We had dinner with friends at Del Frisco’s last night. It was overpriced, over seasoned and underwhelming. I haven’t been since soon after the opening and won’t be back. However that is beside the point here. We had an acute example of an experience that is becoming more and more common at local restaurants.
Our sitter arrived early, so we made it to the restaurant about 45 minutes before our reservation. Despite a large bar and lounge area it was nearly impossible to get a drink. Every seat at the circular main bar as well as bordering ledge area was occupied by people having dinner bar. There was not a free inch to get to the bar for a drink other than the service area, and the waitresses at DF would scratch your eyes out if you went near there. I like eating at a bar sometimes as well, but do try to accommodate people trying to get a cocktail. I find most people get as ‘wide’ as possible so you don’t invade their space. One couple noticed us looking for an opening and told us they were leaving in a minute, so we lucked out with two seats (after we fought off a few people who tried to rush into the seats before the couple was even standing up, and despite our clearly having been waiting for the seats).
Once seated, the first question the bartender has was if we would like menus (not if we wanted a drink). We politely said no thank you and ordered (a not inexpensive) round of cocktails. A bar back soon tried to put place settings in front of us. We again explained we were not eating at the bar. Almost immediately a different bartender asked if he should get us food menus (though he had clearly heard our conversation with the bar back). We politely told him that we had a reservation in the dining room, but were having a few drinks beforehand. He actually said not in a friendly manner “well you know that you’re taking up prime real estate”. I suggested that with such a large bar they should have at least a small area reserved for drink service only. He turned and walked away part way through my comment. I was in a bit of a mood already and felt like punching him in the face, however the original bartender intervened and apologized as our friends arrived and he probably realized that he was pushing a $100 tab for just the drinks over a 45 minute span, which is actually OK when they have about 3 dozen other people dining in the bar area.
The asshole Del Frisco’s bartender aside, this experience seems to be getting more and more common, and not just at steakhouses and the like. Recently, we were actually asked to vacate a seat by the bartender at Hammersley’s if we weren’t eating, as there were others waiting to eat. We almost walked out before dinner, but my wife had been wanting to go there for awhile. Gordon generally recognizes us, as a close friend previously cooked on his line. When he stopped by our table and I recounted the tale, he was mortified to say the least. I understand there is money to be made for the bartender and restaurant by serving full meals at the bar, however there really needs to be a happy medium. Does this trend drive anyone else insane?
There are a few places I can think offhand where it is always reasonably easy to get a drink (and even bar or lounge seat) before dinner (Via Matta, Sorellina, Rialto). These places are definitely exceptions to the trend. What other places am I missing where I can get a cocktail before dinner without feeling like in intruder? Is there anywhere which specifically reserves some bar space where dining is not allowed? It was notable on a recent visit to Peter Luger’s in NY that not one person was eating at the bar.
Also, as an aside, there was a concert at Harborlights (or whatever it is now called) last night and the outside tables were closed down at Del Frisco’s? I thought these outside tables would be a huge draw on concert nights. Is there some agreement with the concert venue? It seemed odd, but most things about that place are a bit off.