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Giving a restaurant a second chance


Foodie in Vancouver
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On several occasions I have had a less-than-stellar experience at a restaurant despite good reviews or in some instances at a restaurant at which I have had many good meals and this time end up with a disappointing meal or bad service.

About a year ago I took several friends to a local (as in close to my home) restaurant at which we had eaten many, many times and were known by the owner. On this occasion, after we had had a drink and were ordering we were told that they were expecting a large (60 people) group and that we had to order now and would get everything at once. Needless to say, I was mortified as I had recommended the restaurant highly. Once the group came in, conversation was impossible and we literally were ignored. We could have walked out without paying - which crossed my mind. And the meal was not what I had come to expect. I didn't call the owner (he was there that evening and the group was comprised of friends of his); I know it would have been the right thing to have done. But I haven't returned, despite the fact that we used to eat there frequently. I often wonder if I should give them a second chance but haven't.

I also thought about second chances at restaurants after describing my experience at Pair in another thread. It is a local restaurant that has a good concept and has had some good reviews. My experience was OK but not more than that. Should I give them another chance or go to restaurants that have consistently met or exceeded service and food expectations? Part of me says everyone deserves a second chance while my pragmatist side says there are lots of good restaurants in Vancouver - it's a dog eat dog world and only the strong survive.

What do you do?

Cheers,

Karole

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Short answer - No. I generally don't give restaurants a second chance. I may give them a third chance, though, if my first experience was good, but a return visit was less so.

If I have a bad experience on the first visit, sorry, that's it. There are far too many places I've never been to and want to try, or good places I'd like to return to, for me to roll the dice again at a place that disappointed.

I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself. - Johnny Carson
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I have to agree with Jeffy Boy. If my first visit was bad, then that's it. If it is a subsequent visit, that tends to be another story. One of my favorite restaurants used to be around the corner from my apartment and I used to hang out at the same coffee shop as the owner. Because of that we became friends. After eating there quite frequently I started to notice that on the nights that he wasn't in the restaurant the food and service was terrible. And I did tell him this and I also told him that if he wasn't there I wouldn't be eating in his establishment that night. But I will still go there on a regular basis. Just not on a Monday.

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Now I know that you might think I might be a bit biased in my opinion and you are probably right.

I will always give a second chance as I would always want a second chance. It is not a perfect science and we are not launching the space shuttle, it is just a meal.

Reservations get lost, meals get burned, staff don't show up etc. I will copy a response to a woman who wanted to book one of my wine tastings - she calls at 12:30 on Friday and then sends an e-mail about me to her friend. She thinks I was rude

Picture this.

Friday lunch

Line up out the door. Can't seat people at the door as the place magically filled up with no reservations. Have to turn them away.

Party of regulars in the private dining room that arrives one at a time looking for separate bills and ordering one at a time as they walk in the door and wonders why their food does not come out together.

Party of 40 arrives early for lunch and tells you that they are in a rush.

One waiter misreads schedule and thinks she starts at 1:00 for a lunch shift ( that is so stupid I can't even begin to tell you )

Phone rings, nobody moves to get it. I must not let it go to message as my wife has just taken my 2 year old daughter to Doctor's for unknown sickness

Chef  ( Me ) is in kitchen, cradling phone between shoulder and ear, tongs in one hand, plates under arm and an order chit sticking out the side of my mouth requests that this person send e-mail a message for an event that is over one month away. I certainly did not think that unreasonable.

This is not an excuse, just my reality.

If Nancy thought I was rude , I apologize as was not my intent but just wanted to facilitate a smooth booking as bookings on the back of cocktail napkins sometimes get lost, e-mails do not.

That was my response to a person who thought it short and short sighted of me to ask her to call back.

Like said , not an excuse , just my reality. This is my passion and my job. Sometimes things go wrong. I always hope it does not but I can't be everywhere for everything, Lord knows I try. I can't control every word out of the servers mouth, every item out of the kitchen etc. You have to let the people who work for you and with you carry some of the load. Sometimes they drop the ball. We have had our issues here but you have to work through them. Think about where you work - unless you are a brain surgeon, there is room for error, shit happens etc.

Things need to be put into perspective. It is a $20 meal. Don't get me wrong, I earn my money the hard way too and do not like to waste it on bad food or bad service but I am a little more generous before I condemn a place. If you go into a situation looking for something to be wrong, you will find it. If you go into it with the expectation of a nice meal out with friends or family, good conversation and no cleaning up, you will usually be pleased.

After reviewing this post, I have come up with a conclusion -

Lower your expectations, you will be happier. :biggrin:

Just kidding, great post, can't wait to read responses

Neil Wyles

Hamilton Street Grill

www.hamiltonstreetgrill.com

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I agree totallly with nwyles, chefs are human too, and they deserve a second chance, esp if you know that your experience was contrary to the experience of others.

On the other hand, there are so many places I want to try that getting back can be a problem even if I liked a place, but esp if I really hated it the first time around. For instance, I went to a restaurant in SF this summer that was absolutely one of the worst meals I've had in that fair city. By the way, this place is known for their use of wonderful organic produce, and their simple yet satisfying dishes, and so I was very interested in trying it, not to mention that this place has been highly touted by various mags and even posters here.

This one dish came to our table as one large light pink slice of allegedly organic but definitely tasteless heirloom tomato. It was topped by a large yellow rectangular slice of what they kept insisting was mozzarella. They called this dish "insalata caprese". caprese salad, my ass. My gnocchi was like rubber but the sauce was edible. My friend ordered some pasta that was so tasteless, I was grateful for my gnocchi. My green salad was essentially a bunch of bitter Lolla Rossa lettuce in a nondescript vinaigrette. My organic strawberries in the polenta cake dessert were pure white puffballs with a little blush of pink and zero flavor. The cake itself was okay, but nothing special. The best dish of the night was the ribeye steak with fries, strangely enough. Service was lackadaisical at best.

I paid approx $120 for 2pple, for this shitty meal. Would I go back? Yes I'm going back. I feel I ought to give it a last try because trusted people recommended it, and they totally ripped my friend a new one for admitting he hated it. Am I a masochist? You be the judge.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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Sure, chefs are human. But life's too short and there are too many other places to go for me to want to return for more punishment. It's one thing if I have a flawed meal that shows evidence of potential and another if I have a meal that sucks. If you serve me a sucky meal on my first visit, you never see me again.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I'll almost always give the restaurant a second chance. The exception would be if I get any kind of snotty, we don't need your business attitude. Then, I don't look back. If the establishment tries to please and just falls short, I'll come back and try again. If they blow it twice, though, I'm gone for good.

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If I go to a restaurant and the food is bad, I'll never be back and won't ever question the decision. Why return for what is likely to be a bad meal again?

If the service is bad but the food is good, I'll likely give it another shot. Though, that is influenced by the severity of how bad the service is... There's a much better chance, I think, that service can improve (or that it was just a bad night - see above management issues).

If the food is bad, there's a low chance of significant improvement without major change (ie. turnover of ownership or chef).

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It depends how bad the bad is, and what the nature of the badness is. If I don't find anything appealing on the menu, or what items I do choose are just outright dissapointing, I am not likely to return.

If I order something new, and just don't care for the dish itself, I will write it off as the price of adventurous eating, and not hold it against the restaurant (unless on subsequent visits other new things I try leave me feeling the same way).

I also let myself be swayed by friends just in case I really do keep ordering the wrong things. On Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario there used to be this restaurant called the 'Zing Noodlery'. First time we went in it was because we thought it had an odd name, and were hungry. I absolutely hated the food, but both of my friends loved it, so I just assumed I had ordered something bad, and the next time up, we went again. Same results, they loved it, I hated it. Then again, we felt the opposite way about my favorite place up there, Chez Piggie, where I have adored every meal I have experienced, and they have been less than impressed. So, in some ways I have a feeling a lot of a restaurants suckiness or lack thereof is relative and based on personal taste, and to keep going back when what they serve just doesn't jive with your tastes might be a bit futile.

If the badness is serivce related I usually wont hold it against the restaurant (just that particular server, and relfect it in the tip), and will not hesitate to go back again. If the service is constantly bad across several servers, then I will begin to write the place off.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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i'm with jeffy boy and pan - life's too short and there are so many other restaurants to try... i'd say even a mediocre/uninspired first meal will be it for me. if the first one was good though, i may go a few more times chasing that first meal before i give up completely.

on a loosely related note - went to a hot but food-wise good sounding little place in nyc last night with another couple. since the restaurant doesn't take reservations and our companions were older, i decided to go 40 min. early to wait for the table - i wouldn't expect them to wait. i called the restaurant to ask when we should show up to get a table for 4 at 8:30pm and they said about 8 should do it but they couldn't guarantee anything.

well, 40 min were not enough, the wait was about 75 min. as the owner cheerfully announced and suggested we leave a cell # and go somewhere for drinks & snacks. when the other couple came (sadly, on time) we waited about 15 min. but it didn't look good - they did try to find us seats at the bar but it didn't work for our companions who insisted we leave. the staff was really nice and apologetic about it, there wasn't anything they could have done (except maybe reshuffle the bar seats as they suggested they would but in the end didn't). now, this was all calculated risk - we generally avoid hot new places, esp. at busy times but everyone involved wanted to try it. it was our decision and they had little room to play with. and we were going to be in that neighborhood anyway.

however, during the initial wait, we had some food and wine and as cute as the place was, the food was not encouraging. certainly not worth waiting for. will we go back? i'd like to as the food sample was small enough to hope for better dishes still to be discovered...

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

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  Then again, we felt the opposite way about my favorite place up there, Chez Piggie, where I have adored every meal I have experienced, and they have been less than impressed. 

I enjoyed dinner at Chez Piggie several years ago during my only trip to Kingston. The only problem we had was that we had to sit in the smoking section. We were the only table of non-smokers and it seemed that everyone else was a chain smoker. We ate quickly so we could get outside and breathe again. I would definitely go back, the food was very good, but only if I could reserve a table in the non-smoking section.

KathyM

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  Then again, we felt the opposite way about my favorite place up there, Chez Piggie, where I have adored every meal I have experienced, and they have been less than impressed. 

I enjoyed dinner at Chez Piggie several years ago during my only trip to Kingston. The only problem we had was that we had to sit in the smoking section. We were the only table of non-smokers and it seemed that everyone else was a chain smoker. We ate quickly so we could get outside and breathe again. I would definitely go back, the food was very good, but only if I could reserve a table in the non-smoking section.

I wouldn't worry too much. It is my understanding that you cannot smoke in any restaurants in Kingston now. I have eaten at chez Piggy twice in the past few years and never had a meal good enough to make me want to return. It was just average food.

To get back on topic, I would return if the bad experience was due to the restaurant being slammed, staffing problems beyond control, or something of that nature. If the service was just plain lousy and the food good, I'd likely give it another chance b/c I would have spoken to the manager, and if the food was bad, then no I likely wouldn't return. In my experience that problem doesn't seem to correct itself often.

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

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I'm with many of the previous posters: if it's a bad experience on the first visit, I probably won't go back. I have too many other restaurants to go to.

If it's a place we've eaten at a lot, I give them a lot more slack. One bad experience, and while we'll probably not go back for a little while, we know that everyone has bad nights.

However, if it's part of a downhill trend (or downhill breakneck fall in some cases), we put the place on probation, and don't go for for about six months. We figure that six months is long enough for attrition to occur (if it was a person causing the problem) and for management to fix any procedural problems. Then we'll go back.

And if that meal sucks, then the restaurant is off the list for good. Surprisingly, this plan works pretty well - about 50% of the places we've put on probation and given a rest have come back - and a remarkable number of the other ones went under.

Also, to tie this in to the other thread about complaining, if a place is a favorite, we're far more likely to say something about poor service or poorly cooked food than if this is our first visit. And I've found that restaurants that know us as semi-regulars are a lot better about trying to fix or make up for problems, too. One place even had their district manager call (yes, it's a chain, but we like it) and explain what was happening, and what to say to who to make sure it didn't happen again - and I'm sure it's because the restaurant's manage knows us on site and always greets us warmly.

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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Depends a lot on the price point: if it's a place I can afford AND it doesn't totally suck AND it had some redeeming dishes, I will try again (as long as service was up to even mediocre standards). If it was a special meal for which I paid an outrageous amount and the experience was less than perfection in all ways, I will never consider going back. Granted, there's a lot of space in between those examples. But if I can figure out what might have gone wrong and figure that it won't feel like a complete rip-off to go back for another lesser experience, I'm willing to try. But two mediocre experiences, and that's it.

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For me, its in my nature to not hold my feelings back.. I will be damned before i will leave a place angry without letting people know how i feel.. If its a food thing, I might be able to determine from either the quality of ingrediants, or my ordering if its something i can fix.. But if its a managerial problem or a waitstaff issue and I dont think it was handled well.. Then fuck em.. For example,I am constantly hearing about waiters that are rude and are backed by management, or people being forced to pay for terrible dishes.. In that instance, i take it personally that my patronage isn't appreciated and i write them off and more so hope for their misfortune.. But if something is handled well, then a second chance is warranted.

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There's a long list of restaurants that I want to try in Vancouver, and I'm not exactly rich. If I had a mediocre experience at a restaurant (spotty service, OK food) I might try the place again if the reviews are good. If I absolutely hated the food they served, or the servers were rude, then I wouldn't go again.

The only exception is that if a friend chooses it for a birthday dinner or something--then I would definitely go. I'd probably just throw back a couple of drinks and order an appetizer though.

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I've given places a second chance, based on the collective good hearsay from my friends. There's a place in town that has people raving, though when I've asked specifics, there is usually at least one dish that didn't deliver.

I recently went back for a third time to a place here in Soquel, where my first meal was spectacular. The second was a nightmare so bad I wrote a long letter to the owner about it, starting with the worst service I've ever endured. Oh, what a list of egregious offenses that waitress managed to compile in an hour.

A couple of weeks ago, I was meeting there with food pro friends, and we had a mixed bag for lunch. This included my second experience with a piece of steak filled with gristle.

I absolutely will not return there, no matter what.

Otherwise, I think Melkor's post states it about as good as can be.

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It depends what was bad about the first visit, if the meal is hopeless - all the dishes are bad then I won't go back, otherwise I'll give it a second shot.

In general I don't go back, but it depends...

I hate places w/ a snobby, condescending, or just plain rude atmosphere. They are off the list no matter how good the food is.

I hate to wait much past my reservation time. Just like I hate to wait at the doctors. Places that don't take reservations annoy me.

Bad but apologetic service I can usually forget about by the time I'm walked to my car, assuming the food is good. Rude service/ good food=still off the list.

Bad food, it depends. One bad course, I don't hold it against them. Who's to say it's not my taste that's off? A sloppy meal, well, that's harder. For instance-there's no excuse for the well-known restaurant I ate at a few months ago serving crunchy pinto beans-at 9pm.

There are so many great restaurants around here that I don't fret about whether I'm being "fair" or not; I just move on down the list.

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In my town I give places a second chance and on rare occasions even a third before I write them off. In part that's because I once waited table and tended bar, both for a busy moderately priced restaurant and for an upscale catering service, but also because I live in a small city (population 150,000) that has limited upscale dining options. When a new place opens I really want them to succeeed and hope to have another good place to go.

I tried a new place the other night - has been open for less than a month. It's an Italian restaurant (I would say AS IF we need another one of those but we have few that are really good despite the large number of them in town). Was it execptional? No.... but it has promise. The veal was very nicely cooked and remarkably tender (as it should be but plenty of places serve tough veal in this town). The soup was excellent (beef with artichoke) - a trifle salty but very good. The fried calamari with marinara sauce was outstanding - the best I've ever had. Tried carrot cake for dessert and it was just average. Service was good - a few minor rough spots.

Will I go back? Yes, of course. They have good atmosphere, are trying hard and doing many things the right way despite some shortcomings. But if I was in a real restaurant city like NYC, Vancouver, San Francisco or so many otherwhere there are a tremendous number of options I wouldn't bother going back unless I was in the neighborhood and it happened to be convenient.

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I had another "No More Chances" incident this weekend. I had ordered Thai food for delivery from a moderately priced restaurant in the city. They told me it would take 45 min-hour. Fine, That would put dinner at 8pm, which was perfect for how i was feeling. My food arrived at 9pm, half an hour after my follow up "Where the hell is my food?" phone call.

I will never go back! Ever. I have eaten at this restaurant and their parent company restaurant many many times, and have always enjoyed it and had a decent meal, but in a city like this, I have too many choices and that was outrageous. That and the fact that when I called they offered nothing.

For me deciding whether or not I will go back often has to do with what kind of experiences I've had in the past, the attitude of the staff and management, the cost vs. quality and the how well the food was prepared. If they fail 2 or more of those then I won't go back. Which I think is fair. Vancouver is a big city with a lot of choices...unfortunately not everyone has 5 great restaurants a block away from home.

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I'll almost always give the restaurant a second chance. The exception would be if I get any kind of snotty, we don't need your business attitude. Then, I don't look back. If the establishment tries to please and just falls short, I'll come back and try again. If they blow it twice, though, I'm gone for good.

Bingo! Two strikes and you're out with me too. If they get snooty never again. And of course, I tell several friends.

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...When a new place opens I really want them to succeeed and hope to have another good place to go... But if I was in a real restaurant city like NYC, Vancouver, San Francisco or so many otherwhere there are a tremendous number of options I wouldn't bother going back unless I was in the neighborhood and it happened to be convenient.

I am in one of those real restaurant cities [areas] and I lower my standards for new restaurants. It's unfair to expect them to have everything down for a few weeks. Except if they are snotty-that is something that only gets worse as they get more successful.

Which reminds me, I need to give that new neighborhood Japanese restaurant another try...

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