The Worst Service We’ve Had in NYC Restaurants This Year


In Zachary Feldman’s review of El Vez, he pointed to numerous issues with service that had a major impact on his meal. But this Battery Park City cantina isn’t the only restaurant in New York suffering from hospitality problems. Fork in the Roaders eat out nearly nightly, and we see a lot of bad behavior. Here are the most egregious examples of bad service we’ve seen so far this year.

El Vez, 259 Vesey Street
Like the table mentioned in Feldman’s review of El Vez, my party was set upon by our server while our host was still handing out menus. My party had requested and received patio seats with our reservation, but when we showed up, we were told the patio came with an additional 30 minute wait. Undeterred, we had a margarita at the bar until the table was ready. The hostess dropped us off and, before she’d walked away, our server came over and asked if we were ready to order. We told him we needed a minute since we’d just been seated, so he remained at our table, filling our water glasses, while we continued talking, our menus still untouched. Before he walked away, he said, with an impatient hand gesture, “So, are you ready now?” I’m not sure, do I have x-ray vision?

At the end of the meal, he asked us, “Anything else? Coffee? Dessert? A tequila shot for your server?” We laughed uncomfortably, and then he said, seriously and expectantly, “No, seriously. It’s been an extremely long day.” You’re showing us too much behind the curtain, dude.

Jack’s Wife Freda, 224 Lafayette Street
Against better judgement, my group decided to brave the Sunday brunch line at Jack’s Wife Freda. I got there first, and there was a massive queue of people just waiting to put their names on the list. The hostess was clearly frazzled, but instead of dealing with the hordes, she was ignoring them completely. A group of her friends rocked up, saw the line, and said, “Oh, this seems like a bad day to try to attempt this,” making it clear to everyone within earshot — a dozen people or so — that they’d just arrived. She stepped by the waiting parties, leaving them to languish, and had a lazy conversation, which ended when she declared, rather loudly, “No, no, it’s okay, I’ll just seat you now.” Hosts — it’s you’re prerogative to let your friends and VIPs skip the line, but do you have to be so obvious about it? We went elsewhere. I was afraid that I would yell at her if I had to talk to her. This is why people hate brunch.

Cascabel Taqueria, 1538 Second Avenue
Upon biting into a delivery order of chicken tacos from Cascabel Taqueria, we found ourselves cracking into the entire hilt of a drumstick bone chucked in with the braised meat and scallions, and we also discovered a few other smaller bones. Alerted to the issue and asked for a replacement order of carnitas, the restaurant’s initial response was, “Can’t you just remove the bones and eat it?” They eventually delivered the carnitas, but not until we’d sufficiently convinced them of the choking hazard.

Hamilton’s Luncheonette, 51 Bank Street
The schmoozy, older host at Hamilton’s Luncheonette hit on my mom and jokingly (but not jokingly) shamed us for not ordering enough.

Cafe Select, 212 Lafayette Street
We reserved a World Cup game table on a weekend, making it clear over the phone that our intention was to watch the game, which started at 3 p.m. No stipulations were given for our table. When we arrived, our table wasn’t ready — Cafe Select had banked on a group of brunchers to vacate, but as I’d suspected when we called, that group planned to stay for the game. A half an hour into the game (and a round deep), the staff finally figured out how to seat us, and we quickly ordered another couple of rounds of drinks plus nuts and olives. Mid-match, a manager came over and told us that tables were only for people eating brunch (was anyone eating brunch? It appeared everyone was watching the game on the big screen), and while no one was waiting for a table at the moment (thereby making it a non-issue at 4 p.m.), they’d have to force us out if someone showed up…unless, of course, we ordered food. I don’t believe they would have made us leave. I believe that was a rather aggressive upsell.

At the end of the game, when the server tallied our check, she screwed up the split — the individual payments (three total) added up to $15 more than the original total. When I pointed it out, the server waved us off, saying the machine did the work automatically. Only when we pointed out the absurdity of that statement did she agree to re-run it.

Gallow Green, 530 West 27th Street
It sounded like a great plan: meet a few old high school friends at Gallow Green, a swanky rooftop bar, for drinks and reminiscing about the past, when we were free, young, and proud to be buzzed after three Mike’s Hard Lemonades. If you block out the mostly mid-20’s Wall Street crowd, the rooftop is actually quite nice — there are two dozen long wooden tables and a wooden canopy filled with flowers and moss.

Unfortunately, the small bar was manned by only two bartenders, who were trying (and failing) to serve the 200 to 300 people gathered. While my friends jockeyed for positions at the eight-person deep bar, I walked around to see if we could get drinks if we ordered appetizers at a table. Every employee I asked gave me a different answer. Not even the maitre’ d seemed to have a clue. At the entrance to the rooftop, a greasy-haired banker was yelling at the manager about the service and how he had been waiting 45 minutes for a drink. Despite our differences, I sympathized. I went back to check on my friends, and 20 minutes into this ordeal, they’d made no change in position.

OK, I thought, maybe we can get drinks from another floor and bring them up here. After going down one flight, I was strong armed by security: “A private Counting Crows concert is going on now, you MUST have a wristband.” I had no wristband. I have not owned a Counting Crows album since 1995. I thought it best to return upstairs.

Now 40 minutes into our tour, my friends were finally touching the bar (!). They ordered two drinks for each person in our party, and 55 minutes after first arriving, we were enjoying our ok-at-best cocktails. I could have watched two episodes of Seinfeld, sans the commercials, in the comfort of my own apartment in that time. Come on, Gallow Green, hire about 10 more people and open up another bar on the rooftop! Or at least let me bring my own hard lemonade next time.

The dozens of places that drop a check and then disappear
When I worked in a restaurant, our fearless leader basically beat it into us that when a customer has decided he or she is ready to leave, the minutes slow down. So even five minutes can feel like an agonizing wait. If I have to flag you down to run my credit card — or worse, go find you so I can leave — there’s a good chance that, even if everything else was perfect, I’m never coming back. This happens to me at least once a week in this city.

Zona Rosa, 571 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn
I hate when my meal is ruined after I’ve paid my check. At Zona Rosa, we’d paid ours, and a member of our party had left to bring the car around when a member of the staff said curtly, “We need that table.” Mindless lingering is certainly a valid reason to politely ask a party to head over to the bar, but there’s a right and wrong way to do that, particularly when, from a guest’s perception, you have other tables open and an entire second floor you don’t feel like opening up. Zona Rosa does a few good things with the cattle on its menu, it’s just a shame the staff chooses to treat paying customers like a herd that needs to be lassoed out of the pen and dragged out to pasture.

Had a terrible service experience of your own? Tell us about it on Facebook, or via Twitter — we may aggregate the very worst into another post.