I was at an upscale Cleveland restaurant for a wine event. The reception started with a nice California sparkling wine. The server approaches me with a freshly open bottle and pours me a glass. It reeks of cork and I let her know as she pours a splash into my friend’s glass. The server apologizes and takes the two glasses away (my full glass and my friends glass with about an oz of wine in it). She returns with a new bottle, 2 glasses and tells me that this wine smells fine. Curiously, one of the glasses has about an oz of wine in it, and, at first, I thought she meant she opened and checked the new bottle for cork taint. But as she poured the wine, I realize no wine had been poured from the bottle, as well, the glass she gave me was my friend’s glass that she had removed. I was so shocked at what she did; I was speechless! So now I have my friends glass filled with 1oz of corked wine and 3oz good wine. If that wasn’t enough, our server gave the corked bottle to another waiter who was on the other side of the room pouring it off!
The owner of a very upscale restaurant sends over a bottle of 1990 Dunn Cabernet Howell Mountain for my guest and me to enjoy; A very generous gift. The GM brings the wine over in a cradle and carefully presents the 16 year old wine and leaves it on the table for the server to open. There are no service trolleys or side station in the restaurant to decant from so the staff is trained to use a tray jack. I have seen them do this in the past and it is well done. Unfortunately this new server was not properly trained in decanting. He sets up the tray jack with decanter and candle to my right which is technically correct except that his butt is now invading the space of the table next us. I can see the guest is getting agitated as the server is cramped for space and suggest that he may be more comfortable decanting from the head of the table where there is plenty of space. He resets the tray jack but instead of setting up tight on the table he sets up in the middle of traffic. As servers try and move around him, he removes the bottle from the cradle stands it up right and begins to pick the capsule off while trying to make pleasant conversation. It was pretty comical to watch him slowly pick the capsule off piece by tiny piece. Finally, he places the corkscrew auger into the upright bottle but instead of twisting the corkscrew, he begins to twist the bottle and only puts the screw about half way in. This is a 16 year old wine with a fragile cork and as expected the cork breaks. The embarrassed server begins to make excuses and tells us how this has never happed before… blah blah blah. The whole time this is happening not a single server or manager has come to his aid. The restaurant was very busy, but this kid was not only butchering the decant of an old and fairly expensive wine he was obstructing the flow of service. In the end, I got up move the tray jack out of traffic; showed him how to use the screw as a tool; and give him a quick crash course on decanting. I figured it was the least I could do for the comped bottle of Dunn.
My wife and I just spent a week on New Zealand South Island. Beautiful country but the restaurant service had much to be desired. It wasn’t that it was casual service but rather careless or “whatever” service. For the most part servers were nothing more than order takers as they certainly weren’t concerned with customer service. I always felt like I was bothering my server, yet dinning at quality restaurants in NZ was not cheap! At the end of our trip, a glimmer of hope appeared at The Captains Restaurant in Queenstown. WOW! A home run! There were only two people taking care of this small restaurant. They had passion, a desire to serve and knowledge to recommend food and wine. We were planning on dining at another establishment that evening, but on our walk over, Claire, stopped and engaged us in very friendly conversation. She reviewed the specials and enticed us, teased us, sold us on giving it a try. Claire was the manager and she wasn’t finished after she got us in the door. Within 15 minutes she dragged in 4 other groups of people and the small empty place began to feel alive. We decided to sit at the bar. I figured we would have a couple of apps, a few drinks and then head down to the place we originally intended. At the bar, we were greeted by another very friendly and engaging person, bartender/waiter, Eric. He was eager to talk about wine, yet did not push, insist or tell us what to have. He was very good at providing options and style choices for both food and wine. We ended up staying their all night and had a great dinning experience. Claire and Eric communicated well with each other and ran the entire front. What a team! They did it all – sell, bus, get drinks, refill, expedite… Everything! At one point I counted 28 people in the restaurant and believe they did 37 covers that evening. Two people with a passion to serve!