Aspen Times Weekly: Yucky Strike
A CHEF, a wine dealer and a writer walk into a patio bar in Aspen. It’s Wednesday at 9:22 p.m., and the candlelit, 40-seat space is on the mellow side of dead, with just a few ladies bantering over dessert wine and three figures posted up at the bar. The trio lounges beneath a heat lamp for more than 10 minutes before any passing server acknowledges their presence. During this time, the writer makes eye contact with the bartender — who walks on by without a word and disappears through a service door.
Eventually, a server arrives.
“Cocktails?” she asks.
“Yeah,” the guests answer in unison, already huddled over the only beverage menu discovered among the low-slung teak tables.
“May I check your IDs?”
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Sure, the 30ish writer thinks, opening her purse. The petite wine dealer — who happens to supply this particular restaurant as well as dine here regularly — unzips her bag, too. She also emits a quick, high-pitched “Hmh?” in surprise — a misstep, as is soon made clear.
“Well, then, I can’t serve you,” snaps the server in a clipped Australian accent, her response reeking of finality. But the wine dealer produces a driver’s license, indeed, which is deemed satisfactory beneath the harsh, awkward glow of a smartphone light.
The writer — on assignment to sample a specific dish for a food story in a local magazine — asks if the kitchen is still serving food. Though at 9:30 and with a bustling indoor dining room, the question is more like a not-so-subtle hint for the server to deliver dinner menus, stat. Again, the server whips out her phone dramatically to check the time. Yep, the kitchen is still open!
“We also have a few specials this evening,” the server announces, depositing menus on the table — then turning on a heel and stalking away.
“So, uh, is she going to tell us what those specials are?” the journalist mutters.
It continues. The oenophile orders a $15 glass of Barbera.
“I’ll have the same,” commands the scribe. When the server returns, however, she deposits a single glass on the table.
“Which Barbera did you want again?” she asks. The writer flips open the wine list to find a single Barbera listed by the glass. Puzzled, she points to the name and repeats it to the server, who nods and turns away. To the shock and awe of our hapless guests, the server then picks up a pre-poured glass of wine from the bar in full view and returns, in seconds, to place the glass on the table in front of the wine expert. It’s red wine, alright, but in a white-wine glass clearly a third smaller than the first glass. A few sips, and consensus is clear: This is an entirely different wine. Best professional guess: Sangiovese.
Despite the waiting, despite the brusque and bored behavior of the Australian server, despite her grand faux pas of blatantly attempting to pass off a pre-poured glass of the wrong wine to a table of diners who must appear too young to know any better, the group is on a mission for a food story. So, they order three appetizers — which, it should be noted, cost upward of $25 apiece. The complimentary bread they beg for arrives with a sigh and without the customary plate of olive oil. Not a huge slip-up, as they know the server is lackadaisical — and besides, isn’t everyone and their sister gluten-free now? — but annoying nevertheless.
Dishes are deposited on the table. When the writer calls the server back for a third place setting, the server glances at the chef and scolds him playfully for not allowing the females to tuck in first. But the writer, having already eaten a few bites in the few minutes she tried to flag down said server to make the request, is quick to correct her. Furthermore, it’s none of the server’s damn business who eats first; please bring a third place setting; can she handle that?
Later, the trio details these grievances to the restaurant manager: the wine snafu, the lackluster food — grossly underseasoned and desperate for a hit of acid — and the Aussie’s sour attitude and icky incompetence. He apologizes, comments on the difficulty of finding quality staff and tosses forth a business card, presumably to avert any negative press. Dessert? No, thank you.
The server skulks to the table with the check.
“I bought you a glass of wine,” she says before mumbling something about confusion due to a big party inside. No joke, she says that as if it is a gift.
The punch line to this story? The bill for three small plates, two glasses of wine — one of which was incorrect and comped by management — and an hour of neglect and disdain tops $100.
Stories like this beg the question: Is this the price of living in a resort town? Does a largely seasonal — and often imported and thus transient — workforce translate to shoddy service, especially to local folks who may appear young, broke and otherwise “unimportant”? Every customer, regardless of background, should be treated with the same amount of attention and respect, but that’s just not the case.
Here’s an interesting twist, though: A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research discovered that rudeness by a luxury salesperson could cause shoppers to spend more money. The tendency to pay up in the face of rejection occurred mostly with “aspirational brands,” such as Burberry, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Perhaps a highfalutin restaurant is a slightly different scenario, because diners are generally a captive audience, but the result is the same.
However, the study of snobbish salespeople ends with good news. The effect, researchers found, is fleeting. Buyers were less favorable toward the brand and thus less likely to return than they had been at the beginning of the study.
An occasional food slinger and bartender since 2002, Amanda Rae knows good service. email@example.com
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