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Monday, June 27, 2005

David learns yet another lesson from his wife

(Also known as 'The redemption of a restaurant')

I apologize for being a bad journaler.  I promised that I would provide the end of the #23 story from my birthday list either yesterday or today, and here it is today... and still nothing!

The post is actually written and ready to go, but I have some pictures that I forgot to ask my lovely wife (A.K.A. the keeper of all the cool graphic designer electronic toys) to scan for me. 

I mean, who doesn't love pictures with a story, right?

Also, instead of reminding Zahava to scan the pictures for me yesterday I spent the day bad-assing (I'm pretty sure there really is such a word, although my spell checker is giving me the squiggly line of scorn), around the beautiful blue Mediterranean with the Israel Navy on one of their newest (and fastest) vessels.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself at how unbelievably cool my job is!

So, instead of the illusive conclusion to #23, I will share a restaurant experience (two actually) for your dining and dancing pleasure.  Seriously, who doesn't have ten great restaurant stories, right?  They are almost as common as blind date stories! ;-)

A few months ago when my parents were visiting we all went out for a nice dinner in Jerusalem.  Despite dire warnings from our friend Noa, we went to an upscale eatery called Limonim.  It is located in Jerusalem's historic Khan theater complex, a 14th century structure which had originally been used as an inn for visiting pilgrims.  With such an ancient reputation for hospitality how could we go wrong?

We made a 7:00 reservation, and uncharacteristically arrived exactly on time.

When we walked into the restaurant, the place was only about half full and we were quickly seated at a nearby table. 

That was the last quick thing that happened.

We watched in growing frustration as people continued to arrive... be seated... be served food... all while we had yet to be asked for our orders. 

After several futile efforts to get our waitress's attention I finally got up and intercepted her as she was bringing a first course to a couple that had arrived 10 minutes after us.

I told her that we would like to order and that we would at least like to have a pitcher of water while we waited.  She nodded and set off for points unknown.

After another 10 minutes with no more progress towards ordering, I got up and again blocked her progress as she tried to sneak more food past our table.  I said, "This is really not nice!  We have been here for over 20 minutes... If you don't want to take our order we will have to go somewhere else."

Customer service is a relatively recent innovation here in the holy land, and in this case she reverted to instinct rather than training.  Rather than apologize and say something like, "I'm sorry, it's very busy tonight (it wasn't)", or "I'll be right with you, I had no idea you had been waiting so long!" (she did), she fixed me with an icy stare and said, "Well, I'm here now!"

We ordered salads, soups, main course and a bottle of wine... and before she went away I reminded her again that we would really appreciate a pitcher of water since my parents were parched from the dry Jerusalem air.

She turned on her heel and didn't come within 20 feet of our table for another 10 or 15 minutes.  No water.  No bread.  Bupkes!

I finally walked over to a man who seemed to be the Maitre d' /manager and explained what was going on.  I pointed out our 7:00 reservation in his book and mentioned that it was now almost 7:40 and we had not had so much as a drink of water... and that we were leaving. 

The truth is that we were all starving by this point, but on principal I didn't want to give them my hard-earned money.  Besides, it really is foolhardy to get into a pissing match with someone who is going to have unfettered access to your food before you eat it.  No, we were leaving.

In any normal restaurant in the world the manager would try to persuade the guest to stay... offer an apology and a complimentary bottle of wine... something!  The gentleman just shrugged and said 'good night' (and not in a nice way).

Luckily we ended up having a really nice dinner at a nearby restaurant after only a short wait for a table to open up.

The next morning I woke up and wrote a scathing account of our experience at Limonim and scheduled it to publish on both treppenwitz and Isreality at noon.  I also intended to submit a review to eLuna (a great resource for dining in Israel).

One of the reasons I don't publish any of my journal entries right after writing them is that a few hours often allows me to cool down... not to mention that it gives my wife's well-developed 'uh-oh' meter a chance to kick in and for her to talk me down from whatever tree I've climbed into.

In this case Zahava gently suggested that I not publish the reviews, and talked me into calling Limonim's owner to tell him about our experience.

When I spoke with the owner he was genuinely shocked at what I told him (I have a finely tuned BS detector), and spent several minutes asking detailed questions about what had happened (all the while making those little clucking/grunting sounds we all make while writing stuff down).  He then apologized profusely and asked that I take his personal cell phone number and to please call him directly if we would like to give him an opportunity to make up for our shabby treatment. 

I was mollified enough by the owner's apology that I decided to delete the hatchet jobs I had put on hold at Zahava's request.  However, I really didn't want to go back, so I tossed the scrap of paper with his cell phone number into a desk drawer and forgot about it.

Last week Zahava wanted to take me out to dinner for my birthday and asked if I would consider trying Limonim again.  Enough time had passed that I figured, why not give them another chance? 

Remarkably enough, I was actually able to lay my hands on the owner's cell phone number... and on the way home from work I called him up.  It was immediately clear that he remembered me.  He apologized that he was not in the restaurant at the moment, but assured me that if I would call and make a reservation he would see to it that we would be well taken care of.

The difference in our dining experience was like night and day.  When we walked in we were greeted by name and escorted to a nicely situated table next to a window that overlooked the ancient courtyard of the inn.  Between our very attentive waitress's frequent visits to our table, several other waiters casually stopped by to make sure we were enjoying everything and to see if we needed anything... anything at all.

Our meal was beyond delicious and every detail of the experience from soup to dessert was perfect. When I finished my espresso (tall, of course) I was in heaven!

When the check came the total had been crossed out and replaced with a number half as big next to the words "50% discount with our apologies".  The only awkward part was that the gratuity was included in the bill and I felt terrible that a wonderful waitress was forced to take a 50% hit on her tip because of the bad service we had received from some (presumably) former employee.  We resolved this by adding back in the other half of her tip (and then some).

The reason I wanted to share this long, rambling restaurant story is that dining out is often fraught with emotional undercurrents... especially among those of us for whom dining out is a relatively rare treat.   We invest a lot of emotional energy in the anticipation and enjoyment of these occasions, and when things go badly, we can be very quick to scratch an eatery off of our 'list' and to tell our friends to black-list it as well. 

But this experience has taught me that good restaurants sometimes have bad nights (and bad waitstaff), and if you give them the chance... they will sometimes bend over backwards to try to make things right.

I'm glad (once again) that I listened to my wife.  Thanks again for the birthday dinner, honey!


Posted by David Bogner on June 27, 2005 | Permalink


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Great story! I'm glad everything worked out the way it did.

Posted by: AmyS | Jun 27, 2005 2:11:22 PM

There is a wonderful Georgian restaurant in Jerusalem called Kangaroo. It's located on Rivlin downtown. I've been there twice. Once was with a group of five people. Each person's entree came out of the kitchen individually. It was kind of funny. On the second visit, the same thing happened. It's pretty cute. Their kitchen is so small that they can't cook too many things at the same time. So when you go just be prepared to taste and share as dishes come out.

The service is great - very "family" style and the food is very yummy.

I think that you have a very smart wife!

Posted by: John | Jun 27, 2005 2:32:05 PM

I've had a couple of excellent meals there but given your first experience and Noa's unhappy evening, I'm inclined not to recommend it - particularly when you have such gems as Lugar, Joy, Olive and Gabriel on the Jerusalem culinary scene.


Posted by: gil ben mori | Jun 27, 2005 5:06:49 PM

I'm still inclined to agree with Gilly on this one. Its very nice that you were given excellent treatment after the owner took the matter into his own hands. But you ahd to go through really crappy treatment in order to be treated the way you would be treated the FIRST time you walked into any of the restaurants Gilly mentioned.


Posted by: Noa | Jun 27, 2005 5:17:14 PM

Um, yeah. I agree with the above but can you email me the owner's cell phone number anyway? ;)

Posted by: Harry | Jun 27, 2005 5:34:15 PM

You had out-of-town guests and didn't take them to Cardo Culinario?! Ok, maybe that's not parents material... ;o)

I'm glad you finally got decent treatment, even if you had to twist arms to manage it. So, would you really go back? (You can tell the hundreds of us. We can keep a secret.)

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 27, 2005 6:30:58 PM

As a waitress, I have to say that sometimes people just don't get it. Seriously... When you have seven different tables asking you for twenty different things and you have only two hands, it gets quite complicated. Add to that co-workers who may be less than helpful and bosses who may not be exceptionally calm at the moment, well it's just not fun. We may not look that busy to you, and your request may seem insignificant, but...uh...let's just say it isn't. I don't know what happened in your case because I wasn't their, but I implore you all to realize that if you have a bad experience, don't blacklist the place forever, you don't know what's happening behind the scenes.

Posted by: tmeishar | Jun 27, 2005 7:15:26 PM

What would we do without our wives.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 27, 2005 7:18:52 PM

Not knowing what is going on behind the scenes is one reason why I asked David not to post his original review. However, in this case, our original waitress had only two tables besides ours (the restaurant was basically empty due to the early hour). She may have had other reasons for having an off night (fight with her boyfriend, fight with family, bad day in general....) but they weren't being overwhelmed with clientele.

Other reasons why I asked David to refrain from publishing were: 1) we'd received RAVE reviews from several other folks who'd had marvelous experiences there, 2) it was obvious that the other diners with other waiters/waitresses were receiving better service, and most importantly 3) even with the restaurant half empty, there was a lot of staff present (three or four other wait-staff, someone behind the bar, several folks in the kitchen, and the absent manager) and I didn't think it fair that a pan should affect the ability to make parnasa (a living) for the folks who WERE doing their jobs.

I think that folks in the food-industry are often held to a scrutiny that most of us couldn't hold up under. These folks often get only one chance to make an impression, cause let's face it, who's going to waste their hard earned money and leisure time seconding a bomb?

That being said, I do think that many waiters and waitresses don't realize the impact their demeanor has on a diner's experience. All this girl had to do was smile pleasantly, apologize, and get a pitcher of water (the glasses were already on the table). Instead she got surly and rude, which after 40 minutes of studiously avoiding us, was inexcusable behaviour on her part.

I would have no problem recommending Limonim to anyone, and would definitely go back. Our second visit found the food excellent, presented nicely, with lovely service and reasonably priced selections.

Furthermore, while the owner had indicated that he would see that we were compensated for our first experience, it is not like he lured us in with promises. David and I both assumed that either the drinks or the dessert would be gratis, and certainly NEVER dreamed that there would be a 50% reduction to our bill! We ordered as we did fully expecting to pay accordingly, and even without the very generous 50% reduction, would have been happy to recommend them based on the food and the service we received on his birthday.

Posted by: zahava | Jun 27, 2005 8:27:49 PM

AmyS... What I neglected to mention to the non-Hebrew speaking readers is something that is obvious to you and me; the name of the restaurant. Limonim is the Hebrew word for 'Lemons'. In this case we were lucky enough to end up with lemonade.

John... I'm not familiar with Georgian cuisine... I'll have to look into that one. Oh, and I agree with your last statement (hi honey).

Gilly... Believe it or not, we haven't eaten at any of the ones you named! Thanks for the list, though. Now I know where we're going to have to eat the next four times we go out! :-)

Noa... With the number of times we go out to eat averaging about once every two or three months... it will be sometime late next year before we finish with Gilly's list. If they're still in business by then I will assume that they have gotten their act together and sorted out all the problems.

Harry... Nice try. Let's say that Zahava and I do decide to go back there some day and the manager recognizes me as the one who passed out his private number... the conversation in the kitchen would go something like this: "OK Tali, you see the couple sitting at table number 7? I want you to make sure they get only water from the toilet and make their soup and entrees 'sneezers', OK?" No thanks. :-)

Tanya... Unfortunately, the place you mentioned was one of the casualties of the intifada. When all the tourists started staying away in droves, many restaurants and clubs had to close their doors. And yeah... I would probably go back. But it sounds like I have a lot of places to try before I do.

Tmeishar... I waited tables during my University days. I know it is a very difficult job and that you rarely get noticed by the customers unless you screw something up. But as my wife pointed out, there was simply no reason for the lack of service we received. And as to knowing what goes on behind the scenes, that is why I don't eat out much. :-)

Jack... sit around the house in our underwear, watching TV and consuming nothing but pizza and beer. Oh, I see ... that was supposed to be a rhetorical questions! :-)

Posted by: David | Jun 27, 2005 9:18:00 PM

Jack... sit around the house in our underwear, watching TV and consuming nothing but pizza and beer. Oh, I see ... that was supposed to be a rhetorical questions! :-)

Is it wrong to admit that I aspire to being able to sit around the house in my underwear, watching TV and consuming nothing but pizza and beer.

In my house I have already figured out how to make the trash invisible, or so I am told. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Jun 27, 2005 9:53:25 PM

Ach. That's heartbreaking. I've frequently mentioned Cardo Culinario as my favorite restaurant in the world (and I've been to a lot of places). Just one more reason to hurry toward peace, I guess.

p.s. - Georgian cuisine is lovely, but Georgian wine is brilliant. ;o)

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 28, 2005 12:56:46 AM

Belated Happy Birthday!

I have my own restaurant story, though unfortunately it doesn't have such a happy ending.

Around my college we have a great number of small ethnic restaurants, the kind you've mentioned where they only bring you one dish at a time. Which is perfect for me; I don't like noise and large groups of people.

Anyway, last year I decided to check out a cool-sounding Peruvian restaurant a few blocks away and brought my friend along. Now, both of us were only 19, short, with no makeup, and might have looked even younger than we were, so that may have affected the way we were treated... but still it wasn't an excuse.

The service was as slow as your description of Limonim, even though they only had a couple other costumers. The menu didn't have an English translation for the very specific Peruvian dishes, and when we asked the waiter who served us to translate he was very condescending and reluctant about it. He treated us as if we were little children or bums with no money all throughout.

At the end of the meal (at least the food was good!), it turned out that neither of us had change, so we asked the waiter to ask the owner about it. The waiter said that they didn't have change either. Meanwhile, a wealthy-looking middle-aged couple at the table next to us also didn't have change and we observed the waiter approach them very respectfully and hand them the change.

When he returned with the bill, we gave him $20 that we owed him, but we didn't give him a tip,primarily because we didn't have change (and we weren't about to tip him another $20), and even if we had some, we wouldn't have given him anything, because the service was atrocious, and didn't deserve to be honored. However, we didn't say that to the waiter.

When we gave him the money, he said in this very condescending voice: "You may not be from New York, you're probably foreigners, but here in New York you're required to tip, so that you'd know for next time". Which is a lie, of course. Some very fance restaurants have mandatory tipping, and most decent people tip out of politeness, but this place wasn't the kind to rate mandatory, nor did the waiter deserve respect if he wasn't respectful to the paying customers.

Neither of us has been there since.

Posted by: Irina | Jun 28, 2005 5:57:03 AM

Jack... Trash? What is this trash of which you speak??? :-)

Tanya... The Intifada was partly (some would say mostly) an economic war. The Palestinians figured out that for a country like Israel, where more than 50% of the economy is based on tourism, a few well placed terror attacks would keep nearly all the tourists away. They were right. The war that Arafat launched after turning down Barak's offer at camp David was designed to strangle Israel... and it worked. Tourism has started to recover, but many of the wonderful eateries and clubs that you knew from your last visit are now just fond memories (for you) and shattered dreams (for the former proprietors).

Thank you Irina! I hope you didn't go back! Trying to take advantage of someone like that is worse than poor service.

Posted by: David | Jun 28, 2005 11:51:54 AM

I've thought about this before. It doesn't sit right with me when people say a restarunt is bad based on one experience. Maybe this is true in other arenas too?

Posted by: rabbifleischmann | Jul 1, 2005 2:06:45 AM

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