Blog Master G

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Chez Sophie Anniversary Dinner

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 · 32 Comments

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The night of our 4th anniversary (2 months ago today!), Jen and I celebrated by treating ourselves to dinner at the highly overrated French restaurant, Chez Sophie, inside The Saratoga hotel. We’d heard nothing but good things about Chez Sophie, so our expectations were high — as they should be when you’re paying upwards of $30 per entrée and spending nearly $200 for the experience. We had a great evening together, including cruising to and from our date on the city’s awesome new iRide bus service, as well as enjoying a bottle of prosecco on the patio of the Adelphi.

(How awesome is the embedded photo set above? Tip: Click on the first or second photo, then use your keyboard’s right arrow key to scroll through the rest. It’s powered by pictobrowser and pulls directly from my Flickr account. Thanks, Amit, for the great tip.)

The food at Chez Sophie was excellent and mostly lived up to expectations. The service, however, was terrible. We had no check-back, no water refills, and no wine service. The sommelier/owner even condescended our taste in wine. So we wrote a letter. The response we received was similar to our experience that night: Bad customer service. She also completely missed the point.

Here’s the letter we sent on August 27:

Dear Mr. Parker & Ms. Clark,

On Thursday, July 26, we celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary at your establishment. We were eagerly anticipating the evening, as your restaurant has a stellar reputation, and we always appreciate fine dining. Unfortunately, our experience that evening was profoundly disappointing.

For us, dining is as much about the ambiance and the service as it is about the food. Although we did enjoy delightful food, we were shocked and dismayed by the poor quality of service.

First, we asked for a wine recommendation. Our server, (name removed), couldn’t make a suggestion, so he said that he would “send over the sommelier” to help us. A sommelier, by definition, is an expert in wines, but this “sommelier” clearly wasn’t. Even with the aid of her plastic binder, she took an uncomfortably long time to recommend a wine for us, and in the process, condescended our taste in whites. If, in fact, you don’t have a sommelier on staff, your servers should not claim to have one.

Next, (name removed) returned with a snide remark: “So, are we going to order food tonight or what?” – as if to imply that we had delayed the wine selection and he had somewhere he’d rather be.

Finally, the two biggest gripes for us – both of which should be part of Fine Dining 101:

  1. Our server did not bother checking back to ask us how our food was. Not once.
  2. We were left to pour our own wine refills. We waited. And waited. And no one came to do the pours.

After our (more than generous, 20% tip), our bill came to $172 (check #114559/1,2). For that kind of bill, the least we should expect is for someone to keep our wine and water filled, and to check back after the food is served to ensure we’re satisfied – neither of which happened.

Maybe our shoddy experience that night was due to our relatively young age (we’re in our 30s) compared with your other clientèle. Or maybe it was just an off night. Either way, we won’t be recommending Chez Sophie to anyone, nor do we have plans to return.

Please consider this feedback as an opportunity for much-needed improvement in service. Hopefully your future customers will have a better experience than we did on our anniversary.

Sincerely,

Gabe & Jen A_nderson

Here’s the ridiculous, 3-page letter we received in response, which completely missed the point of our complaint:

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(View larger version – page 1)

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(View larger version – page 2)

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(View larger version – page 3)

Since receiving the reply letter, Alex and I have exchanged emails about how best to respond to the above letter. Below is the draft of the reply I’ve been considering sending (the version Alex “meaned up” — not shown here — was even more biting):

Dear Ms. Parker,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to our concerns about our meal at your establishment. Although other customers may like to pour their own wine, I think you may have missed the point of our feedback: Our table was abandoned.

Regardless of the type of wine service you offer, no one ever returned to our table – not to fill the water, not to ask us how our food was, and not to fill our wine. If our server misread what we wanted, then how should we have gone about informing him that we would have appreciated more water and wine, and to be asked how our meals were? Should we have flagged him down? Grabbed his shirt as he walked past our table without checking in?

That’s the point: We should not have had to ask. Our empty water and wine glasses – which we left empty long enough for a number of servers and staff to walk past our table more than once – just sat there. And what if our food had been bad or my ahi overcooked? Thankfully it wasn’t, but had it been, no one bothered to find out.

We’ve eaten at countless fine restaurants from San Francisco to London to Barcelona, and never can we recall a time that our table was simply abandoned like it was that night at Chez Sophie.

Finally, I may not have experience running a restaurant, so I would certainly never tell you how to do your job, but I do know quite a bit about good customer service (I’m director of customer support for an international software company).

Next time someone complains, you might want to consider not debating the complaint. I think you’ll find you’ll have happier customers – some who may even give you a second chance – if you acknowledge the complaint, apologize, say you’ll do better next time, and invite the customer back again for another chance.

Be it dining or software, good customer service is universal.

Sincerely,

Gabe A_nderson

P.S. I was shocked to hear from a friend that she was overcharged by your establishment last week by nearly $600 – and that not only did she receive no return call or apology, but she had to call again twice more. There’s no excuse for not reversing an extreme overcharge (or any overcharge) immediately.

Jen doesn’t think I should send this reply since our friend at Chez Sophie will probably want the last word, so this could potentially be endless. I think healthy debate is fun.

What do you think?

Tags: food · saratoga springs

32 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jen // Sep 26, 2007 at 10:44 am

    send it. you are completely right to expect something as simple as a water refill. plus, instead of basically saying, oh well, guess you won’t be coming back here, she should have invited you back with a bottle of wine on the house. that is just plain bad manners.

  • 2 Jen // Sep 26, 2007 at 10:45 am

    p.s. i would leave out the last part about your friend. you want her to address your original complaint, not start bringing others into it.

  • 3 Blog Master G // Sep 26, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for the input and encouragement, Jen! I really appreciate it.

  • 4 Alex // Sep 26, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Gabe,
    If you were a gladiator and Chez Sophie’s was your bested opponent, and I were Caesar, I would be doing this. Dig?

  • 5 Pedro // Sep 26, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    send that, stat. your pals at chez blowphie must be kept in check. im sitting here in my recliner of rich mahogany, simply steaming. poor customer service, as socrates once proclaimed, “is as atrocious and inexcusable as kicking a small kitten. then throwing it. at a wall. then lapping milk from his saucer as if to taunt the now demoralized kitty.”

  • 6 Shay // Sep 26, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Hey dude! lol. I never commented on your blog before, but this one touched a nerve. The one time Deb and I went out to a fancy french restaurant I jokingly asked before hand if it came complete with rude service. As we were leaving, Deb assured me that it had! The waiter even went so far as to call the owner at home, who continued to argue with us via phone – while we were at the table.

    Yeah, take off the part about your friend, and yeah, only send it if it is really fun as you are liable to get sucked into a pointless endless loop.

    I always wanted to open a place and call it Chez Shay.

  • 7 Shay // Sep 26, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    How the heck could she remember you a month later anyway? Maybe you all stank, and that’s why no one would come near the table?

  • 8 Shay // Sep 26, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Me again. Maybe she is just totally insecure over wine. I don’t get it. Damn. lol at myself now. OK, no more comments from me.

  • 9 Dave // Sep 26, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I say send it, but I’d leave off the P.S. The more focused on your own problems with the establishment the better.

  • 10 renée // Sep 26, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    wow, dude. wow. debating your complaint. trying to make themselves feel better about the situation i guess. i sure hope you send that letter back. and i would also leave off the p.s.

    mad props to you for saying something in the first place. last fall, i had an awful experience at cornell’s in schenectady and let it go. i wish i didn’t do that.

    don’t businesses get that bloggers are all around and spreading the good/bad word about their services? don’t they know who we are? heehee. seriously though, there is no excuse for lousy service.

  • 11 Blog Master G // Sep 27, 2007 at 8:15 am

    Wow! Thanks so much for the feedback and enthusiasm in sending the follow-up letter, everyone.

    10 comments on this post in Day 1! I think that’s the most I’ve had in a long time (and definitely since bringing my blog under the search engine radar).

    Apparently I’ve struck a nerve. Next time I’ll avoid Chez Blowphie and be on the lookout for Chez Shay. :)

    In addition to all the comments here, I got an email from another friend who didn’t want to comment publicly (given his role in the community), who said that he and his wife had nearly the SAME experience with the SAME server! So he gave me the OK to mention that (anonymously) in the follow-up letter, too.

    I’ll leave off the P.S. and put the letter in the mail today! Thanks again, homies!

  • 12 Blog Master G // Sep 27, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Reply letter sent! Read the final version.

  • 13 anon // Sep 27, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Used to be a good restaurant. Currently the pretentiousness is unrivaled. The food is completely overpriced and, honestly, not as good as it should be. Really it’s the pretentiousness that bugs me. That it’s guised as clever and cute makes it even worse.

  • 14 norman gerber // Sep 27, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    I enjoyed reading your entry on the chez! This is a very interesting situation. I could see these letters going back and forth for a long time. I loved how the bulk of the response consisted of quotes from magazines, newsletters and…(of all things)… blogs. They should hope that your blog doesn’t end up getting quoted somewhere. How hard would it have been for them to just send you a gift certificate or a bottle of wine for your troubles? They seem pretty snobby. We’ll be continuing our boycott of the place, and will be sure to steer others away as well.

  • 15 Steve Barnes - Albany NY Restaurants Dining blog - Table Hopping » Two sides of the story - timesunion.com - Albany NY // Sep 27, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    [...] story September 27, 2007 at 2:23 pm by Steve Barnes, senior writer Well, goodness. Take a look at this exchange between a customer and a Saratoga restaurant owner. Great food but dissatisfying service at an [...]

  • 16 Blog Master G // Sep 27, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    So now that this entry got a link from Steve, I thought it better to protect the waiter’s name from that night, so it’s blacked out/removed now.

    Sure, we had bad service that night, but a simple letter of apology would have put the issue to rest, so my main frustration now is with Ms. Clark, not our server.

    Clearly, it’s more of a management problem than a server problem.

  • 17 mewalker // Sep 27, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    A three-page response is INSANE! You really got her going! I look forward to the next battle!

  • 18 CJK // Sep 28, 2007 at 8:25 am

    First off, I’ve never been there but I do have my rules about tipping. Regardless about the quality of the food I tip on service and not whether the food was done properly or not. Good food and poor service = poor tip. Poor food but good service stills gets a good tip. If either the food or service is not up to snuff then it’s a talk with the manager before I leave. Maybe I’m just bold about it but I’ve never had a manager argue with me face to face. I keep indescretions calm and always mention that word of mouth is the worst way to lose business. People will always tell their friends what to avoid and now with Blogs, it’s worse.

  • 19 bocuse // Sep 28, 2007 at 11:55 am

    A 3 PAGE rebuttal?? What is that ?

    It’s Day 1 of Sales 101 — overcome obstacles. The facts are IRRELEVANT. Obviously, there are two sides to the event. A gracious one paragraph note (or better yet, a phone call) offering an apology and a complementary bottle would likely have diffused the issue & turned a sour guest into a lifelong fan .

    Instead they dug in and fought the customer, making a disappointed client furious.

    With all the wine they sell, one bottle would have been an extremely inexpensive tool to regain a customer. Bad word of mouth can undo thousands of dollars of advertising, and years of good rep.

    Enticing them to return would have given them a chance to exhibit the service they are known for, and oh bye the way, likely selling two more dinners to go along with the wine.

    The roadside is littered with failed restaurants that offered quality food, but poor service. Their are plenty of other outstanding restaurants in town where I’ll be spending my $$.

  • 20 anon // Sep 28, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    G,
    I just read the three letters that were exchanged, in order. The difference in your letters to her and her letter to you is important to note. Your letters are polite and articulate, whereas her letter is smug and long-winded.

    In order to spare others the trouble of reading her entire letter, let me paraphrase:

    1) “Sorry about the water service, too bad.”
    2) “You’re wrong to complain about the rude waiter and sommelier because you are too sensitive to hear what’s really being said to you.
    3) “You’re wrong to complain about the wine service, here’s why: ‘blah blah, ze French agree vis me (and to prove it, I will write in a French accent (wtf?)), blah blah, magazines too, blah blah, blogs too, blah blah.’”
    4) “And finally, ‘I’m sorry’ that you can’t appreciate how awesome my restaurant is, let me change your mind by offering you…let’s see…nothing.”

    I’ve never been there, but it seems like a real pleasant place to have dinner! Yeah, I’ll get right on that reservation…

  • 21 Sarah // Sep 28, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    I had seriously thought about going there for a birthday dinner, but after reading this…no way. There are too many good restaurants in the area with good service to have to put up with this sort of nonsense. And personally…I don’t care if you have 4000 wines, you should be able to talk intelligently about nearly all of them without notes if you’re so knowledgeable.

  • 22 Christina // Sep 29, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I have to say, being in the hospitality industry myself. I kind of understand the owner. When she wrote back she covered all the issues you weren’t happy with like the way he asked for your order, and wine service, and went over all the resturants policys on what her staff was expected to preform. I dont know about the waiter not coming back, I had the same problem at The Butcher Block in Colonie. Over all I think that the Co-Owner appoligized but knew no matter what, there was nothing she could do to please you at this point. And for you….your original letter ended saying how this was just an opportunity for much-needed improvement in service,writting back is just childish. You dont like the place, tell all your friends….Dont keep bothering her with it, if it is a serious problem, she will fail, and close! woooo saaaa my friend-forget about it!

  • 23 charlotte russe // Sep 30, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Sorry the service was shoddy, and you didn’t get enough water. But please… you can’t pour your OWN wine? (I did, however, find the 3-page rebuttal quite over-the-top).

    That said, it is a shame that a server can’t recommend a wine for you — in a restaurant that brags about a 450+ bottle inventory.

  • 24 Dan // Sep 30, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    Geez Gabe, things in Saratoga blogland sure have taken off since I took my (still in effect) hiatus several months ago. Good for you for using the blog in an empowering way. Before the arrival of “new media” venues, disgruntled customers were nearly powerless – now you can speak to the world from your kitchen. Maybe I’ll have to dust off my blog and get it going again – I have been reading some of the other blogs around town and they are taking off as well. Take care and keep up the good work.

  • 25 Blurgle // Oct 1, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    I’m not surprised: the best restaurant in a small city often glides on its reputation. No sommelier should ever treat a customer the way she treated you, and you were in the right to complain. I would have left five pennies as a tip, though; the chef doesn’t see the tip, so you mainly rewarded the staff for not taking care of you.

    (By the way, you keep saying “she condescended us” – I am guessing you mean “she was condescending to us”? Because “she condescended us” means that she abased herself in front of you as your inferior. )

  • 26 Bruce // Oct 1, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    My wife and I went to Chez once , and never
    again. It has to be the most overrated, under-
    whelming , ridiculous dining experience ever.
    Like the couple, our waiter was something to
    behold. He giggled to himself and muttered under his breath throughout the night , that is
    when he bothered to come to the table at all.
    The meal was good, but not great by any means.
    We went because we were given a gift certificate
    from my Mother-In-law, but we had to tell her the truth about how it went so she would never
    give us one again…Chez Sophie is the king and his clothes..How this place can be considered among the best, if not THE best, is nothing short
    of foolish snobbery……Stay away

  • 27 Blog Master G // Oct 1, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    For the record, I think that Beekman Street Bistro is the best restaurant in Saratoga!

  • 28 Carl Kochersberger // Oct 23, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    A few years ago, I was up in Saratoga collecting soil samples for an environmental assessment on an old farm. I had worked a long day, and I was tired, hungry, and filthy. I said to myself, “I can’t walk into a normal restaurant like this. I need to look for a diner.” As I was on my way back to the office, I spotted what I thought was the perfect place. An old metal diner called “Chez Sophie Bistro.” To my amazement, I walked inside and instead of a bunch of booths and a counter with bar stools, I found a fairly fancy restaurant filled with diners in suits and evening dresses. I looked at the greeter and said, “This isn’t exactly what I was expecting, I should probably go.”

    Instead of quickly agreeing with me and wisking me out of the door, the greeter suggested that I stay. I was welcomed in, and I received fantastic service. I also thought the food was excellent. Based on that experience, I’d definitely go back there, preferably in more suitable attire next time.

  • 29 Blog Master G // Oct 23, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, Carl. I wonder if you’d receive the same level of service today, now that Chez Sophie has moved to a new location inside the Saratoga Hotel.

    I’ve had a number of people tell me that things changed when they moved locations. It seems like they now cater more to travelers who are staying in the hotel (and might not be repeat diners) than to locals.

  • 30 Tara // Dec 15, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    A friend who was considering a special-occasion dinner at Chez Sophie asked me about my impressions of the place, and then emailed me a link to Steve Barnes’ article that referenced this blog.

    I have been to Chez Sophie several times, and admit that things have indeed changed in the way of service and prices since the business moved from its charming, retro diner-car home into the more pretentious hotel setting where it now resides.

    I think the move saddened a lot of Chez Sophie fans, and has led to a lot of “identity crisis” issues for the owners.

    Along with losing its former bistro charm and intimacy, and attentive, personalized service from “career” waitstaff, moving to this venue forced Chez Sophie to become a ’round-the-clock, breakfast-lunch-dinner hotel eatery, trying to be all things to all people, from rowdier conventioneers looking for informal bites and booze, to discriminating couples looking for a quiet, romantic dinner. It’s no easy task to comfortably and capably cater to both.

    It seems that the owners have definitely struggled in their tenure at this location, from ongoing facilities issues beyond their control (flooding, ice backups, leaks, appliances), to having to increase (likely five-fold) and educate their waitstaff (in an Upstate environment not exactly rife with fine dining service talent).

    So, given all this, I see your experience and the owner’s response more a product of a sort of business burn-out, than an intentional insult. I do agree that Cheryl’s “apology” fell well short of an adequate service response, and don’t know if you ever sent her a follow-up response. But I also don’t think you’d ever get the satisfaction of the sort of “mea culpa” you are looking for from her, unfortunately. C’est la vie.

    If you have ever received one of Cheryl’s weekly broadcast emails, you would know that her longwindedness is legend, and the stories about her children’s antics fairly self-indulgent. So her letter, its length, and her tone didn’t surprise me; I guess I tend to see her diatribes like this as an extension of her email newsletter self, as “educational” :o)

    But something that has not changed, in my several visits to Chez Sophie since its move: The quality of the food and the innovativeness of the menu, which changes daily. The Parkers are staunch supporters of local agribusiness, and Chef Paul pulls no punches when it comes to preparing more unique offerings to the palates of people in this area, which, unfortunately, have come to consider local “Italian” restaurant food and portions as the standard to match.

    So, as the daughter of a former long-time Times Union restaurant critic, and as a Saratoga Springs resident who counsels ANYONE to stay the hell away from ANY in-town restaurant during Track Season if an attentive, pleasant experience is being sought (did you go to Chez Sophie on Opening Day for your anniversary?? Dude!)…I would encourage people–including the friend who turned me on to this blog–to give Chez Sophie a try, and let your tastebuds do the talking.

  • 31 Gillian Gordan // Jan 27, 2008 at 4:53 am

    The owners of Chez Sophie obviously recognize that they do not train their wait staff. They are in denial about the fact that you were given good service. I also think that good service is imperative in a good restaurant. Basically, they are stating, online, that people should realize, if they would like to dine in our restaurant, that they are at the whims of are antics, and not to assume anything. What a great reason to eat somewhere else. Somewhere that is actually worth the price!

  • 32 doofdaddy // Jan 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I was seriously thinking about flying out to that part of the country, but if that’s the type of service I can expect, I’ll just stay here.

    In the future, you might consider a fine German restaurant. They tend to have better manners. In fact, the Germans are internationally recognized for their fine manners.

    You can never go wrong with a good Weiner Schnitzel and an extremely large mug of beer. This is how beer should be served. I can tell you if Chez Sophie had this type of attention to detail, there’d be no complaints…except from your wife.

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