Let's go for a little name and shame.
Which restaurants have YOU been to, that should have known better (we're not talking "Halmoni Kimbap" here: we're talking about places that look, and charge, as if they ought to know their asses from a hole in the ground, in regards to service). Let me know who the worst offenders are in the comments.
Fact: there are a bazillion restaurants in Seoul. This means, I operate on a "one strike and you're out" policy. If a restaurant can't impress me the first time, I won't waste my time going back to give them a second chance: other restaurants deserve a first chance more than that place deserves a second, after underwhelming me before. The only time I bend on this is when it is enthusiastically advocated by someone whose food taste I trust (right now, that's a list of about four people, and I'm not telling you who they are... but two of them have names that start with J.)
A few months ago, in a fit of righteous outrage, I tore a strip through the horrible, horrible, insultingly neglectful service I encountered at Passion Five, one of those so-stylish-I-want-to-punch-myself-in-the-face restaurants near Hangangjin station.
Lesson learned: beautiful design is a yellow flag in Korean restaurants. Of the ten worst service experiences I've had in Korean restaurants, about eight of them were in really nice-looking places. Not ALL beautifully designed places are crap, but let's just say nice looks is NOT assurance of good food, or good service.
Three seasons later, if you google "passion five Korea" look what comes up:
Passion Five, you've been google-bombed, and deservedly so! I've made clear what I want in return for taking down the post (see the end of the post)
Until then, you frankly deserve to be slammed by google, for the atrocious, insulting service you gave me and my group.
And today, Butterfinger Pancakes gets theirs.
I'd heard a LOT about Butterfinger: how the food was just like home... but not crappy "just like home" (a la Denny's Korea) but GOOD "just like home" with waffles and pancakes worth the trip to Kangnam.
My friend Chris, who lives in South Korea, was having a birthday party for the lovely Lady in Red (who is an awesome human being, by the way). He invited a crew over to Kangnam, and staked a place in line for a big group: about ten. They said "Oh. ten? That'll be about an hour."
No sweat: we went to a Krispy Kreme to pass the time.
An hour later, we came back to Butterfinger. "Oh. You guys again..." (inner monologue: we were hoping you'd get discouraged by the one hour wait and piss off) "we don't have a place to seat you. Twenty more minutes."
Twenty minutes go by: now we're standing in the cold. "Five more minutes. And you have to sit at different tables." (no problem, guy. Can you just friggin' seat us now?)
Buddy goes upstairs to use bathroom: sees other groups getting seated before us, and no tables cleared for a group. After an hour and a half. Ten more minutes, several more inquiries (each time being told, "five more/ten more minutes"), still no movement (that's for those of us waiting for tables; I can't speak for the person who went to the bathroom).
Finally, we gave up and headed for a Burger King. Wifeoseyo and I had a long to-do list that had included eating with the fine people at The Lady In Red's birthday party, but we couldn't because Butterfinger Kangnam couldn't get their poop in a scoop.
So, dear Butterfinger Pancakes Kangnam:
Maybe your food is good. I don't give a damn. I'm avoiding you, and telling all my friends and readers to avoid you as well. Hell, I can probably make better pancakes at home, anyway, and now that Costco exists, I no longer have to grovel to the shitty service gods to get my bacon fix. We agreed to be seated at different tables, and we agreed to wait for an hour, and then waited in the cold for twenty minutes more, and twenty more: we were obliging as hell and got nothing except a chill, frustration, and a hunger headache from you.
There are easy ways to get around pissing off a widely read blogger or five (and a number of the people in that group were bloggers, and I hope every one of them tears Butterfinger a new asshole for treating our crew customers so badly).
1. Have a maximum group size policy for weekends. Train your staff to be clear about it.
2. Have a maximum table size policy for weekends (ie: if your group's larger than six, we reserve the right to seat you at different tables) Train your staff to be clear about it.
3. Train your door staff to seat people in the order they come in, and in how to set out tables for large groups.
4. Don't say "five minutes" when it's actually going to be twenty minutes.
There are probably other solutions, too.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I've come across such crappy service in restaurants serving non-Korean food: the Passion Five incident has left such a bad impression that I've almost entirely avoided stylish looking places since then, as well as Fusion Food restaurants, and any place of which somebody tells me "they're famous these days".
Expat Jane's beef with slow, obnoxious service at Smokey's Saloon in Itaewon is well documented: it's surprising how many people I know have complained of the crap service there.
Personally, I had another atrocious experience at Jacoby's:
Other bloggers have blissed fondly over the lovely burgers there, but my friend (another prominent food blogger), and I decided to finally try Jacoby's out one day. We were told we'd have to wait an hour, so we gave them our phone number [they had our phone number] and instructions to call us when a table opened up. We headed out and had a breadstick at a nearby bakery to tide us over. An hour later, absent a call, we came back, expecting to be seated promptly. People who had not been in line when we came, and people who had been behind us in line were already seated. My friend asked where our table was, and they said, "Oh. You have to wait."
"Why didn't you call us? But those people got seated ahead of us; they weren't in line when we came by."
"Yes they were."
That's right. Instead of trying to make peace with an unhappy customer who's hangry and annoyed, they lied to our faces. We didn't drop the "You know we're famous bloggers" card, because it shouldn't have to come with that...
however, I've lost all interest in Jacoby's burgers. If their wait staff is lying to customers' faces in order to save face, I'm not interested. And every time a friend is looking for a burger, I qualify my mention of Jacoby's with "I got really shitty service there."
Maybe it's good I didn't go in and order at Butterfinger, and give them a chance to get my order wrong, because that would have led to a whole other outrage...
But to be fair, here's one good thing about Butterfinger Pancakes:
It's near a building that looks cool.
But the larger question is,
why do all of these restaurants offer such horrible service to paying customers?
But what it boils down to is this:
If you're serving western food to western people or in the western style, at the usual prices for good western food here (and almost everybody in that Butterfingers' was western, or going there to fulfill their sex and the city brunchy handbag western fantasies, as were most of the Jacoby-ites). give a damn about western service, too!
If you're serving kalguksu at a hole in the wall, be as gruff as you want: I'm there to fill up, you know it, and I know it - I'm not an idiot, and I know different kinds of dining come with different kinds of service expectations... but if your place is high end, or reputed to be high-end (I'm looking at you, Outback), then I come in with some modest expectations about a modicum of decent service.
If you're not going to train your wait staff to be attentive, put a bell on the damn table. Maybe burger joints in Canada don't have table bells... but if it means I'll get extra ketchup without spending twenty minutes trying to ESP the waiter over to my table, I'll deal with it.
And if your place is designed real pretty, pay the wait staff an extra 500 or 1000 an hour to retain them longer, and make it worth it to train them in how to not piss off widely read bloggers, and general customers. That shit doesn't matter to everyone, but it does matter. Not all of us like shouting "YOGIYO" over the violin quartet playing in the corner. You're charging 18000 won for a plate of spaghetti. Don't tell me you can't put a little of that into competent wait staff.
If your place serves food that Westerners crave after eating jiggaes for a month out in the countryside, you know, maybe you've got all those folks over a barrel, and they'll take whatever long wait and crappy service you can pinch out, because they need their pancake-maple fix... but don't expect us to be happy about being treated like cattle, and don't expect to get through it without people who DO give a damn about service, and aren't just ravenous for "real" bacon getting pissed off to high heaven at your arrogance.
[update] I've been asked by a few people to put this list, which I posted in the comments, in the actual post, to increase the chance it'll be read: so here it is. Here's what I expect when I'm paying more than 15000 won for an entree. I don't think these are unreasonable, given that I probably also ordered a soup, or a salad, and some drinks.
water refills/another pitcher/whatever either without shouting at someone, or without waiting more than three minutes
knowledgeable about the menu, and/or willing to ask the chef (eg: about allergy-specific ingredients) rather than making something up (this goes back to knowledgeable about the menu)
able to relay special requests to the chef - salad dressing on the side? no problem
brings main dishes out all at the same time (if it's western food); brings out appetizers and soups in timely ways (if it's a course meal)
checks by from time to time to see if everything's ok
if refills are free, comes by to offer refills, or check for empty glasses - even once a meal will satisfy me on this count.
refills my glass with water when it's empty
gets the orders right, and writes things down if necessary
if something I ordered isn't available, they come out and tell me, instead of giving me something else and hoping I don't notice.
is nearby enough, and attentive enough, to spot, and come promptly, if they see someone trying to get their attention
and I know enough Korean that all these issues can be dealt with in Korean: I'm not even asking the wait staff to be conversant in English (that WOULD be arrogant of me)
and, of course: my expectation of service like that depends also on the price scale of the place. 4500 for a heaping plate of bokkeumbap? I'll happily get my own water and kimchi for that.
12000 for a bibimbap? I'd like someone to come by and pour my water for me, thanks. If I wanted 3500 won bibimbap service, I'd have gone to a 3500 won bibimbap place.
Butterfinger, I offered an olive branch to Passion Five, on what they could do for me to take my rant offline. I'm not offering that to you, because I didn't even see inside the door of your place, and I'm insulted by the lack of regard for the customers who had been waiting the longest to eat your food.
You'll never see me at your restaurant again.
So where did YOU get crappy service at a restaurant? Let me know in the comments. Best story wins.