Thursday June 1, 2006

Gables Diner vs. Prezzemolo

gables diner and prezzemolo

Let me begin by saying that I’m perfectly willing—eager, even—to stay up for hours and hours debating the right of any restaurant to charge $5.95 for a pint of Bass Ale. I don’t care if the same pint will run you $4 elsewhere in town: if you have some slightly pretentious interior, and are located in an allegedly hip part of town, feel free to charge the six bucks (since, and it might also bear emphasizing that the price was clearly marked on the menu, and nobody held a gun to my head and made me order one).

Having said that, I’m never going back to the Gables Diner again. I went with a group of friends last night, and two of us decided to split a pizza, the rest ordered sandwiches and whatnot. The sandwiches and whatnot came out all at once, and we were told the pizza was on its way. Which, um, it wasn’t. The sandwiches were decent enough, but even after they were long gone (a good 20 minutes later) the pizza was nowhere in sight. I should add that, except a quick water refill very early on, our waitress avoided our table like the fucking plague during all this. Then she had the gall to act all surprised when I got up, walked over, and told her to cancel the pizza order. Whatever; we were having fun, and nobody was actually left hungry. But it’s not right, and it’s also not right that after all that we were left sitting around waiting for the check.

Compare this, shall we, with Prezzemolo, another place we stopped at recently. Tucked in a strip mall just west of US-1 on Le Jeune, Prezzemolo is tinny, but it’s hip, and serves unexpectedly sophisticated food (I obviously took the photo above long after they’d closed). You can BYOB (or BYOCM1), and there’s even a liquor store next door. The star attraction is a long list of specialty pizzas. “Gourmet ingredients on a thin and flaky crust,” is one of those things you’ve heard over and over, but Prezzemolo’s pizzas really are unique and wonderful, and yes, many of their ingredients are imported from Italy. A particularly inspired one features gorgonzola and pears (!), and there’s a list of choices that include piquant cured meats.

We also had the most helpful waitress ever, who went through quite a bit of trouble to accommodate our fairly large party, suggested walking to a gas station for beer (the liquor store was closed), and even had the kitchen make a special smaller version of one of the salads for one of us that wasn’t very hungry. I didn’t get to try the desserts or coffee, but I’m told they’re every bit as great as would be expected from a top-notch little Italian place. Nice work, guys. (And thanks to Dig and KH for introducing us to this place.)

Gables Diner
2320 Galiano Street
Coral Gables
(305) 567-0330

Prezzemolo
4702 S Le Jeune Rd
Coral Gables
(305) 669-6119

[1] Sorry, it’s an inside joke. Regular readers are implored to (a) indulge me, and (b) believe me when I say you’re really not missing much.

Update: Prezzemolo has closed and Gables Diner is still around. There’s no justice in this world.

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  1. Tere    Thu Jun 1, 08:33 AM #  

    Interesting. I’ve been waiting for my next visit to the Diner before posting about it in my blog. I appreciate your perspective – I’ve been a regular there for 9 years now, and although they’re nice guys, the new owners (they bought it from the previous owner in 03) have hiked the prices up considerably and have done so at least twice since they bought the place. I’ve gone from going once a week to once a month, if that.

    I love the food, it’s only disappointed once or twice, but I do agree that service there can often be absentminded.



  2. KH    Thu Jun 1, 09:37 AM #  

    Alesh, that tiramisu I took home from Prezzemolo was the best, most delicious one I’ve ever eaten in my enitre life! I’m not kidding.

    Fries at the Gables Diner are yummy. Also the breakfast/bruch menu-yum! [Real maple syrup]



  3. oldswish    Thu Jun 1, 11:30 AM #  

    You guys really need to stop staring at each others belly buttons and get around town…say up to Jumbos diner up on Nw7 ave and NW 75 St. Or the myriad of places just along Coral way. Gables Diner? No atmosphere, stale food…you guys disappoint me. I had hoped that America’s youth may be able to see past their Scions, however….



  4. Coconut Grove Grapevine    Thu Jun 1, 01:47 PM #  

    I complained about service like this at various Grove locations, and the staff there commented on my blog saying that the problem was that I was high maintenance, that is why the service sucked. It was my fault, not theirs.



  5. tip at your own discretion    Thu Jun 1, 05:16 PM #  

    that’s where the gratuity/tip thing can be fun….no service = no tip!



  6. alesh    Thu Jun 1, 08:03 PM #  

    The fries that I had at GD were an unremarkable shoestring variety, and a little on the greasy side. Overall, the food was not bad, just not worth putting up with a big hassle for.

    Personally, it was my first time there, so I was looking forward to it. Oh, well.

    I’ve noticed that waiters and waitresses (is there a gender-neutral term to use here?) are very sensitive to restaurant reviews that criticize service, and I think they have a legitimate beef: ultimately, this is ALWAYS a management issue. If you get bad service at a restaurant, it’s either a complete fluke, or the management just doesn’t give a damn. A waiter’s job is to make Tom happy, whether he’s a difficult customer or not. It’s management’s job to make sure that the waiter understands this, or is sacked.

    I would also like to say that I’m NOT a stickler for perfect customer service. I don’t NEED or particularly WANT overly friendly waiters. Just be around and aware of eye-contact every once in awhile; is that so much to ask?

    It has been drilled into me that it is NEVER acceptable to tip nothing. I used to consider it a pretty strong statement to carefully calculate 15% and leave that. In the case of the Diner the other night, I just calculated what I actually left, and it came out to 13%. Too much?



  7. KH    Fri Jun 2, 11:21 AM #  

    I’m a shoestring fry lover, so what you call greasy and unremarkable, I call yum!

    But yes, one should always leave a tip, regardless of service quality. Restaurant owners depend on customers to pay the server’s (the gender-neutral term) wages through tips, and servers need them to survive. Twenty percent is standard these days. If you like the service, tip more than that.

    Many people think that stiffing the server will result in better service, but that is quite erroneous; it tends to result in worse service. If you stiff a server, the next time you go into a restaurant, they’ll arrange to have you seated in someone else’s section or they’ll pass your table off to someone else who may already have a full section and for whom going to your table would be out of the way. And you can be sure that everyone who works in the restaurant knows that you don’t tip, and therefore extra effort is not to be wasted on you.

    If your service was genuinely bad, tell the manager or maitre d’. Most of the time bad service is a result of other factors in the restaurant which are beyond the conrol of your server.



  8. alesh    Fri Jun 2, 01:28 PM #  

    I’m not buying it: bringing food for SOME people at a table is bad enough, but not bringing the rest of the foot at all, and walking by the table without a word, is very much within the control of the server.

    It is appropriate to tell the maitre d’ if you have a bad experience at a restaurant that you go to often and usually have a great experience at. If you have a crappy experience at a restaurant your first time there and don’t have any intention of returning, stiffing the server (within reason) and leaving in a huff out is entirely appropriate.



  9. Manola BBB    Fri Jun 2, 02:00 PM #  

    Forgetting a complete order and then acting completely surprised is inexcusable. Shouldn’t restaurant managers keep an eye on their server’s efficiency? You’d think it’d be a good thing for customer, server and manager all around.



  10. KH    Fri Jun 2, 04:22 PM #  

    Alesh, imagine this: the server takes your order, puts it in the computer and the ticket prints in the kitchen. For some reason, some problem on the line causes some food to come out before the rest of the food. The server only has two options-take out some of the food, or wait for the rest of the food. Now some food will keep for a while while some won’t. Sometimes the kitchen can help the server by making a new plate (since it’s their fault in the first place), but basically the server can either bring hot food to some of the party or all the food to everybody at once and have some of the party’s food be cold and/or gross.

    Again, it’s usually not the server’s fault.

    When they walk by your table and ignore you it’s usually because they are in the weeds and they have to ignore you in order to provide decent service to everyone instead of good service to some and terrible service to others.



  11. alesh    Fri Jun 2, 06:42 PM #  

    Yeah, KH, I can imagine that. In point of fact, that’s not what happened: the restaurant was relatively empty, and you could have made a pizza from scratch several times over between the time the first batch of food arrived and when we left.

    But let’s say it happened exactly like you say; it’s still a management issue. Moreover, the whole tipping system stinks – on average, servers are going to make whatever their market value is – good tips and bad tips average out in the long run, and if someone isn’t making enough money, they’ll look for a regular job. Waiters do a pretty tough job, but they get paid pretty well, too (if you think of them as unskilled labor, which, granted, doesn’t quite apply in all cases).

    The point is that tipping is the system we have. As a patron, tipping is INTENDED to be my reflection of how good my experience was. This is effected by much more then the server’s performance: there’s the food quality, the kitchen’s timing, the noise generated by other customers, etc etc etc. The server sometimes suffers unfairly from these factors, and at other times benefits from them; it averages out in the long run. AND, part of a good waiter’s job is to mediate these factors (a good waiter maintains good relations with the kitchen staff, for example), and AT THE VERY LEAST communicates with the customer and apologizes.

    If even communication with my friends and I was sacrificed so some other customer could have excellent service, then I’m thinking i DRASTICALLY OVERTIPPED at 13%.

    Yes, Manola; I blame the manager. Actually, I don’t care enough to blame anyone: a cursory look at online reviews of GD indicates that poor service is a pattern with them. Why bother?



  12. Tere    Fri Jun 2, 09:46 PM #  

    I will agree that service there is not good, to say the least. From my experience, I would say that the main problem is that most waiters/resses (and there are exceptions in the bunch) have their heads up their asses. I haven’t had a situation where they were rude or snooty. And actually, Oscar, the day manager, is a very professional, fair person. And at night (at least every night I’ve eaten there), the owner is there. And compared to the last owner, he really rides their asses, because he’ll be standing in the section where they serve soup and pick the food up. I would say that either one would be open to comments about the service.

    I’ve commented to Oscar (since I know him better) when there’s someone who’s particularly bad. And I would tell anyone else to do that.

    I agree that a tip is a reflection of the diner’s experience, and if I leave a bad tip (10%), I also note on the receipt that the service stunk. And my only exception is the Gables Diner, because I eat there on a regular basis and quite frankly, I don’t want to be known as the stingy bitch who’s constantly complaining about everyone.



  13. alesh    Sat Jun 3, 12:15 AM #  

    Maybe it’s cause I live on South Beach, which tends to average 17 restaurants per city block (and (i don’t care what anyone says) most of them are good to great), but the fact that all you guys are regulars at GD despite being very open about what a pain in the ass it is speaks volumes about the restaurant situation in the Gables. Get ready for CM to review Houstons.



  14. Tere    Sat Jun 3, 09:09 AM #  

    Oh lawd, Houston’s! That one’s a long way off in the Gables blog, since I eat there – uh, once every 2 years or something.

    I look forward to your take on it!



  15. KH    Sat Jun 3, 11:06 AM #  

    I love the fries at Houstons! And the veggie burgers. And the cole slaw.

    Alesh, ha! Well. I can come up with another kitchen scenario to explain that too, but I’ll save it. :) Revel in the indignation; its a great workout for the circulatory system!

    [Can you tell yet that I spent some time waiting tables?]

    I disagree that tipping is intended to be the reflection of how good your service was—that is the line which the public is fed to perpetuate the tip-system. You may notice that some of the best servers, the professionals, tend to work in hotels (and other similar venues), where they are actually paid a real wage, with benefits. The tipping system we have is the means by which restaurants keep wages (and payroll taxes) down and staff turnover high (which also keeps wages down and means you tend to have someone serving you who is just learning the ropes or someone who has experience but is about to leave for greener pastures and therefore has no investment in your opinion in their service).

    Tipping is not actually about giving the clientele a voice, and frankly, if it were, that’d be a stupid way to do it. Poor tipping just gets you more poor service.

    Generous tipping DOES get you better service, but the consequence of that is that the tables who tip normally (not badly) are given less priority.



  16. alesh    Sun Jun 4, 12:06 PM #  

    Well, first of all, i’m not indignant. I wasn’t on the night this happened, I wasn’t when I wrote my post, and I’m not now. Look: it’s nice when the publix cashier, restaurant server, the guy at home depot, and the dreamhost guy trying to help me configure MySQL are firing on all cylinders, and are smart, fast, attentive, and can almost read my mind. The fact is that they’re human beings, and they are allowed to have a bad day, they’re allowed to hate their job, they’re allowed to work harder some times then others, and they’re allowed to completely space out once in a while. Even when someone disregards my time and/or needs, I’m prepared to let it go. We’re all human. (The same goes for me, though: if I’d been having a bad day, I might have made a much bigger stink.)

    I made it clear that to the extent it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the managements fault. Oh but wait a second: you’re seriously saying that complaining to the management (and possibly getting our server into trouble and/or fired if this’d happened before) would have been better then tipping poorly? Seriously?

    Look, the tipping system is messed up. I believe the definitive text on this is Hey, Waitress by Alison Owings, which is on my to-read list. I think getting rid of tipping would solve a lot of problems (not the least of which is women who are essentially forced to take sexual abuse from their customers, because if don’t, they forfeit their tip). One thing that I think wouldn’t change much is how much servers are effectively paid; market forces are at work here, and whether the money comes from tips or a payroll check, if you don’t make enough you start looking in the classifieds.

    It’s also worth noting that restaurants that automatically add 15% to their bills for tip generally have poorer service then restaurants that don’t.

    Generous tipping obviously gets you better service if you visit a giver restaurant regularly, or at short intervals. Since this is almost never the case for me, how much I tip is essentially just based on a sense of right. And of course that’s no way to run ANY system, because it encourages and rewards “cheaters” (eg low tippers). By that logic, we should all STOP TIPPING right away, to precipitate the overthrow of the whole damned system. In some sense, this is already happening, in a softer way, with the automatic 15% tips: it must take a lot of balls to ask for the automatic tip to be reduced if the service wasn’t actually poor.

    The truth of the matter, though, is that I don’t just dislike the tipping system – i’d like to get rid of the whole serving system. I’m much more comfortable in restaurants where you order at a register, pay, and then either pick up your food at a window, or someone brings you the food and then leaves you the hell alone. I’m not a prince, and I don’t need anyone waiting on me, thanks. Maybe this makes sense for the nicest of formal restaurants, but for everyday eating I’d 10 times rather get my ass up to get my hot sauce from a shelf then have to wait for someone to make it to my table, ask them for it, hope they don’t forget (which they DO with some regularity), wait until they make it back around to my table, and then act all grateful. I have a problem with us running our society this way, and I don’t think I’m alone. That’s why places like Panera, Offerdahl’s, and Mama Fu’s, which attempt to marry restaurant-quality food with fast-food service (to varying degrees of success), are making a killing.



  17. Rick    Sun Jun 4, 12:53 PM #  

    To look at things from the other perspective, I highly recommend Waiter Rant.



  18. Manola BBB    Sun Jun 4, 05:34 PM #  

    I totally agree, Alesh. Everyone screws up every now and then, but whatever you do, do it with integrity.

    Perhaps this waitress was inexperienced and/or the restaurant was short-staffed, but it’s a service industry and there’s no excuse. I can sympathize with wait staff because I used to bartend/wait at the legendary Fox’s in South Miami. It’s a small place so the work was reasonable for two or three of us on the floor. However, one night a billion people showed up, so we were honest to goodness swamped and guess what? The manager, the owner and his wife pitched in to serve food. Talk about good service. At that point it wasn’t about tips or anything—we just all needed to team up and get a job done and it was in everyone’s best interest to do so.



  19. Josh    Sun Jun 4, 11:27 PM #  

    Is it legal to call a trying-to-be-at-least-somewhat-fancy place “Diner”? Are they trying to undermind their own pretension?



  20. KH    Mon Jun 5, 01:11 PM #  

    Telling the manager is always better. If it’s not a problem with the server, then chances are the manager already knows about the problem; servers usually (incessantly?) tell the manager when there are problems beyond their control.

    If the problem is not with the server, and the manager does not know about the trouble already, s/he needs to. If it IS a problem with the server, then the manager is the only one who can solve the problem. Usually, though, instead of getting fired, a crappy server gets bad shifts, bad sections, and is slowly dumped from the schedule.

    It’s normal to see a manager deal with a disgruntled customer in a placating manner, and then come back and tell the server not to worry about it (assuming that it’s not a problem with the server).

    So don’t be afraid to talk to the manager. If the problem really is bad service, that’s the only way to address it.

    Or you could also try actually talking to the server about it.

    Yeah, Waiter Rant is an awesome site!

    Sorry for suggesting you were indignant; pehaps you’re just tenacious!

    Smilies all around.



  21. alesh    Mon Jun 5, 01:33 PM #  

    Well, KH, that all makes perfect sense. The problem with it is that talking with the manager is the equivalent of writing a complaint letter to a company: it’s the move of a customer who is interested in helping a restaurant improve. If I’m irritated on my first visit, generally the only interest I have is in getting the hell out of there.

    Again, it looks to me like there’s a dearth of competent restaurants in the Gables, which makes y’all (and some of my best friends live in the gables) put up with some crazy stuff because of allegedly great french fries or something.

    Josh~ If you think that’s silly, you should check out Cafeteria, which brings the casual name + fancy versions of comfort foods + bad service thing to its zenith.



  22. KH    Mon Jun 5, 11:21 PM #  

    I never claimed to put up with bad service! I get my Diner fries to go!