience as a hostess and I have dealt with many people like you. Let me tell you just how your behavior ruins everything for everyone.
We hold tables for 15 minutes max, after that, if you haven’t called to tell us you’re running late, you’re out of luck. Once you decide to show up on your schedule, you’ll be on the wait list and that’s the best we can do.
Once you no call/no show, we plan on you not arriving, and plan out the rest of the seating accordingly. The times we quote to those on the wait list depend on you now not coming/us having that table available when we say it’s going to be available. We see which tables are getting up soon and move the waiting list along.
When YOU show up and demand your table, you are now throwing off our wait times, sometimes by a large chunk of time, pissing off everybody else on the wait list because now that you’ve taken their table and extended their wait time. So if we end up seating you as you feel is your right, you might end up having a happy dinner, but you’ve now upset a long list of other diners who have been waiting patiently and are marring their experiences with your entitlement.
Behavior like this is simply rude. This post is all about yourself and not thinking about how your actions actually affect anyone else, and the domino effect it has from the staff onto the rest of the guests. Feign innocence if you must but most of the time, if you are met with a pissy reaction from staff it’s because of the way you’re treating them. You may think the customer is always right but that doesn’t mean people will stand for disrespect.
Also, important things like having a temporarily disabled person with who requires a certain seating arrangement should be communicated when you make the reservation, NOT when you arrive. The right table is not always magically available. And get a damn cell phone, that’s not the restaurant’s problem.
Jerezhound: …Yes, we are in the hospitality business, but in the end we’re in BUSINESS, and we would like to stay that way. If we continue to alienate the majority of our guests by cowtowing to the neediness of entitled, disrespectful guests such as yourself, then we will no longer attract the good guests who play by the rules and give ample notice of potential problems, and we are no longer able to provide for ourselves or our countless employees because no one wants to do business with us anymore because they can’t get a table on time. So, think twice next time you decide to complain about someone doing you a FAVOR.
DrewStarr: You don’t seem to realize that by not calling, you were as disrespectful of the host as you could possibly be – the most important job they have is managing the seating of that dining room. You no longer live in a society where “I couldn’t get to a phone” is an excuse for being late without warning.
You showed additional disrespect when you gave a physical description that identified the individual to those familiar with the restaurant. Had another Chowhound poster done the same of you, the post would have been removed.
The only reason people are telling you to get a cell phone is because you felt it is your place to not adhere to the social contract; given this is a discussion forum, that implicitly gives them the right to respond to this particular aspect of your life.
As someone who has been reading Chowhound from the beginning, Drew’s comment resonates deeply. The biggest problem I’ve had with Chowhound over the years is that they find it perfectly acceptable for an OP or poster to single out a restaurant worker by physical characteristics, but it’s not ok for a poster to point out another poster’s flawed ‘characteristics’ or arguments. I’ve seen hundreds of posts removed over the years that included important facts relevant to the discussion.
ChocolateMilkshake: And they [Chowhound Moderators] just axed another 10 comments. It’s a wonder why anyone continues to post on Chowhound at all.
hyde: Nah, it’s great! It makes for a dumbed down totally acceptable pablum where nobodies feelings are ever hurt and no real outrage ever takes place. Vanilla Ice Cream for Everybody!
senatorjohn: Entitlement isn’t news. What I find incredible about this story is you haven’t bothered to get a mobile phone in the last fifteen years, but you still take the time and effort to complain on the internet.
If you ever return to Sycamore and they are gracious enough to let you in the front door, make an uncomfortable service confrontation of your own: apologize for your behavior, this post included.
Mindy responded to the admonishment from fellow hounds with obstinate narcissism:
opinionatedchef(Mindy): Man, the assumptions are flying today!! All i can see is CHs not willing to READ my post w/o scalpel in hand.
Except for not calling, I never did or would be disrespectful of the host. Wherever we are dining, we always make reservations and if we are running late from our house, we always call to check with the host, before leaving. No one’s place to tell me to get a cell phone. No one’s place to make assumptions about how i live my life.
We did NOT screw up the night’s floor plan/seating schedule. We departed when we were told to depart/bill paid/ no unfinished business. We ate faster; they made their $ on our table; the following guests were able to sit at their reserved time.
Hey, we all fuck up. How we respond after being enlightened makes all the difference.
I reached out to Sycamore via their website and received a nice note from their GM graciously declining to comment.
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service
Carolyn Grantham’s life was celebrated today at Story Chapel in Cambridge, MA by her family and friends with elegance, class, dignity, humility, humor and champagne. Based on Carolyn’s final wishes, I’m sure she would have enthusiastically approved of the champagne corks popping in the chapel.
Carolyn has been blogging about food (“Writing About Eating”) since the fall of 2006. I’ve followed her journey on and off since then, occasionally exchanging emails and comments about blogging, food, and restaurants. The journey on “LimeyG’s” blog includes trips to Spain, England, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Montreal, San Francisco, Texas, Florida, and yes, the Big E in Springfield, MA. Her food adventures cover everything from humble street foods like Australian meat pies, to foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon.
LimeyG, September 5, 2009 [describing cromesquis de foie gras at Cochon]:
They look innocent enough, … But here’s the deal: They’re cubes of foie gras, breaded and deep-fried. The breading becomes an impermeable shell and the inside turns to liquid.
To eat, you put the whole thing in your mouth, close your lips, and bite. And suddenly it’s as though the entire inside of your head is bathed in warm, soft, rich, deep, soothing liquid.
It actually, literally, seriously brought tears to my eyes.
On January 16, 2011, Carolyn announced on her blog that she had been diagnosed with cancer:
Got some interesting news this week: I have squamous cell carcinoma in my mouth. It’s very treatable and has a high cure rate, which is good. The bad, of course, is that treatment is aggressive and sucky: two or three rounds of intense chemo, followed by seven weeks of radiation.
So what do I have to look forward to? Loss of appetite, changes in my palate, zapped tastebuds, zapped salivary glands, a raw tongue and throat.
Yes, there are a ton of other side effects, but whatever. These are the ones that bug me the most; what will life be like if I can’t enjoy food?
Carolyn’s new journey, including hospital food, medical treatments, and her relationship with her husband, Diego, was chronicled in a poignant Boston Globe piece by Bella English on March 11th 2014. In a very humbling, moving and inspirational piece, Carolyn shared several experiences with Bella about the new challenges she faced with eating, especially in restaurants:
Kate Grams is the nurse practitioner who has been with Grantham since her diagnosis. Her admiration for the couple is deep. “She has suffered horribly, been in incredible pain, disfigured, can’t go out, and can’t eat, which is one of her great joys,” says Grams. “But she has kept an amazing outlook and been game for any therapy and any kind of torture we would dish out.”
…As long as she could sip through a straw, she would take her food that way. “Food is important to me,” she explains. “It’s part of who I am. I didn’t want to lose that bit of independence, that control.”
…She was having to puree her food into liquid form, and when she went to restaurants, asked chefs to do the same.
Some restaurants were very accommodating, and others were not so kind when she requested that they prepare a dish exactly as they normally would, and then throw it in the blender. Carolyn had one nightmare restaurant encounter that brought her to tears when a chef abruptly said no. According to Bella, Carolyn wrote that her experience should serve as a guide to other chefs, “Sometimes a diner will need a little extra accommodation. Please don’t be offended if we need to crush your delicious, carefully created vision. We’re just hungry.”-LimeyG
We’re just hungry.
That quote ripped through me. Eating is such a simple pleasure that so many of us take for granted. A significant focus of my project includes making suggestions about how and why customers should demonstrate empathy and compassion for service industry workers. Thank you to Carolyn for graciously reminding us that mutual respect is a two-way street, and that hospitality includes trying to understand where unique requests are coming from (and saying yes) before judging and/or saying no.
On February 19th, Carolyn tweeted, “Guess I’m beyond the help of modern medicine,” and linked to her blog post, End of the line that included some moments of great joy, accomplishment and fulfillment in her life. I recommend that you read her full blog post.
On February 22nd she demonstrated that her delightfully irreverent sense of humor was still intact when she tweeted, “Spent the morning sorting clothes to give to charity. Now I have to hope I don’t need any clothes.”
A few days after Carolyn passed away, her friends on Chowhound and Facebook noted a message from Carolyn delivered via her husband, Diego:
Carolyn left instructions I now quote verbatim: “In lieu of flowers, Carolyn has asked that you have an excellent glass of champagne; tell your family how much you love them; buy yourself a book you’ve been meaning to read; do one nice, small thing for a stranger.”
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves
I’m often reluctant to post anything about tipping because my project is not about tipping, and the topic has been discussed, dissected, and debated ad nauseam. However, last night I was contacted by Zoosk, a dating site, and asked to give an ‘urgent’ response to three basic questions for a blog post published today about dealing with dates who are bad tippers. Here are my quick responses:
- Why is tipping a must? Tipping is a must because it’s part of our social contract in America. It’s only mandatory for people who believe in doing the right thing. If you think it’s trendy, hipster, or counterculture to pull a Mr. Pink, then you’re a DB. Be grateful that you can afford to eat out and leave a good/fair tip. “Cough up some green!!!” (Reservoir Dogs)
- How does a bad tip affect the server? Bad tips adversely affect servers, bartenders and support staff because most, if not all of their income is derived from tips. Their ‘base pay’ is often two dollars and change, and usually nets out close to nothing after taxes. There are exceptions in some states and in some restaurants. Non-tippers often attempt to justify their assholery with tired refrains like, “If you don’t like serving, get a real job.” Oftentimes getting another job isn’t a simple task, and believe me, serving is a VERY real job.
- What is the minimum expected tip? In my world 20% has always been the baseline for good service. A lot of cheap fuckers will tell you that servers expect more and more every year. That’s bullshit. When I started bartending in 1983, 20% was the norm. I usually tip more out of respect for fellow industry workers. Serving is a grind.
The Zoosk blog post only quoted some of what I said about tipping 20%. What is your baseline tip for good service? Have you ever ended a relationship because someone was a bad tipper?
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Personal Pet Peeves
This is why people REALLY hate Yelp.
When I posted about the Yelp review by ”Nikki R.” who awarded 1-star to a Boston restaurant because they gave her an “ugly generic” pizza box , I was certain the review would fall victim to the infamous Yelp algorithm, and be removed quickly.
We’re writing to let you know that we’ve evaluated Nikki R’s review of Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant that you recently flagged. Based on what we see in the review, we can’t confirm that the user has a conflict of interest with the business.
If a review appears to reflect a user’s personal experience and opinions, it is our policy to let the user stand behind their review. We’ve decided not to remove this review, but appreciate you bringing it to our attention.
Business owners can address concerns or misunderstandings via their Business Account by posting a public comment or sending a private message to the reviewer.
The “pizza box” review by Nikki is the first and only review he/she has made, Nikki has no Yelp ‘friends’, and no picture in their profile. Nikki has also not responded to the 3 direct messages I sent.
Now about that algorithm…
I have invited Luther Lowe, Director of Public Policy at Yelp to respond.
Luther Lowe responded on twitter with this cavalier sentiment, “If you don’t like 1 review, there are 47 million + alternatives.” Now that’s customer service!!
By: Patrick Maguire
Book Chapter: Customer Hall of Shame
Ok, I’ll take the bait. The pizza at Lincoln Tavern in South Boston is very good. I know because I enjoyed a few free slices that the good folks at Lincoln donated to volunteers when they hosted a tremendous charity event a few months ago.
“was SO disappointed last night when i got a pizza to take home and it was in an ugly generic box.. what?!?! what happened to the lincoln pizza boxes? everyone loves walking home with a lincoln pizza box and everyone knows where you got it from. hm”
“Tried ribelle tonight and was not impressed. Loud, weird paper over windows. Not a larger enough menu selection for vegetarian or kosher diners. I won’t be going back.”
The “weird paper” the anonymous ‘friend’ or ‘family’ member was referring to, was brown paper taped over the windows because the restaurant was closed to the public!!
I sent Yelper Nikki the following direct message:
“Do you really think it’s fair to give a restaurant 1 star because they ran out of pizza boxes? Yelp drives people to or away from restaurants, and obviously 1-star ratings can have a detrimental impact on restaurants. If you owned or worked at Lincoln Tavern, would you be amused by the 1-star review?” (I’ll update if they respond.)
Maybe it’s a ruse, or maybe Nikki is just looking for a little attention, but restaurant workers have a right to be frustrated and angry when anonymous dimwits fuck with their livelihood. It’s not funny.
“Some chefs borrow money, they do everything they can, they kill themselves, it’s the culmination of a career working 100 hours a week or more. They finally open a place and within eight minutes of opening, some asshole has posted on Yelp, ‘Worst meal ever.’ You can understand why they go insane…”
Yes, we can…