It's sad to bid adieu to a restaurant where you've been a regular for close to five years. Sadly, in the case of Griffintown Café, I feel I no longer have a choice. I'll be taking my brunch business elsewhere from now on.
The Notre-Dame Ouest spot has been an integral part of my brunch repertoire since at least 2007. When Dylan and Clara - now of Blackstrap BBQ - ran the show, the place clicked on all cylinders, no matter how full the room got. That was consistently the case in my experience.
The new (well, no longer new exactly) management has completely lost the room. I can't find fault with the servers or kitchen staff either - this is all on the gentleman who runs the floor. I hate to say it but after three visits over the course of the last five months, it seems he's completely out of his depth. He paces the room with a glossy, deer-in-the-headlights stare and has no control/command over his staff (I believe he hampers them from doing their jobs effectively) or, more importantly, the lingering diners and hordes who inevitably gather in the entrance.
It's oddly fascinating to watch him in action (or inaction, as it were). Botched reservations, botched orders, botched seatings ... I've seen it all. The servers are clearly frustrated (they, and the cooks, bear the brunt of his incompetence) and tensions among faithful customers are brewing in a way I've never seen at the restaurant.
Just one example from this morning. As I sat at the bar with a coffee and watched the room descend past a chaotic point of no return, a young couple with a patient and quiet two or three-year-old entered. They were told to hang out at the back, away from the entrance, and to expect a ten minute wait. Fine.
Fast-forward twenty-five minutes. Empty tables sit idle. Diners who have paid their tab linger in conversation (as is their right) without those diplomatic, gentle nudges from the manager ("can I get you another coffee?", "how was your brunch?" etc.) that help move things along in a busy dining room. Finally, the family is told that while a table is technically free by the entrance, the staff doesn't want to subject the little one to the cold by the door. Considerate.
Unfortunately, a further ten minutes later, by the door is exactly where they're seated. In the almost forty-five minutes from their arrival to the point when their order was taken, nobody offered them a coffee or beverage. Again, not the fault of the servers on the floor, who were harriedly catering to seated diners left and right. No, this one was on the inert host once more, who, upon very close inspection seems too scared/nervous/anxious to manage the queues at the door (how hard is it to offer a coffee to people waiting at the bar?).
I got lucky today. I was alone, came relatively early and sat at the bar in the corner. But the snafu with the young family was just one of several I observed. One party had called to confirm a reservation the day before and promptly had to wait close to half an hour. My last visit I was asked by a waiter whether myself and my friend wanted our bill. My reply: "We haven't received our food yet." Hilariously, our order had never been placed. A twenty-minute wait for our meals instantly doubled. While people continued to pile in the entrance of course.
Turning tables in a busy restaurant is an art. It requires a sharp mind and terrific people skills. Griffintown Café is currently bereft in those departments. This place needs someone like an Allison at Joe Beef, a Gaëlle (formerly of Au Pied de Cochon, now at Grumman 78), or, heck, a Clara (Blackstrap BBQ).
Buh-bye Griffintown. Forever. Your food is decent enough but I've had it with your service missteps.