Service Alert: Le Repaire de Cartouche and Mon Vieil Ami

November 18, 2009

This morning I received the following message from my friend and blogger extraordinaire David Lebovitz:

Last night, “I ate at Repaire de Cartouche and had astoundingly poor service. It was like they were trying to be juvenile and it wasn’t just that they were rude; they were purposely being nasty. I never post on Chowhound but I did a search and this came up, which was pretty much my experience. And it pretty much was almost the same thing that happened to us. (Except when we were there, a French guy yelled at the waiter that he was contacting Michelin, and stormed out.)The waiter wouldn’t even let us order our wine until we ordered our food, and stormed away when we said we needed a minute to look over the wine list.”

I’ve had many similar messages lately, and I’ve had a lot of similar service experiences in Paris restaurants recently, too. Sometimes I think the poor service is a specific reaction to serving a table of Anglophones, i.e., these idiot tourists don’t deserve anything better (reading both Le Figaro and the new Le Fooding guide today, I came across repeated nasty references to tourists, as though they’re some sort of ghastly subspecies not deserving of proper service and hospitality). And other times, I think the bad service comes from poor casting, i.e., someone with a chip on their shoulder about being in a serving job takes it out on those they’re serving.

One way or another, aggressively bad service is inexcusable, since even if the chef is hugely talented and the food memorably delicious, a meal is obviously ruined by jagged and/or unpleasant service.

Since HUNGRY FOR PARIS was published, I’ve had several complaints about the service at Le Repaire de Cartouche and also at Mon Vieil Ami, and so I’m putting both restaurants on a watch list. I’ve also had complaints about, and experienced, very snippy and pretentious service at La Pizzetta, where the waiter was so knowingly rude that I’d never dream of going back, and La Bigarrade and Jacques Decoret in Vichy. Service at two of my favorite recent restaurants could be better, too–Jadis and Frenchie, where the waiters are often bored and disengaged.

So what do you do when you’ve had really poor service in a Paris restaurant? You wait until the end of the meal and then you ask to speak to the host, hostess or owner and politely but firmly tell them that you’ve had a very disappointing experience.

And when you have particularly bad service experience in a Paris restaurant, please share it here so that I can put out a service alert. Thanks, Alec

  • Chrisitne

    I am so glad you included Mon Vieil Ami here. I made a reservation with them several months ago and called to confirm the afternoon of our reservation. They told me that they had no record of my reservation at first. When I insisted that I had made it and on which date and with whom they acquiesced and told me that unfortunately my reservation was mistakenly made at Drouant, a sister restaurant. Having no idea of Drouant I asked for some sense of what it was (being a Friday night at 7:30 pm..), the "gentleman" on the phone asked if I have internet and to look it up! Well, yes I do have the internet and in fact am VERY capable of telling the world about my experiences, merci.

    The story does end well with a lovely meal at Drouant include a bottle of house champagne and a great table. It’s a shame the "gentleman" who answered the phone at Mon Vieil Ami is allowed to speak though. It overshadowed the evening.

  • Sara L.

    We thought it was just us. We havd been big fans of Mon Vieil Ami ever since it opened, often recommending it to friends. The last two times we have eaten there, we have not only thought the food was not up to its original standard but also that the service was terrible: rude, lazy, pushy & supercilious. The last time we happened to be seated at the large communal table and everyone sitting there was joking about how bad it was. We won’t be going back, even though we rent an apartment on L’Ile St Louis, and we won’t be recommending it. Too bad.

  • Kinneret

    Dear Alec,

    Unfortunately I can immediately add Itineraires to this list. We had a reservation for a Saturday night, and we found out that by chance, our friends had already had a reservation for the same night. We called and they agreed to put us in the same table. Flexibility is appreciated. But they said nothing about this meal being served on a poor unstable metal table (like the ones they have outside) and on same kind of chairs, extremely uncomfortable, the ones that are good for a quick espresso, but surely not for a long meal. Our table was placed on a very narrow path, to the kitchen, and waitresses were practically hanging above our heads with their beautifully architectured dishes.
    The staff was arrogant, very busy, unattentive throughout the whole meal. it was almost to the point of rudeness, including one cute looking waitress, that was hailing dishes names; that really brought back some memories of army service.
    This was well beyond consequences of the positive intented improvisation after our request to join tables together. The restaurant was too busy, too crowded and was obviously too important to serve us.

  • Alec Lobrano

    Thanks to Christine, Sara and Kinneret for their posts. I discussed service with friends at a dinner party tonight, and 3 or the 6 people at the table immediately had horror stories to relate regarding bad service.

    I’m going to be posting regular Service Alerts, so if you’ve had a bad service experience in a Paris restaurant, or any bad experience for that matter, please share it here.

  • I don’t think that waiters would treat you badly only because you don’t speak french. I suffer from this as well…
    For Drouant and Mon Vieil Ami, as it is owned by the same people and and they share the same reservation system, there was probably a mismatch.
    A lot of bistro gastro consider focus on affordable good and inventive food, so service is considered as less important. And very often these places are over crowded so waiters are stressed and don’t have time to serve people as they should.
    Try to avoid going there on Friday and Saturday evenings, prefer lunch or the first days of the week!

  • Jaime A.

    Please add Senderens to that list! We had such terrible service there – especially from the sommelier, who literally ignored us all night, and never brought us the second bottle of wine we ordered because "he was so busy" !!!!

    OK – so he gave back his Michelin star, but is this really acceptable for a restaurant charging those prices?

  • STA

    To all the "tourists" whether or not they come from an Anglo-Saxon country : don’t think that they treat you badly because you come from abroad and/or don’t speak French. Service has always been a problem in Paris, even for real Parisians like me ! La Pizzeta for example is a terrible place for everybody in terms of service. I will never go ther again

  • Alec Lobrano

    Re the idea that Paris’s new, innovative inexpensive bistros are too busy serving good food to fret service, I have to say that I disagree. But let me be clear about what I mean by good service–if the waiter or waitress is friendly and attentive, I’m usually willing to cut the kitchen some slack if they get overwhelmed and an unfortunate hole develops in the middle of the meal. What I won’t put up with is the "I could care less" attitude that strangely creeps in at some of the city’s most popular young bistros, the unstated idea being that you’re lucky to be here, so shut up.

    And thanks to STA for confirming my horrific experiences at La Pizzetta, an unbearably pretentious and unpleasant place.

  • It’s funny, because we go to La Pizzetta semi-frequently, and always had great servers. (Last time they gave us a free glass of wine. Maybe to make up for being nasty to Alec?) But it shows that service can really vary which is why I tend to overlook it, as mentioned, if they got swamped or whatever. It’s when they’re intentionally disagreeable to the point of being obnoxious, as they were at La Repaire de Cartouche, it’s worth calling them out for.

    On another note, the comments about "tourists" infiltrating restaurants in Paris and getting treated poorly: I think a lot of Americans get a bad rap (although a few deserve it…) and many are very interested and knowledgeable about cooking and dining, much more so than our fast-food loving reputation leads others to believe. As more European people travel to the states, and more food-lovers dining abroad challenge those misconceptions, would be interested in seeing if that perception changes.

  • Allesandra

    Hurrah!! Am so glad that you called out Mon Vieil Ami for their poor service. I posted a rant several months ago about my bad experience there. I used to love going there for the great food and ambiance. But I had the exact same "phantom" reservation experience as an earlier post. Upon arrving (after having called the day before to confirm) I was told that my reservation didn’t exist. Not only were they rude and callous about it, but I was made to feel that I was lying about having even made the reservation!?

    I refuse to return there. Not that they care as the place is always packed — but hopefully eventually word will get out and they take notice.

  • Alexander Lobrano

    Thanks for your remarks, Allesandra. I’ve had such a deluge of negative remarks about the reservations process and the service at Mon Vieil Ami that I’ve decided it’s not a restaurant I feel comfortable sending people anymore, which is a shame, because the food is often delicious. Best, Alec