Mexico DF. Sometimes I get mad.

Image taken from the KQED Bay Area Bites Blog
Industry people get it. We know how to order, how to act, and how to tip. Despite certain bacchanalian tendencies, we are generally civilized folks when dining out. We don't mind a wait, and are willing to make compromises...and as long as we eat well and get a smile, everyone ends up happy. Even when a party of 8 is involved.

I work at one of the biggest restaurants in the city--and we get a lot of large parties. I'll be the first to admit--these parties can be a pain in the ass. In the middle of 350 covers, going 100 miles an hour, having to stop and figure out how many bowls of pommes frites will satiate a ten top can be...annoying. So it was taking this into consideration that made me almost hesitant to call around on a Saturday night, asking for an 8 top reso. Patrick was in town, and Sky and I had just moved, so I was lucky enough to get a Saturday off. Friends that I rarely get to see at all, much less on a weekend came out. All were hungry. I didn't start calling for a reservation until almost 8pm...so I was ready to compromise.
  • Nopa. Nothing until 11:30
  • Poleng Lounge. No deal.
  • Globe. Booked with a large party.
  • Mexico DF. "We can take your party at 9:15."
This was not my first trip to MDF. I had been there the first week they were open...excited about a Fonda-esque spot just a short drive away. I expected mass confusion and chaos...but the service was efficient, and the food delicious. It was on this experience that I planned my trip back...and subsequently ended up telling my friends how good I thought it was.

We headed downtown...and upon realizing that we were going to run a little late in our search for parking, I called MDF. My exchange with the manager was a little strange, but I brushed it off for the moment.
"Hi, I have a 9:15 reservation under Nakano...we're running just a little late."
"OK, that's fine. Your table isn't ready yet, so you're working with us just as much as we're working with you."
That last part seemed kind of strange.

We got there, and waited in the bar. 9:15 had come and went. Then 9:30. Then 9:45. The bay doors in the bar were open for some strange reason, and it was freezing. Stueart street is a block from the water...and the breeze was a chilly one. We asked politely when our table would be ready.
"Well, the guests at your table are on dessert...so you should be sat shortly."

Around 10:30, I was beginning to wonder about how table timing was being managed...and considering that I had made my reso with a manager, and not a hostess, this was especially worrisome. I went to the host desk for the third time to ask what was up. I was feeling my smile become a bit forced. She offered a free appetizer. I went for a cigarette. When I cam e back in, I saw a decimated plate of chips and guacamole. Plenty of guacamole...but no chips. Extra chips were never offered. Around this time, the hostess came up and leaned on my shoulder, like we were old friends. She told us our table was almost ready (again) and thanked us for waiting. My wife didn't look pleased with the shoulder lean.

An hour and forty five minutes after our initial reso, we were seated. We were eventually greeted by the kind of server that's a prototype for El Torito, or Chevy's...but not a supposedly hip, upscale restaurant. He was loud, and tried to force us into these weird interactions...like we were MDF cheerleaders or something. I don't know if this was some kind of badly advised attempt at making us happier...but it was not working.

The good news is that the food is good. But as Joey points out, paying top dollar for what boils down to fried tortillas and braised pork shoulder is a bit absurd. Fonda at least offered a wide range of nuevo-Latino cuisine...and at a very affordable price.

"Um..i'll have the twelve dollar guacamole, two nine dollar tacos...and a ten dollar margarita."

Around this time, things at MDF were clearly winding down. Although they stay open until 1am for dinner, that neighborhood isn't exactly full of nightlife. Busboys polished silver, cooks put away mise, and our server...was no where to be seen. This was a small problem for me, because he had talked us into getting the one pound portion of carnitas...and had only brought out three tortillas to go with it. (Seriously, was there a tortilla shortage that night or something?) We decided to cut our losses and skip dessert...but ended up waiting around for our server.

The bill. This is where things get good. They added gratuity, which was fine. Everyone paid cash, and I picked up the balance with my credit card. Strangely, when my card came back, another 18% gratuity had been added to the balance. I double checked everything, and looked around for our server to ask about this, but again he was AWOL. I got up and went to the host desk and asked to see the manager, who was out front smoking. I had to wait for him to finish smoking before he came in. I showed him the problem with the bill, and his response was "No, that's just the way the POS (he really said the letters POS) works...you're reading it wrong."
This was the last straw. I had been pretty damn polite about this whole fiasco...and now they were trying to get over on me, and insult my intelligence while they did it?
"I work in a restaurant. I know how the POS works. You cant tell me he didn't add a second gratuity. I'll do the math for you."
He stared at me blankly. I looked at my friends, who had been the victims in this whole ordeal...our very rare Saturday night wasted.
"I'll just pay it. Nevermind."
His response? "OK, thanks." And he walked off.

An amateur host desk, an inexperienced server--these things I can forgive. But bad management is a sure fire way to bring your business down.

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Drfractal said...

ayyy.. sorry you couldn't get a reservation to poleng.

we'll be adding a new 12 top communal table in dec., so if you're ever in a jam we might say yes!

John said...

Hey Richie,

So, you really do get my point (over on Knife's Edge) about not being overly confrontational when guests are around.

Since this was posted today, I wonder if you went back or called to straighten things out? I probably would not, but that's me and i wonder how a cook would handle it: channel your inner Tony Bourdain? Or?

Anyway, I'm enjoying theblog.



shuna fish lydon said...

oi. I hear you. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt but this stuff is crazy. the truth is this though:

show me a great manager and I will show you that they are few and far between. the great waiters want the dough, not the responsibility and the dumb shits love the title.

the good news is that we're not that far from where you were... so maybe next time I'll be able to make it all up to you in sweet thangs. but I promise-- no leaning. :}

Richie said...

Dr Fractal:
Come to think of it, we should've jsut gone to Poleng anyways. I'll be stopping in soon...got to meet Desi the other day, who was really nice.

I agree, confrontation in front of guests can be akward, even inappropriate. When I spoke to the manager, we were away from my guests...but I felt bad making them wait--especially considering that we had already spent hours there. I did not go back--my schedule doesn't really leave me with much free time...so a simple boycott is my form of protest.

You can lean on me anytime.

Scoops said...

um. yeah. the waiter was kinda the creepiest. i was just waiting for him to bring out a commemorative sombrero like at chevy's....

chestery said...

"i was just waiting for him to bring out a commemorative sombrero like at chevy's..."

Tres Agaves, also, is at the vanguard of showing the world that corporate chains are not the only places that can furnish Mexicana schtick.

luis said...

hopefully you wont brush off the restaurant and will want to come back again sometime. i enjoy reading your blog and find it funny and informative on trips to restaurants, food and what not. i was sous at fonda and am sous at DF now. come by sometime as the food is evolving, introduce yourself as well. would be nice to meet someone into slow food. take care.