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StuDudley

L'Astrance

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Unforunately, I am in Paris in 3 days, I faxed a letter to find out what happened. My concierge is trying to tell me that Astrance cancelled the table(something I find hard to imagine at a restaurant at this level), as I was an unknown american

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ellenask -- I understand what you were conveying. I am suggesting you no logner rely on your concierge, and take matters into your own hands, if you want the table. :hmmm:

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L'Astrance is one of the hardest tables to book in Paris, but that's quite incredible. I suppose anything is believable. I can't imagine what you can do about getting a table by taking the matter in your own hands. You might try and see if they have a last minute cancellation, but after such rudeness, if all this is true, I'm not even sure how I'd feel about eating there. It's impossible to say if the concierge is covering up for his mistake. I'd hate to accuse him and I'd hate to accuse l'Astrance, but obviously you have a complaint. If l'Astrance cancelled as they did, it's a slap in the concierge's face as well as yours--or perhaps all of our American faces. Anyway, the concierge must feel like a jerk.

I know l'Astrance is hard to book as our concierge was able to book Gagnaire but not l'Astrance recently. The one time I was able to get in, I was able to get someone else to make our reservation. I can understand l'Astrance wanting to favor locals and even needing a table for a VIP at the last moment. That's why many restaurants hold a table or two until the last moment and why it's often possible to get a table at the last minute at a restaurant that is supposedly booked solid. Still, cancelling at the last minute is unacceptable.

I don't know what you can do. I'd complain all around and in writing. I'd let the hotel know you were disappointed that the restaurant treated a reservation they made that way. You have every right to act as if you assume they wouldn't have done it to another hotel whether or not that's true. In fact I'd consider your post here bad publicity for the hotel. Let them know you won't be returning there if they're not respected by the local restaurants. I'd probably make my complaint known to Michelin. Unfortunately you had nothing in writing from the restaurant in way of a confirmation. Not much else I can say. Let us know if there's any satisfactory result to your complaints. In terms of complaints, I find the more civil and less heated the complaint, the better attention it gets. In writing is best and in terms of the hotel, they should probably know of your displeasure before you arrive. Nobody wants an unhappy guest. My bet is that you'll at least get some extra attention--assuming the complaint is civil. No one wants a rude or vulgar guest to return.

Good luck. I hope you can find a suitable replacement and that your visit to Paris is not ruined. Of course if you cancelled your trip, or even your hotel reservation, the hotel would get the message, but right now they and their concierge may be your best hope of a reservation elsewhere.

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Can you make lunch? I know it's not the same, but the prix fixe option is probably the best deal in Paris. And when I asked for an extra course because I wanted to try a particular entree, I got charged only an extra 7 euros. I was prepared to pay an additional 20.

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I would place a strong bet for the problem originating with the concierge, who is likely covering up, rather than the restaurant. If you call the restaurant where they do speak English, they will tell you whether they actually cancelled you or never made the reservation in the first place.

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In fact I would bet that the concierge sold your reservation to a regular customer of his, or some other variation on that theme. You should call the restaurant and ask if they have a reservation in your name for that night. Or see if they ever did. Then I would explain to them what happened and see where that gets you.

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Whatever you do, I hope we'll hear the upshot of this and learn something.

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It's hard to tell who is at fault in this case, but some basic analysis of the time between when the reservationist at L'Astrance becomes available (3:30pm Paris time) and the time when tables are no longer available for the non-french (around 3:40pm), leads me to believe that astrance makes very few tables available to random foreign diners. I would guess that there is a better chance of getting a table based on last minute cancellation.

By the way, judging by the recent stiffening of no-show and last minute cancellation policies (Gagnaire actually warns that you will be charged 100e per person), it seems that this has become a much more serious problem than it used to be.

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Companies, whether hotels or restaurants, depend upon the goodwill of consumers. And as Americans consume the most, we are the most important -- that is an economic fact.

With more and more Americans deciding to stay home rather than travel abroad in these uncertain times, few hotels and restaurants can afford to be labeled "hostile to Americans."

My advice is therefore to draft a letter setting forth all of the relevant facts of what happened to you, and in particular the "unknown American" comment. Address the letter to the hotel's business manager (or if a chain hotel like the Intercontinental, the worldwide corporate business manager) and the restaurant. Add a cc: line and clearly copy your letter to The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald & Tribune, Conde Nast Traveller, Frommer's, Fodor's, the National Association of Travel Agents (or whatever they are called today) and any other eminent publication or travel advocacy group. Also copy the French Board of Tourism. The more organizations you copy the better.

I would also change hotels, as obviously this one has failed to provide the essential service you requested. Anyone can provide a bed -- you need service.

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In a way mogsob's summed up what we've all said and points the way to getting to the bottom of all this. I would, however, question the idea that the more organizations you copy the better. I think you don't want to seem like you're on a vendetta. First see if you can get the truth and then attack the guilty--or those who don't own up to their part in this.

By the way, it was last weekend that Ellen was in Paris. I hope we get a report here.

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A seperate note on Astrance. When Sam tried to book for our visit earlier this year, she phoned exactly 30 days from the day we wished to dine. She got through ok and asked in French if the reservationist spoke English. He replied "non" and hung up :angry:

30 seconds later Sam's colleague phoned and in fluent French reserved us a table no problem. Looking back, apart from the fact we didn't enjoy it as others have, I wish at that point we hadn't booked a table on principle.

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Alas, getting into Astrance is like opening an oyster with a wet noodle. So what, there are plenty of other great places to go to in Paris. The anti-American policies many top restaurants discreetly practice are mostly due to last minute cancellations and no-shows. I have often been asked to reserve tables for American friends at hard to get into restaurants and leave my phone number as a contact. After many no shows and angry calls from restaurateurs asking me never to come back I will only do this service for very close friends. This in no way excuses the hotel concierge for not maintaining your reservation or selling it or giving you attitude. Its a French thing, even we don't understand.

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All right, now the same thing has happened to me.

Going to Paris the end of this month with some friends who asked their hotel to book us a table at L'Astrance. Two weeks ago we got word back that we had a table for 4 at 8:30 on Saturday the 30th. Then late last week the hotel emailed to say that when they called to confirm the reservation, L'Astrance said they were fully booked on the 30th. Now we are wait listed.

Normally I'd blame the concierge. But now I wonder. I'm going to investigate.

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I have often been asked to reserve tables for American friends at hard to get into restaurants and leave my phone number as a contact. After many no shows and angry calls from restaurateurs asking me never to come back I will only do this service for very close friends.

I'm inclined to ask if you're kidding, but obviously you're not. I don't think it's my proximity to people in the restaurant business that leaves me appalled at hearing of this sort of behavior. It's intolerable here in NY where almost all restaurants turn tables and far more serious in Paris where many restaurants, and all of the top ones, have a single sitting. You might just as well go in and rob the owner at gunpoint. I understand the concept of not turning tables may be lost on Americans who can't fathom the seriousness with which French restaurateurs and chefs take their responsibility in providing a fine evening and thus can't reciprocate to the same degree. If this happens to the extent you say it does, and if your friends do it after using your name to get the reservation, I have to believe the average American tourist will think nothing of being a no show, it's hard to fault any restaurant who's learned the hard way that there are too many American's who don't appreciate the reservation, let alone more than a few willing to harm the restaurant financially.

You're a tolerant man if you still call these people "friends." Have you thought of poisoning them, running them over with a car, or at least pushing them into the Seine. Or have you learned to use the term "American" as pejorative that indicates you expect completely clueless intolerable social behavior from Americans. I assume your British, Italian, Spanish and Chinese friends would not behave this way.

What is the serious American gastronome to do? While I was aghast at the hotel cancellation penalties we ran across in the Loire Valley and Burgundy, my wife has made it a habit to send a credit card number with the initial request for hotel and restaurant reservations [That's a dangerous practice as you may find yourself with a confirmed reservation for a room that's three times the price you are willing to pay.] whenever our reservations are not made by a concierge or friend. In the latter cases, a follow up confirmation fax with credit card number is a good idea.

Maybe we need some way to convince the French we are serious. We, know who "we" are how do we let the French know we are a select group of serious connoiseurs? American Express will actually charge a no show, but it's hard without a written confirmation, for the restaurant to prove you really made the reservation.

Marc, with your location, Plotnicki's money and my idea, we need to establish a bonding agency that will bond American diners. Of course the prospective diners will need to make a hefty deposit before we will bond them and those serious enough to do that, are not the ones who need help in getting reservations for the most part.

Oh yeah, and can you get me a table next month. :laugh::laugh::laugh:

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I would now give the benefit of the doubt to the concierge at the Marriott. Neither of you victimized diners are missing a great gastronomic experience, IMHO. I would e-mail this thread to Derek Brown, the editor-in-chief of the Guides Michelin. I brought e-Gullet to his attention several months ago, but I don't know how assiduously he follows it.

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For many people, dining out is a service issue like airline reservations. Most people I know do not cancel their airline reservations. They just let them lapse. I think if the restaurant industry tried to educate people a little on the topic they would have less no-shows. Otherwise, I don't think Americans realize the difference in the way American restaurants and Parisian restaurants turn tables.

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Bux: Great Idea for the reservation "bonding" company. We could buy blocks of reservations from the restaurants and ask for a cancellation time frame that will allow them to turn the tables anyway. We bill the diners a small fee to guarantee the reservations that we split with restaurateurs. No shows would lose their reservation fee and then be poisoned, pushed into the Seine and run over with a car, not necessarily in that order. I don't use American as a pejorative term, I'm half American as you know. Not respecting a reservation and not calling to cancel is not a strictly American phenomenon, it is only symptomatic of poor upbringing. Anyone who works for a living values their time, it is only normal to value other working folks time. When I do call to cancel or change a reservation in a French restaurant, as I did every day for one week last October, the reservation staff all said thank you for calling. It is just a question of courtesy and respect for other people's time. I know egulleteers respect the artistry of the establishments they frequent. The French (pejorative) don't like the word service. They had a revolution a few hundred years ago to do away with the notion of servitude. The French class structure still marks people in the service industries as underlings. It is this very French (pejorative again) idea that spoils the French (admirative) experience for tourists and gourmets. Why else would they build in a tip into every bill?

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Bux, why is a bonding company needed? What is the problem with the customer giving the restaurant a credit card number in such a way that the restaurant has positive proof of the customer's assent to charge the card in the event of a no-show? Could this not be done through fax or a secured internet connection?

The airlines are more sophisticated about pricing than are restaurants. Consider flights within Europe. The service offer for "business class" and "economy class" are basically the same -- same cramped seats, almost the same bad food. With business class, you get a more generous interpretation of the hand-baggage policy, and you may get newspapers and hot towels.

But what you are really paying for is an option to change the reservation at short notice, without incurring a charge. That's the main differentiator.

To me it seems perfectly legitimate for a restaurant in high demand to obtain a credit card number at the time of a reservation, and to levy a rather high charge (say, the medium-priced fixed menu per customer) in the event of a no-show. Or this charge could vary with time: no charge 24 hours before the reservation time, 25% up to 12 hours before, 50% up to 6 hours before, 100% if there is a no-show.

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I don't buy into this American no show theory. I believe that very few people will cavalierly no show after the advance planning and dificulty involved in getting a reservation at one of these tough restaurants. The reality is that the French would much rather fill their restaurant with French than Americans, but that there are only a small handful of restaurants where this is really possible. The French are genuinely xenophobic and have a much stronger affinity for their own group and a dislike of foreigners, than we woule recognize as Americans. Robuchon was the most notorious example. My own experience was writing six months in advance for a reservation and receiving a refusal about a month before our trip. I then quickly contacted a business relation in Paris who called and was offered the next available date, which unfortunately was 7-8 weeks away and too late for us. This person had no special relationship to the restaurant; he was merely a native French speaker.

My own experience with trying to reserve Astrance is that I called during my last trip to Paris last December. The reservationist spoke excellent English, was friendly and polite, but didn't have a reservation, which was undoubtedly true at the time.

My vote still goes to the concierge never making the call. My experience with concierges in 5 star French hotels in Paris is that they view their job impersonally and don't really give a damn. You might actually do better in a three star hotel, some of which have caring management.

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Actually that is only one of the main differentiators. I always thought the main difference between classes on a plane was who you got to sit with. It's the same concept as choosing your neighbors.

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Nothing pisses me off more than having to confirm my reservation the day of -- I'd sooner give a credit card number to demonstrate my committment. My days are generally very busy and I can lose track of time easily before the 2pm deadlines set my many restauranteurs.

That said, I agree with Bux that prospective diners who do not call to cancel a reservation should be either shot or poisoned and dumped into either the Seine, Hudson or Thames (or any other large, polluted body of water with a strong current). To that group, I would add another -- the prospective diner who does not know exactly where he/she/they want to eat, so they book 2, 3, 4 or more restaurants for the same night. Simple execution is not enough here -- I want choice. So I vote for disemboweling, followed by drawing and quartering. Perhaps we can serve up the entrails a la Peter Greenaway.

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The reality is that the French would much rather fill their restaurant with French than Americans, but that there are only a small handful of restaurants where this is really possible.  The French are genuinely xenophobic and have a much stronger affinity for their own group and a dislike of foreigners, than we would recognize as Americans.

I wish I didn't agree with you, Marcus, but I do. Many of the French live in their own world. And it's a very nice world, and they don't seem that interested in leaving it or having it changed by others. Some Americans do things in Paris restaurants that some French staff find bizarre: they hold the fork in the wrong hand, switching it back and forth to cut their food and eat it; they ask for sauces "on the side"; they demand that coffee be served at the same time as dessert.

A lot of this is tied up with the language: speak French, even with a foreign accent, and you will be far more readily accepted. Many restaurant staff, even in fine restaurants, either don't speak English very well or speak it less well than they think they do and thereby get in trouble.

So the concierge system doesn't really help. The concierge is making a reservation for an unwanted customer.

The business that's needed is one where French people would ring the restaurants, pretending that they were locals, reserving for themselves. Then they would give a local number (or a French cellphone number) where they could receive a confirming call the day before.

Problem is that they would have to keep changing names and numbers: once "M. Baudrand from Passy" turned out to be Mr Smithers from Amarillo who didn't speak a word of French and wondered aloud why they had to doll up that goldurned steak with all that consarned French stuff, the jig would be up.

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Actually that is only one of the main differentiators. I always thought the main difference between classes on a plane was who you got to sit with. It's the same concept as choosing your neighbors.

This may apply on long-haul flights, but I have noticed no difference between passengers on flights within Europe. For many routes the price difference between "fully flexible economy" fare and "business class" fare is almost nil. If you can plan your trip in advance and know that you won't change, you get a cheap economy fare. If not, you fly business class.

Oh yes, you get a few more frequent-flier miles when travelling in business class. And at Heathrow you get to use the "fast track" through security -- this can make a big difference on a busy morning.

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There's at least a little bit of truth in everyone's post and of course, two or more sides to every story. I'm a bit surprised to find rampant francophobia in this forum though. That Pascal Barbot worked in either Australia or NZ and was eager to talk about what he learned there, how it affected his cooking and what influence it had on the food he served in l'Astrance, when he was interviewed by GaultMillau magazine. doesn't mean he isn't xenophobic, but it certainly speaks in his defense on the issue. Oddly enough I always hear Americans complaining about Americans in Paris. People always tell me they don't want to eat in such and such restaurant in Paris because it's full of Americans. My wife will have clients tell her how well they are treated in a hotel and then go on to say they want to stay elsewhere next time as the hotel is full of Americans. There are a lot of francophobic Americans, but I meet more that don't want to be with Americans. They complain if they're seated next to an American, but complain if the French complain about being seated next to an American. In fact we were a bit unhappy about a few of our small restaurant choices in Paris recently because there were too many Americans and they really threw off the service with their needs and lack of understanding. If our patience was strained, I can imagine the effect on the Parisians in the room.

France is a small country and the French are a minority people in the western world. There's a difference between a club in the states that's restricted to white anglo saxon protestants and one that cultivates a minority ethnic membership. From time to time I can't always blame the French for some degree of xenophobia. The truth is that it used to be rampant across the society. The French didn't go abroad and they never learned another language. Today you see French tourists all over NY at all times of year and among those a generation or more younger than I am, they speak a fair amount of English. A far greater percentage of Frenchmen speak English, than Americans speak French. I've never met one who expected anyone in NY to speak his language, but I'm always running into Americans who can't speak a lick of French and are surprised they're not understood in France. The xenophobia cuts both ways, but American arrogance can be worse than French xenophobia.

While we see ordering coffee with dinner as trivial, the chef sees someone who won't appreciate his food. I support the right of every diner to drink the beverage of his choice, but I also support the chef's right to choose who wants to serve. I just object to the stereotype of Americans as a group. I think we have more connoiseurs of food and wine than they do, although the percentage may be lower.

My reservation at l'Astrance was made for me by an American in Paris. I'm not sure what that proves. I was treated exceptionally well, but I dined with a French born chef working in America who had been served by Christophe in Arpege and who had been introduced to Pascal in the kitchen of a NY restaurant. I suppose it proves only that I may be a suspected franco-sympathizer.

Just to be clear, I reserved the highest level of corporal punishment, not just for no shows, but for those who abuse their friends' names and reputations in the process. A simple public humiliation in the stock would be sufficient for most no shows. I suspect more people are offended by a credit card than the necessity of a phone call. The simple solution is not at hand. I suggested the bonding company only because the credit card threat has been used without following up and has already become a hollow threat here in the states. I have had my hotel reservation billed months in advance at times, even here in the states. I don't know why a minimum charge couldn't be billed by the restaurant when the reservation is made, with beverage and supplemental charges billed later.

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Bux, I hope I wasn't communicating francophobia -- I love the country, cheerfully pay a staggering sum in taxes to the Trésor Public and spend as much of every year in France as I can get away with.

My point was simply that the French are happy to differentiate customers based on language or presumed national origin. Years ago I worked in a Chinese restaurant; I learned that there was one expression for 'ordered by Chinese' and another for 'ordered by foreigner'. This was done, I was told, because foreigners didn't like properly seasoned Chinese food. Given the time and place, the restaurant owner was probably right. The French do something like this, in their own way.

I guess it's a matter of knowing that the differentiation is taking place and not being overly surprised.

Like you, I don't see why the credit card could not be charged in advanced and then credited if the reservation is cancelled in good time. Perhaps there is a problem because it is relatively easy for a customer to dispute a charge to a credit card.

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