Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

gilt trip

We need to have a discussion about something I normally spend very little time discussing in this space:


In order for me to have a quality experience at a good restaurant anywhere, the service needs to be at least decent. In the case of a restaurant on any kind of prestigious list, it should be very good, if not perfect.

I had some unexpectedly bad service last night. At a very good restaurant. During a very important occasion: Michonne’s birthday dinner.

She put me in charge of orchestrating her birthday dinner. I was given a list of people to invite and instructions to give her no other information other than when to be ready. After a couple of missteps (attempting to book two of the most exclusive, in-demand restaurants in the city–The Publican, and Girl and the Goat–with no success) I chose a place called Gilt Bar, which is on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list (2 courses and dessert or wine for under $40). Given that the Michelin people don’t select just any restaurant for this list, I figured it would be excellent.

The food was wonderful. Appetizers were huge, entrees were small-ish, and drink selection was impressive. Everything was spectacular, from the roasted bone marrow and steak tartare appetizers to my bolognese and M’s pork belly.

M’s sister surprised her for the event with a trip from Michigan, and some of her closest friends in the city came for the occasion. It was a good time.

Until the check came. At that point, our waitress, Amie, went from accommodating and patient to snarky and downright apathetic.

Early in the meal, I sensed something was amiss. She did not advise us on the fact that our appetizers, all served with toast, were going to be huge. After three pieces of toast slathered in the roasted bone marrow and dressed with the onion jam, I was already full. A plate of bone marrow, tartare, and foie gras pate would have been plenty for the entire table to share. Since you all know, constant reader, that I work retail, I knew what she was doing: upselling. Raising the tab, and therefore the tip.

She also advised a couple of our friends that the gnocchi (which is fundamentally starch) was only a six-ounce serving and they should order two (they didn’t). I love gnocchi, as you all know from my experience at Frontier, and knew she was trying to upsell them as well.

Entrees were also excellent. However, we (M, her sister, and I) believe that if we’d been informed that the appetizers were huge and that we didn’t need to order so many, more of us would have ordered entrees, and the check would have been about the same.

Once the check arrived, we began to do math to figure out what each of us owed. There was some confusion as to what everyone owed with tax and tip included. Once the waitress saw that we were taking longer than she liked, she became slightly impatient. Instead of offering to split the check up between the parties, she left us to deal with the confusion.

There were other issues that I didn’t witness firsthand but there were a pair of conversations between M’s sister and Amie that were obviously frustrating and even aggravating. I can’t recount them because I didn’t hear everything, but I caught bits and pieces, and was also not pleased.

As soon as we stood up to leave, she and a couple other people swooped in to clear the space. There was no one waiting for our table and the whole last part of the evening left us feeling rushed.

A server’s job in a restaurant such as Gilt Bar, a respected restaurant with a great review in the Michelin Guide, is to listen to the customer’s needs and offer recommendations but also give us comfort in knowing that we aren’t ordering too much food. It’s also her job to ensure we enjoy our experience. If that means allowing a guest to linger a bit over dessert or drinks, so be it. If it means the guests need to take a little longer to ensure she gets paid and tipped appropriately, step aside and let them do it. Never should the guests feel they’re being rushed off a table, even if there is a line out front (which there wasn’t at Gilt). The diners pay for the luxury of having the meal prepared for them and the time in which to consume it. Don’t make them feel like they have to earn it.


Food alone: Food Porn
Service alone: Rachael Ray
Full Experience: It Does Not Suck

Last word: Go. The food and the atmosphere were wonderful. Just pray you don’t get Amie as your server.

Gilt Bar is a 2011 and 2012 Michelin Bib Gourmand selection, and is at 230 West Kinzie Street in River North.


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