Restaurant ripoff? - Printable Version

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- CSUFvintner - 09-10-1999 08:24 PM

After lurking around the boards for quite some time (mostly because I'm kinda shy and afraid I'll display my foot-in-mouth disease) I've decided that Rants & Raves will be the place to post my very first message ... off to a great start, huh?!

<I'll take this opportunity to say howdy to my fellow NWIWC friends, and a smooch on the cheek to the Curm - this is Lisa from Fresno State, now in Texas winemaking purgatory, but on my way back to California next week [img][/img] thankfully>

In any event, my angst has to do with ordering wines by-the-glass in restaurants, and the waitstaff taking it upon themselves to "substitute" my selection. Not only does it irritate me that they've taken the liberty to choose an alternate for me, they don't acknowledge the price difference in the glass, which in one case was over $3.

This has happened to me four times in the past year, the most recent occurrence being two days ago. Hubby and I were celebrating our first anniversary at a nice hotel/restaurant, and after perusing the wine list, I started off by ordering a sparkling wine from the Finger Lakes region. Imagine my surprise to find that it tasted exactly like Asti Spumanti. When I called this to my waiters attention, he explained that the sparkling I'd requested was not chilled, but the Asti was, and that the quality of the Asti Spumanti was far superior to that of the Finger Lakes choice. Upon further questioning tho', my waiter confessed he'd never tried the Finger Lakes wine. <At this point, hubby begins to squirm, fearing a repeat of last weeks wine ordering ordeal>

That particular incident involved ordering a glass of reserve Cab, but getting a bulk produced Merlot. Again, I called this to my waiter's attention, who confessed that "oh, that happens sometimes - when we're out of the Cab we'll substitute the Merlot, people never notice the difference." There was a $3 price difference in this case, which irritates me all the more.

I seem to be encountering this type of service more frequently - in all four of my instances, it was acknowledged that the wines I ordered were "substituted".

So there it is ... My question is how do you, or would you, my peers, handle this situation? Before displaying any inappropriate behavior next time, which is where I'm sure this is headed, I'd like to get your input ... and I thank you for helping to control the banshee in me <smile>

- Bucko - 09-10-1999 09:23 PM

Poor Lisa had to sit at my table at NWIWC not once, but twice! That takes character......

This stuff really sets me off, so forgive the soapbox. I am not shy about calling waitstaff on the carpet. If I do not get satisfaction, I request to talk to the manager/owner. I try to do so politely but firmly. To substitute a wine or food dish without prior permission is TOTALLY unacceptable -- I would send the wine back and I would ask to speak to the manager and ask for an explanation. This is not being rude on your part -- rather, it is unacceptable behavior by the restaurant. I have had waiters tell me that a grossly corked wine was "just fine" but I stood my ground, asked to speak to the owner, and I have found in most cases that the owner is embarrassed and only too happy to make amends. Waitstaff are just not trained properly, plain and simple. And if I may be so bold, since you are pretty young, many waiters may try to take advantage of you, not knowing that you have an exceptional palate.
Stand your ground, spin your head around a couple of times, spit green pea soup, mumble something about Satan, then smile politely and say "Now how about bringing me what I ordered, not this swill....."


- Jason - 09-10-1999 09:34 PM

Another solution, perhaps involving less cleanup, would be to ask to have the glass poured tableside. That way you are seeing the bottle as it happens. This is already
done by many good places that are proud of what they serve.

- Randy Caparoso - 09-10-1999 11:16 PM

Wow! True horror stories. Truly, these are some awful restaurants that you are going to. What can I say? That's why most of them are here today, gone tomorrow. Who needs them?

If these problems cannot be addressed by management on the spot or just after the fact, you really have no choice but to never return, and make sure all your friends know about this, too. This is, of course, presuming that you took the trouble of bringing these problems up directly with the restaurants in question. If they don't know about it, they can't make amends.

- glenora - 09-11-1999 05:12 AM


Thanks for trying to order Finger Lakes sparkling wines--hopefully next time you will get to enjoy them

- Thomas - 09-11-1999 08:14 AM

Lisa, I think you handled the situations reasonably, except that you sould have asked to speak to the manager or owner, or both.

Bucko says, rightly, that the wait staff is not properly trained at many of these places. Often, the wait staff has been allowed to make the substitutions because the manager isn't properly trained either.

In my view, you are never wrong to complain about shoddy treatment, especially when it is your money being taken. In your situations, I would have demanded to get what I ordered; I certainly would not have paid for what I did not order.

Which Finger Lakes sparkler did you order? If you say thr correct one we might get the guy above to send you a bottle...

- n144mann - 09-11-1999 03:48 PM

Lisa, as a fellow woman on this board,who also has trouble with staff in restaurants, I have to agree with the guys!! Don't be shy, and do let them intimidate you. Sometimes I think waiters count on us being less likely to speak out.....prove them wrong!!


[This message has been edited by n144mann (edited 09-11-99).]

- Jerry D Mead - 09-12-1999 02:00 AM

Hi, Lisa...why on earth would you lurk with this easy-going bunch? Welcome aboard...XXXXOOOOOOO

Well, you're forcing me to write a long answer. This happened about ten or twelve years ago at a well-known chain hotel near San Francisco Airport. My offices used to be nearby and as my secretary had worked way late that evening, I offered to drive her home and along the way, I realized I was hungry and she probably was too...the hotel was the first place to eat that we came to.

No one knew me from Adam...I had never been in this hotel before. Our enthusiastic waiter was with us in a flash with menus, his name, a wine card and offers of cocktails.

I ordered a bottle of red wine and from the by-the-class-selection two glasses of Korbel Natural.

Once again our guy was back in a flash with the two flutes and the bottle of red. While he was opening the red I sniffed the bubbly...I knew without tasting that this was not Natural. It wasn't Asti, but it did contain some Muscat, had bubbles the size of basketballs and one sip said a dosage at the high end of the Extra Dry range or higher.

I made no accusations. I only asked a question: "May I see the bottle from which this glass was poured?"

Our waiter started immediately asking if there was a problem and could he bring me something different. I said, No, I'd just like to see the the bottle from which this was poured.

He tried to take the champagne away, but I wouldn't let him, firmly insisting I only wanted to see the bottle.

Previously a speed demon...rushing back to us in one flash after another...I'd say 15 minutes passed this time with no one coming back to the table.

Then a "suit" showed up, who identified himself as an "Assistant Manager." He also wanted to know if there was a problem with our drinks and if he could bring something else. (By this time surrounding tables were watching and eavesdropping intently.) I again insisted no problem...I just wanted to see the bottle.

He was obviously uncomfortable but still wouldn't fess up and kept insisting on knowing what was wrong.

I finally said: "To tell you the truth, I don't think I received the Korbel Natural I ordered and I want to see the bottle to see if you mis-poured my order, or if Korbel has dramatically changed its style."

At about this point he figured out who I was...I think he had seen me at some trade tasting or other...and asked if I was Jerry Mead.

At this point he went into a song and dance about being in the midst of a wine list change and the new wines and list weren't in yet, but that they were sold out of several items on the old list...and that Korbel was one they were out of and that the bartender had substituted something of equal value, acknowledging that he shouldn't have done so without asking. He then offered me a full bottle of Clicquot or some such as an apology...which I accepted...but not before asking what the "substitution of equal value was."

He mumbled something I couldn't understand. I made him repeat it. "JFJ," he said...the $4 a bottle bubbly they poured for Sunday Brunch.

To the amusement of the other patrons, I howled aloud and expounded on the price differences of the two wines.

The following morning I had a call waiting for me from the General Manager...who swore that was not hotel policy, that the bartender who had made the substitution had been severely repremanded and that no similar thing would ever happen again.

I still wrote about the occurrence (without naming the hotel in print...but saying if I ever had similar complaints about them that I would...and offering to name them to anyone who would send and s.a.s.e.). And I didn't stop there. I called Gary Heck at Korbel...and the head of Korbel's marketing at Brown-Forman and the local wholesaler...all the next day.

Oh! And I reminded the manager that brand-switching is a violation of the California ABC act, and that if there was a next time I would turn them into the ABC as well as naming them in print.

In fact, most states have laws against brand switching, though often they were written with spirits in mind (to prevent bars from refilling premium brand bottles with bar brands and private labels...or giving you Old Overshoe when you ordered Jim Beam), but usually cover wine as well. And the threat of reporting someone to the local ABC is something they do not want to hear.

But the other guys gave you the best advice of for the manager or owner...and if they're not present, get their names and let the folks who are there know that you'll be calling back.

Fred Dame's next column in The Wine Trader has a similar theme...the sad practice of untrained waitstaff bringing wines to the table already opened. It's an invitation to abuse, though usually it just indicates incompetence.

The Long-winded Curmudgeon

- Tabby - 09-12-1999 05:36 AM

I tell you, this thread has really opened my eyes! Call me naive, but I had no idea such jiggery-pokery could go on when ordering a glass of wine. I generally don't order by the glass in any case, but the above comments will certainly make me more alert if in the future I should choose to...

- Bucko - 09-12-1999 09:58 AM secretary had worked way late that evening, I offered to drive her home and along the way, I realized I was hungry and she probably was too...the **hotel** was the first place to eat that we came to.
I smell a rat........


- CSUFvintner - 09-12-1999 10:57 AM

Thanks one and all for the input and/or solutions - this issue nearly drove me to er, uhh ... drink?! <giggle>

Bucko, you and Jerry are too sweet - my palate has only become more defined thanks in large part to sitting at tables with guys (and gals) like the both of you ... and Curm, I was really impressed with how you handled your experience. That JFJ substitution would have sent me right over the edge; good ol' Central Valley sparkling - nuthin' like it!

I agree that waitstaff training, or lack thereof has become quite a problem. And all of these instances were fairly nice establishments. Next time out, I am going to ask that the wine be poured tableside, I think that will take care of any future problems ...

By the way, I believe the label on the Finger Lakes sparkling was Taylor - I'd never heard of it before, but I love new wine adventures (particularly where sparklings and champagnes are concerned). I'm not a huge fan of spumanti, which made this experience doubly disappointing.

In the meantime, I'll look forward to continued posting and interaction at this site with my fellow wine buddies [img][/img] Cheers!

- Randy Caparoso - 09-12-1999 12:12 PM

I eat out a LOT, being on the road for so many weeks at a time, and I have to admit that these are some shocking stories even for me. But it makes me think of what the restaurant business really is: a "people" business like so many others. And like many other businesses that require interaction with people, there are a lot of joys and a lot of awful moments -- especially when involving dishonesty, duplicity, sheer laziness and out-and-out chicanery. Even in this computer age, we certainly can't avoid all this. How many of you have ordered things online and gotten "substitutes" or worse from either well-meaning or simply dishonest people? It never ends -- in the restaurant business, and in any other!

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 09-12-99).]

- Jerry D Mead - 09-13-1999 03:39 AM

Lisa...See you in February (do you really have to bring your husband every time?)..and how about getting some of your fell CSFU friends to join us here by telling them how much they can learn and how friendly everyone here is.

Bucko...I suppose if I told you I took that same lady to France for two weeks and shared hotel rooms everywhere, you'd be absolutely convinced of hanky-panky...and you'd be wrong. Not that I really have scruples...just too smart to mess up a relationship with a good friend and business associate...and not only that both Sandra and my ex-wife believed me and were great friends with the lady. Of course my ex and my lady love ended being friendly when all was said and done.

Living my life is really strange sometimes.

The Honorable Curmudgeon

- Thomas - 09-13-1999 07:46 AM

Lisa, it was Taylor, eh!

Well, at the risk of starting a war, which I seem often to do on the Internet, I must say the Asti was likely better tasting and it should have cost more too.

I was hoping you would have said Glenora, which is one of the finest Finger Lakes sparklers around; but then, Glenora is not distributed out your way, and I should have remembered that salient fact.

As for the Curm and his hotel-hopping. I do not believe a word of it. He likes to play the suave type, you know...

- newtowine - 10-01-1999 01:25 PM

What if u ask for it to be poured at the table, but they say the bottle is in a cruvinet?

Just curious...

- Bucko - 10-01-1999 07:56 PM

Pick another wine.......


- Thomas - 10-02-1999 08:37 AM

Walk over to the cruvinet and check it.

- Tabby - 10-02-1999 10:36 AM

What on earth is a cruvinet?!

- Bucko - 10-02-1999 10:50 AM

A cruvinet is a wine dispensing system, kind of like wine on tap, that keeps a protective nitrogen blanket over the remaining wine in the bottle to preserve it.


- Jason - 10-02-1999 04:47 PM

In my experience, a cruvinet is also a great way to prevent any "jiggery pokery", as it were.