Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Butterfinger Pancakes and Crappy Service in Restaurants Serving Western Food

In the comments of this post:

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.)

So then...

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.


Unknown said...

You know, we, too, had a terrible experience at Butterfinger our first time there. We went with a friend who didn't receive his order for half an hour after we received ours. When his started to come out, they gave it to someone else, who started eating it. We told the waitress that that was our order, and she ran over to the table, and took it away from the guy eating it. Literally, the bacon had his teethmarks in it. When we said he wouldn't eat that, she got all upset.

Seriously. Butterfinger sucks balls. Worst service we've ever received in this country. We were about to make a video about it but lost the footage (back when our camera sucked). Luckily for them, we'll never go back there again.

JIW said...

I dunno ~ I would like to see a review of a restaurant you go to where you get the full "western" service. That way I have something to compare it to. I mean I know what "western" service feels like, since I am in San Francisco right now and know it. But as far as feeling it in Korea, I can say I have felt that at a few restaurants.

The thing is Butterfinger Pancakes is good for getting western style food. I'm not sure their shtick is to deliver western style service.

My advice to folks out there: Give yourself plenty of time and don't have high expectations on service and even food quality. Instead get your fix at Butterfinger's when you are in a pinch for really wanting western "breakfast - bruch" food.

But keep a look out for a better breakfast/brunch nook in your neighborhood or favorite area of Seoul.

I don't think they needed to be bashed. Just demystified to future patrons.

And I highly doubt restaurants are going to convert to "western" styles of service, considering that tipping is non-existent.

Roboseyo said...

western style service?

water refills/another pitcher/whatever without shouting at someone

knowledgeable about the menu

able to relay special requests to the chef - salad dressing on the side? no problem

willing to ask the chef (ex: about allergy-specific ingredients) rather than making something up (this goes back to knowledgeable about the menu)

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.

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)

lots of places do it: it's mostly noticeable in its absence.

and, of course: my expectation of service like that depends also on the price scale of the place. 4500 for a 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.

Is that a pretty good summary of what I expect when I'm paying more than 15000 for a plate of spaghetti?

TWEffect said...

Thanks for the warning about this place. I did not know about it (beig that I don't live in Seoul), but I will avoid it and tell everyone I know to avoid it as well.


MAJOR FOMO said...

i'm sorry to hear!...i've attempted to eat there a few times but never waited around to actually eat there. last time they told me it'd be an hour wait for a party of 2. i've pretty much given up on gangnam station restaurants.

Roboseyo said...

Yeah, just in general, Gangnam can bite my schlangnam.

Unknown said...

Gecko's has always irked me. The last time I was there: the waiter disappeared. There were other staff around, but they were busy chatting at the bar, backs to the customers. When my friend's wine arrived, the glass came with lipstick on it.

When we finally flagged down the waiter and told him about it, he picked up the glass, wiped it with a cloth, then put it back on the table.

Lovely! And, that's just the beginning. I know it isn't a high end place, but I think it must have some of the shittiest service in Itaewon. I don't know why it is so popular.

Anonymous said...

Really the main issue we have is at some Korean restaurants and some pizza joints. My girlfriend is a vegetarian and no matter how many different ways she says 'no meat' they still manage to put some ham in there or serve spam as a side or just ignore her.
It's tough being a veggie in this country.
Please visit my blog and leave a comment: http://jdbrownlie.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

Is it really that complicated? American waitrons work for tips. If you don't provide good servce, you only make two dollars an hour. If you hustle, you can make 20-25% of what your customers are paying.

Not saying it doesn't suck, but why even bother in the first place? In a culture where tipping doesn't exist, there's no incentive for good service. Getting upset over it all seems pretty pointless.

The ajumma at a Korean joint at least want to keep you happy enough with your experience so you'll come back and give cash to their husband/female friend/aunt/uncle/what have you. Some kid working in Gangnam? They have exactly zero stake in either the restaurant's general profits or in hustling to boost their tip.

Roboseyo said...

Wetcasements: it's not hard to make them care: pay them 150% what other waiters at other restaurants make, and let them know that there are lots of resumes waiting on the desk, if the extra pay isn't enough incentive for them to upgrade service. It's still a pittance per hour.

Anonymous said...

Paying them a pittance more will make the servers work harder?

I don't see it.

And as a former resident of Gangam (Apgujeong to be exact), let's be honest -- the demand for servers in the chic Western-style places will always be higher than the supply. (At least for now.)

Like I said, it sucks. But there are pretty obvious culture differences at play here.

Personally, when I hanker for a Western-style meal I'll end up going to a) a foreigner-owned place and/or more importantly b) a place where I've had good service or I know one of my friends has.

Despite its negative reputation, you're going to have a better Western dining experience in Itaewon that you ever will near Gangnam/Sina/Apgujeong Stations.

I'm no Picasso said...

I do. Not. Get. The Butterfinger Pancakes thing. At all. Since I've been hanging out with Seoulites more often lately, I haven't heard the end of it about how great that place is. Baloney. I got talked into going there once, and I will never go back again. We had a party of two -- *two*. And it took us almost an hour to get seated. Where did we eventually get seated? Upstairs, where nearly every other table was completely empty, despite there being a huge crowd waiting downstairs. Then our food took ages, was not that great, came out twenty minutes apart and cost a bundle. It took about 20 minutes to get a refill on a crappy cup of coffee, and my friend's order was screwed up.

No thank you. Give me a good kimbap jib for breakfast over that mess any day of the week. Or, yes, I will just cook breakfast at home. We have the resources for that now.

ZenKimchi said...

Knowing how Korean industry and business has worked for the past fifty years, if they want to change it, they will. Tips or no tips. One of the great fallacies of western service is that tips guarantee an incentive. Over and over again I have found that not to be true.

Rob, I think that list you made in the comments should be in the post. I never went to Butterfinger because its reputation preceded it. I went to Smokey Saloon in Itaewon before the permanent line formed, and it was still awful service--we were the only people in the place too.

I would like to talk about places that have good service in another post. Here is my list of expensive or non-Korean places off the top of my head that have consistently given bad service:
TGI Friday's
Gaon (deceased)
Ape with Pipe (deceased)
Smokey Saloon
Rocky Mountain Tavern
Antonio's (a little snooty)
Bulgogi Bros.
China Factory
Maple Tree House
Raw (Gangnam)
Spain Club

Decent service:
Dos Tacos (where I'm typing from now)
The Wolfhound
Burger B
Chef Meili
Chili King
Jina and Franco Trattoria
Ho Lee Chow
Three Alleys Pub

Amazing service:
Jeong Sik Dang
W Hotel (of course)
O Kitchen 2
Chin Chin
The Holy Grill
Le Saint-Ex
Marrakech Nights
Samarkand Kafe (Ansan)
Sultan Kebab

adabeie said...

Butterfinger can suck it. I cook better bacon, French toast, and pancakes than they could ever hope to. We've had the same experience when going there (it's been a long, long time and we'll never go back) and the snide attitude is rather offensive, as is the price. And frankly, no, it's not that good. So don't worry that you missed anything. Likewise for Jacoby's, which cooks the worst burgers I've had in Korea outside of a fast food joint and has easily the worst brunch set in the neighborhood, which says a lot since Indigo's idea of brunch includes, I shit you not, a freaking Eggo waffle.
Good service and food: TG in Keonggidan (though I'd avoid their fish roe sushi), Cup n Bowl in Itaewon for homemade (actually, honestly) soup and croissants.. it's a short list. There are very few restuarants I would ever recommend to anyone, though we used to like La Bocca until they served up some 15,000 won charred crackers they called bruschetta with a 25,000 won COLD main and three-day old wine. I've come to expect a minimum of service, and I'm content to be respectfully treated and ignored, but the in-your-face attitude in places like Butterfinger and Jacoby's have me steaming. A dirt lot would be more useful to the community than either of those 'eateries'.

My advice? Cook for yourself. Most of the restaurants around here are honestly not that great, and learning to make a tuna melt that would easily go for 15 bucks isn't that hard and requires little more than some intelligently picked fresh veggies and decent bread. (Wing Bakery, by the HBC sageori, is both a charity and makes excellent, daily fresh bread 7 days a week and fabulous, big sandwiches for just (shudder, just?) 7 or 8 bucks.

Lastly, I fully agree with ZenKimchi about the false equation of tips and service. Anyone with respect for their establishment will serve you well, and if they haven't got any respect for the people who REALLY pay their wages (customers), their establishment (which will flourish or founder due in part to their actions), or their boss (who might be a cock or might simply HAVE STANDARDS that some whiny part-timer hasn't the maturity to understand) then they should sot off and go haul boxes for a buck. And this is my attitude after many discussions with a restaurateur friend who discusses such things at his establishment. I've lost my sympathy for shite service. Do it well or piss off and go home. (I really was rather more sympathetic before hearing it from the boss's point of view.)

Celebith said...

Maybe I'm biased because I live directly across the street from them, but I've gotten good service in the Smokey Saloon in Ichon-dong the few times I've gone there. Friends who have gone to the Ichon and Itaewon branches like Ichon more as well.

JIW said...

I would like to know why you want to "name" and "shame". I feel like you guys are being too negative here and acting like "Kings of the land." Don't get me wrong I like that you are shedding light on this issue of how service at "western" style restaurants is very poor and disappointing. But I would like to know what you expect them to do to improve? Truly this would require extensive training and different business strategies on the owners of these establishments. And since their clientele is a mix of Korean folks and foreign folks how would the Korean folks know they are getting a "western" style service experience? I know there can be a basic set of improvements in general that could be laid out, but it almost sounds like there are high expectations in a culture still budding out of a 1950's persona.

Rob, your list of services is reasonable and make a lot of sense. Certainly it is mind boggling that a restaurant can fails at all those levels and still makes business. I wonder if their Korean clientele know what good service is or what "western" service is and can feel the difference. If so perhaps they would be more inclined to give feedback.

I think you guys have made your point clear that these over-hyped-western restaurants are lousy at service and often worse in the food department. I know I am going to continue seeing posts with these headlines. So I am eager to see if it will affect these businesses and their customers.

Is there any record of such complaining (by foreigners) having an effect on a restaurant, here in Korea?

Certainly, I hope for things to change or at least evolve in the restaurant sector where these businesses are concerned.

Unknown said...

Yeah, the tips=service thing is BS. I've had much better service than described here as a standard in both Taiwan and Japan, two places where servers work for wages, not tips.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...

Personally, I have always been a "I eat the food; I don't eat the service or decoration" kind of guy. Probably because I grew up in Korea. Except for slowness -- the only sin in Korean service industry -- I can tolerate just about anything.

Anonymous said...

Obviously tipping doesn't guarantee good service, but it is an incentive for a server to work harder. In the best American restaurants it definitely plays a factor in your overall experience.

And I wouldn't want to see tipping ever come to Korea (not that it ever would).

It's just a completely different set of expectations and cultural norms. I can't imagine losing sleep over not having the perfect Western style service in Korea, nor vice versa.

Becky said...

Mad About Garlic-went with my Korean girlfriend for dinner. I wanted a Coke. The waiter said I could have an orange aide. I told my girlfriend to tell him I WANT A COKE! They held a 5-10 minute conversation which ended in that I had to have the orange aide. It was good for my health.

I was ready to explode at this time and the waiter could tell I was ticked off. He offered the orange aide and if I didn't like it, he would bring me a Coke. I gave up and drank the damn orange aide and NEVER went back.

Brian said...

Oh please, don't bring the idea that tips equal better service here. In most places in North America tips have nothing to do with service, but are expected regardless. This bad review of a "western" restaurant notwithstanding, I've found the friendliness and service of Korean places pretty good, and much better than what I pay three times as much for (including tips) in the US.

Foreigner Joy, there is a lot of evidence on some of our blogs of "complaining" getting results, so "naming" and "shaming" is a good exercise. If nothing else it instructs people where not to eat or where not to go for an expensive first date.

Roboseyo said...

The Korean: At some places, it's clear I'm only paying for the food. And at those places, I'm OK if they slam the plate down on the table, and make me get my own water. If I'm paying enough that obviously it's not just the food I'm paying for, I DO have other expectations for service.

Becky: that story is ghastly. If their coke fountain ran out, they should just say "we're out of coke"

if we're being too negative, you can go read this:

I DO think that talking about these things has an effect: Stafford (Chosunbimbo), me, and Zenkimchi Joe all have cases where something we wrote on our blog led to real life action by the businesses in question: stafford with an airline, me with Wolfhound Pub, and Joe with the W burger.


David tz said...

My wife is a bartender at an Itaewon bar (and has in fact worked at a number of bars in this area, including those listed as having terrible service) and in her defense, I would like to say, a lot of it stems from the servers not knowing what westerners expect in service.

She has spent countless hours yelling and ordering her (at best, temporary) servers to clear tables, when dishes are empty and ask customers if they would like another drink when the glass is nearly empty. No matter how many times she tells these college kids what and how to do something, she is still constantly yelling at them that if "they have time to lean, they have time to clean"

As a Korean working in a western styled bar, she also has a beef with foreigners walking in and yelling "yogi-yo" at her, too-- have you never heard of the words "excuse me"? Chances are, if you walk into a bar in Itaewon, the Korean standing there understands English so there's no need to yell "Hey you!" at them-- but that's another complaint for another comment thread.

By the time she gets these workers to provide some decent level of service, they quit and she has to start all over again with a new worker, who usually has never had a job before in their short, sheltered life.

It's an endless cycle.

Places like Wolfhound, Hollywood, 3 Alley or Sam Ryan's all have workers that have been there for ages and with foreign owners, they have learned what to expect, so the service tends to be a bit better. Gecko's and RMT both have an extremely high turnover (I saw 3 different cooks at RMT in three weeks and a 2 hour wait for food during that time on Tuesdays) and the service suffers as a result. These places also, although they have foreign owners, tend to treat their workers they same as any Korean boss would treat them, which accounts for the high turnover.

For most places outside of the 'twon, they almost never see foreign clients, so how would they know what they expect? And for the Korean customers who have never been outside of Korea, how would they know what western service standards are to begin with? They can't/won't complain about something they've never experienced in the first place.

David tz said...

and wages have a lot to do with it as well... she's definitely making more than the minimum wage of those around her

Roboseyo said...

Thanks for the contribution, David.

I wonder how many of the expats shouting "Yogiyo" know that it's so much less polite than "excuse me"

You're also correct that expectation plays into it, too, and that outside Itaewon foreign clientele is low on the priority list. My beef here is mostly with places that are posing as fine dining, or at least upper-middle.

JIW said...

:) That is a great post.

David tz said...

To a Korean paying incredible prices, in a posh decor, in an expensive part of town, no matter how bad the service-- it is "fine dining" and upper middle class. They've never experienced western upper-middle class, so they don't know what we expect out of it.

As foreigners in this strange land, we talk about crap restaurants amongst each other and never go to those restaurants again. The workers never see us foreigners because the service sucks and they never learn otherwise, nor do the Korean customers expect the same as us.

We meet each other at all the other decent places that know and deal with foreigners much more frequently and understand what western service is and it draws more Korean clientale as well. Eventually it will propagate, but really, most of these places didn't exist 5 years ago.

3gyupsal said...

I went to butter finger once. It was okay, we too had to wait a while, the food was okay, but the coffee sucked. I think one of their biggest mistakes is that they only have about two or three waffle irons. If you are a pancake and waffle joint, you will run into a bunch of problems if you can only make two or three waffles at a time to fill twenty orders. Breakfast is pretty easy to cook if everything is prepped and ready, but suppose there are 10 tickets with 15 orders for waffles. Even if the guy operating the waffle irons is competent and re-stocks the irons quickly when they they are finished cooking, it still takes about 3 minutes to cook one waffle, that means that it'll take about 9 minutes to complete those orders.

Now suppose more tables order waffles, those tables have to wait nine minutes before the cooks even start cooking their food.

Frankly though, I'm more disappointed with Edward Kwon's place in the express bus terminal Shinsegae department store. I had some kind of vacuum chicken, and my wife had a pork thing. It was seriously just like having grilled chicken and ddon ggas, and people were taking pictures of the food, really not necessary.

chiam said...

Yes. Why can't "fine dining" experiences in Korea be exactly like "fine dining" experiences in Canada? This is yet another example of how far Korea must still work to be an advanced country! Shame Korea! Shame!

I can't wait until Korean establishments wise up and forbid me to use the washroom unless I am a paying customer. I can't wait until I'm expected to pay 15% tip, and I especially can't wait until Korea becomes so exactly like Canada that I can stop comparing!

And while we're at it, $3 dollar subway fare? Where are you? Last call at the bar? How much longer must we wait! No drinking in public? Seriously, get with the program Korea!

Roboseyo said...

unhelpful, chiam. Up until your post, the comment discussion here had been thoughtful and mostly devoid of sarcasm or rudeness.

would you have happily said "that's Korea! La dee da!" if a restaurant made your group wait two hours for a table?

I carefully outlined the terms under which I expected better service than tossing my dishes on the table, and as I said before: If I want 3500 won bibimbap service, I'll go to a 3500 won bibimbap place, and get my 물이셀프 with a smile on my face. Did you read the post, and the comments, and get that part, before putting your own comment in?

I'm not asking every restaurant to change, but if I'm paying 6000 won for a cup of coffee, I have expectations about that cup of coffee, and how it's served to me, not because of where I'm from, but because of how much I paid for it. Ditto for a 15 or 18000 won plate of spaghetti. Are you telling me you don't?

chiam said...

I was being sarcastic.

Incidentally, I just got back from Toronto and I got food poisioning at a Burrito place near Bay and Dundas after leaving a restaurant due to bad service near Bay and Dundas. Shall I write a post about how Toronto is rife with bad service in restaurants serving Thai and Mexican food?

Just because you carefully outlined terms doesn't make you any less the neo-colonial whinger.

David tz said...


There's a huge difference between acting like a jerk and having some common courtesy. No one is demanding a overhaul of the service industry to match western countries, only some etiquette and consideration like 'don't lie to me about waiting times or seating me when you say you're going to seat me.' If I have a party of 10, don't seat 5 couples before me and tell me you don't have any seating, because obviously you do-- you just sat 10 other people... If you don't have any coke, tell me that, don't try to force something else on me no matter how many times I tell you I don't want it. When I say 'No meat' I really mean "don't give me any fucking meat", not "Oh sure, I'll a few pieces of ham on my pizza" and the one of the most important things, if you don't have bells at the table, don't make me yell "Hey, you!" across a crowded room so I can get my drink refilled and give you even more money. Instead of standing around talking about the latest app on your iphone with your co-workers, you should be paying attention to the customers and their needs and doing something you get paid to do-- namely, provide a service.

This is not a discussion about the differences between west vs east. As mentioned previously, service in other Asian countries that also do not follow a tipping culture and have low wages is a lot better than service in what masquerades as a high-end establishment in Korea

When I go to any restaurant in any country to spend my hard-earned money, I want to pampered and the more I spend, the more I want to be pampered. I don't want to be treated like getting a little service is a terrible burden because I dragged you away from your game of Angry Bird or your gossip session about the latest intrigue on the drama Secret Garden

chiam said...

"So where did YOU get crappy service at a restaurant? Let me know in the comments. Best story wins."

Best negative story wins. Amazing!

Your blog has been pretty negative lately. You've become a member of the majority of the expat blogosphere, I guess.

Then again, it is much harder to write a post as long as this one about a good restaurant experience, now isn't it?

David tz said...

If you want to write a post about bad service in Toronto, that's your prerogative and I'm sure plenty of people in Toronto would probably agree with you. If fact, if enough people in Toronto read your post, because you were a popular blogger in Canada, the restaurant in question would probably even improve their service. And since Toronto is a city in an entire country that is nothing but colonists, that would make you a neo-colonist whinger as well.

Since it is Canada (since that's the comparison YOU used), you could even file a report against the burrito place that gave you food poisoning and chances are pretty good that they would get a visit from the local health inspector. Do you thing that kind of thing would happen here? Do they even have health inspectors in Korea?

Emma said...

I can honestly say that I haven't had really bad service as of yet, however, I don't really go to the higher end, western-style restaurants very often.

I will say that On the Border in Coex has had good service all the times I've been there. It's the closest thing to Western service that I've got. Including getting food out in a timely manner, asking about drink and chip refills, checking on us, etc.

Though, the wait can be pretty strenuous on the weekends. I was told 2 hours for a group of 10 on a Saturday night, and I would believe it since every table looked filled when I peeked around.

ZenKimchi said...

David, your point about the kids not having any concept is spot on. And thanks for giving a more vivid picture of how it works in Itaewon. I bet it really takes a lot more work to train servers in Korea. It frustrates me when people get away with things that would have gotten me fired when I worked in the business--along with Korea's ambitions to be a culinary powerhouse.

Rather than just participating in the English echo chamber, I have a regular column in Korean on Korea.kr, and this month's column is 5 tips on how to improve service. Constructive criticism in case ignorance is the issue. If you're paying the prices for a professional service, you should have the services of a professional.

Also, I wouldn't call it "western" service. These are modern international hospitality standards that have been developed over time. It's called the "hospitality industry" for a reason.

Consistently I have read and heard from insiders that the reason that Korea doesn't even place in international restaurant guides isn't because of the food, it's the lack of professionalism in the service. It's not necessarily the fault of the individual servers. It's a systematic issue. Lack of training and oversight. Ignorance of basic service guidelines.

David, feel free to expand on your comments on a guest post on ZenKimchi (I'm stealing him, Rob).

Roboseyo said...

Steal away, Joe. you can also find him on facebook. And yeah, you're right: calling it "western" service was misleading; I shouldn't have.

chiam said...

My big problem with this post was the tone that made the service problem a "korean" problem. Bad service is an international problem and exists everywhere.

You had a bad experience at Butterfingers, or another restaurant, ok, just say that it was bad service at that particular place. Saying that it's a "Korean" problem is wrong, and that's what I didn't like.

I'm sarcastic to the extreme by nature. that's how I was raised. It takes a while to get used to it.

The level of service you expect isn't in sync with the service Koreans expect. My wife says that service has improved A LOT since she was younger, and that the choices people have in Korea have improved as well. Change is slow everywhere.

When I first arrived in Seoul it was damn hard to find a good breakfast. Now breakfast is trendy, and more places are offering up breakfast items. That's good, right?

I've been to pretty fancy Korean restaurants where the service was AMAZING, but then again, how many of you service-blasters are going out for 300,000 won galbi? Try it, and you'll see that the service is awesome.

Trendy non-Korean-food style restaurants are like hakwons. They are, for the most part, entirely for quick profit, short term businesses that operate only to become "popular" so that they can cash out and get a big Goll-i-goom (not sure the Korean spelling of that).

The places that aren't blacklist hakwon style have been mentioned above, and I am sure there are places you've all had good service that you've been to more than once. That fact alone means that there is good service to be had in Korea; making this whole "korean service sucks" argument mute.

David tz said...

I also, was just using 'western' more as a way of differentiating between the two for lack of a better word... the same way Koreans classify anybody who isn't a Korean as a waygook-- even when they are the foreigners in a foreign country. And let's face it, we're really talking about restaurants that actually use the words 'western-style' in their advertisements.

I'm flattered, but I'm hardly qualified to comment on much. I'm much better at painting pretty pictures than I am at writing, and in person, I really should learn to keep my mouth shut most of the time...;) Roboseyo is right that I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook-- there's only one person named David tz on the intertubes and it's me.

No ones trying to put the blame on Korea as being the only place in the world with bad service, but we are complaining about places that claim to offer a "western-style" dining experience that are so NOT that. Unfortunately, there seems to be a plethora of places in Korea that do exactly this-- offer a 'western-style' experience that is anything but. Having a bunch of servers standing around only to come when rudely yelled at, is hardly what any of us would consider a 'western-style' service. It works great at a galbi place were we cook our own food and everybody has exactly the same side dishes as everybody else or where the customers order one plate of ribs and share amongst 5 people (I've worked in a bar where Korean customers have requested that I cut a hamburger into 4 pieces so they could share it-- I told them to bugger off and buy 4 burgers), but that's not us. We're talking about separate meals for every member of the party, with unique drinks as well as special diets in some cases. I'm not even claiming that workers here should be at only my beck-and-call, just do your job and give me some decent service instead of a half-assed attempt. Speed, politeness and some simple courtesy is all I ask.

As I mentioned previously, you're right that things have changed a lot in even just 5 years-- there are a lot more choices and sometimes they even get it right. But when they get it wrong they REALLY get it wrong-- it's not just one or two things, it's a total cluster-fuck, for lack of a better term.

As for Korean galbi places that charge 300,000 won, the service better be bloody amazing... I would expect nothing less, no matter what style of restaurant or country I was in, but 한식 is a different beast and doesn't require the same kind of service since we are all eating the same food from the same plate and so is everybody else in the restaurant.

Unknown said...

expensive is expensive, service has nothing to do with it. western service from a Korean? phhhhh. I do want to say that I find now, like in the west, I find alot of young people working now to be just "warm bodies" to carry the plates. You can almost never ask them questions without the blank stare.

Unknown said...

Sounds like you have to change COUNTRIES (Japan?) to get what you want in the way of service.

T.K. (Ask a Korean!) said...


If I'm paying enough that obviously it's not just the food I'm paying for, I DO have other expectations for service.

My solution is to not go to places where I pay for anything other than food. :) That tends to work out very nicely, actually. It still leaves room for, say, Chez Panisse, whose food is so incredible that $150 per person tab feels like nothing. It really eliminates the mediocre $60 per person meals.

And ah, skeptico/IHBB, just could not leave the nice people alone, could you? The fact that you had to jump on Robo in a relatively rare occasion when Robo was criticizing something about Korea speaks volumes about your twisted mind. It's the new year soon -- try being a nicer person in the new year.

Roboseyo said...

DC: nah. there are lots of places in Korea with great service, or service that's perfectly appropriate for the kind of establishment/food it is... but somehow certain types of places tend to fail spectacularly with alarming regularity, and in particular, I've had a lot of bad experiences with places claiming to be serving "international" type foods - brunch, family restaurants, steak houses, and stylish fusion food joints. Not all, but surprisingly many.

Burndog said...

You need to rotate those photos...made me dizzy!

As for Butterfingers...I don't know. I go there every now and again...but I don't like the Gangnam one. Bundang is much better...better service at any rate. I don't think that the service in Australia is all that good most of the time, so maybe I've got lower expectations!