The weekend seems like a good time to post this because it's very long.
When I e-mailed the owner of Birches asking if he wanted me to post something about this exchange on my blog, I got this measured response, which doesn't convey the passion of the original e-mails:
I would be flattered if you were to initiate a conversation regarding restaurant patron etiquette in and around Baltimore City. Please feel free to use any of my e-mails for your means. I look forward to a lively discussion on split check policies. Thank you very much, Brian W. Bruso Chef/Proprietor Birches Restaurant ...
Here's the e-mail I got from Mr. Bruso first, with names appropriately changed:
In my 20 some years in the restaurant industry I have had to deal with a large number of idiots that should not be allowed out in public at all. This past Friday we had 27 of them here at Birches Restaurant for a party, and believe it or not, 5 of them had just graduated from [University U]. We had one contact person, [Jane Doe], with whom we had confirmed price, menu and reservation time. For starters, the party arrived almost an hour after their scheduled time of 6:30 p.m. Then when they did arrive they were appalled that we would not do separate checks for them. It did not stop there, every five minutes someone else in the party harassed my servers about the separate check issue. I had one of our servers ask [Jane Doe], our contact person, to come downstairs to discuss the situation with me. She never did. Things escalated so badly that I was forced to confront the party, in person. With the threat of being thrown out, they quieted down and continued their meal.
Then, 24 hours later I received an e-mail from [Jane Doe], who apparently is completely clueless on public etiquette. Not only should it be a patrons responsibility to figure out, beforehand, any and all financial policies of each individual restaurant, but when told of such policies they should control their guests’ behavior regarding such policies. Do you agree with us? The party still received stellar service and incredible food. Although, everyone here hopes to never see those people again.
Here was the e-mail Mr. Bruso got from Ms. Doe:
I've been going over in my head several times the events of last night, and feel I need to tell you how truly disappointed I was at how we were treated. I had been looking forward to our event at your restaurant for some time, and never expected things to evolve as they did. Clearly, there were miscommunications taking place last night, and hopefully we can both learn from this experience.
Being that I was the one to advocate for your restaurant and promote it on your behalf, I felt utterly humiliated when you stormed up the stairs and treated my dearest friends and family with such disrespect and accusations of treating your staff poorly. It is a shame that you were not able to meet us before our party, because I think you would find that we really are quite an accommodating and good-hearted group and that none of us would want to be difficult. I apologize if there was any miscommunication on my behalf or on the behalf of my guests towards your servers, but the issue of money should have been dealt with between you and me, and should not have been the main topic of conversation among the guests as we were trying to celebrate our graduation.
It seems as though it should have been your responsibility as the restaurant owner to see that any issues regarding finances be discussed prior to the event. I have never been to a restaurant that only accepted 4 credit cards, and therefore it would never have occurred to me to ask you whether each family would be allowed to pay their individual bills.
My suggestion for the future is that you have a contract completed with a potential party of our size prior to the event to avoid miscommunication. I regret that you have lost 27 potential customers in the future, as we truly enjoyed the food and atmosphere, but would prefer to dine where customer service is still a priority. I would love to be able to bring friends back to your restaurant, but I don't think that I ever could after how you treated us.
Thank you for providing a wonderful meal, I'm sorry things ended as they did.
So this was Mr. Bruso's reply:
After lengthy discussions with our staff and various advocates of ours, we find the need to tell you just how wrong and naive you are. Birches has been operating successfully since the day we opened, eight years ago, and we have never had such a disgraceful display of immaturity and blatant disregard for our business as you and your party showed us last Friday.
How dare someone with your incompetence give us advice. You booked one single party, just one party, for 27 people, not 5 separate parties. Our pricing and seating would have been significantly different, if you had ever bothered to inquire properly. Not one party in eight years has ever expected us to split the bill on to more than 2 credit cards.
Here at Birches, everyone prides themselves on exemplary customer service, however this does not include allowing the public to dictate how we operate. Your party was scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., yet an hour later only a few people had shown up. Normally, any party that is more than a half hour late is automatically canceled if no one has called by then. Your “dearest friends and family” had the utmost disrespect for our staff and establishment from the moment they arrived. As the party planner and main contact, you are the sole person responsible for ensuring that your party’s finances were in order before arriving at the restaurant. Even then, you refused to meet me outside to discuss the mounting problem your guests were becoming.
Even though you had not handled things properly to start, everyone in your party was made well aware of our policy concerning “no split checks” long before going upstairs. That was their’s and your acceptance of this policy. The whole issue should have been over at that point. Your party should have either kept their mouths closed or left instead of further harassing our staff.
It is a real shame that your “dearest friends and family” behaved so childish that it caused me to have to take action. Then again, maybe that was all they were begging for in the first place. Rest assured, you and your friends are not welcome here at Birches. On top of that, this matter is no longer open for discussion between us.
However, your email along with our response is being forwarded to the Baltimore Sun’s restaurant reporter, Elizabeth Large, along with a large number of Baltimore’s restaurant owners. We feel it is very important that his whole matter and subsequent fall out becomes public knowledge, if for no other reason than to help educate people, such as those in your party, who patronize restaurants.
Wow. Several issues are raised here: Is the customer always right? How do private parties differ from regular guests? How could a party think being an hour late would be OK? But how do you feel about Birches after reading this? What about splitting checks anyway?