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Per Se: An Interesting Story


robyn
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FWIW - now that Per Se has been open for about 3 years - is it easy to get a reservation?  Or do you still have to do that speed dial thing exactly X days in advance at exactly Y o'clock to get a 5:30 reservation?  In other words - do the multiple seatings really increase access for the average diner?

It might be a bit easier to get a reservation there than it was 3 years ago. But only a bit. I mean, just call the restaurant and try booking a table for a random night less than two months away. You might get lucky, but you probably won't.

Per Se isn't the only New York restaurant like this, though it's the best known example. Recently, the g/f and I visited Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Like Per Se, they accept reservations starting at 10:00 a.m., two months to the day in advance. I called at around 11:00, and the only times they could offer me were 5:30 and 9:45. I took 5:30.

For big "occasion" meals like that, I generally eat very little for breakfast and lunch, so I'm just fine with eating at 5:30. Granted, if the book were wide open, I'd choose a later time, but 5:30 doesn't really bother me.

The only times I can handle dinner at 5:30 is when I still have jet lag from traveling at least 2 time zones west. I had no trouble eating a complete sushi meal in Tokyo at 7 *AM* the day after we arrived :smile: . I think it's a biological clock thing. Some people are better than others in terms of adjusting to different sleep rhythms - eating rhythms - whatever. My body is pretty inflexible (I've been home from Europe for 5 days now and my internal clock still hasn't reset completely). I am never hungry before noon - and when I try to force myself to eat an early meal so I can dine early - it never works out very well. But everyone is different.

I agree with FG about really late dining. I can't get to sleep if I've had a really late large dinner. So if you put a gun to my head and asked me choose between eating at 5:30 and eating at 10:30 - I'd pick 5:30.

In terms of reservations at busy high end restaurants (the kind you have to book months in advance) - I've found it easier to make international reservations by email than by the phone method at home in the US. I guess if you're in the US - the restaurants expect you to use the phone (and the speed dial). There is no similar expectation when dealing with restaurants thousands of miles away. And the restaurants will even bend the rules about reservations X days in advance if you seem like a reasonable person - and aren't insisting on a table on a weekend at 8 (and are willing to dine on Tuesday - Wednesday - at lunch - etc. - I agree with FG that dining early in the week is always best if you're trying to book a busy high end restaurant). Using a hotel concierge is very useful when it is impossible to communicate directly with a restaurant (as it is - for example - at most places in Japan).

As for all the talk about business and capitalism - a restaurant can't stay in business unless it makes a profit or some other entity/activity/person is subsidizing it. That is why - IMO - a 3 star restaurant like L'Esperance (in a large town in France) closed. I think that the way the restaurant business is these days - the better restaurants are increasingly tied to larger corporate ventures. Which is why so many of the better places are now found in hotels (e.g., 8 of the 9 Michelin starred restaurants in Berlin are in hotels). I used to think hotel restaurants were a joke - but - more or more - they are the places where I'm finding the best food. I'm not sure about the relationship between Per Se and the TWC and the relationships the other restaurants have with the building - but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of subsidy involved because the restaurants lend cache to the building.

Also - if you look at things from the chef's point of view - a relationship with an entity like a hotel frees the chef to a considerable degree from a lot of business concerns. He is free to be a chef. I don't think that Thomas Kellerman at the RC in Berlin - who's a pretty young guy - could do what he's doing - trying to go from 1 star to 2 - in the absence of considerable financial support from the hotel. So - if you asked me to look in my crystal ball - I'd say that the small chef owned/operated high end restaurant will be an increasingly endangered species.

Doesn't bother me - because I don't mind walking 50 steps to take the hotel elevator to a lovely room after an excellent meal (as opposed to taking a cab or train halfway across a city). And - I suspect - increasingly - diners like me who didn't mind the relatively remote restaurant with rooms when a 3 star meal for 2 cost $125 and the rooms with 1960 vintage plumbing cost perhaps $100 or less are more resistant to the experience when the meal costs well over $500 - the room is now over $300 - and the plumbing still belongs in an antique store. Robyn

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On the issue of dining early, a little while back I started a topic about the joys of dining early. Among other things, I said:
I like to eat dinner early. For me, the best time to eat dinner is virtually the second the restaurant opens for dinner...

Quite a few people agreed with the sentiment, came out of the closet as aficionados of the early bird special and gave additional justifications.

The voting in that thread was far from unanimous :smile: . But I do agree that people have many different dining preferences. Whether based on metabolism - work schedules - family schedules - or simply personal likes and dislikes.

What I object to is restaurants telling me I have to dine at 5:30 or 10:30 because I'm not enough of a big shot to dine at the hour I care to eat (which is in the middle - when most people care to eat). That simply isn't a problem in most single seating restaurants (except perhaps in countries like Spain - where - if you arrive at 9 pm - you'll be alone in the dining room with another tourist couple from Germany). Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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Maybe I got us off on the wrong foot by using words like "capitalism." I guess the bottom line is that, when I visit Europe, the service attitude and feel is entirely different than in the USA. This occurs at restaurants large and small, grand and informal. Don't you experience the same thing?

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Maybe I got us off on the wrong foot by using words like "capitalism."  I guess the bottom line is that, when I visit Europe, the service attitude and feel is entirely different than in the USA.  This occurs at restaurants large and small, grand and informal.  Don't you experience the same thing?

different, yes. I'd say the service is usually worse than the U.S. below the fine dining level. fewer services for more tables (a function of the lack of a tipping culture), and a more leisurely cultural pace in general....

of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing...except when you're in a hurry..which I usually am.

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Different in many ways...e.g. in the sense that the customer isn't typically rushed. You can sit all day and read a book and have coffee, etc. I am a member of a European wine tasting organization.....the hotels donate facilities, a sommelier(s) to pour, etc...very proper service. Very different from the USA. (I'm an American by birth btw). Lots of other things different...and by that I mean a different sensibility in Europe.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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Different in many ways...e.g. in the sense that the customer isn't typically rushed. You can sit all day and read a book and have coffee, etc.  I am a member of a European wine tasting organization.....the hotels donate facilities, a sommelier(s) to pour, etc...very proper service.  Very different from the USA.  (I'm an American by birth btw).  Lots of other things different...and by that I mean a different sensibility in Europe.

of course....I grew up there (partially). American parents.

but what I'm getting at is that different sensibilities have different benefits and drawbacks. one drawback of many European restaurants below the fine dining level is that if dinner is not your sole evening activity....the service can be quite aggravating...on the other hand, it's easy to feel rushed in an American restaurant.

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Just my 2 cents as a new poster that ate at Per Se a couple years ago, I find the original story of somebody being rushed through in 2 hours highly unlikely, as a nobody the meal I had lasted 3+ hours and included a brief tour of the kitchen, albeit the meal was for lunch, but I can't imagine such a polished establishment trying to get somebody through in less than 3 hours, especially with their menu. In addition, the idea that either European or American restaurants at a high level are more or less formal in the dress code seems unlikely, it almost has to be a case by case basis. While at Jean-Georges when visiting NYC colleges, at a 5:30 pre-theater seating with an almost empty room, they called me out on putting my blazer on the chair.

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Maybe I got us off on the wrong foot by using words like "capitalism."  I guess the bottom line is that, when I visit Europe, the service attitude and feel is entirely different than in the USA.  This occurs at restaurants large and small, grand and informal.  Don't you experience the same thing?

For the most part - yes. I think the service in Europe tends to be more professional. By which I mean that most of the service people are doing their work as a profession. Our server at Per Se - despite all I've read about how the staff is trained - seemed more like an out of work actor than a professional server. He was perfectly competent to serve 3 people the same number of courses at the same time. But - if recall correctly - each person at the table had to have the same type of dinner in terms of numbers of courses. And I specifically recall that my husband was very dissatisfied with his wine suggestions. Of course - serving different numbers of courses to different diners at Per Se is now a moot point since you can only choose between 2 menus with the same number of courses (one is vegetarian - one isn't).

We didn't have similar experiences on this last trip to Europe. If my husband wanted the 6 course menu - and I wanted 3 a la carte courses - no problem (although I recall that at GR RHR in London - everyone at the table had to order the tasting menu to get the tasting menu). At Vitrum - my husband had six courses - and I had 3. Although at some point in the meal - the server saw I was sampling some of my husband's dishes. When he served him a dish that he said couldn't easily be sampled - involving a quail egg - he brought me out one for myself. IOW - I found the service more user-friendly - and less mechanical.

Certainly the wine service in Europe has been much better than that we've found in the US. Keeping in mind that I don't drink wine for the most part - and that even when I do - we are almost always talking about pairing glasses with dishes. Perhaps the wines available at Per Se and JG are terrific - but I wouldn't know that from what we were served. Note that since there are thousands and thousand of wines - and we are only familiar with about 20 - we usually rely on a server's recommendations concerning what to have. Although Germany is somewhat lopsided in terms of its wine production - most is white - the pairings suggested by our servers were excellent (most were German whites - but when my husband needed a bigger red - the pairing was French). When we did what we usually do in Europe - go with our server's recommendations - the wines at Per Se were mediocre - and those at JG were miserable.

So although one cannot say the US is 100% one way - and Europe is 100% the other - I pretty much agree with you. Robyn

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I can't say that I have ever felt rushed at top restaurants either in the US or Europe.. The pinnacle of service to me is elBulli. In the US it is Alinea, which was not far behind.

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Maybe I got us off on the wrong foot by using words like "capitalism."  I guess the bottom line is that, when I visit Europe, the service attitude and feel is entirely different than in the USA.  This occurs at restaurants large and small, grand and informal.  Don't you experience the same thing?

why yes of course, i experience much better service in manhattan. and not just with restaurants.

Edited by chefboy24 (log)
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I think the service in Europe tends to be more professional. 

only at the high end.

I agree 100%. Here in Germany, where this thread began, the service at the fine dining level is better and more experienced. I think that you will find that the majority of the best restaurants in the US have there service staff led by a European or someone who trained in Europe. There is a reason for this. On the other hand in the smaller restaurants, with the exception of most asian restaurants, the service is pretty bad. The reason for this is that they are not working for a tip. They are not working for their salary, they are not working for stars, they don't really give a damn if you come back. As far as service in every day life (customer service), it does not exist here! This is one thing that I miss most about the US.

As far as PerSe rushing someone through their $200+ dinner, I think it is a big mistake on their part. Although, I am sure if someone at PerSe was contacted about this issue, they would do something to try to make things right. I read an interview with Achatz and he mentioned he uses food blogs like this to his advantage. If he reads someone was upset about their meal he will do what he can to make them happy again. I am sure that Thomas Keller would do the same. You might be surprised what kind of power the customer still has in the restaurant industry if it is used correctly. I know that a 3 star restaurant is suppose to be perfect all the time but you and I both know that none of them are.

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We ate high end - and low end - and in the middle. I found the low and middle type of service to be about the same as in the US (with some exceptions - which were probably due to variations in the restaurants as opposed to variations in the culture). FWIW - we never could figure out exactly how to tip in Germany. My husband settled on 10% - which I think made him very popular :smile: . Robyn

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one trip isn't much of a sample size.

I do think that German and Dutch low-end and mid-level restaurant service is closer to U.S. standards than most other European countries...I believe that this is due to cultural factors.

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I'm having trouble with Per Se telling diners they have to be out at a certain time. When I dined there in January, it was easily 4 hours, and at no time were we rushed or in any way made to feel that they wanted the table back.

Similarly, while recently in Paris, we had lunch at Alain Ducasse, and that meal was also 4 hours long, again with no indication that we had to be out of there.

On the other hand, in other parts of Europe while we were there, at the "low end or middle end" bar, we found service to be generally indifferent. Definitely worse in most cases, that in North America.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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one trip isn't much of a sample size.

I do think that German and Dutch low-end and mid-level restaurant service is closer to U.S. standards than most other European countries...I believe that this is due to cultural factors.

Yes...I must confess, despite my dutch background, I was thinking of service in France and southern Belgium to be examples of 'proper service' at many levels. But yes....service in places like Holland would be equal, or inferior, to service in the USA.

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We ate high end - and low end - and in the middle.  I found the low and middle type of service to be about the same as in the US (with some exceptions - which were probably due to variations in the restaurants as opposed to variations in the culture).  FWIW - we never could figure out exactly how to tip in Germany.  My husband settled on 10% - which I think made him very popular  :smile: .  Robyn

The service is included in Germany. Normally, if the service is very good, then I will tip a little more. Although, it is not expected. I am sure that the service staff was very pleased if not surprised to recieve an extra 10%.

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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.

fyi robin, per se does not have a 7pm reservation in their system.

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I think the service in Europe tends to be more professional. 

only at the high end.

I live in Germany and as far as my own experience at least, would have to disagree. It is certainly less chatty than in the US and a little slower but that's more of a cultural thing...people tend to go out to dinner planning to spend a whole evening so unless you tell them you are in a rush they will assume the normal dinner pace. Contrast with the US "upper-mid scale" where we've had situations where we order a bottle of wine and then get our appetizer, main and check within the next 20 minutes.

And frankly, I am happy to do without the chatty waitresses...

Standard tip in Germany is 5-10%, decreasing with check size.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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I think the service in Europe tends to be more professional. 

only at the high end.

I live in Germany and as far as my own experience at least, would have to disagree. It is certainly less chatty than in the US and a little slower but that's more of a cultural thing...people tend to go out to dinner planning to spend a whole evening so unless you tell them you are in a rush they will assume the normal dinner pace. Contrast with the US "upper-mid scale" where we've had situations where we order a bottle of wine and then get our appetizer, main and check within the next 20 minutes.

And frankly, I am happy to do without the chatty waitresses...

Standard tip in Germany is 5-10%, decreasing with check size.

if you read up the thread, I said exactly that. the problem is that I tend to want to do multiple things in the same evening ;)

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I don't know about Per Se specifically, but there are several fine-dining restaurants that don't take 7-7:30 reservations at all. It's a pretty standard flow-control procedure.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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I've never heard of a 7pm rez at Per Se...only the 5:30 (or is it 5:45?) and 9pm.

Our reservation there was for 8 p.m.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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