I've noticed a pattern of bad service in the Twin Cities and have been meaning to comment on it for a long time. Here are some recent examples:
On a visit to Travail, the restaurant lived up to its name: travail means both suffering and to inflict suffering or to torment, although I'm sure this isn't the experience the restaurant has in mind. From the moment we sat down at our table, our chef-server seemed intent on finding a reason to punch someone, anyone. He was not only brusque but also uninterested in offering details about the items on the chalkboard menu. Perhaps this is a shortcoming of the chef-as-server model: his mind was on the food, and we were distractions. Or maybe it's true that most chefs are misanthropes: Gordon Ramsay may be a great chef but I wouldn't want him to be my waiter.
At a late-evening dinner at Piccolo, we encountered the prototypical pretentious server. When we mentioned at the beginning of the meal that we would likely be ordering several courses, he balked. A minute later he returned and declared in no uncertain terms that 10:00pm was approaching (our reservation was for 9:00 but we weren't seated until 9:30) and that we were running out of options. There would be no opportunity for additional courses. Leaving aside the fact that restaurants should never discourage eager customers (especially in these tough economic times and especially before they've even begun their meal), there's a professional way to handle closing time considerations. Unfortunately, this guy had no idea how to handle them. An hour later, a table behind ours asked him for the wine list and he couldn't suppress a groan.
To make matters worse--much worse, because I think this is the Cardinal sin of service--he was condescending. He corrected one companion's pronunciation of a dish, not with grace or charm but with nearly vindictive relish. He also grew impatient with another companion's questions about preparations and his explanations were cryptic.
Remarkably, and to his credit, he must have realized how off-putting his demeanor had been because he apologized to us about 15 minutes into dinner. It's a good thing he did, because that had been the kind of service that can absolutely spoil a terrific meal. I know many people (myself included) who will give restaurants a second (and third) chance after eating mediocre food but are forever turned off by condescending service.
There are other examples, too: predictably stuffy service at La Belle Vie, gruff servers in tank tops at Craftsman, perennially uppity and indifferent service at Heartland, even moody cashiers at such pedestrian places as Turtle Bread Co.
I'm curious if my luck is bad or if other people have a similarly pessimistic outlook on service in the Twin Cities. (Full disclosure: I was once a server myself and was not immune to bad moods; however, the experiences I've mentioned go far beyond simple irritability). There are exceptions, of course. For instance, I've found the service at Meritage to be outstanding. I also know the risks of generalizing. Still, having lived in or eaten extensively in cities with better and "fancier" restaurants (Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Atlanta), I'm left with the impression that several Twin Cities restaurants are plagued by bad service. So much for Midwestern hospitality.
Your thoughts? Recommendations to prove me wrong?
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405
Turtle Bread Co
120 S 6th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402
410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102
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