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Per Se: An Interesting Story


robyn
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We've just returned from a 2 week trip to Germany. We had a lot of good food. And we dined at 2 3 star Michelin restaurants - Dieter Muller and Vendome. Both were exquisite. The maitre d' at Vendome told us an interesting story. He traveled to New York recently with a companion/partner - to learn about new food and food trends in the US. He dined at the usual suspects in New York - every place from JG to Masa to Per Se. Although he is a maitre d' - and I doubt he earns a huge amount - his companion apparently is not in the same income bracket. They had a 7 pm reservation at Per Se. Arrived 15 minutes late - and were told no matter what they ordered - their table had to be empty by 9. So his companion - to make a point - ordered a $2000 bottle of wine. Then - everything changed - and the table was theirs for the whole night.

Now at places like Dieter Muller and Vendome - the table is yours for the night no matter what you order (although neither meal cost us less than $500 - or maybe it was 500 euros :smile: - even with modest regional wines). But this maitre d' was quite dismissive of the American preference for multiple seatings in restaurants that purport to be high class. We spoke with Dieter Muller after our meal at his restaurant - and he was equally dismissive of the notion that a 3 star restaurant would have multiple seatings. And so am I. I enjoyed our 3-4 hour meals at Dieter Muller and Vendome 1000% more than I have enjoyed any meal that I have had in New York in recent years. Not only was I not forced to eat a meal at an ungodly hour (like 5:30) - or hurried through a 6 course meal - but the food was better - a lot better. So were the wine pairings. Sad commentary on dining in the US. Robyn

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I agree that in a three star restaurant one should not have to worry about turning a table. This is especially true at a restaurant like Per Se at which there is only one ordering option.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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An interesting information.

Last time when we (5 people - almost guaranteed 2-3 bottles of wines, right?) booked at Daniel for 545 PM, we're told that we must clean up everything by 830 PM - of course many of us were not happy and decided to go to JG instead where there's no issue about the time at all. Despite many good reviews about the food, maybe this part what makes Daniel is not really a 3-star restaurant. Hmm, maybe I should try to go to Cologne sometimes ...

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An interesting information.

Last time when we (5 people - almost guaranteed 2-3 bottles of wines, right?) booked at Daniel for 545 PM, we're told that we must clean up everything by 830 PM - of course many of us were not happy and decided to go to JG instead where there's no issue about the time at all. Despite many good reviews about the food, maybe this part what makes Daniel is not really a 3-star restaurant. Hmm, maybe I should try to go to Cologne sometimes ...

Or perhaps try Germany in general. We dined at 5 Michelin starred restaurants there - including one - Vitrum in Berlin - which was rated 1 star - but tasted like 2. Again - a single seating restaurant. I used to think maybe I was crazy because I hated what were supposed to be high end restaurants in the US - especially in NY - trying to turn over tables 2-3 times/night. Forcing you to dine at 5 - or 10 - when you weren't a frequent guest of the restaurant. I dined at Per Se at 5:30 - and I hated it. Now I know I'm not crazy!

As for Cologne - apart from the eating - it is a fairly small city with about 2 days of things to see (apart from cruises on the Rhine). There is one world class contemporary art museum - a world class cathedral - a lot of art galleries - and not a whole lot more - except for the local beer - Kolsch - which is a world class beer :smile: . Robyn

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It really is an excellent example of the American focus on capitalism versus the European focus on service. No European restaurant (including a local bistro) would consider "throwing you out" or giving a time limit. It just wouldn't happen; wouldn't occur to them. Any restaurant that put that kind of time restraint on me would just not get my business. For this reason, I have never gone to the "first seating" (sounds like a cruise ship) at Per Se.

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That's a false dichotomy. Capitalism favors good service. Just try getting good service in a non-capitalist restaurant. Good luck with that. All the restaurants with Michelin stars everywhere in the world operate under principles of capitalism. The issue isn't capitalism versus service, it's how to serve your market. The markets in the US and Europe are simply different.

When Per Se opened, it had one sitting. So did Alain Ducasse at the Essex House -- a restaurant operated by the chef who operates more Michelin-starred restaurants than I can keep track of. But, eventually, both went over to the 1.5 sitting model, where about half the tables in the restaurant (the early and late reservations) are re-seated and the other half (the ones with reservations in the middle of the evening) are not.

Why? Because that's what the New York market demanded. Restaurants in New York operate for many more hours a night than European restaurants, because consumers in New York want the option of eating and then going to the Jazz Standard for the 9:30pm show, or they want to be able to catch the 7:30pm show and eat afterwards. European consumers are content to come in within a fairly narrow range of seating times, and to conform their schedules to the restaurant's schedule. When you start serving at 5:30pm and you have people eating dessert at 1:30am, guess what happens? Half the dining room is always empty. The people dining at your restaurant don't like that -- they want to be in a dining room with some energy, and with 16 tables you only get energy if they're all occupied. Moreover, the people not eating at the restaurant get irate when they find out that half the dining room is kept empty out of religious adherence to some inapplicable European business model.

People want to eat at Per Se. More people want to eat there than can be accommodated. How is Per Se to manage that situation? Let's say there's a table reserved at 9:30pm, and someone calls up begging for a reservation. Should that person be told, no, get lost, we only do one sitting and we're full. Go celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary somewhere else. We're going to keep that table empty from 5:30 to 9:30 so we can be more European. Or, do you say, you know what, we have a 9:30 reservation, but if you want to come in at 5:30, come on in, we just need to have the table back by 9:30.

I can also guarantee you with a 99.9% level of certainty that nobody with a 7pm reservation at Per Se has ever been told to vacate the table by 9pm. There's no way Per Se plans anything less than a 3-hour turn.

I like a single sitting as much as the next hedonist, but I'd rather be able to get in to a restaurant than not.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't believe the story. There is no way that Per Se would restrict diners to less than two hours. There must be more to the story. I've eaten at er Se and its sister restaurant French Laundry at least half a dozen times. Never was the total time less than three hours. In most cases it was closer to four.

Porkpa

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what FG said.

I don't believe the story either.

as FG noted, Per Se does do 1.5 seatings a night.

agreed that this doesn't fit the European model.

but it certainly helps keep the cost (somewhat) more accessible.

furthermore, I, for one, get annoyed when trying to eat in Italy and you walk into a restaurant at 6:30 (hoping to maybe get away with a non-reserved meal) and you see cards on tables with a name and 9:00 written down. you know they have time to get you in and out...but they won't. not the custom. that's fine.

NY is certainly far more accessible to walk-ins...and that's a good thing in my book.

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We were recently told while making the reservation at Le Bernadin that we would have to vacate our table in 2.25 hrs. Upon arrival, no one knew of any such limitation. I am confused.

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When I am treated poorly in any restaurant, I do not eat and drink more for several reasons. One is, screw them. Two is, it takes my appetite away as I came to enjoy. And three is, I'll be damned if I enlarge the coffers of creeps. Also, in fine dining I am there to be impressed. I'm not at all into impressing them. Maybe an Amercian thing?

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When I am treated poorly in any restaurant, I do not eat and drink more for several reasons. One is, screw them. Two is, it takes my appetite away as I came to enjoy. And three is, I'll be damned if I enlarge the coffers of creeps. Also, in fine dining I am there to be impressed. I'm not at all into impressing them. Maybe an Amercian thing?

for sure. what does this have to do with Per Se?

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When I am treated poorly in any restaurant, I do not eat and drink more for several reasons. One is, screw them. Two is, it takes my appetite away as I came to enjoy. And three is, I'll be damned if I enlarge the coffers of creeps. Also, in fine dining I am there to be impressed. I'm not at all into impressing them. Maybe an Amercian thing?

for sure. what does this have to do with Per Se?

Though the title restaurant, this topic goes well beyond Per Se and cuts to cultural diferences in restaurant management at the highest levels. While I agree with Fat Guy's assesment above, I still think that one should not be presed for time in a 3* establishment. That being said, I have not had that experience at either Per Se or TFL.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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When I am treated poorly in any restaurant, I do not eat and drink more for several reasons. One is, screw them. Two is, it takes my appetite away as I came to enjoy. And three is, I'll be damned if I enlarge the coffers of creeps. Also, in fine dining I am there to be impressed. I'm not at all into impressing them. Maybe an Amercian thing?

for sure. what does this have to do with Per Se?

Though the title restaurant, this topic goes well beyond Per Se and cuts to cultural diferences in restaurant management at the highest levels. While I agree with Fat Guy's assesment above, I still think that one should not be presed for time in a 3* establishment. That being said, I have not had that experience at either Per Se or TFL.

Yes, why would the guy drop 2K on a bottle of liquid if they had just received such substandard treatment. 'Cause he was thirsty? Why? To impress the staff? That's not why I go out to eat. If I was gonna have a nice evening, I'd go somewhere I was comfortable and welcomed.

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When I am treated poorly in any restaurant, I do not eat and drink more for several reasons. One is, screw them. Two is, it takes my appetite away as I came to enjoy. And three is, I'll be damned if I enlarge the coffers of creeps. Also, in fine dining I am there to be impressed. I'm not at all into impressing them. Maybe an Amercian thing?

for sure. what does this have to do with Per Se?

the OP stated

So his companion - to make a point - ordered a $2000 bottle of wine.

seems to me that they were trying to make some sort of impression ("point").

i don't believe i'd order a $2k bottle of wine for any reason other than i want to drink it. then again i can't afford a $2k bottle of wine to begin with.

apparently the tactic, if that's what it was, worked, and they had the table for the evening. then again, maybe the 9 o'clock reservation canceled, or, the restaurant had additional considerations given the price of the bottle. not unheard of i'd think, and not unreasonable to my mind.

i doubt we'll ever know if the tossing about of the Benjamins have an impact on the restaurant's handling of the situation.

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Maybe he dropped the $2k on the bottle because he wanted it and he could do it. The restaurant response may or may not have been secondary to it, though I'm sure it didn't hurt.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Of course you get better service if you order a $2,000 bottle of wine! I've seen this many, many times (in Europe too). The only surprise would be if you didn't get anything special for that kind of a purchase. However, in a restaurant with 16 tables that's booked solid every single night, there's not a tremendous amount of flexibility. At Daniel, sure, they can swap some things around and extend a table's time when there's a high roller in the house, but that might not even be possible at Per Se. There are a lot of holes in the anecdote relayed above, but it's probably not worth pointing to all of them. The accuracy or lack thereof of the anecdote doesn't change the issue, that European three-star restaurants have single sittings and American restaurants at that level don't.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We've just returned from a 2 week trip to Germany.  We had a lot of good food.  And we dined at 2 3 star Michelin restaurants - Dieter Muller and Vendome.  Both were exquisite.  The maitre d' at Vendome told us an interesting story.  He traveled to New York recently with a companion/partner - to learn about new food and food trends in the US.  He dined at the usual suspects in New York - every place from JG to Masa to Per Se.  Although he is a maitre d' - and I doubt he earns a  huge amount - his companion apparently is not in the same income bracket.  They had a 7 pm reservation at Per Se.  Arrived 15 minutes late - and were told no matter what they ordered - their table had to be empty by 9.  So his companion - to make a point - ordered a $2000 bottle of wine.  Then - everything changed - and the table was theirs for the whole night.

Now at places like Dieter Muller and Vendome - the table is yours for the night no matter what you order (although neither meal cost us less than $500 - or maybe it was 500 euros  :smile: - even with modest regional wines).  But this maitre d' was quite dismissive of the American preference for multiple seatings in restaurants that purport to be high class.  We spoke with Dieter Muller after our meal at his restaurant - and he was equally dismissive of the notion that a 3 star restaurant would have multiple seatings.  And so am I.  I enjoyed our 3-4 hour meals at Dieter Muller and Vendome 1000% more than I have enjoyed any meal that I have had in New York in recent years.  Not only was I not forced to eat a meal at an ungodly hour (like 5:30) - or hurried through a 6 course meal - but the food was better - a lot better.  So were the wine pairings.  Sad commentary on dining in the US.  Robyn

If Europe is the gold standard and we suck so bad why did he come here to check us out?

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Of course you get better service if you order a $2,000 bottle of wine!

<smacking head> So that's what I've been doing wrong </smacking head>

Let me get this straight: Successful German restaurateur eats at successful US restaurant, feels his approach to running a restaurant is superior, tells a somewhat embellished tale of the experience to prove his point, and on this basis we can now definitively state that European dining is better than US dining?

The OP may indeed have decided that the European dining model suits them better, and on a personal level I may entirely agree, but we don't need to get our knickers in the proverbial knot because one restaurateur disses another, do we? There's nothing all that unusual on that score!

As FG has pointed out, the reasons are legion why there are multiple sittings in the US, and frequently (not always) only one in Europe. The real question is: do you *actually* feel more rushed dining at a US restaurant. Have you ever *actually* been put out of a high-end restaurant in the US before you were ready to leave? My admittedly very limited experience suggests that this is a rare problem indeed.

Si

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Hi Robyn, thanks for your advice about Germany restaurants.

Most of the 3-star restaurants there, other than those 2 in Cologne, the rests are quite difficult to reach, right? Actually I considered to go there for my summer trip this year, but instead I decided to go to Belgium and surely both Hof Van Cleve and Oud Sluis are fabulous - more of these will come later at the Benelux forum.

I could not tell much about Per Se since I've never been there yet. Last time, I was more interested in ADNY and had one of the best meals in my life (before I visited some of the 3-star in Paris). In Europe it's quite common among the 3-star staffs to visit each other restaurants since they're quite closed and have mutual respect with one another.

While I was at L'Arpege, Laurent Lapaire - one of the best restaurant managers - just visited Les Ambassadeurs the week before. My maitre d'hotel at Ledoyen often visited L'Ambroisie. I think it's true that cultural difference and customs play important roles here. When I had lunch at Les Ambassadeurs, I was stunned when I saw a couple only wearing T-shirts, then even more surprised at the another table, a guy wore a plain collarless T-shirt and jeans - well guess what, where were they from? They're American. Though the staffs might not be too happy, perhaps since the restaurant only half-filled, they just did not care as much, but I've never seen this for dinner in Europe's starred restaurants.

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hey, anything can happen and any restaurant can have a slip, but at the same time, do you believe everything you read on the internet? it's funny reading this thread at the same time i'm reading "service included", a new book by a former per se captain. she describes in detail the training process the service staff goes through and the incredible lengths they go to to make sure every detail is perfect.

i've seen this personally. i remember a dinner one rainy night at TFL when at the end of service laura cunningham (a friend), came over with an ultimate service story: a customer had wanted to propose at the restaurant. they had tried to discourage him because public proposals have obvious pitfalls. he insisted so they went along with it. at the last week, he started getting cold feet, so he called laura every day for reassurance and to fine-tune the menu. the wedding ring was to be delivered to the table in a chocolate replica of the house they lived in. the night of the dinner, all went well until it was almost time for dessert. when laura asked him for the ring, he went pale. he'd forgotten it in his car, parked 2 blocks away. he asked if one of the staff could go retrieve it. so a server went two blocks in a driving rain storm, pawed through the car to find where he had hidden the ring, then brought it back so it could be sealed in the house. the dessert and ring were delivered on time, without a hitch, so the fiancee never even knew there'd been a complication. I have no idea what that dinner cost, but i hope it was plenty.

service like that does not square with someone being told they had 2 hours to eat.

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service like that does not square with someone being told they had 2 hours to eat.

What struck me as odd is that someone who paid that much for a bottle of wine is telling stories about it. Generally people who are accustomed to that sort of thing don't talk about it.

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