Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shaun's New Year's Eve Clusterf***

Many a passionate romance comes to an explosive end. It starts out all sunshine and roses, and ends in a fiery ball of misery. Alas, that's what's happened with my chef crush on Shaun Doty of Shaun's. As I mentioned in a previous post, we were excitedly looking forward to our New Year's Eve at Shaun's. Oh how wrong we were...it was a dining disaster of epic proportions.

I ultimately selected Shaun's not only because it's always been one of my favorite restaurants, but also because it was one of the few nice restaurants not forcing diners to eat off an expensive prix fixe menu. You had the option of a $45 or $65 menu, or you could order a la carte. Since my dining pals are a budget conscious bunch, I thought this would be perfect.

We got even more excited for dinner after speaking with Shaun himself at El Taco just days before the big night. He enthused about the "f'ing awesome fish" he was getting in for the big night. If you're gonna drop an f-bomb about your fish, I have to try it!

So we made a 10 pm reservation on Opentable.com with the notion that this gave us just enough time to dine, relax over a drink and still be there for the stroke of midnight and the promised jazz band and prosecco toast.

We arrive on time only to find a crazed mob awaiting their tables. Not a good sign. They told us it would be about a 10 minute wait. Not bad, so we settled in at the bar to wait. Minutes became hours, and suddenly it was 11:30 and we were just getting seated. An hour and a half wait on New Year's Eve with a reservation...wha???

During all that time, no one from Shaun's came to speak to the many parties who'd been waiting an hour plus. An apology for the obscene wait, an offer of a free drink, maybe some passed apps would have gone a long way to keeping the mob's anger from boiling over. Here's a marketing tip from someone who does this for a living - it's far easier to prevent a bad evening than to repair one that's already tanked.

Instead we waited, and waited and waited with no sign of reprieve. I scoped out the restaurant several times during that hour and a half and at one count found 7 empty tables, and throughout the first hour there was a table for 8 set up in front of us with no diners at it. So not only did they underestimate how long earlier reservations would camp out at the table, but they also clearly had a service problem. How do you get so overbooked and frazzled on New Year's that you keep people waiting so long while table sit open? If they were a brand new restaurant, I might cut them more slack, but I expect more from Shaun's.

11:30 pm, we're finally seated, but at this point we've worked ourselves into a mild rage. I thought I was going to have to be the bad guy and ask for the manager to make sure we got something comped for our trouble. The hapless waiter left us waiting another 15 minutes without attention. When he did arrive, he asked the worst possible question. "So how's your night going?" Yikes! I thought the boyfriend's head would explode. "Awful, our night is awful thanks to you guys." Granted, he said it with a half smile on his face, but it did the trick.

We explained that of course it wasn't his fault, but we needed to talk to the manager. I admit that the manager did everything (well almost everything) she could to make amends. She apologized, she comped drinks, an appetizer, and desserts. Oops...everything on the entree menu was out except for a couple things like $32 crab cakes and chicken liver fettuccine - one overpriced and the other not my style. What's a girl to do with nary an f-bomb inducing piece of fish in site?

I actually burst into laughter at this point. Seriously, we blow our whole New Year's Eve waiting for a table and there's nothing left on the menu? Thankfully, the manager offered us burgers, which were off menu that night. What a glamorous way to ring in the New Year, huh? Usually I love their burger, but alas, our burger and fries were both oversalted that night. Clearly in addition to scheduling and service problems, there was a kitchen problem that night, too. Even the guys' drinks were salty, which is pretty weird in my book.

Even the New Year's countdown was half-assed, with a smattering of people counting at slightly different rates. Oh well, we made the best of it laughing about our ridiculous evening. We enjoyed our desserts and good company, but that was about it!

Shaun begrudgingly stopped by our table at the end of the night and suggested that if we wanted better service we should try a Sunday night. Not what I had in mind, but I at least admire his nerve in stopping by knowing we were angry!

The manager called me a couple days later, likely in response to my negative Opentable.com review. I admire the gal's chutzpah and effort to make things right, but unfortunately there just wasn't a way to make amends once the damage was done. Unless Shaun has built a time machine in his kitchen, there's no do-over for a botched New Year's Eve.

Will I ever go to Shaun's again? I'm certainly in no rush. The magic has worn off, the romance has ended, the emporer's new clothes are just his birthday suit. Shaun Doty, you're dead to me... (well except at El Taco, I can't give up that Mexican corn over a break-up!)

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