Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dining Disaster

I am a restaurant snob.   I have no problem eating at a family style or fine dining establishment, but wherever it may be, I expect the food to be good and the service to be impeccable.  In the late 1990’s, I waitressed at a fine dining restaurant called The Chalet.  If I didn’t provide good service, I didn’t get good tips.

I remember working the evening of the first year anniversary of The Chalet’s opening where complimentary appetizers and champagne were offered in the lounge.  Four of us waitressed in the lounge that night while the rest of the wait staff took care of the dining room.  One of the girls asked the other three lounge waitresses if we wanted to split our tips.  I said no, there wasn’t much money to be made because of the free drinks and food.  That was a lie.  The other girls were lazy, serving the free champagne, then going in the back to drink some themselves.  I was taking drink orders  and even paid appetizer orders for those that wanted other choices.  I was the only one who actually approached the patrons to ensure they had what they wanted.  Several times, I had to sneak off into the ladies room and stuff bills in my socks, bra, pockets and wherever else it would fit.  I walked out with several hundred dollars that night and the other girls, by the time the night ended, were drunk and lucky if they earned $20.00.

My husband & I will sometimes squeeze in a lunch date if the timing works.  We planned lunch at The Old Canteen Restaurant on Federal Hill, but it was a Tuesday and they were closed.   Because of our time constraints, we decided to try the steakhouse at the Westin H otel which only was a few blocks away, but they were only open for dinner.   Upstairs in the Westin was an Italian Lounge called Centro.  They were open for lunch, so we decided to try it. 

The atmosphere was elegantly casual and the room was large and airy.  We waited for a moment by the hostess station and soon a very sloppy looking hostess directed us to a table and then tossed the menus on top of our plates and silverware.   I noticed a woman who looked like she was a bus person walking over with a pitcher of water.  She asked, “Do youz want water?”  My husband and I exchanged a quick glance and tried not to laugh.  He asked if he could have sparkling water.  She told him she would have to check if they had any.   Several more minutes passed and she returned with a bottle of sparkling water,  placed it on the table in front of him and walked away!  She didn’t pour it and did not even offer him a glass with ice. 

OK, so we’re already off to a bad start, but perhaps the bus girl wasn’t too experienced.  We hoped our server would be better.   It had been almost 10 minutes since we sat down and no one had come over to go over the specials, nor offered to take a drink order.  The bus girl was coming back.  Oh no!  She’s our waitress! 

“Are youz ready to order?”

Inwardly, I cringed as we placed our lunch orders and she walked away!  She didn’t even ask if she could start us off with a drink. 

Another 10 minutes passed, then 15.  My husband and I looked at each other and I asked him, “Do you want to leave?”  While I have NEVER in my life stiffed anyone for a tab, we would have totally been justified to walk away.  We had been seated for over a half hour, with no food or drink other than water.  Before he could answer, she was on her way out of the kitchen with our salads.  I figured if I wanted a drink, I’d better request one, because she wasn’t going to ask.  So I asked for a martini menu.  And she replied, “I’ll have to see if we have one.”  REALLY?  A high end restaurant with no drink menu?  Did they train this woman before setting her loose on customers?

She returned with a generic drink menu, with no specific specialty drinks.  I mentioned to her I liked to look at the restaurants suggestions and she just took the menu back , said ‘OK’ and walked away! 

Our salads were tremendous, which was a pleasant surprise.   The baby arugula salad came with a chianti poached pear, candied walnuts,  goat cheese and lemon vinaigrette dressing.  My husband had a spinach salad with portabella mushrooms, goat cheese, walnuts and white balsamic glaze.

When she returned with our lunches, I ordered a Cosmopolitan.  She brought it over without placing on a tray, there was no garnish,  just enough spilled as she walked to make the glass nice and sticky. 

 My lobster salad sandwich was delicious.  It was served on toasted brioche with lemon aioli, tomato and baby arugula.  My husband ordered a steak with mushroom sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus.  Everything was cooked to perfection.

And then… she spoke, “Do youz want anything else?”

We finished our meals, thankfully which in spite of the horrific service, were outstanding.  Although our time was running short, we did have time for desert. 

She came back.  “Do youz want desert?”

My husband ordered cheesecake and espresso and I ordered the crème brulee.  She put our deserts down, bringing me a clean FORK for my crème brulee,  disappearing again in the bowels of the kitchen.   She was nowhere to be seen and in order to eat my desert,  I used my husband’s tiny espresso spoon.

The waitress was nice enough, but clearly not experienced or even trained to waitress properly.  I found it insulting that Centro would allow a server on the floor with such an obvious experience deficit.   The constant use of the word “youz”  literally made me cringe, and although the food was amazing, we are fortunate to live in a city where great restaurants are in abundance.  Maybe we’ll go back to Centro eventually, but for the immediate future, I am content to try new places and leave the Centro experience in the far recesses of my mind, bringing it out occasionally for a good laugh.


  1. So many restaurants seem to forget that even wonderful food won't keep patrons coming back if the service is lacking.

    1. So true - I am especially sensitive to the service aspect as I was a former waitress!