I had dinner at Bistro le Clochard on Saturday night, Jan. 2, 2009. We had a reservation at 9:00 (they were doing 2 seatings: 7:00 and 9:00) but strolled around Rit Fort and had a drink before arriving at the restaurant. We had never been before, and the beauty and atmosphere did not disappoint. Such a pretty restaurant! And the outside seating is gorgeous. Upon arrival we were told our table wasn't quite ready, and we could have a drink at the bar. No problem! We had a seat at the lovely 7 seat (?) bar outside. It took about 10 minutes to get a drink as the bartender was doing drink and wine service for the waitstaff as well as washing and polishing barware. He didn't have the wine-by-the-glass I ordered, but the maitre d' brought him a bottle (open) in a few minutes. It was a short pour, but I knew he didn't have another since I watched the hand-off transpire, and he was in the weeds. No real biggie.
We watched a deuce sit open and available for 30 minutes (we were 2 people). And we watched another table leave and not get re-set for 20 minutes. They didn't really appear to be understaffed (maybe?), but they were jammin' busy and the staff seemed overwhelmed. At 9:35 I went and found the maitre d' and asked about our table since we never saw him again since we arrived. He promised me we would be seated soon. A minute later a harried busboy/waiter said to follow him. So, we stood there, next to that vacated table, with the old tablecloth bundled up on the seat of one of the chairs, and watched him put a new tablecloth on. The bartender brought over the bottle we'd ordered, we sat down, and then the waiter/busboy set the table as we sat there, then gave us menus. Weird for that caliber of restaurant. No one ever acknowledged us for 15 minutes until we pulled over original busboy and asked him to send our waiter over. It was now 10:00. He said "I am your waiter!". So we ordered! One soup, 2 fish of the day. The food was excellent. I cannot stress that enough, but the service was horrendous. When you charge $35 an entree, and proudly hang your Chaine des Rotisseurs plaque, a certain level of service is expected.
Plenty of people were getting service, that I noted. I understand the importance of regular customers: they are your bread and butter when the tourists leave. But we really felt like we stumbled into some private club and we didn't know the secret handshake. I love a leisurely dining experience, but this was too long, and with a big lag (50 minutes?) between the one soup and the entrees, forgotten water, pouring our own wine. We left at 11:30 and didn't order dessert because we couldn't bear to wait again!
Here's my take: by having 2 seatings, with lots of large parties to boot, it puts a huge stress on the kitchen and the waitstaff. I have 25 years in the business, so I know. When you get stuck serving a party of 8 or 10 wine, or taking their order, you are dead in the water to the rest of your station. And it's hard on the kitchen, too. Then there's the trickle down effect of not being able to turn those tables for the second seating, and that is now backed up. Though a dearth of available tables was not our problem....getting seated at it was.
No, I was not steaming mad and my night was not ruined, but I wouldn't go back. And the maitre d' should have comped the 2 glasses of wine we had at the bar...it would have been no skin off his nose, and it would have been a goodwill gesture that would have gone far. I know the reservation book is not an exact science, but you have to acknowledge people and give an update. Looking at those 2 empty tables only left me scratching my head.
$178USD for two. Sorry for the missive.