Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s

posted on November 17, 2009 at 12:51 pm

I received mixed feedback when I posted my rant on Varasano’s some time ago. I still stick to my statement and haven’t been back since that visit. Well, it seems I’m not the only customer who is less than satisfied with the service.

I was copied on an email to Jeff Varasano by BG reader Matthew F. about his less than positive experience. Here’s what he wrote (reprinted with his permission of course):

Jeff Varasano, Michael Zimmerman –
I would like to preface the reason for my sending this email, by saying that I found the pizzas at Varasano’s to be, while somewhat nontraditional by definition, very unique and satisfying. In an attempt to develop my amateur baking skills, I myself have taken a recent foray into the world of pizza-baking, and understand the pursuit towards perfection to which you have dedicated years.
Last Friday I made my first visit to your restaurant, after spotting many rave reviews from Atlanta food writers and enthusiasts. As I said, the pizzas were excellent — but I wanted to raise to your attention, my concerns and dissatisfaction with the service I received that evening.
You may or may not have seen a recent New York Times article titled “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do”: a two-part editorial detailing pet peeves, awkward situations, and downright poor service examples that a customer should not have to experience while dining in a restaurant. You may review the list in its entirety here:
I would like to use this list to highlight some of the problems I experienced while dining with you.
1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
When my friend and I entered the restaurant, an employee was entering at the same time, and asked if we were “joining us for dinner?”. First, I was confused by who I was speaking with — the host? A waiter? Manager? Why was he outside the front of the restaurant? We requested a table, he said OK and walked away. We stood there, again confused. Were we to follow him? Was someone else going to seat us? The hostess saw the situation, and asked if he was seating us. When we said we had no idea, she was very pleasant and said she would take control of the situation – we were seated immediately. It turned out this employee who entered the door with us, and failed to seat us, would also be our waiter.
6. Do not lead the witness with, “Bottled water or just tap?” Both are fine. Remain neutral.
On the subject of drinks orders, I was made to feel uncomfortable when the waiter asked if he could start us off with a glass of wine. When I asked for water, he asked “are you sure you wouldn’t at least like some tea or soda?” No, I was sure the first time I asked.
10. Do not inject your personal favorites when explaining the specials.
I understand perhaps explaining the pizzas, but a pizza and its toppings is not confusing enough to warrant an explanation I did not ask for, nor did I need suggestions – it felt like he was pushing certain pizzas, and I could interpret that as being for various reasons (Not enough ordered last night, so you need to clear out the walk-in for tomorrow’s shipment of ingredients? Perhaps its the most expensive?)
40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.
After taking our orders, he told us “good choice”. I hadn’t considered this in the past, but after seeing it mentioned I recognize how it is irritating and uncomfortable.
53. Do not let guests double-order unintentionally; remind the guest who orders ratatouille that zucchini comes with the entree.
This waiter explained to us that the pizzas were on the small side – think of them as a ‘personal’ pizza, encouraging us to order two. When the pizzas arrived at our table we both acknowledged immediately that we had over-ordered. ONE pizza WILL feed two people just fine. This waiter should be telling customers the actual size, not an arbitrary guess that I should be able to eat the whole thing myself. Since we were asked if we were first-time diners, I feel as though he used this to take advantage of us, and that’s not a good feeling.
Additionally, our waiter strolled around the dining room re-filling water glasses with one hand in his pocket. This looks sloppy, unprofessional, and exudes an “I don’t give a shit” attitude I don’t care for.
This impression was further perpetuated when the waiter delivered food to our table — he would sing, literally, what he was delivering to us. It was irritating, loud and embarrassing, and completely unnecessary. I don’t need the entire dining room to hear what I’ve ordered, and I don’t need you singing to me.
At the end of the meal, I was satisfied with the quality of the food at Varasano’s – specifically the pizzas. The appetizers and desserts are clearly an afterthought, and it shows on the menu – but that’s ok. However I can’t recall any recent restaurant experiences where the service consistently hit on so many poor points. I feel like this is a case of an employee being overly comfortable in their position, overly confident in themselves and their attitude (no negative reinforcement from management or due to feedback from other customers, so he justifies being able to continue this behavior?), and it’s shocking how much it affects my perception of a restaurant.
Unfortunately, given the service I received from your waiter/host/et cetera Christia, I cannot say that I will be returning to the restaurant until I may know that these issues have been addressed. While this is unfortunate as I really appreciate the efforts the kitchen and you, Jeff, have made to produce a top-notch product, the front-of-house experience is equally critical in creating a restaurant which customers will return to, and tell their friends about.
Thank you very much for your time,
Matthew F.
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  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Joe · November 17, 2009  6:48 PM

    Oh come on, this all smacks of nitpicking. We all have (and are entitled to) our pet peeves — but when someone adopts a 102-point NYT guide on service as his or her own personal set of pet peeves, you've got to put the blame on the customer, not the server. (My personal peeve, by the way, was not even mentioned in the Times article: servers and managers who ask if everything is okay while I'm chewing. I do not welcome the question under any circumstances, but especially not while I am chewing.)

    As for Varasano's, I've been a few times, and I have no complaints about the service. In fact, if they were ITB (inside the Beltline), I might go more often — but since they've chosen to locate out in the boondocks, I'll spend my pizza hunting time at Fritti, Max's, and Antico.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Andrew Jacobs · November 17, 2009  9:39 PM

    Not only does it smack of nitpicking, but the 102 point NYT guide on service was the most ridiculous thing I've seen in print in a long time! The fact that Matthew Fugel follows it is no suprise. His complaints are so pathetic, he actually complains about a server helping other tables. Sounds to me like he had an agenda when he walked in and no matter what happened, he would have written his review. Makes you wonder what he does for a living… and how well?! Can we get 102 points on that?
    Also, I was wondering how you wanted the "issues to be addressed"? Do you expect this server to be fired because he somehow offended you by doing his job? Get a life, Matthew Fugel!

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 18, 2009  1:09 PM

    Versannos? Boondocks? Wow.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Will23 · November 18, 2009  2:34 PM

    First I have to say that I agree that the blog seems a little nit-picky. However, the service at Verasano is worse than the very polite email/blog indicates. Personally, I have been to the resturant 5 times with 5 more take outs, and challenging myself, I can't think of a comparable resturant that is a poor as this. In the times I have seen servers standing at the bar eating with their fingers (including the owner), servers drinking shots, the same sort of indifference from the wait staff (ordered 2 pizzas and was told they'd be ready in 30 min; I arrived to pick them up in 20 and was told by the bartender they had been out already for 10 min – and they didn't offer to remake them or reheat them!); the valet outside on the patio with friends while I waited for my car; a pizza and salad to go order where they forgot to make the salad, and by the time it came out – guess what – the pizza was cold. And they insisted on ringing the salad because they forgot to put it on the bill.
    In short, I love the pizza but the issues with the service are true in my experience. I dread going in so much I wish they would start a delivery service.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Chip Shoulder · November 18, 2009  4:03 PM

    Boy, talk about your Grade-A douchebaggery.

    Can you imagine going out for a pie and cold one with Matthew F.? Utter beatdown.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Andrew Jacobs · November 18, 2009  7:58 PM

    My guess is Matthew doesn't get out much, he is pretty sensitive and easy to offend! my guess is he probably eats alone more often than not!
    And my advice to anonymous is to stop going!! Jeez, quit whining about it and stop giving them your business if they are so bad! I've gotten take out from there numerous times and it was delicious and the staff was more than helpful!Maybe you and Matthew are looking to be unhappy! Life is short!

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Joseph · November 19, 2009  5:50 AM

    There are a few real problems with service there, first and foremost, I don't like Stepford Waiters. Both waiters gushed about Varasano as if I had entered a cult not a restaurant. Next, the rubik's cube. I know Varasano solved it real fast when he was a kid or something, but do I really have to touch a Rubik's cube that has been touched by hundreds of people, is obviously greasy with other people's olive oily hands, before I eat with my hands?

    Should I just enjoy life like some of the other commenters suggested? I guess I will (and haven't been back). Plus, any owner that says Fritti's pizzas taste like cardboard doesn't understand that honesty gets you something in this world (or doesn't understand pizza).

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Scott Johnson · November 19, 2009  9:24 AM

    Matthew F and the NYT are right. It's not hard to be a waiter. So do it right. I don't want you to be my friend. I don't want to know about your life. I don't want your advice. I don't want to know your opinion. If I want any of this, I'll ask. I really just want what the chef is providing but since I can't go into the kitchen myself and get it, I guess I'm stuck with you. So do it right.

    It's not about being nitpicky. It's about having a set of standards that seems pretty reasonable considering the very idea of a waiter is to serve you.

    Maybe I'm just an ass.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 19, 2009  1:48 PM

    While the NYT list had some things on it that I thought were nitpicky (e.g., "Great choice"– that's never bothered me), most of the items were spot on. And any restaurant whose wait staff launch into a recitation of the owner's genius whilst presenting the patrons with a relic to rub is, in my humble opinion, being run by a first-class twit. It's not brain surgery, people– it's pizza, and it's being done with far more authenticity, taste, and aplomb at Fritti & now Antica. Varasano needs to get over himself.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Liz · November 20, 2009  2:35 AM

    Wow Matthew please get a life. Its pizza dude you are not solving the worlds problems or curing cancer. There are much greater things in the world to worry about!

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Melissa · November 20, 2009  10:51 AM

    hooray Matthew! I've only been to Varasano's once & it's not likely that I'll go back. Honestly I was not wowed with the pizza, but it was the awkward service that was the real turn-off. My friend & I were also pressured to order an individual pie each. I’m glad that we declined, because there would be no way I could eat a whole one & I have a very healthy appetite. Also our waitress kept referring to us as “LAY-dies”. LAY-dies how IS everything / LAY-dies ready for desert. Was she trying out to impersonate Jerry Lewis?!?

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 20, 2009  11:24 PM

    Hey Matthew F,

    Get a job/life. Why don't you operate your own establishment. What a jerk. He probably thinks he's doing everybody a service also.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Jeremy A · November 21, 2009  12:18 PM

    Holy crap dude, your rant is ridiculous. Id be surprised if theres any places you actually like.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: V · November 22, 2009  12:50 PM

    I'm a big fan of the blog but disappointed that you would use such a petty email to state your point. This Matthew person only made 1 or 2 valid point in this entire rant and some points are just dumb. I can't believe that waiters are not allowed to say "good choice." seriously, if this was an article to show that Varasano's services are bad then I think it completely failed.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: John Webster · November 22, 2009  2:13 PM

    I agree with V. And sorry the name of the waitperson had to be named. Oh my goodness. Do you really think that had to be written or published? I don't really think people who wait on tables want their names printed, good or bad experience.

    Shame on the author and blogger for putting this up.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Courtney · November 23, 2009  4:08 PM

    I agree that this letter was definitely a bit ridiculous. I enjoy laid back service with something as casual as pizza. Considering some of the appalling service elsewhere, I thought the points made were rather tame.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 24, 2009  3:15 AM

    This is tasteless and biased drivel from someone too pompous to realize they are eating pizza. The author names the wait staff as if they are criminals and the blogger reposts? Sounds like it is time to raise my standards in the food critics I read… insert unsubscribe here.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: The Blissful Glutton · November 24, 2009  2:15 PM

    Dear Anon(s),

    If any of my readers want to "unsubscribe" because I give one a voice, they have my permission to go right ahead.

    Matthew had a negative experience like many other diners and I let him air his grievance here on the blog since he took so much time to detail why it was in fact a negative experience. I doubt your average reader would spend so much time on an email to Jeff V. if the service and/or meal was just average.

    I have no personal issue with Jeff V. or any of his staff. My intentions behind posting this were merely to illustrate what it is that prevent this place from greatness since service is a huge part of the dining experience. If any of the staff had a problem with their names being printed, they could have sent me an email so I could shorten their name to a more anonymous form.

    I'm actually quite sick of all of this Varasano's drama. A lot of people want to compare it to Antico and debate which is best. But isn't variety a good thing? Doesn't it make our town a stronger dining scene?

    I'll continue to approve any good/bad comments (including the ones attacking me) because I aim for this blog to be a place where people can dialogue. But jesus christo, people, get with the information age. Learn about IP addresses if you are going to post on blogs or any other sites. Posting multiple comments from the same computer with different aliases is just plain naive, but it does give me a good laugh.

    That's all I have to say about that.

    Keep calm, carry on.


  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 24, 2009  9:41 PM

    I went to Varasano's with a group of eight last week, duly armed with a healthy skepticism based on comments found both here and elsewhere. We were also wary of the chutzpah displayed by Mr. Varasano's gauntlet-throwing a while back.

    We all enjoyed the experience immensely. As for the pizza — the dough worked best with drier toppings. The prosciutto and arugula pie was the general fave. The margherita got a little soggy after several minutes, but was exceedingly tasty.

    Yes, we got the Rubik's treatment by the server, but only once we prompted him about it after we'd had a couple of drinks. The jokes we made about it were received in good humor, and isn't that part and parcel of having a good time?

    Varasano stopped by after we'd had a chance to try everything. We found him odd but engaging. Someone else might have been offended at his wondering why so many people choose to add sausage to the caramelized onion pizza (as one of us did), but make the point that fennel is a natural accompaniment and he accepts it. If you stipulate going in that he's an obsessive who enjoys trading opinions, he's a fine host. We will be going back, but only after trying Antico first.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Laura · November 27, 2009  6:54 AM

    I do enjoy the pizzas at Varasano's; however, after my visit last week it is unlikely I will return. Our waitress was unfriendly to say the least. She stood at the end of our table unsmiling, with her arms crossed to take drink orders. Water wasn't refilled and I had to ask for lemon twice. When she finally remembered to bring it out, she literally dropped the lemon into my water. No, I don't need a server to be my best friend… but I do need you to at least be cordial.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 28, 2009  6:51 AM

    OMG, this is ridiculous. Not one of the issues he pointed out was actually bad. I expected him to say that the waiter ignored him for 30 minutes, or the order was wrong, or he didn't fill up his water glass, etc. etc. It sounds like to me in that regard the waiter actually provided decent service. This is just being way too picky. These are just simply pet peeves taken to the extreme. On my last visit to an unnamed restaurant I would have loved to have had the kind of service this waiter provided. Jeez.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · November 29, 2009  7:12 PM

    I love the pizza there. The service is a bit stilted because they are trying to do a few things that are a bit unnatural. In my three visits the things that bothered me were silverware and drinks.

    The restaurant advocates NOT using a fork and that is fine. They even provide a diagram that explains how to eat pizza without a fork and the waiter explained it to us. Very helpful and I will even take the suggestion and do as suggested. Now that we have that out of the way…bring me my gd mf fork and a knife and a napkin and don't ever attempt to lecture me on dining etiquette again. I go to dinner for pleasant conversation and hearing such a discussion from a server doesn't qualify.

    Second, the waiter always looks at me when I ask for a beer and wine list like I am the first person to make such a request. That was ok the first time I went but on my second visit, I knew someone had asked before.

    What's really funny is that Antico provides no service at all and no one complains about their service.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · December 2, 2009  6:57 PM

    This is too picky. The 'f' in Matthew F. is for 'Frakker.' May he endure no end of rule violations while eating.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: David · December 3, 2009  10:01 AM

    I feel sorry for patrons, food bloggers and restaurant critics who have forgotten have to enjoy a night out at a restaurant. They hold owners, chefs and service staff to a standard they would never set for themselves.

    So you have an appetite and a hole in your head so this makes you qualified to criticize a restaurant? Get over yourself.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · December 3, 2009  10:37 AM

    The last time I ate at Varasano's the waitress took our order while She was standing behind the bar across from our table. We literally had to yell so she could hear us. She just couldn't be bothered. She didn't get our order right either. Never again.

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: Anonymous · December 5, 2009  6:05 PM

    I too have tried many times to like Verasano's, but I just can't do it anymore. After over an hour wait for one pizza (the bottle of wine almost empty between the 2 of us), and then it arrived half completely burnt, and half completely raw, I realized that they just don't care, so why should I? Jeff was there, but too busy flirting with the hostess to care about the mere 3-4 tables.

    As for the list, I have been to restaurants that follow every one of the NYT rules with grace and style. It's a shame that so many people are inexperienced with such good service as to render that list "nitpicky".

  • Re: Reader mail: A not so happy visit to Varasano’s
    posted by: anon · October 17, 2012  3:39 PM

    Jeff is offering franchises before he even decides what kind of pizza he wants to make?? Its a mistake…..and I know, deep down, he knows it too….theres plenty of time to make cash………work out those problems…..WAY too many complaints to start offering franchise rights.

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