I was at Orson the other night, for the second time in the last couple of months, and had a similar experience both times: good to excellent food (especially desserts and drinks), but the meal was marred by service breakdowns that left me uninterested in returning.
The first time we went was a couple of months back. The place was packed, and they missed an 8:00 reservation by an hour and a half. I can live with a 20 minute wait for a reserved table at a popular place, but an hour and a half is evidence of a complete failure in planning. The manager recognized the problem, and comped our drinks, which made me feel somewhat better, but I’ve eaten in lots of restaurants in the city and this is the worst I’ve seen (though Saisson was a close second).
However, I’m a reasonable guy, so I figured I’d give the place a second chance, hoping that either we’d hit them on a bad night or they’d since worked out the kinks.
We had an 8:00 reservation last Saturday night. No problem being seated. The place was only about a quarter full, which is a bad sign on a Saturday night, particularly compared to the crowds the last time we were there.
Our problem this time was amateurish service. About three minutes after our soup plates had been put down, a waiter, or possibly a busboy, brought out our entrees. We weren’t done with our soup. We weren’t close to being done with our soup. Our table was a smallish two-top, and the guy stood there trying to figure out how to wedge in the entrée plates. He finally gave up and asked us where we wanted them, as if we had a spare table lying about someplace. When we explained that we were still working on the soup and would actually prefer to wait on the entrée, he took them away, presumably to wait under a heat lamp until our soup was done.
Five minutes later our waitress came by to ask how things were doing, and was shocked when we told her the entrees had come and gone in her absence.
When the entrees came the second time, they were missing a side I’d ordered (the duck fat fries), something I know the waitress heard because I talked to her about it.
To add insult to injury, the next day I got an email from OpenTable, stating that Orson had reported we didn’t show up for the reservation, and asking whether anything was wrong. Note that when we showed up I'd checked in with the front desk at the restaurant, telling them we had a reservation and giving them my name.
In the overall scheme of things, unprofessional service is not the biggest deal in the world, but Orson is not terribly cheap, and this is the second time I’ve had a problem with the service there. I’m left to wonder whether the entrees we ended up with were shoved under a heat lamp for fifteen minutes while we worked on the soup, and why they would have prepared the dishes a solid 15 minutes before they could possibly be served. Again, the restaurant was less than half full, so I can’t believe the kitchen was under any significant strain.
I’d like to like this place. The drinks are good, the food is good, and the desserts are excellent. But San Francisco isn’t exactly lacking in dining options, and I’m having trouble figuring out why I should continue to patronize a restaurant that doesn’t seem to be able to get its act together.