It may seem like I've been harping on service lately, since my last post was about tipping inattentive waitstaff. But a recent incident between a powerful restaurant critic and a hot restaurant is just too interesting to ignore. (And, hey, it is called the service industry.) In the latest issue of GQ, critic Alan Richman wrote a piece about his experience with M.Wells, a perpetually packed critical darling (Bon Appetit just named it one of the Best New Restaurants in America) in Queens, New York.
After twice eating at the quirky establishment—which features unapologetically rich, super-tasty French-Canadian inflected fare served in a diner setting—Richman was charmed by the delicious food, if not the lackadaisical service. So he asked Sarah Obraitis, who owns the restaurant with husband and chef Hugue Dufour, if he could do a story about the restaurant. She agreed and a third visit was set.
During that visit Richman and his guests received extremely poor service—a 45 minute wait between courses, a huffy, eye-rolling server, dirty dishes and glassware. The next day he got an e-mail from Obraitis: "I am a bit distressed by the feedback I received after your visit last night. Either you had despicable service or you guys were in an awful mood. It seems we couldn’t make you happy, several servers heard you complain and ask for more attention. One of those servers, a female, received a hardy pat on the ass from you. Totally unacceptable in our world."
Richman vehemently denies the accusation and speculates that either the server fabricated the story to deflect attention from her behavior that night or Obraitis made it up to intimidate the critic so he wouldn’t write an unflattering review. Personally, I find it hard to believe that if Richman did sexually harass the waitress, he would call attention to it by writing about it in a national magazine. I do, however, find it much easier to believe that a hot restaurant sometimes has little reason to improve bad service when there are scores of people clamoring to get in.
Richman calls it the "hipster restaurant mentality"—and I am as tired of it as he is. For all the popular restaurants that have excellent service, there seem to be a few who act like they’re doing you a favor by allowing you into their temples of gastronomy—and equate indifferent service with being cool.
How do you feel about the M. Wells incident? Do you think Richman's reaction was justified?