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Restaurants & Bars 14

Nightmare at Bouley

dagordon | Apr 5, 200809:38 PM

We just returned from what was undeniably our single worst service experience in recent memory, at Bouley.

To a certain extent this makes me feel fortunate. We eat out a lot, as I suspect most reading this board do; and now that I reflect on the service aspect of the meals we've had, I realize that it has been, generally, excellent. Perhaps we're just lucky -- or, as I suspect, perhaps service is simply improving all around -- but it's really quite rare that we've had serious complaints about the service at a restaurant. Sure, there will be the occasional service blips, but rarely is it that we have gotten the sense that our server, let alone the entire FOH, just doesn't give a shit.

We had a 9:00 reservation and were seated at 9:15. We were given a wine list but it took a while for menus to appear.

At one point the lamp at one end of our table (a 5 top) went out. This was pretty noticeable, but it took quite a while for us to get someone's attention to come over and fix it. Moreover, even with the lamp fixed, my end of the table was excessively dark. I have young eyes, and I can't remember ever complaining about a place being too dark, but this was just ridiculous. It took a while to get someone's attention, and then we asked for a candle for our end of the table. Several minutes passed, and we asked someone else for one, and one was eventually provided.

It took quite a while for our appetizers to come out. They were fairly unexceptional. I should say that the amuse, a gazpacho with green apple sorbet and slow-cooked shrimp, was excellent. But my father said that his bluefin tuna dish was mediocre; I had the "panache" of three salads, in which the shrimp and scallops were overcooked and underseasoned, the foie "Napoleon" too sweet, and the mushrooms lacking flavor. The steamed egg dish could, I think, have been quite successful, but it was overwhelmed by what I swore was coconut (though this wasn't in the dish description).

The real problem was that we waited for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes for the mains to come out. At no point during this wait did anyone come to our table to apologize, let alone offer, say, a glass of champagne, or a salad, or another appetizer (all of which we would have declined, but at least the offer would have demonstrated that they cared). We were visibly tired and hungry. At one point my fiancée was essentially asleep on the table. No one came.

After over an hour we managed to get someone's attention and asked about our food; we were told that it was being plated, and no apology or explanation. We waited probably ten minutes more and decided to leave. My father asked for the check. Nothing happened. After five minutes or so the mains finally arrived, and we sent them back, reiterating that we wanted to leave.

We then waited over 5 minutes for the check to actually arrive. (I was urging that we should simply leave -- how long could we reasonably be expected to wait?) Now, the one thing that the restaurant could have done at this point to salvage the possibility that we would come back in the future would have been to comp what we had had so far. Of course they didn't.

By now it was probably 11:15. On the way out we told someone whom I presume was the maitre d' that our experience had been pathetic. Delays happen, I told him -- what matters is how you handle the situation. At the very least simply go to the table and apologize for the wait. If it were my restaurant I would, as I said, offer the table a round of champagne, or a salad; something. Just something to suggest that you're aware of the issue, and that you care. This isn't rocket science, I explained; this is basic customer service.

The gentleman's response was hilarious: he said that we didn't give them the opportunity to make the wait up to us. Normally, he said, they would have comped dessert; but we left before the mains. This guy just didn't get it. If a table is waiting for an hour and fifteen minutes in between courses, you have to do something while they're waiting -- even if it's just telling the table that dessert will be on the house. Unbelievable.

My father left no tip, which I don't think he has ever done before; and ordinarily we would not want to punish all of the servers for the errors of one or two, but in this case the problems seemed so systemic.

There is no way that we will return to this restaurant in, say, the next 15 years.

Snootiness is one thing; you can emanate a certain snootiness and still provide the fundamentals of customer service, still show that you care. This was more like sheer and utter cluelessness and indifference, again of a level totally and completely beyond anything we have experienced anywhere in recent memory.

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