Bitter Taste

Wednesday night, some friends and I planned to have dinner at a restaurant called Silvertone's. I arrived early. The night was warm and the streets were still wet from the rain a few hours before. It was one of those nights where it would be pleasant just to walk around and observe, take some pictures and soak in the atmosphere.

After taking this shot of the window, I went in to look for my friends, but didn't see them. The place seemed to be more of a bar than a restaurant, really loud and crowded. I went back outside and waited for my friends there. When they arrived, I found out that they were not allowed to make reservations and it was going to be a forty-five minute wait.

We decided not to wait and ended up going to the Elephant & Castle Pub & Restaurant. The food was pretty good overall, but the service was... I don't even want to say. Let me describe the experience and you choose the adjectives.

There were five of us, so we knew it could be a wait. We were pleasantly surprised when were seated immediately. My friends and I have decided to try to get together for a nice meal out once a month. This time we were also doing our Christmas gift exchange, so we had a bunch of packages. We sat in our chairs, were getting settled and comfortable when the waitress came over to us and asked us why we were sitting there. No nice greeting, but asked us why we were there. As if we didn't belong. I hate to think that color is an issue here, but we are all black. We also all happen to be attorneys.

So we are all immediately not feeling so happy. One of my friends replied that we had been seated there. The waitress proceeded to say that our being seated there was a mistake. We couldn't sit there. The table was reserved and we would have to move. No smile. Just an accusing look and tone. Now I would have expected her at least to apologize for the mistake, say she was really sorry, that she would find us another table and maybe give us complimentary drinks for our trouble. We were seated right in the middle of the restaurant and we had to gather up all our things and move to another table. It was rather embarassing. Through the entire evening, she never apologizes for this. Why would an establishment want to treat its customers like that?

We get to our much smaller table and wait, wait, and wait for our waitress to come back. I could go through every detail of this meal, but this post is getting too long; it's late and I'm getting annoyed thinking about it again. Quick summary, she didn't bring us napkins or utensils. We had to ask another waiter. She kept disappearing. It certainly put a damper on our gift exchange and left a bitter taste in my mouth.

The experience was the opposite of one that I am reminded of at Le Petit Robert Bistro. It was a different group of friends and I was the only black one. I hate to think it mattered, but you never know. Anyway, it was a birthday celebration and we had reservations. We ended up having to wait for close to an hour, but the staff was really friendly and joking around with us, so it wasn't so bad. And since we seemed to have a nice rapport, I nicely asked if we could have a complimentary bottle of wine for our trouble. They happily obliged. My friends were embarassed that I asked, but I expect good service along with good food.

And for the rest of the evening the food was outstanding and the service was top-notch. I felt that they more than made up for the wait and I suggested at the end that we still give a 20% tip. I had to make my case for the tip to my friends, but we all agreed in the end.

Now for the most recent evening, the service was so bad, even I who just about always gives a 20% tip agreed that it should be minimal at best. We also wrote a note on our receipt explaining why the tip was so low. All of us discussed the "double-edged sword" that we were dealing with. The service was bad, so we wanted to leave a small tip, but we know the stereotype about black people being bad tippers. We were not trying to perpetuate it, but felt we had no choice. Anyway, that was my Wednesday night.


Gunfighter said…
Re: The tip... bad service shouldn't be rewarded with a nice gratuity. Your server is lucky she got anything at all.

Like you, I am generally a 20% tipper, but I won't be nearly so generous to rude or indifferent treatment.
FH said…
Sorry about your bad experience.Atleast you got a free wine out of it and it is well deserved!You were right abt the tipping too:)
About treating black people differently,it happens a lot in the south.Specially in the small towns than cities!That's life unfortunately.
Happy Holidays Anali.Enjoy with your family.
jac said…
For me, if I were you, wont be giving a tip whatever happens.

A tip is
"to give somebody a gift of money in return for a service, especially in addition to what is owed"
so as attorney you need not be told about your right to refuse.

I don't want comment on the black issue, because it pains me to talk about it over and over.

Merry christmas !
wheresmymind said…
Man...if only picked the "Beacon Hill Pub" you could've gone to all the busy after work places for dinner ;)
Kris Lucius said…
so you expect good food and food service, fair enough.

so when you get bad service you withold all or a portion of the tip, completely understood.

but you ask for free stuff as well? I think the tip is kind of there as a retainer, its your leverage to assure proper service, isn't that enough? Talk about a double edged sword!

Sounds like a disappointing time for sure. Perhaps it was because you're black, perhaps its because you decided to have a christmas party at a table in a pub with no reservation or anything when they rely on turning tables over a couple of times a night for their living. I would imagine in a modern city that would be more likely the stereotype of "cheap" than just being black.
Anonymous said…
I used to stop there with a friend who worked nearby in the late 90s, and we were basically ignored too. I'm as white as this text box, but was not wearing a suit or hanging with a bunch of good old boys. There was defintely a regular crowd from the Financial District in those days, and the staff was obviously more attentive to those who fit the image.

Anyway. Sorry you had to put up with that kind of crap, especially on a night of celebration.

I would contact the manager and share your experience, since your note likely made its way to the trash.
Lisa Johnson said…
gunfighter - I hate to not leave anything at all. It makes me feel horrible, but she certainly didn't try to be too nice to us.

asha - The free wine was at a different restaurant. Le Petit Robert Bistro was a great place. I highly recommend it! Happy Holidays to you too!

jac - It is a pain to talk about it over and over. It may not have been an issue, but I guess I'll never know. Merry Christmas to you too!

jeff - I didn't pick either of the restaurants Wednesday, but I think I'm picking next time.

kris - Welcome. You have a right to your opinion of us as cheap, but I have to disagree.

It wasn't a "Christmas party." We had dinner and gave each other one gift. A quick exchange. We would have been out of there sooner if our waitress had come back more often and not left us waiting.

When I suggested the free wine it was with a smile and friendly voice. And at this restaurant, there was a very friendly vibe. If they had said no, that would have been fine too. However it would have conveyed a different message to me about the importance they placed on us as customers. I would not have tried to convince my friends to give the 20% tip.
Lisa Johnson said…
karrie - Welcome! Thank you for sharing your experience.

I'm sorry you were ignored too. Like I said, race may have had nothing to do with it. I just don't know. But being black, it's always a question in the back of my head and my friends had the same feeling.
Suldog said…
I'd suggest writing a friendly letter to the manager or management, nothing accusatory or in a bad-tempered voice (your tone on this blog is just fine, I'd say), saying that you had extremely bad service and that you were very surprised, because you had heard from friends that this was a fine establishment, and that you were embarrassed, etc.

The nice tone puts the management at ease and in your corner, instead of on the defensive.

Mentioning that you have friends who recommended the place will tell them that they not only stand to lose your business, but also that of your friends - and, by extension, their friends and the friends of those friends, etc.

Mentioning your race probably wouldn't hurt. However, that all depends upon whether or not you want to use it. You hope you weren't treated badly because of it, so I suppose you don't want to use it for leverage, either, right? However, nobody wants to even think about a civil rights violation coming down on their head.

I would mention that you and your friends are lawyers, but not use a firm letterhead. My opinion; Your call may be different.

Anyway, doing all or most of the above, I'd be very surprised if you didn't receive an effusive apology in return, as well as free dinner for all of you in future. And it certainly sounds like you deserve it.
Anonymous said…
I go to the E&C once a week or so for the Pub Quiz. I have yet to be impressed with the service. It's adequate at best.
Anonymous said…
I've been to Elephant and Castle several times, it really has so so food and lousy service, which is why I stopped going. Honestly I didn't care for Le Petit Bistro either.
Lisa Johnson said…
suldog - Welcome! Thanks for the comment. Believe me, I'm one of the biggest letter writers out there. I've written hundreds professionally and dozens for personal reasons. However, it has to be worth my time.

I wanted to get out the word of my experience and put this place on notice that they will be called out for treating people badly. Thankfully adamg at Universal Hub helped me spread the word. Now when someone Googles this place, hopefully my post will come up.

Boston is a small town; people hear things. Instead of 6 degrees of separation, it's more like 1 or 2. If management wants to contact me to apologize, they can email me.

kat - Welcome! It seems to be the overriding theme that this place is just not up on their service.

a.r. - Thanks for stopping by! It's very interesting seeing the comments here. Nobody seems too impressed with E&C. I wonder why people keep going back. I'm surprised about Le Petit, but maybe it was an off night when you went.
Mosilager said…
My friends and I had a similar experience at a Chinese restaurant in Lafayette - although I think it was because we looked like college students vs. other customers who looked like they were parents of college students. Probably the hope of a better tip was the reason.
Lisa Johnson said…
mosilager - It really annoys me when waitstaff treat people based on how they think will be tipped when judging a customer by appearance. I don't think all waitstaff are like that, but there are at least a few.

Everyone should be treated well and I'm sure there have been more than a few times when customers who were judged one way, tipped in the totally opposite way.
Sai said…
Hey that waitress needs to get fired! It might also be a case of sour grapes because clearly you are more successful than she can ever think of being :-)The world is full of ignorant, prejudiced people.

Anali, it was your generosity that you even paid gratuity! Again she deserved to get fired.
I agree with the above -- that waitress could be canned if the owner ever heard about her behavior. As a former food service worker -- over 20 years in the trenches, more than 10 as a waitress, I can tell you that kind of behavior is Never ok, and you probable will get a free meal if you write a letter (and you should). Who knows what her deal was. Maybe she didn't want another table and took it out on you. Maybe the table was reserved but she was too bitter or absorbed in her feud with the hostess to be nice to you. Maybe it was racially motivated (as in profiling diners/tippers by race. Nationality profiling can be pretty bad too, diners from Europe are often thought to be the worst tippers of all). Maybe her rudeness was motivated by gender discrimination. Were you all women? (Also known ; ) to be terrible tippers especially when in groups, not to mention that whole split the bill thing : ) But I would put my money on burned out bitter waitress syndrome. I have to say, I have had some APALLING service in Boston. Once we waited for over 10 minutes for a waiter because our waitress was late for work (heh, that is not my problem. Send the busboy to take my drink order). And when did hosts stop making immediate eye contact? Every restaurant I ever worked in had the 30 second rule, SOMEBODY make eye contact and greet a customer within 30 seconds of when they walk in the door. It is almost as if there are just so many people that waitstaff and hosts don’t care how they treat people because they are not accountable. Of course waiters and waitresses often don't get a lot of respect, or as much as they deserve, even when they are excellent at their jobs. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting. Sorry you had such a bad experience. I think it is GREAT that you left a note explaining why you left a bad tip! And I really hope that you write a letter, which would be wonderful for both the restaurant and future customers.
Nance said…
Bad service at a restaurant, regardless of the reason, is inexcusable. Restaurants exist by virtue of word-of-mouth. Here in the Cleveland area, restaurants close with alarming regularity, yet going out to eat is the most popular weekend activity. You're doing them a favor by writing that letter and explaining your poor experience, so think whether or not you want to do that favor. ;-)
Lisa Johnson said…
sai - Thanks for the kind words! : ) As rude as she was to us, I'd still feel guilty if she were fired. How crazy is that?

imagined-community - Thank you for so much insight! Very interesting! I never knew that groups of women are considered to be bad tippers.

Hmmm. Burned out bitter waitress syndrome, that could be it. I agree that waiting tables is one of the hardest jobs. Having to deal with the public all the time can be excruciating. People can be so disrespectful, but it definitely goes both ways.

nance - Restaurants close a lot in Boston too. It's such a tough business. Everyone universally seems to want me to write the letter, but I don't know if I have it in me. We'll see.
Lotus Reads said…
Ohhh, Anali, the server sounds like an awful person. The experience must have left a bad taste in your mouth, literally. Still, you were nice enough to leave them a tip and I think it's great you left a note explaining why the tip was low...I hope someone with some authority reads your comments and has a word with the server, she's obviously cost them...I don't think you or your friends are ever going back to that establishment again and if I'm ever in Boston, neither will I.
Lisa Johnson said…
lotus reads - I certainly have no plans to return there. Thanks for the support!
PunditMom said…
What a horrible story. I find that this sort of thing happens when the party os mostly or all women, as well .. supposedly we're bad tippers, too. Funny thing is, I usually tip 20% and go down from there for bad service.

I hope you also had a chance to talk with the management. There is just no excuse for that treatment.
Lisa Johnson said…
punditmom - I never knew about groups of women being considered bad tippers until it was mentioned as a comment earlier. I guess our group had a double whammy. I haven't spoken to management or written a letter at this point.
Anonymous said…
My name is Mary Martin and I am the General Manger of the Elephant and Castle. I have become aware of the situation and would like to address the comments of this blog. At our pub, we strive to provide excellent service to our guests, and of course are concerned anytime a guest has a less than satisfactory experience. When this does happen, I seek to address the issue and make sure that I have improved the situation with the guest.
I would also like to address the comments where the guest percieved that the service was based in discrimination. I would like to assure you that at the Elephant & Castle diversity is a key component of our culture both with our guests, as well as is reflected in our employee group. Here at our Pub, we employ people from all races and ethnic origins, including several African Americans.
I would like to invite the guest who placed the original post to contact me, so that I can extend my apologies and try to amend the situation.
Mary Martin
Anonymous said…
Sounds like an attorney who likes to make problems. There was nothing that said your treatment was because you are BLACK. Maybe the waitess had a bad day, a break up etc... The race card has run it's course in America. You are lucky to have previously gotten a bottle of wine for your whinning...most people have to wait, they don't expect something for a norml occurance. I think everytime you had a bad day or not the attitude demanded you blame everyone else of a different race, or your parents who gave birth to a child of color. I am a black man as well, so sit down, shut up and look in the mirror sambo
Lisa Johnson said…
anonymous - Usually I welcome new people to my blog, but with your calling me a sambo, please know that I do not welcome that kind of language and disrespect here. You obviously have many issues with race to contend with, which are too deep for me to even begin to address.

I never said that I knew positively that it was based on race, however we all had a general feeling that it was a possibility. If you knew me, you would so know that the "race card" is not my thing. I don't think it is "whining" when we had reservations for a set time and we had to wait for an hour.

If you had read this post and the comments that I made back in a more thorough manner, these things that I have just noted would have been quite apparent to you.

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