Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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Leave the Check. Take the Respect.
Thursday, October 19, 2017 -- I'm a guy who pays what he owes. If somebody hands me a bill that's incorrect--meaning they neglect to charge for an item or a service that I have indeed received--I will alert them to the error and fork over the correct amount, no matter how great. It's the right thing to do. What goes around comes around and all that.
The only place where I do not apply this ethical code is with airlines. Should one of them undercharge me for anything at any time you can be sure my lips will remain tighter than an unshucked oyster staring down a happy hour. That goes double if it is ever United Airlines that errs to my side of the ledger. I would actually steal from those dirtbags if I thought I could get away with it.
No entity abuses and disrespects its customers the way the modern-day airline industry does. But we pay those crooked, lying, heartless bastards because we have no choice. Sure, it is possible to avoid certain carriers on occasion, but the no-service, nickel-and-dime, screw-you policies of one airline aren't much different from another. We pay--and pray for the best come travel day.
Once we're onboard and the cabin door closes things are pretty much hopeless. What are we gonna do, leave? Regulators and law enforcement--and even other passengers--take a dim view of anyone who tries to open an exit door in- flight.
The restaurant industry could not be more different. Unlike the airline bosses, most restaurant owners live and die by what we think about them. Every single day they're judged and held accountable for their actions. Sure, we want the food to be good, but more than that we want the overall experience to be pleasant and satisfying. The No. 1 reason people choose a restaurant isn't the food but atmosphere--and key to that is the service.
Simply put, people just want to be treated with care. To paraphrase Fredo in The Godfather Part II, we want respect.
Sadly, I recently had an airline-type experience at a restaurant. And I decided to fight back in exactly the same way I have always wanted to fight back against the airlines.
My wife and I were staying at the Hyatt Place in Flushing, Queens, just 2.5 miles from LaGuardia Airport. It's a swell choice should you ever be in the market, not because it's such a comfortable hotel (which it most certainly is) or because it's a good airport hotel (which it is), but because of its location. It's in the heart of New York's most dynamic, fastest-growing "Chinatown." You can walk from your hotel to some of the most authentic Asian restaurants in North America. It's why we chose the Hyatt Place on this trip.
My wife had spent hours researching the neighborhood food scene and knew all the top names within striking distance of the Hyatt. Still, choosing only one place to have dinner was excruciatingly difficult. We decided to take a stroll and make a decision in real time instead.
Within two blocks of the Hyatt we came upon a restaurant whose name we know very well. The owners have several fine Chinese restaurants in Manhattan. We know this because we've eaten at them many times through the years and have always enjoyed them very much.
"Why didn't you tell me this was here?" I asked, certain that a restaurant with such a pedigree would have appeared in my wife's very thorough research of the area.
"I didn't know," she answered, looking as surprised as me. "This doesn't make any sense. How could it not have been on any of the lists?"
The restaurant was packed. It was just a 10-minute wait for a table, though, and so we stood by and studied the menu, anticipating a great meal ahead.
"All our favorites are here," my wife said smiling. "Now I'm really confused how I didn't hear about this being here."
Around 15 minutes after being seated some clues started to emerge. We'd been completely ignored. Not a single person had come to our table to greet us, not even to offer a glass of water. After 20 minutes, I got up, found the woman who'd seated us and asked that she please have somebody come take our order. She seemed nonplussed. I left her not feeling at all certain of a satisfactory outcome.
More minutes passed. As my wife was collecting her purse to leave, a young man in a black shirt--not one of the waiters, who wore white--finally approached the table to take our order. It did not go well. My query about wine--they have a list--was met with something approaching "We have glasses of red and white, which do you want?" It took another 10 minutes or so to put my hands on the wine list, at which point I could have guzzled a whole bottle of red and white all by myself.
I won't bore you with all the details because the entire evening went this way. My wife and I watched in amazement as a packed dining room with perhaps a hundred other diners appeared to be running smoothly. Except, that is, for our table.
By the time we were through with our meal--a very fine meal, by the way, really top-notch food--my wife and I had almost managed to put the horrendous service experience in the rear view.
That is, until nobody would give us our check. Hell, they wouldn't even look at us. No eye contact whatsoever. Zero. No matter how hard either of us tried to draw attention.
Five minutes passed, then 10 and then 15.
"I wonder if they'll notice if we get up to leave?" I said.
At which point I suggested my wife leave the restaurant on her own. I did this knowing that it would not be cause for action against her on the restaurant's part, as I was still seated and willing to pay the bill, if provided.
For another five minutes or so I tried, to no avail, to get somebody's attention. And so I, too, got up and left.
Back at the hotel we looked up the restaurant on the Web. Sure enough, the service gets awful reviews, which may explain the place's absence on any of the "Best of" lists.
Checking out of the Hyatt the next morning, I had a strong urge to go back to the restaurant and make good on my debt. I'm still considering sending them a check.
Then again, another part of me said they just got what was coming to them.
If only I could get away with this kind of thing with United.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.