Daniel jpgPete Wells, in the New York Times, downgraded the restaurant Daniel in New York City from four to three stars. In part, he says, “for turning its best face away from the unknowns, the first-timers, the birthday splurgers, the tourists.” In the book, Bitches on a Budget, without naming the restaurant, I chronicled just such a disastrous dining experience. As Matt Lauer and Mario Batali sat below, being kowtowed to and celebrated, we languished, ignored at the worst table in the house spending a satchel full of dough on a birthday dinner. That dinner was at Daniel.

Be Bitchy–Get Service(d)*

What is there about being a woman and getting bad service?

We’ve all been there—whether on the airplane, at the auto dealer, or at the restaurant. Bitch, it’s time to stand up. Don’t take it anymore. Your money is just as good as the next guy’s.

Recently we celebrated the twenty-first birthday of a friend—a young woman, yes, but one with an experienced palate, one who grew up identifying tarragon from chervil, appreciating the subtle flavor difference between roasted and boiled beets, and baking a celeb chef’s killer Falling Chocolate Cake recipe. Her birthday request? To go to the eponymous restaurant of the chocolate-cake maven. A gang of women of all ages and sizes converged from all over to toast and dine with her.

The place was pricey. Phone calls were placed to remind the restaurant it was a big occasion . . . we asked them to hold a special table, to make a fuss. The birthday girl arrived first, was ushered to a table in the corner by the kitchen door. The worst table in the whole house. The rest of the party arrived, older and ballsier, and requested a better table. It was “not possible.”

The evening was a disaster.

The waiters rushed back and forth, scraping against the birthday girl on their way in and out of the kitchen. Dinner, rushed out of the kitchen, was nothing special. Dessert service, which should have been slow and multicoursed, arrived in a puddle all at once. Candles were lit. Not once did any of the staff smile or even wish the young lady happy birthday. Then they all disappeared . . . no one asked if we needed more tea, coffee, or a nightcap. We had to beg for the check.

We wrote to the owner describing our experience. We imagined that such a distinguished chef would not want anyone to leave his restaurant with such poisonous thoughts, our letter said. We told him we had been seated at the girls’ table, the tourists’ table, the out-of-towners’ table. (You know it, bitch; you’ve all sat there.) We asked, Did he employ only unhappy waiters? We told him we had seen him emerge to chat up Matt Lauer and Mario Batali, but what of the little girl who had grown up cooking his recipes and idolizing his food?

Then we shared how we had learned to appreciate great food at the same age as the birthday girl . . . on our first trip to France. Unworldly, wide-eyed, naive to good food, we’d stumbled into a restaurant where the owners were so taken by our complete food ignorance and our obvious delight in their delicacies, they brought us taste treat after taste treat. They took pleasure in our pleasure. So began our love affair with food. (Ironically, we discovered that this was the very same restaurant where the famous chef had himself apprenticed.)

A testament to the power of the pen, one month later, as a guest of the chef, the birthday girl and her college roommate returned to the scene of the crime to be treated to a seven-course dinner. Each course was paired with the appropriate wine, and this time the birthday girl scraped the back of the person in the worst seat in the house on her way to a private tour of the kitchen. The meal ended with so many desserts that their entire college dorm floor satisfied their munchies at two a.m. with gourmet treats.

The point of this story?

Do what you do best.

Bitch, bitch.

*From the book Bitches on a Budget  (NAL/Penguin)