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,