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Per Se: An Interesting Story


robyn
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I have long been an advocate for a place like TFL or Per Se, where demand FAR outstrips supply, for them to simply increase the pricing accordingly. Instead of 1.5 seatings, they could simply increase the price by 1.5 times or perhaps even more. If the Rolling Stones and Madonna (let alone Streisand) can sell $500 tickets, why can't Thomas Keller.

Of course, then, they would be vilified in the press for "taking advantage" of their position etc. All I know is that when I have eaten at 2 and 3 star restaurants in Paris or London, it is often the case that the bill is double what I have paid at Per Se... I recall a 300 Euro prix fixe price for food alone at several Paris 3 stars, well above what could be charged in the U.S. without a column or two bemoaning the fact in the papers. Heck, appetizers at Le Meurice (my all time favorite hotel for service and a great restaurant) cost up to 115 Euros with the average app. going for roundly 70 Euro. Main courses such as a roasted fillet of turbot are 110 Euro.

Of course, when I suggested this to a few U.S. chefs I know they looked at me like I was certifiably nuts. All one has to do is read the articles on the mandatory service fee "imposed" by chefs such as Keller and Trotter -- and how the writers misunderstood the real economics and purpose of them (ie. the freedom to pay the kitchen properly) -- to understand how difficult it is to price a restaurant such as Per Se properly.

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...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.

What other parts of Europe are you talking about? Robyn

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...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.

What other parts of Europe are you talking about? Robyn

Rome, Barcelona, Corfu, Serrento, to name a few. Even Paris.

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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I have long been an advocate for a place like TFL or Per Se, where demand FAR outstrips supply, for them to simply increase the pricing accordingly.  Instead of 1.5 seatings, they could simply increase the price by 1.5 times or perhaps even more.  If the Rolling Stones and Madonna (let alone Streisand) can sell $500 tickets, why can't Thomas Keller.

Of course, then, they would be vilified in the press for "taking advantage" of their position etc.  All I know is that when I have eaten at 2 and 3 star restaurants in Paris or London, it is often the case that the bill is double what I have paid at Per Se... I recall a 300 Euro prix fixe price for food alone at several Paris 3 stars, well above what could be charged in the U.S. without a column or two bemoaning the fact in the papers.  Heck, appetizers at Le Meurice (my all time favorite hotel for service and a great restaurant) cost up to 115 Euros with the average app. going for roundly 70 Euro.  Main courses such as a roasted fillet of turbot are 110 Euro.

Of course, when I suggested this to a few U.S. chefs I know they looked at me like I was certifiably nuts.  All one has to do is read the articles on the mandatory service fee "imposed" by chefs such as Keller and Trotter -- and how the writers misunderstood the real economics and purpose of them (ie. the freedom to pay the kitchen properly) -- to understand how difficult it is to price a restaurant such as Per Se properly.

I guess this brings us around full circle to the question of why some highest end restaurants are single seating and some aren't. It isn't the money. Like you say - chefs like Keller have fairly inelastic demand at this price point - and probably much higher price points. Don't think it's to keep the restaurant full and buzzing so diners don't feel alone. There aren't many tables at Per Se - and they are far apart - so even if the restaurant is full - it's still pretty quiet - especially compared with most restaurants in Manhattan or other big cities. Don't think it's to make it easier to dine there - I think we've established that it is still a very hard ticket. So what's the real motivation - except perhaps that the chef likes it that way for his own personal reasons?

Frankly - I like the idea of 2 seatings better than 1.5. Makes me feel like I'm being treated like all the other diners. With 1.5 seatings - the .5 will usually wind up feeling more privileged than the other 1.0. Robyn

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...Rome, Barcelona, Corfu, Serrento, to name a few.  Even Paris.

Of these - I've only been to Rome and Paris. I can recall one very awful service experience in Paris - at Lucas Carton. That's about it. Nothing bad sticks in my mind about Rome - but it would have had to be pretty bad to remember it after all these years (the Lucas Carton episode was so bad I have remembered it after over 20 years).

Ah - I just remembered another bad experience in Paris - which turned out kind of funny. Our friend/mentor in Paris was good friends with the head bartender at the Georges V (Nino). I had a terrible cold one day - couldn't taste a thing - so he suggested we all go to Harry's Bar for lunch. Everyone told me to have a JW Black (scotch) to help my cold. So I did. I don't know much about scotch - but it tasted really awful - not smooth. So the glass got passed around the table - and everyone agreed the scotch was not JW Black. So Nino called the waiter - and said "this is not JW Black". And the waiter started to argue with him - and finally said something like - who are you to tell me these things. And Nino pulled himself up very straight and said - I am Nino - the head bartender at the Georges V - and this is not JW Black. At that point the waiter took back the glass - and returned with JW Black. Don't think it had any effect on my cold - just made me forget I had one :smile: .

FWIW - I think that my husband's language studies have really been useful in terms of service. We've found that speaking even a little of a language like Italian - German - Spanish or Japanese - is a real ice-breaker at a lot of places where people don't speak English. I tend to think that perhaps we generally get good service because my husband's language skills are a curiosity. French in France is an exception to the rule (although French in Quebec isn't). Robyn

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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.

That would be 2 seatings - not 1.5. With 1.5 seatings - some people are starting their dining at 7-8. Robyn

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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.

There are a lot of 2 seating restaurants with 6-7 seatings - and 8:30-10 seatings (depending on the length of the meal the restaurant generally serves). Robyn

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...Rome, Barcelona, Corfu, Serrento, to name a few.  Even Paris.

Of these - I've only been to Rome and Paris. I can recall one very awful service experience in Paris - at Lucas Carton. That's about it. Nothing bad sticks in my mind about Rome - but it would have had to be pretty bad to remember it after all these years (the Lucas Carton episode was so bad I have remembered it after over 20 years).

Ah - I just remembered another bad experience in Paris - which turned out kind of funny. Our friend/mentor in Paris was good friends with the head bartender at the Georges V (Nino). I had a terrible cold one day - couldn't taste a thing - so he suggested we all go to Harry's Bar for lunch. Everyone told me to have a JW Black (scotch) to help my cold. So I did. I don't know much about scotch - but it tasted really awful - not smooth. So the glass got passed around the table - and everyone agreed the scotch was not JW Black. So Nino called the waiter - and said "this is not JW Black". And the waiter started to argue with him - and finally said something like - who are you to tell me these things. And Nino pulled himself up very straight and said - I am Nino - the head bartender at the Georges V - and this is not JW Black. At that point the waiter took back the glass - and returned with JW Black. Don't think it had any effect on my cold - just made me forget I had one :smile: .

FWIW - I think that my husband's language studies have really been useful in terms of service. We've found that speaking even a little of a language like Italian - German - Spanish or Japanese - is a real ice-breaker at a lot of places where people don't speak English. I tend to think that perhaps we generally get good service because my husband's language skills are a curiosity. French in France is an exception to the rule (although French in Quebec isn't). Robyn

both Marlene and myself were talking about the low and middle end.

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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.

Agreed concerning the sample size. But 28 meals or more (14 lunches and dinners and my husband has breakfast as well) isn't a tiny sample.

Note that I get what I generally think is decent or better service most places in the US. I may have quarrels with a lot of the food - but the service is usually fine and proportionate to the dining experience. Also my food quarrels are mostly with upper-middle or places that purport to be high end where the food isn't cheap and is at best mediocre. I'd rather have the buffets at the Golden Corral or any random fried chicken place in a small town in the south than a lot of what passes for high end food in the US.

Have to ask you a question. Do you regularly do more than one thing in an evening (like dinner and a show) where part of the evening consists of a $500 meal? I guess there are people who do. But - to me - a really expensive meal at a fine restaurant is enough entertainment for a single night :smile: . If we have theater tickets or the like - we generally have a simpler dining experience (either early or late - and sometimes if we're on the road it may be some assorted goodies purchased at a nice store which we eat in our hotel room). 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.

Have to ask you a question. Do you regularly do more than one thing in an evening (like dinner and a show) where part of the evening consists of a $500 meal? I guess there are people who do. But - to me - a really expensive meal at a fine restaurant is enough entertainment for a single night :smile: . If we have theater tickets or the like - we generally have a simpler dining experience (either early or late - and sometimes if we're on the road it may be some assorted goodies purchased at a nice store which we eat in our hotel room). Robyn

of course not. but that's why we were talking about low end and mid-level places. I expect a four hour meal at a Michelin three star. I don't when I'm having a 25 Euro bistro meal. and that's the cultural difference.

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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.

We had a 9:15 there Saturday night. About 15 minutes after we sat down, I spotted a friend at a table across from us. We chatted briefly; he said that his group was about halfway through their meal.

By the by, the servers were extraordinarily gracious. We didn't finish eating until 1:45 and they still gave us - unsolicited - a detailed tour of the kitchen afterwards.

Tom

"I've been served a parsley mojito. Shit happens." - philadining

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I've eaten at Per Se at 7:30 and 9:15 (albeit seated at 8:45 because we arrived early), so I'm not sure whence exactly came this 5:30/9pm thing.

Aside from my general issues with the restaurant from a culinary perspective, I have never, ever, ever felt *rushed* or that the service was anything less than on par with the finest establishments I've been too in Europe. For our 7:30, we were there until about midnight, and for our 9:15, we were there until my father (for whose birthday we went) was falling asleep in his seat. More to the point, we were waited on and waited on to the point of obsequiousness. I enjoyed my meals at Le Bristol and Gagnaire in Paris last fall more, but that was for the food and (in the case of Le Bristol) the wine service. However, neither were below the 3-star level at Per Se, IMO.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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Just curious Mayur - Kretch - and others who have had dinner reservations or dined between 7 and say 9 at Per Se. How did you get reservations at those hours? I dined there when it had only been open a short while - and went on someone else's reservation (I had tried to make a reservation myself - but after dialing the restaurant about 200 times - and getting busy signals - I gave up). Does Opentable work for Per Se at all? Robyn

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...both Marlene and myself were talking about the low and middle end.

I usually have pretty low standards for service at the low end - and middle of the road standards for the middle. Hard to be disappointed when your expectations aren't very high. Heck - I even find the dining service on trains (outside the US - who uses a train in the US?) is pretty good (keeping in mind that my expectations are reasonable - all I ask is that the server not drop something on me when the train lurches :smile: ). Robyn

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...both Marlene and myself were talking about the low and middle end.

I usually have pretty low standards for service at the low end - and middle of the road standards for the middle. Hard to be disappointed when your expectations aren't very high. Heck - I even find the dining service on trains (outside the US - who uses a train in the US?) is pretty good (keeping in mind that my expectations are reasonable - all I ask is that the server not drop something on me when the train lurches :smile: ). Robyn

right...but the whole point is that though fine dining may have better service in Europe (generally speaking)...its often/usually worse at the low and middle end in Europe.

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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.

That would be 2 seatings - not 1.5. With 1.5 seatings - some people are starting their dining at 7-8. Robyn

I guess so....I just ask AMEX Centurion to make the reservations and they only offer options for 5:30 or 9 or 9:30....was never given any other option but maybe that's just with AMEX Centurion?

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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right...but the whole point is that though fine dining may have better service in Europe (generally speaking)...its often/usually worse at the low and middle end in Europe.

I simply haven't found that to be the case. Of course - I can't recall going to a single restaurant in Europe ever anywhere where we didn't speak at least a passing amount of the local language (except in Scandinavia - which is one of the few places in Europe IMO where English is almost universal). I think that one's ability or inability to speak a foreign language may well influence where one winds up dining. Which in turn can influence the kind of dining experience you have.

So what countries in particular in Europe are you talking about - the ones where service is inferior to service in the US? Robyn

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right...but the whole point is that though fine dining may have better service in Europe (generally speaking)...its often/usually worse at the low and middle end in Europe.

I simply haven't found that to be the case. Of course - I can't recall going to a single restaurant in Europe ever anywhere where we didn't speak at least a passing amount of the local language (except in Scandinavia - which is one of the few places in Europe IMO where English is almost universal). I think that one's ability or inability to speak a foreign language may well influence where one winds up dining. Which in turn can influence the kind of dining experience you have.

So what countries in particular in Europe are you talking about - the ones where service is inferior to service in the US? Robyn

well, I've lived in Norway, Germany, Italy, and the UK (admittedly, I was quite young then). I've traveled widely since.

and I'll stand by that statement for pretty much anywhere besides Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

the major problem is pacing. too many tables per waiter. its fine in the cultural context..where the meal is the evening...

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Just curious Mayur - Kretch - and others who have had dinner reservations or dined between 7 and say 9 at Per Se.  How did you get reservations at those hours?  I dined there when it had only been open a short while - and went on someone else's reservation (I had tried to make a reservation myself - but after dialing the restaurant about 200 times - and getting busy signals - I gave up).  Does Opentable work for Per Se at all?  Robyn

I called and spoke with the receptionist. In both cases, I took cancellations rather than booked "on the dot," but I have made a reservation for colleagues at 8pm on the dot by calling at 8:50am two months to the day and engaging auto-dial.

Both Per Se and TFL are on OpenTable, but it is utterly useless when trying to make reservs. You are *much* better speaking to an actual human being. In fact, my experience with the receptionist *added* to the generally excellent service I had at Per Se.

FWIW, I agree with the general premise that US restaurants at the highest levels generally do not match their European equivalents, but Per Se is a bad example IMHO to use in this context. The service at Keller's restaurants is pretty darn impeccable, and quite comparable to the best European establishments.

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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To add: The service issue that is really under discussion isn't a service issue in the way we usually talk about "service": It's an issue of ease of making reservations, and ability to hold a table. Those issues boil down to supply and demand. Americans have a LOT of money and a seemingly pressing need to dine out at the establishment(s) of the moment in droves and repeatedly. When you have that kind of situation, it is very, very hard to decrease the number of reservations and/or limit seatings. Moreover, the price has to go up a LOT in a city like New York to lower demand; Masa is a case in point. Try getting a "table" for two there on a week's notice and see how far you get. Unfortunately, all price seems to do in the case of Per Se is tilt the crowd further toward the wunch of bankers quotient; it doesn't limit the crowd at all. Somehow, restos in Europe don't have this problem; Le Bristol, despite its newly-minted 3-star status and glowing Gault-Millau writeup (both of which would have scored a US restaurant a limitless stream of customers) was easy to reserve on a week's notice. The room wasn't even full when we were there, at prime dining hours (and this is NOT a large dining room, especially given the vast distance between tables). Ditto for Gagnaire, which is practically a household word for experimental-food nuts. It's easy to let diners have tables for the entire evening if you don't have pressure to book and fill tables.

IOW, this is *not* a problem that I have any suggestions on how to fix. Perhaps someone in the industry at this level can suggest something?

Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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...the major problem is pacing.  too many tables per waiter.  its fine in the cultural context..where the meal is the evening...

So your major complaint is that the service is too slow in these places? Robyn

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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.

That would be 2 seatings - not 1.5. With 1.5 seatings - some people are starting their dining at 7-8. Robyn

I guess so....I just ask AMEX Centurion to make the reservations and they only offer options for 5:30 or 9 or 9:30....was never given any other option but maybe that's just with AMEX Centurion?

I think it's the norm with most people - not just AMEX Centurion. That's why I asked about how people got reservations at normal dining hours. Robyn

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Just curious Mayur - Kretch - and others who have had dinner reservations or dined between 7 and say 9 at Per Se.  How did you get reservations at those hours?  I dined there when it had only been open a short while - and went on someone else's reservation (I had tried to make a reservation myself - but after dialing the restaurant about 200 times - and getting busy signals - I gave up).  Does Opentable work for Per Se at all?  Robyn

I called and spoke with the receptionist. In both cases, I took cancellations rather than booked "on the dot," but I have made a reservation for colleagues at 8pm on the dot by calling at 8:50am two months to the day and engaging auto-dial.

Both Per Se and TFL are on OpenTable, but it is utterly useless when trying to make reservs. You are *much* better speaking to an actual human being. In fact, my experience with the receptionist *added* to the generally excellent service I had at Per Se.

FWIW, I agree with the general premise that US restaurants at the highest levels generally do not match their European equivalents, but Per Se is a bad example IMHO to use in this context. The service at Keller's restaurants is pretty darn impeccable, and quite comparable to the best European establishments.

Thanks for the useful information. The problem I have is when trying to arrange a trip - it's a combination of flights - hotel reservations - and the restaurants come last. Which is why I don't plan my trips around dining - even though I generally book the air and hotels very far in advance. If I book a flight 6 months in advance - who knows whether I will be able to book a table at a place like Per Se 60 days or 1 day in advance? I just try to do the best I can after making the other arrangements.

I agree 100% about doing restaurant reservations with a person. If it's possible to do it on the phone - that's the best. Otherwise - especially for very long distance reservations - email works fine too. When I was trying to reserve at Gordon Ramsay RHR - I made email contact with a person who worked with the group who had nothing to do with reservations - but she was charming - and basically called the person who could make reservations for me. In other cases - email with hotel concierges have worked very nicely too. In general - I have found the reservations process for tourists to be more user-friendly outside the US than in the US. I usually get the reservations I want outside the US - that's not the case in the US.

I had no quarrel with the food service at Per Se. Very nice. But the wine service was mediocre at best. Perhaps there was a sommelier - but - if there was - our table wasn't deemed worthy of his/her service. Our server acted as a sommelier - and I'm sure he couldn't tell the difference between a pinot noir and a pinot gris. Also - with a 5:30 reservation - it was impossible to arrive early and have a cocktail/apertif at the bar.

I guess my biggest complaint about the restaurant to this day is being asked to dine at early bird or night owl hours. How many people here with parents in Florida would complain about eating the early bird special in Boca at 5:30? I know I would. And I wasn't any happier eating at 5:30 at Per Se.

I have to go to the midwest later this summer on some personal business. Will probably fly into Chicago. I guess I'll see whether the reservations process at Alinea is more user-friendly than the one at Per Se. Robyn

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To add: The service issue that is really under discussion isn't a service issue in the way we usually talk about "service": It's an issue of ease of making reservations, and ability to hold a table. Those issues boil down to supply and demand. Americans have a LOT of money and a seemingly pressing need to dine out at the establishment(s) of the moment in droves and repeatedly. When you have that kind of situation, it is very, very hard to decrease the number of reservations and/or limit seatings. Moreover, the price has to go up a LOT in a city like New York to lower demand; Masa is a case in point. Try getting a "table" for two there on a week's notice and see how far you get. Unfortunately, all price seems to do in the case of Per Se is tilt the crowd further toward the wunch of bankers quotient; it doesn't limit the crowd at all. Somehow, restos in Europe don't have this problem; Le Bristol, despite its newly-minted 3-star status and glowing Gault-Millau writeup (both of which would have scored a US restaurant a limitless stream of customers) was easy to reserve on a week's notice. The room wasn't even full when we were there, at prime dining hours (and this is NOT a large dining room, especially given the vast distance between tables). Ditto for Gagnaire, which is practically a household word for experimental-food nuts. It's easy to let diners have tables for the entire evening if you don't have pressure to book and fill tables.

IOW, this is *not* a problem that I have any suggestions on how to fix. Perhaps someone in the industry at this level can suggest something?

Perhaps the New York thing is just a strong euro/weak dollar - financial types all over the world are rolling in money - kind of situation?

As a discretionary traveler - I think the prices in New York and some other cities in the world (like London) are kind of crazy these days. Too much demand for too little supply? Which is why we wound up in Japan last year and Germany this year. Certainly they are not 3rd world travel bargains - but they are quite reasonably priced compared to other places.

Perhaps the "fix" will come in the next recession - or major currency realignment. Robyn

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Hi... We have eaten at Per Se 3 times since they have opened and we have always gotten amazing service, and never been rushed AT ALL...We have always made the reservations with a person...and for a number of reasons we are among the minority who PREFER eating at 5:45 PM...we always take the first reservations when restaurants open because we have found we get better service, a choice of every special, the chef is not rushed and will make menu changes we request which he may not do later, and we eat an early lunch and are hungry then..and we live outside the city and often take street parking in Greenwich Village which becomes legal in many areas at 6 PM...so it all works for us...

To return to Per Se, we are not celebrities but have always felt their treatment of us was really special...the same way they seem to treat their other customers...and we love that. Some of the dishes are etherial to us...certainly not all..but we find it a very, very special place for us. We have eaten in most of the other "top" NYC restaurants, and feel that Per Se is miles ahead in food, service, attitude and general treatment....just 2 peoples' opinion.... :smile::biggrin:

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