Thursday, November 01, 2007

If You Don't Ask, They Won't Tell; Patroon Can Make You Feel Like A Buffoon When You Get The Check

Restaurant PR Blunder: When You Don't Feel Special For Ordering the Special

A buddy of mine took a client out to dinner at Patroon, a well-regarded Midtown restaurant that once earned a three-star review from Ruth Reichl in The New York Times in 1998, though it was knocked down to one star by Eric Asimov four years later.
The dinner tasted good, but the check left a sour taste.
Patroon's been around long enough (since 1996) to have established a pedigree for reliable steaks, seafood, duck and roast chicken at prices that wouldn't be considered unreasonable by Manhattan standards.
And owner Ken Aretsky's been doing the restaurant game long enough at different venues to know how to keep customers happy. Which doesn't happen when you fleece them at the end of the night.
My friend was informed about a special, a whole roasted Bell and Evans chicken infused with truffle butter. Sounds special indeed.
The friend and his dining companion decided to order the dish. Since it's not the type of thing you do in front of a client, he didn't ask how much it would cost, nor did the waiter volunteer that information.
Given that the ordinary organic chicken on the menu cost $26, one could expect at least a nominal boost in price, given that it was a "special" and the "T" word was uttered. But the restaurant was a little too pleased with its bounty.
When the bill came, my friend found out that a "special" chicken at Patroon cost a whopping $100. Which is why the waiter didn't tell them beforehand, but which is why he should have.
Even if you're on an expense-account meal (my friend is actually self-employed), that kind of stunt is not one to countenance lightly. And if you're the one picking up the check, you invariably feel too abashed to make a scene, which the restaurant is counting on.
In the end, Patroon might have provided a high-quality chicken, but pushed it on its clientele in a low-class way. Jacking up the bill without prior warning may give the till a quick boost, but at the expense of future business, which Patroon won't get from my friend.
There are enough steak houses in New York where you can pay a lot for a meal, but at least they give you fair warning on the menu.
For someone who aims to play in the upper eichelon of the New York restaurant scene, what Aretsky and company pulled was strictly bush league.

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