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A Voce: Andrew Carmellini goes Italian


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I wouldn't exactly sanction that bump up in price, but I do think there's some ambiguity introduced by the question "What are you drinking?" I think it may arguably take the interaction out of the category of an upsell.

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

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I love Carmellini's cooking. That said, I had an awful FOH experience...so bad I haven't as yet returned, though I suppose I should get over it and go back. After the experience (in which I was told, at the table, "you're free to leave at any time" and I did), I called and asked for the GM....they connected me with the mid-level manager with whom I had the altercation. I asked if the GM could return my call later. The next day, the (I presume) GM manager called back and when I told her the story, she was very apologetic and urged me to return. She handled it quite well....but it left (no pun intended) such a bad taste in my mouth I haven't gone back.

My impression is Carmellini isn't served well by the FOH issues as have been discussed in other posts, which is a shame because he's great I think.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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I wouldn't exactly sanction that bump up in price, but I do think there's some ambiguity introduced by the question "What are you drinking?" I think it may arguably take the interaction out of the category of an upsell.

Well, then maybe the question needs to be rephrased along the lines of "if you were me, what would you be drinking in the $40 - $60 range from your list?"

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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My impression is Carmellini isn't served well by the FOH issues as have been discussed in other posts, which is a shame because he's great I think.

Agreed, and a problem for a lot of chefs, I believe. I long ago decided that restaurants with shitty service and/or attitude would not get my repeat business; on the other hand, if I think the food has a fighting chance, and the service is great, I'll return.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I think it's disingenuous at best for a sommelier to imply that his "everyday drinking wine" of the summer (which I believe is the most reasonable interpretation of the question "what are you drinking this Summer?") is a $170 super-Tuscan. In fact, I have a hard time believing it could possibly be true unless he's getting the wine at cost or for free.

Regardless, I don't see how suggesting a wine that is more than double the customer's previously-stated target price range could be seen as anything other than a huge upsell. My experience with good sommeliers is that if I talk with them about what I'm eating and kind of wine I like, indicate a price range and even point out specific bottles on the list that might interest me, and then ask for a recommendation (e.g., "what do you like?") I more often than not get a recommendation for a special favorite wine on the list that turns out to be slightly under my suggested price point. I don't think I've ever had a sommelier suggest a bottle twice the price of what we've been discussing. The only times something like that happens is at restaurants with no real "wine program" where the waiter clearly thinks the best way to increase the tip is to recommend the most expensive wine in each category. These are unlikely to be places that have $170 wines on the list.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I imagine he does get plenty of wine at cost or for free, as he is a sommelier. Also, depending on the restaurant's markup, the retail on a $170 bottle of wine could be pretty low; and he could be drinking a glass a day out of the same bottle for several days at a time. Of course, he may have been lying. But if he was telling the truth, giving an honest answer to the question "What are you drinking?" it hardly seems immoral.

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

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eh...I tend to think it was an upsell....probably caused by the birthday (that's exactly the scenario where an upsell is likely to work...which it did). it doesn't mean that he was lying per se, he might well have drunk that at some point in the previous week...but the idea that he's drinking a "super-Tuscan" on a regular basis on hot summer nights seems unlikely.

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Maybe it was a lie, maybe it was true. My point is that you can't assign anything near zero credibility to the true option, and if that's the case you can't say with certainty that it was a wrongful act. I know quite a few sommeliers, two of whom I would call real friends. They do indeed drink wine at the $150+ (restaurant price) per bottle level most every single day. Indeed, at a restaurant with a serious wine program, like Union Square Cafe, they taste the whole waitstaff on nearly the entire wine list on a rotating basis -- not just the $50 bottles but the $500 bottles as well (I've been there for staff training and seen it happen). A small part of the 200%-400% wine markup you pay in restaurants goes to subsidizing staff tastings, though distributors also often throw in gratis bottles for those purposes. So, again, I don't really know what happened, but I think there is ambiguity here given the facts as stated.

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

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It seems like there are two questions here:

1. Was the guy really socking away $170 super-Tuscan wine over the Summer. This seems unlikely to me. I also think a question like "what are you drinking this Summer?" isn't asking after the wines a sommelier may be tasting as part of his job. But really, this question isn't too terribly important. For the sake or agument, let's assume it's true.

2. Was it good service for the sommelier, upon being asked for his recommendation, to suggest a wine more than double the customers previously-stated target price range? Again, let's assume that he was telling the truth and really is drinking a $170 super-Tuscan evern night after work this Summer. My feeling is that no, it's not good service. It's an upsell. If the sommelier is asked for a personal recommendation, he ought to be able to make one that is roughly in line with what the customer had been discussing. That should be his first recommendation. If the customer had been looking at $50 bottles of wine and the sommelier had recommended an $70 bottle, that's not so bad. Or he could have recommended a $60 bottle or two and then said something like: "...or, if you're in the mood to splurge on your birthday, we've got this amazing super-Tuscan that I've been drinking this Summer. It's $170, but I think you'll really love it." But to triple the price and jump straight to $170? That's not good service in my book. Assuming it's true that the sommelier had been drinking $170 wine all Summer, good service would have been to tell a white lie and recommend a favorite from among what the OP describes as over 100 bottles in his original price range.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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One more try and then I'll pack it in. Maybe lying would have been better service. However, if the guy was being truthful and the customer extended the invitation, it wasn't categorically bad service. If we get that sommelier on the witness stand and he says . . .

Yeah, I remember that guy. He was really nice. We chatted about wines. He was looking in a certain range. We have a very strict training and service protocol that I designed, based on several other restaurants where I've worked: we never recommend a wine more than $25 over the one the customer asks about, unless the customer extends and invitation to go higher. As I recall, the customer asked me what I was drinking. It so happens, the wine I'm drinking costs $170 on the list, but I get it for $40 and sometimes the distributor, from whom I buy $583,000 dollars of wine a year for the restaurant, just gives me a few bottles. I've had a glass of this wine after work every day for the past 20 days, because I love it so much. I hesitated, I wasn't sure if I should mention it because I knew it was a close call, but I decided to share the information. I'm not in the tip pool. Nobody gives me anything for upselling at this level. Plenty of people come in and spend thousands of dollars on wine at the restaurant without any prompting from me, so this wasn't about the bottom line. In fact our margin on that bottle is worse than on some of our $80 bottles. He ordered the wine and loved it, as I knew he would, because I drink it every day and think it's the best wine on our list. I guess, in retrospect, I shouldn't have made the recommendation -- too much ambiguity, and now it seems that I've been judged harshly by a bunch of folks online. Oh well. I try. This is the sort of thing that happens in a business based on so much one-on-one personal interaction.

. . . then I'm fine with that.

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

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Sometimes you have to look at these things, not from the point of view of a lawyer (and trust me, I'm married to one so I know how y'all think and answer questions), but from the point of view of a regular old customer.

And to me, that sommelier is not doing the chef justice - you're making a customer not want to come back to the restaurant, not because the food wasn't good, but basically because you're a douchebag!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Even if the guy gave the truthful answer, there probably was a better answer to be given to promote bettr customer service. (Kind of like the sommelier at a *** restaurant who, when asked how he became a sommelier, replied 'because I can make more of a profit that way.' Truthful but not the best reply.)

In this case, I think he should have said "in the price range you've indicated, we have some great wines for summer drinking that I'd certainly enjoy. Any of these would be terrific. If you want a special wine, which I have tried several times, for a special occasion, I could recommend other choices too but the ones I've suggested are great." Then its up to the patron to ask for the 'special' recommendation.

Otherwise--truthful or not--we have lots of discussion of people's reactions, many negative, as well as the reaction of the patron which was on the negative side to the comment. Even if truthful, not good customer service.

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How about something along the lines of "What I'm drinking (fill in the blank) isn't in the price range you requested, but (fill in appropriate blank) would be.

I don't see the point of trying to blame a service issue of upselling on the customer.

Edited by Sandra Levine (log)
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  • 8 months later...
I will be having a late lunch there early next month on a trip to NYC. I cannot discern from their website or from MenuPages whether the lunch and dinner are the same menu, or with different items/pricing. Anyone have any idea?

somewhat different menus. dinner has more items. pricing is similar.

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  • 3 months later...
  • 4 weeks later...
Has anyone heard about why Carmellini left and whats his next move?  One of the reasons why I went there was because of him.

Undisclosed philosophical differences with the management. Typically, there's a separation agreement that prohibits either side from publicly voicing its grievances, and that seems to be the case here.
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I did read one article mentioning the pastry chef going to Daniel, but he also stated he would love to go with Carmellini when he does his next project. I briefly worked at Cafe Boulud and I know a lot of people had loyalty to Carmellini.

There was no other reason to go there really except for his food, but I also went back there because the people there were extremely nice. If there was a mistake it was always taken care of properly and given extras. If I was waiting at the bar the guys would give me free drinks.

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