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Hostess Gaffe in front of Sietsema


JLK
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[Moderator's note: this thread has been split off from the Charleston thread, because it's such a weighty issue, and also such a singular observation, that it merits a separate discussion.

This thread stems from Tom Sietsema's review of Charleston here.

Carry on. Rocks]

that poor hostess is mortified right about now

Edited by DonRocks
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Oh, come on. Not every "young hostess" is that cosmopolitan.

Well, whether that's true or not, it seems to me that what she said was either very stupid or very rude. Firing seems somewhat excessive; stern admonishment more than warranted. In any event, I'm much less likely to go to Charleston because of that comment.

Edited by foodandreason
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Well, whether that's true or not, it seems to me that what she said was either very stupid or very rude. Firing seems somewhat excessive; stern admonishment more than warranted. In any event, I'm much less likely to go to Charleston because of that comment.

You're...serious? It's only your fifth post so it is hard for me to gauge your level of sarcasm.

Edited by JLK
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You're...serious?  It's only your fifth post so it is hard for me to gauge your level of sarcasm.

Not that I want to put words into Foodandreason's mouth, but if you interpreted the hostess's comment as "We usually save the space for couples [because 2 men does not a couple make]" it might make many people less likely to dine there. While you could blame it on the hostess being young, she did consult with a manager so it stands to reason that's the thinking of the restaurant as well. Makes me raise my eyebrow in any event. :lol:

[edited for grammar issues]

Edited by Skysplitter
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Not that I want to put words into Foodandreason's mouth, but if you interpreted the hostess's comment as "We usually save the space for couples [because 2 men does not a couple make]" it might make many people less likely to dine there. While you could blame it on the hostess being young, she did consult with a manager so it stands to reason that's the thinking of the restaurant as well. Makes me raise my eyebrow in any event.  :lol:

[edited for grammar issues]

There are two possible interpretations. One, she unnecessarily informed the party that the table was only reserved for couples, indicating that the restaurant was only grudgingly acceding to their request. That alone, while rude, is not a sufficient reason to write the place off given the age of the hostess. The other is Foodand reason/skysplitters's interpretation, and that may be a reason to think twice about going if you were gay.

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Not that I want to put words into Foodandreason's mouth, but if you interpreted the hostess's comment as "We usually save the space for couples [because 2 men does not a couple make]" it might make many people less likely to dine there. While you could blame it on the hostess being young, she did consult with a manager so it stands to reason that's the thinking of the restaurant as well. Makes me raise my eyebrow in any event.  :lol:

[edited for grammar issues]

i interpreted the hostesses words that way as well and one could reason that the consultation with the manager is indication that the restaurant's position is that also. however, the other side of the coin COULD be...

a later reservation for someone who has indicated that this evening was a wedding annv. or another special date and therefore the table had been reserved for them. it also could be that the seating chart was very tight for that evening and such an alteration would require some hastily computed table math. it could also have been that the young lady assumed that the gentlemen in front of her were not on a date but just wanted that table and her answer was just her version of being forthright. short of seeing two people holding hands or some other romantic gesture i don't know how one would presume couplehood.

given all of the various permutations, i give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt. if that were my host stand, i would not fire an employee for a very poorly chosen phrase and the poor judgment that was perhaps behind it. i would, however, have a very serious conversation about diversity, tolerance, and impressions with my entire staff.

Edited by starfish
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Now I'll try to parse the four sentences in question.

Tom asked for the corner table. The "young hostess" found the request odd, because, she thought, they "usually saved it for couples".

She then checked with the manager, who we can presume told her "sit them where they want" because that is what happened.

Tom then ASKED "Was there a problem?"

She should have stopped right there and given the answer to the question, which was NO. After all, they were already on their way to said table, if not actually seated.

Instead, she told them what she, IMO, naively thought of the request.

Hostess: "We usually save this for couples."

It seems to me this was merely an awkward and unnecessary utterance of an inexperienced hostess. Nothing more.

And I am surprised Tom included it in his review. Generally, he uses individual instances of service flaws to highlight something he found pervasive at the restaurant. But he is effusive in his praise for the service throughout the review. I really thought that his mentioning of this "incident" was unnecessary.

I've met Tony Foreman a couple of times, know a lot of people who have worked for/with him, and read the Charleston training manual, albeit six years ago. He rigorously trains the staff on all manner of customer service. The staff at Charleston is uniformally among the most professional you will find in this area. The service at this, the "flagship" restaurant has always been graceful and gracious. It seems that this was just a simple mis-statement by an inexperienced hostess that now has caused a mini-brouhaha, at least in our corner of the world.

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And I am surprised Tom included it in his review. Generally, he uses individual instances of service flaws to highlight something he found pervasive at the restaurant. But he is effusive in his praise for the service throughout the review. I really thought that his mentioning of this "incident" was unnecessary.

My thoughts exactly. Generally, service at Charleston is quite good so what is the point of including this incident? (I think the "incident" was unfortunate, awkward and unnecessary but not sinister, btw.) Perhaps he included it because it cost them a fourth star, I dunno. Not to launch a star discussion but I think they have to be disapointed in a three star rating. Pazo received three and while I'm very fond of Pazo, Charleston is a step or two up for sure.

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i don't think there was enough space in the print edition for the seating incident, or should i have had more coffee before looking for it? i guess i am out of it, but i would assume that quite a few people go to charleston for other than romantic reasons. I'm not in favor of saving the best tables for those who are more interested in each other than the food.

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, and that may be a reason to think twice about going if you were gay.

Or if you're not. Seems to me we don't ahve to parse the statement very far. Two men asked for a specific table that was open, were told that its usually reserved for "couples". Seems pretty presumptuous on the hostess' part. I would hate to have that reaction in my restaurant. While that person would not necessarily be fired, they would be on final warning at a minimum.

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In the [green] hostess's defense, men can be awfully squirmy about sitting too near each other. I can't even count the number of male friends I have who, if they go to the movies with another dude, leave an empty seat in between them.

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In the [green] hostess's defense, men can be awfully squirmy about sitting too near each other.  I can't even count the number of male friends I have who, if they go to the movies with another dude, leave an empty seat in between them.

Some men CAN be, but it's obvious that these two weren't; they asked for the table outright.

The "incident" is unfortunate, though. It doesn't sound to me as if the hostess was being intentionally malicious, but she should have known better (mini rant: there's been a lot of talk about how she was "young," and that was justification for her mistake. The--thankfully few--run-ins I've had with homophobia haven't involved young people, but middle-aged folks. "Young" people are generally up to speed on these things). Had I been in Sietsema's shoes, I would have certainly taken it as at least close-mindedness, but probably not more.

If the table was already taken (or was soon to be taken), then the hostess would have said so. It was clear she assumed they were not a couple--or more severely, couldn't have been a couple--and that is what leaves a little sour taste in my mouth. It's not worth a protest, but it's certainly a slap-your-forehead moment. It creates needless awkwardness. She could easily just have said that there was not a problem, or that she just needed to double check with her manager on seat-changes. Why go for something that could potentially alienate someone?

I wouldn't think twice about going to Charleston though. Everyone makes these kinds of mistakes, and it's important for one's sanity to be able to take them in stride. Would I have told the manager? Probably, but for the purpose of preventing it in the future, not to be a victim. I doubt Charleston is anti-gay (what restaurateur in her right mind would be?), or that the hostess is out to make gay folks feel crappy. I also don't think the "situation" is that big a deal, but is certainly fun for discussion. I hope the hostess doesn't read this thread, though. Poor woman.

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I too thought is was strange for Sietsema to bring this up in his review. Continuing the discussion on here from last week, this seems like a classic case of something that should have been brought up with the restaurant then and there, when they could have had a chance to handle the situation. Unless he means to suggest that this incident reflects a larger (and more serious) problem with the Charleston... (which he didn't seem to)

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Another one of those things where we just don't have enough information to make a clear call. Did the hostess mean that usually those tables were reserved by table number, and it was unusual that they were open at all? Did Tom and his guest come in at separate times, shake hands at a distance, and generally act like they were at a business dinner?

No way to tell.

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I waited tables in Baltimore, on North Charles Street, near many of the gay nightclubs. I thought I was fairly cosmopolitan at the time. One night, two well dressed businessmen were seated in my section. They immediately ordered a bottle of expensive Champagne. As I poured the wine, I asked if they were celebrating anything special.

One of the gentlemen told me that this was his “partner” and they were celebrating “their anniversary.”

“Congratulations,” I said, “What kind of business are you in?”

“I am a physician, and he is an accountant.”

“That’s an odd business,” I said, blindly bumbling forward.

At this point the two men began laughing, at me. “We’re not business partners,” they explained. “we’re life partners. We’ve been together for 11 years.”

I was mortified at being exposed for the hayseed I actually was. But it was an innocent mistake.

I apologized, we all laughed, and they became great customers of mine for several years.

I know from friends who have worked at Charleston that they used to have a rule regarding the seating of tables. It was fairly simple. A customer could sit at any table they chose, provided it was not already promised to another customer. Closed section, closed dining room, window table, patio table, did not matter. As long as it wasn’t promised to someone else.

Now here I am making suppositions, again. Tom asked to be seated at the corner table. The hostess thought the request odd, because she did not read them as being “gay” or a “couple” or even simply “two guys who wouldn’t mind sitting next to each other”.

Apparently it was a nice table, Tom said so, and probably frequently requested. So the hostess went back to the manager in order to make sure that table hadn’t been promised to another customer. She was given the approval by the manager.

Then she made the mortal, individual mistake of uttering her first impression. Which was a wrong thing to do. But it doesn’t seem malicious to me. Now we are sitting here debating whether or not Charleston is “gay friendly”. This seems much ado about nothing, and I blame Tom.

The only way this incident should have been incorporated in this review was if he was made to feel somewhat unwelcome during the entire meal. But there is no mention of that. Just a single statement from a naïve and ill spoken hostess. If this singular incident was somehow indicative of a greater problem he witnessed at Charleston, he should have said so. Because Charleston is an excellent restaurant, frequented by blacks, gays, jews, whites, Indians and everyone else in between.

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Here's what I see as the bottom line...

No matter what's going on, whenever a person working in a restaurant is asked the question, "Is there a problem?" the answer is ALWAYS a confident "Not at all." Work it out, whatever it is, behind the scenes!

I believe you have this one nailed.

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From a ho'stand fronter, let me tell you what the typical seating procedures tend to be.

There are two people working the front. One assigns tables to incoming parties ("point"), another takes them to the assigned table ("forward".) If the party says they wish to seat somewhere other than the table assigned by the "point", the rule is for the "forward" to say, "just a moment, let me check on that." The forward then checks with the "point" to ensure that the table desired by the party is indeed available and hasn't been specifically booked by someone else. In any restaurant, there are typically a few tables that are most desirable on account of location (corner? center room?), seating (chair? banquette? booth?) and general prominence in the eyes of a diner. Yes, people do tend to reserve specific tables.

So suppose the young, inexperienced hostess did as she was told and checked with the manager, who presumably told her, "go ahead and sit them where they want." For her to explain to diners that "this table is usually reserved for couples" was probably a bit presumptious and unpolished, but not too terrible. Many more terrible and rude things have been committed at restaurants. If I heard that, I would have told her afterwards to zip it or to come up with a more innocuous remark, such as "I just had to check that we didn't have a specific request for this table." Nothing was wrong in her checking whether they could have that table. I don't see it as anything malicious, just lack of sophistication in someone who is probably a college kid or someone right out of school making a few extra bucks at night. Come on, people. Have a heart. Have a drink. Nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.

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I'd be hesitant to draw too many conclusion from a single incident that is as easily -- perhaps more easily -- ascribed to inexperience (worldly and professionally) as by malice. Perhaps more pursuasive: I doubt Tom would have given three stars to a place that he thought was gay-unfriendly.

Edited by Waitman
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Tom gets paid to write. Concisely. Accurately.

He was very complimentary of the service. He was very complimentary of the food. He was not too complimentary of the hostess's comment, which, when viewed in the context of the whole article, seems like an anomoly.

Did he experience homophobic reactions each and every time he visited Charleston? He doesn't say. And that's why I have a problem with this.

Tom has said on his chats that he will use negative service experiences to illustrate a larger problem. If there isn't, or wasn't, larger issues regarding homophobia than this one statement, he did a very good restaurant a disservice.

I'm a clam!

*edited to remove a more stupid post than this

Edited by B.A.R.
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Perhaps Tony and Cindy should consider replacing their staff with robots. They could be programmed to answer any and all queries with politically correct, focus group approved answers. That would eliminate the possibility of human foible, whether it is evil, innocuous or just plain dumb. Then, Tony and Cindy would only have to concern themselves with continuing to turn out their incredibly fabulous food. People. No telling what they’ll say. Get rid of them all. Now.

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Tony Foreman, GM and part-owner of Charleston, has been in touch with a good friend of mine. Tony's response is written here with his permission - I do hope this puts an end to this. And by the way, I had a really nice dinner Saturday night at Pazo, and am looking forward to going to Charleston in the very near future. Cheers, Rocks.

----------

You are very kind to bring this thread to my attention. A few of my staff are terribly upset by the comments on the thread, as you might expect. I can only hope that people might understand that the thoughtless (and offensive, without a doubt) comment from one young hostess that was not remotely based in fact or policy is exactly the kind of thing that forced me to remove her from her employ at Charleston. She's a wonderfully kind and harmless person in intention, but no one comes to a restaurant with our reputation with the expectation of being made to feel anything less than special. My wife, my staff and my sole intention is to create an atmosphere where every client feels fabulous for being with us. Why else would I remove so many seats?

I am happy to answer anyone's question regarding this comment or anything else regarding Charleston. I can be contacted at tony@thecharlestongrp.com

Again, thanks so much,

Tony Foreman

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I know plenty of gay people that worship Charleston and have never felt anything less than absolutely welcome there. It's a non-issue. The poor girl put her foot in it, and that's that. It's a shame the staff in this fine place have been so upset by this thread--even more, it would seem, than they were by TS's remark in the first place.

Don, I hope you did all three.

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So, having summited via that face of Mt. Molehill, perhaps we can try the trickier South Col route.

I wonder if Tom anticipated that this girl would get fired if he decided to include the incident in his review? I guess he thought the punishment would fit the crime.

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i am thinking about the chat tommorow, and hoping that tom starts with a question about this and that he provides a simple and clear explanation for his inclusion of that remark. further hoping that tony will have an opportunity to make a brief statement regarding this, and then the matter will be put to bed and heard from nevermore.

but then the sky is purple in my world :lol:

Edited by starfish
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I wanted to add a quick thought here.

One, it is unfortunate that she lost her job. I do not believe her transgression to be of the magnitude which would require immediate dismissal. And second, is she the "scape goat" here? Tom did mention specifically, that she made her ill-fated comment AFTER speaking wit her boss.

Short of calling this a tempest in a teapot, I will say that publishing this comment may prove to be regretable.

As I have seen mentioned here and elsewhere so many times, if there is anything causing displeasure, one ought to bring it to the attention of the manager so it can be remedied outside the world of cyber-space. I wonder if this was done.

It would be telling if Tom expands on his reasoning for this.

That said, I would not take Charleston off my must try places.

Edited by monavano
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I don't think she meant to be rude. However. What it says about Baltimore is another story. If a hostess at one of the better restaurants in a town is that clueless, it spells townie. Not that it's all bad, but if they're not the vermont/jackson hole/oxford Mississippi/small town, it's almost unacceptable to be that clueless. What's next, is she going to ask the next overweight woman when she's due? (And this isn't coming from a tiny woman, necessarily, either). That's her job-- to make people feel welcome.

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What's next, is she going to ask the next overweight woman when she's due?

This brings to mind an incident at one of our Tenants Association yard sales. One of the organizers told me that she saw so many pregnant women at this event, that she asked a seemingly pregnant woman when she was due. She was told, rather icily, that said woman was not pregnant. My friend felt just terrible. Kind of brings to mind that being "friendly" can be over the line.

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I just found out from a reliable source that she lost her job three weeks ago due to several incidents involving poor judgment.

All the more reason the "incident" shouldn't have made the review.
What it says about Baltimore is another story
Huh? You're not attempting to stereotype an entire city due to one sentence, uttered by one hostess, in one restaurant are you?
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This brings to mind an incident at one of our Tenants Association yard sales.  One of the organizers told me that she saw so many pregnant women at this event, that she asked a seemingly pregnant woman when she was due.  She was told, rather icily, that said woman was not pregnant.  My friend felt just terrible.  Kind of brings to mind that being "friendly" can be over the line.

I am reminded of Dave Barry's advice to never ask a woman if she is pregnant unless you actually see the child coming out of her. :lol:

I can't believe this thread has gone on as long as it has either, but I'm curious about the "several" incidents of bad judgement.

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I just found out from a reliable source that she lost her job three weeks ago due to several incidents involving poor judgment.

to end this little melodrama, i suggest that the restaurant invite the poor, young, thoughtless, inexperienced, perhaps homophobic, wonderfully kind and harmless hostess back in the winter to stand outside its doors and play the little matchbox girl.

Edited by giant shrimp
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I agree that this has gotten a little out of hand, and am glad it has been resolved. However, I believe that one reason that the "incident" sparked so much discussion is because it struck a chord with some folks. Depending on the context, if one is a member of a minority group, one is naturally more sensitive to feeling welcome at a particular place. We've all read on Tom's chat about gay couples who go out to upscale places and are concerned that they won't be treated as a couple, etc. My husband and I look like we're college students, and sometimes are treated as such. My parents are immigrants, and while they have been here for over 30 years, they speak with accented English; I've certainly experienced condescending waiters who will judge them right off the bat. Thus, I did not think it was unreasonable for a potential patron to think about the reception he or she might receive there as a gay couple. Now, of course, given Charleston's ultimate resolution, I would hope that anyone who had such thoughts would put the restaurant on their short list. (I'm not condoning her being fired, although it seems like this was the straw that broke the camel's back, but approving of Charleston's affirmative response to the "incident.")

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to end this little melodrama, i suggest that the restaurant invite the poor, young, thoughtless, inexperienced, perhaps homophobic, wonderfully kind and harmless hostess back in the winter to stand outside its doors and play the little matchbox girl.

Or maybe she could host a dr.com chat re: customer service.

:lol:

Edited by JLK
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