Poste at the Hotel Monaco: Zen and the Art of Bad Service

Great service is anticipatory, your needs are met before you realize you have them so that a dining experience seems effortless with staff unobtrusive.

Furthermore, good service means accomodating guests’ preferences and requests rather than sticking to and enforcing the restaurant’s routines on patrons.

The best example I can think of for this is the Inn at Little Washington. Customers often report not even having to identify themselves by name upon entering, somehow the restaurant knows who you are (easy to do if expecting a few guests at a particular time, and you know that there are several 50 year anniversaries, you deduce the names of the 30-year old couple from among those not celebrating an anniversary). But once you identify yourselves there, everyone in the restaurant knows who you are.

The Inn provides all guests with personalized menus. After ordering, the menus are taken away. On my way out the door in December I was asked if I wanted my menu back. I did, and they gave it to me. I didn’t even realize until the next day that I wasn’t asked my name. The woman handing me my menu just knew — though I hadn’t met her earlier in the evening.

Now, not every restaurant is the Inn at Little Washington, and I don’t expect that kind of service all the time. But if you’re managing the front of the house at a ‘nice’ restaurant you should visit such places often and seek to emulate as much as possible.

This morning I went to Poste for brunch. It’s the restaurant at the Hotel Monaco in DC. I hadn’t been there before, and they begin brunch service early — I didn’t feel like waiting until 11am for most other options to open.

The food was good, the service was not. Nobody was roof or aloof, everyone was just consistently clueless.

  • A bread basket and butter was presented to the table, but no butter knife or bread plates were provided. I asked for bread plates. Using a steak knife on butter is a small sacrifice, but actually pretty difficult if you’re trying to spread something evenly.

  • It’s good that I asked for the bread plates, because I was sharing an appetizer and no separate plates were brought to the table to facilitate the sharing.

  • After the first course, my waitress helpfully removed my silverware. Unfortunately she didn’t bring replacements.

  • I also had to ask her to remove the dirty juice glasses that were set on the table when I arrived. (One of the three jams on the table was open and partially used, but I didn’t mention this or the scratched coffee mugs.)

  • My water was never refilled, towards the very end of the meal I finally asked for more.

  • On and off during the meal the bartender could be seen climbing on the bar to reach bottles in order to clean and polish them. Couldn’t that be done before or after service?

  • Once we had finished our entrees, the waitress brought our check. We asked whether they offered dessert? And she took away our check and brought new menus. No, she wasn’t trying to get rid of us. I wasn’t commenting on all of these deficiencies during our meal, we were more than pleasant! It just never occurred to her that at 11:45 am we might want dessert after brunch. Bad for the restaurant (it reduces average bill amounts) and bad for patrons (it’s hardly anticipatory service, and if she’s unsure if we’ll want something she might do better to ask).

  • For a ‘nice’ restaurant, it was a little odd to have the dessert dishes stamped “Crate and Barrel” …

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the floor manager was wearing a tank top…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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