Bad Restaurant Karma

Pretty much anyone who’s ever been out at a restaurant with me knows I am cursed.  I must have done something really bad to the service industry in a past life ( in this life I used to be a waitress), because pretty much wherever I go something goes wrong.

Israel is not known for its amazing customer service.  Needless to say, in Israel the customer is usually wrong. Last year, on our anniversary, we went to one particularly famous chef’s restaurant and had to ask for water 6 times before we finally got it.  Folks, I know it’s free but water must be categorized as a human right somewhere, let the people drink.  To throw salt into our already painful wounds, at the end of the evening the manager brought us over a free piece of cake but made sure to say: “this isn’t because you didn’t get your water.”  WTF.

Despite the usually grim experience, every once in a while when you get that amazing customer service experience that blows your mind.

Last week we had a friend in town and booked table last minute reservation at Bertie’s.  Since we were planning on hanging out with friends, and having quite a bit to drink, I wasn’t planning on writing a review and didn’t even bother bringing my camera.  However, since this was probably the most unbelievably bad/amazing service I have ever had in my eating career in Israel, I thought I’d throw together a kind of hybrid post on service in in general and Bertie’s in particular.

Long story short, or long, here we go.  We had been to Bertie’s a couple of times before, but mainly had drinks and snacks(which we were impressed by) so we didn’t know exactly what to expect at a full-fledged dinner.  Despite the downpour earlier that evening the place was heaving (with great tunes playing) and we had to wait a few minutes for our table.  And so it seemed that the terrible service had begun.  But, amazingly we were warned about the possible wait when we called to make our last minute reservation and second, to make the wait more enjoyable we were brought out some complimentary cava.

When we were seated and the waitress finally came by to take our order and explain the specials we decided to order a bottle of wine along with dinner.  15 minutes later – no wine, don’t even bother asking about the food.  I finally managed to flag down another waitress to ask about the wine and to make sure our order had actually been put in and she quickly went to get the wine and assured me that out order had been put in.  Ten minutes later (so we’re talking 25 minutes after ordering) still no sign of our food.

At this point I notice that the table behind us, which had definitely arrived after us and had their order taken later was happily munching away on their appetizers.  Clearly the hostess noticed the look in my eye, because five minutes later (order time + 30) our appetizers (Tuna tartar with avocado cream and pickled radishes & Grilled octopus and cabbage each 58NIS)  had arrived with an additional free appetizer Mussels, artichokes, tomatoes and capers (56NIS).  They clearly knew they had done us wrong, but were making a clear effort to rectify the situation (although all three dishes were phenomenal – the octopus arrived lukewarm).  Compliments flowed at our table about both the food and the impressive service.

Since they had clearly noticed things were going awry at our table, I figured it was smooth sailing from here on in.  Nope, clearly I had seriously angered the restaurant gods that day.  45 minutes later (i.e. order time + 75) we were still waiting on our main courses.  Although the conversation was lively, at some point something had to be said.  Once again I called the hostess over to figure out what was going on.  She already knew, she informed us that the food was on its way out right now, but that not to worry we’d be taken care of.  Two minutes later our food arrived (Crystal Shrimp, Jerusalem artichoke and Tehina 79NIS, Veal cheek with Turkish spinach and malawach 88 NIS & Sweetbreads, lentils and bonfire potatoes 98NIS). The food was great – particularly the bonfire roasted potatoes and the sweetbreads (yes, definitely a flexitarian evening).

And then nothing.  Our original waitress had clearly been told to stay away from us for fear of a reprisal, but no one even came by to ask if we wanted a coffee or even atrempt an upsell on the deserts.  We were confused… and then a steady stream of deserts started to magically appear at our table:  Cheese cream with grilled quince, Malabi with rose water marmalde and kadaif noodles  and Date Ma’amool (Moroccan date cookies), Tulum cheese and honey (38NIS each). On the house.

We left Bertie’s very full and satisfied despite the service hiccups.  We’ll definitely be back

Israeli restaurant industry folk take note – either keep your service up to par or get with the program.

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