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Fear and loathing on table #5

You can call this a cautionary tale. During the course of my other day job, I have the opportunity to interact with the restaurant industry. These ladies and gentlemen in hospitality, for the most part, are on the front lines every day dealing with the public. I can tell you from experience. I have been a server, bartender, and have worked in kitchens myself. The hours are long. The work is so often thankless. I don’t think anyone realizes how difficult it can be. But then again, it is also easy for those in said industry to take our hard earned dollars for less than stellar fare and really bad treatment. So as a public service, and in deference to Cuban-American relations, I offer you some things that perhaps you may want to avoid as a consumer. So with restaurant week almost upon us, I offer a culinary picture of ‘don’t let this happen to you.’ I recently had the misfortune to visit one of our newest DC institutions of dining that serves what they term as ‘Nuevo Cubano.’ My companions were wonderful—all good friends. All in the industry. We are all politically aware. We have dealt with foreign relations. But here’s where it gets dicey. Here is where we actually discovered what we are calling “Castro’s Revenge.” Allow me to offer an abbreviated rundown of our experience. Arrival. It takes 15 minutes for the server to even approach the table—and no, the restaurant was far from busy. Cocktails-20 minutes—each. First to have the order taken, then to have them delivered. No, they are not ‘artisan.’ Meal apps and entrees all delivered at the same time. The apps are incorrect. Entrees returned to the kitchen. New apps arrive. Entrees arrive after apps are finished…20 minutes or so after apps are finished. Entrees are clearly ‘re-fired.’ This means new one weren’t made; the originals were put under a hot lamp and reheated. They are dry if not a little singed. In the interim, a ‘Rum expert’ arrives at the table to explain the high-end rums on the cocktail list. One, among us, knows the owners of the distillery. He offers a gratis Rum tasting for the table. For 5 people, we receive one small tasting—about a half shot of each of three. Hey, thanks! We enjoyed using it as lip balm, because that’s about all we had to share—each. We turn down dessert. We figure we all would like to be home before midnight. Check arrives, the only thing that arrives on time—we are told ‘several items have been ‘comped.’ Restaurants will often ‘comp’ a menu item or two, or more, if the meal is a complete disaster—which this was. “Comp’ is short for ‘complimentary—‘ which would mean the management takes something off the check or at the very least offers a gratis dessert—or something. We come to find not a thing has been ‘comped.’ What was ‘comped’ was the double billing of our entrees, which we, and most of polite society, like to call a ‘credit.’ One should never expect anything for free. Restaurants, especially independent ones, which this one is not, run on a close profit margin. Guests should offer the servers, management, etc. the same respectful behavior they expect to receive. There is rarely an excuse for anything less, even under the worst circumstances where tempers can be tested on both sides. That being said, there is also no excuse for taking money from a guest for an experience that is clearly rude, inept and beyond…well..just beyond…and not in a good way. So in this season of dining out; of parties and of impending specials that will fill our dining establishments, I wish you all, in both the front of the house and in back, pleasant dining, good company and a reminder that restaurant etiquette cuts both ways. Bon Appétit.