A Short Restaurant Review and a Little Ditty on Bad Service

My mom, my sister, and I have a little tradition: once a year we have dinner out together at a fine restaurant during First Bite Boulder week.  (www.firstbiteboulder.com)  Each year we choose somewhere we haven’t been together, that has a good reputation, and where the menu appeals to all of us.  This year we ended up at Arugula (http://www.arugularistorante.com/).  I had heard only good things about it from several people and was eager to try it.  Alas, my disappointment far outweighs my pleasure on this one.  I want to start by giving the following disclaimer.  There is never an excuse for bad service.  Never.  But there are things that make it harder.  Our dinner party did not present any of them: no small children; we arrived on time for our reservation; we had a reservation; we were not drunk, too loud, badly dressed; we did not have a list of dietary requests or problems; we did not ask to substitute or leave out any ingredients; we were not difficult.  And yet, we got bad service.  The ambience, menu, prices, decor, ingredients, attitude, and service ware all would suggest and imply that you should expect great service.  And I did expect it so was doubly disappointed when our server tried to take my order first.  Seriously?  Did no one ever train him on service etiquette?  I was the youngest person at the table, and although it might not be clear which of us, between my sister and me, is younger, I am clearly CLEARLY younger than my mom – and the waiter heard me refer to her as the give-away clue name, “Mom”.  So when he tried to take my order first I replied that I would rather if he took her order first.  Well, clearly that upset his mojo because he entered our orders into the kitchen in the wrong order so that as each course was brought to our table by the runners (whose one job it is to get food to the right people, based on the servers’ instructions) our dishes were mixed up and served incorrectly.  The same waiter forgot to bring us bread, forgot a soup spoon, little things like that.  So, one strike against Arugula. 

As for the food – it ranged from amazingly delicious (the mahi-mahi entrée, the heirloom mushroom caprese, the Hazel Dell mushrooms with gorgonzola) to pretty good (the vegetarian lasagne, the gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola) to poor (the lamb stew with soft polenta).  I cannot believe that a restaurant whose kitchen can produce a simple, elegant, delicious little salad like the above mentioned caprese can also turn the out the plate of tough gristle, hard vegetables, and congealed polenta.  Strike two against Arugula. 

I will probably go back and give them a second shot – someday.  But considering that my husband and I very rarely spend that kind of money on a meal out (think an easy $50 for two before looking at wine, dessert, extras) we will go somewhere we know we can get great food and, at least, good service. 

As for bad service, why is there so much of it in Boulder?  Seriously, I don’t understand why restaurant owners and managers don’t spend more time vetting and training front-of-house staff.  First of all, I am not a guy.  If I am with my husband, we are not guys.  My mother and I are never guys.  You probably don’t really even want to refer to a group of men as guys if you are trying to effect fine dining service.  Second, if someone pays with cash do not ask if they want their change.  Give them their change and let them choose to leave you a tip.  It may seem like a minor thing but, believe me, it is better this way.  Third, fess up if you mess up.  If the food is delayed, if there is a mistake, if you brought the wrong thing – acknowledge it, accept responsibility, apologize, move on.  Do Not Ignore Your Customers if something is wrong.  Fourth, learn the etiquette of who orders/gets served first.  In a bar, in a burger joint, in a casual place this is not as important (although it goes a long way to making people think you are paying attention) but in fine dining it is essential.  I could easily go on and on but will stop here. 

Thanks, Mom, for dinner.  It is really the company that matters and tonight that was 5 star.

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