I thought I had heard it all. But after my g.e.b. incident, and what just happened to me a half hour ago, I’m starting to think hospitality is under siege in Chicago. I knew I had hit the jackpot last week, after I called Schwa on a whim. I was trying to get a table for eight people, to celebrate a good friend’s birthday, and we were initially going to bring several bottles of wine to Goosefoot – one of the city’s best BYOBs – but I had no idea the wait for tables there was well into the fall. So, on a lark, I called Schwa, the notoriously difficult to crack, we-never-answer-the-phone-but-the-food-is-awesome restaurant on North Ashland. One of my close friends has just been there last week with some folks in town for Lolla, and they were raving about it.
“How many people do you have?” the guy on the other line asked me, after a 14 or 16 ring marathon that I nearly gave up on.
“Eight,” I said, sheepishly, knowing they don’t like to take tables over four (or is it six? I’ve lost track of the peculiar rules).
“No problem. We’ll see you next Wednesday, Aug. 1 at 7 pm. then.”
I was stunned. No one, and I mean, no one ever gets a table that easy. “You realize you hit the jackpot,” a friend told me on Sunday night. I figured all was well yesterday, when a cook from the restaurant called me to confirm the reservation, the time and ask if there were any dietary restrictions. “Nope,” I said. “We’re looking forward to it.” I even asked how many staff members there were on duty, so I could bring an appropriate number of gifts. Turns out there are just five staff; I was going to bring them a case of wine as a thank you.
Fast forward to 4:44 p.m. today, when I got this message from Vinny:
Really? Two hours before our dinner, when we’re expecting to toast our good friend with all of our incredible wine? The explanation is baffling, even though I know I’m not the first to experience this last-minute change-of-plans by the restaurant. But more annoying – again, from a (lack of) hospitality perspective – is why not just say “hey, we’ve had circumstances beyond our control. We know this is an important dinner for you and getting a table at this point is going to be difficult, so we’ve taken the liberty of making a reservation at ___ restaurant on your behalf. We explained the situation to the staff there, so I’m sure they’ll take good care of your party. Again, I’m really sorry about this. Please call me at your earliest convenience to maybe make another reservation here.” By the way, I did call him back immediately, and got the answering machine that said it was too full to accept any more messages.
I know Danny Meyer would have done something along those lines. Actually, any good businessperson would do that. But in our age of tossing customers and canceling people’s reservations for no real reason, it’s par for the course.