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January 15, 2008

Poor service at Porter's

I've asked this before, and I'll ask it again:

Why can't Baltimore get better service?

Went to Porter's Pub and Grille (pictured) last Friday night for a late dinner and drinks, and there was one waitress and one -- maybe two -- bartenders serving the whole place.

And since it was a Friday night, both the bar and dining room were full.

I have no complaints about the food (which came fast) or beer (Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale pints were only $2.50), but our server was not on her game. At all.

I won't get into the details, but it was just one more reminder of how starved this city is for good service. 

(Photo by Elizabeth Malby/Sun Photographer) 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:49 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


They're pretty much known for bad service... have been for years. And if you're not part of the "gang", forget about feeling like you're welcome there.

I had a friend that used to live by Porter's. The owner of that bar is a loon and is too cheap to hire more employees. I would boycott it Sam!

If the food came fast and was decent and the beer was cheap and cold, what's the complaint? Was the waitress mean to you? Did she hurt your feelings?

Maybe it behooves owners and managers to ask more of their servers?

I'll be at Hooters where you seldom hear these complaints.

I live down the street and it is pretty much the same thing. Joe running around crazy trying to take care of the customers.

Typically great food, why can't people find and keep good help these days? With neighborhood places like this you want to be able to get a quick meal thats a decent quality - with no drama

Last time I went w/ my parents, the waitress was sarcastic and rude and they ended up running out of food. It was 10pm. My guess is they just don't hire enough people.

As a general rule, the quality of service in a metropolitan area is reflective of the earning potential within that statistical area. If the quality of service in Baltimore is below par compared to other similar markets (of which I am dubious), then the most likely cause would be an over saturated restaurant market. Too many servers working in too many restaurants earning too little money will cause service to be poor. Any assessment that Baltimorean service is below some par for its market begs the question, compared to what markets? What variables are causing this dearth in quality service?

New York and San Francisco are known for their superlative service. Los Angeles is known for its poor service. L.A. is the only market that I know of where the quality of service is in conflict with the market, and I think the answer lies in who is doing the serving. Otherwise I am not familiar with an objective market by market comparison of service quality on a national scale.

What I do know is that Baltimore is one of the most fatalistic cities in the United States. A large percentage of our population is obsessed with the notion that we are the worst at everything, and love to constantly complain about our below par everything.
We have the WORST schools, we have the WORST police force, we have the WORST restaurants, we have the WORST service, we have the WORST newspaper of record, etc..., even when the “WORST” status has no foundation in truth. Take the newspaper of record complaint as an example. I mean, sure, when you compare the Sun to the NY Times or the Washington Post, then the Sun does not compare favorably at all, but if you compare the Sun to the newspapers of similar markets, like St. Louis, Tampa or Denver, then the Sun doesn’t seem like a bad newspaper at all. Of course, if you compare the Sun to its own past, well, that’s a different story. An interesting comparison would be to compare Baltimorean service of 2008 to Baltimorean service of 1928. Is Baltimorean service slipping from a past glory, or is it improving.

I wonder if there are any TV shows out there about Baltimorean service [stinking]? ;-)

Through the Nose:



I have also had a bad experience at Porters. A couple of weeks ago on a friday night, a couple of friends and I went in to grab a burger and a beer.

We walked in and the place was crowded as usual, but upon sitting at an open table we were told that they had stopped serving! It was 8:30! For a "bar/restaurant" that is pathetic. Plus, they were quite rude in the manner that they told us - as if we should have known better.

We have also had terrible experiences there-in fact we'll never go back unless things change. My husband used to live a block away and pretty much lived there when it was Ransom's. Sad.

hey sam,
Does the Epicurious L.I.Z. know you're blogging about restaurant service? Don't get on her bad side!

also, I wish you would stop generalizing about Baltimore this and Baltimore that...
all the dining out we do I can say that I've had more good service than bad.
As much as I bust on the area, Mother's and most of the Fed Hill places have great service.
C'mon dude, ennui is SO 90s.

Is it possible that this culture of bad service in Baltimore has been cultivated by another thing Baltimoreans are known for very well, being TERRIBLE tippers?

Honestly, I just moved here from DC and have been bartending for 6 years now, working in fine dining, high volume, and pub-type establishments and I will tell you that I have never seen anything like the penny-pinching people of Baltimore.

Here's a tip for you guys, if you leave a bad tip, or better yet, use your tip calculator on your cell phone, your server will see it, will not like it, and will remember you because of it.

In addition, living in this city and working in this restaurant industry has made it almost impossible not to profile your tables. It is obvious who is going to tip (20% should be the average but we all know that doesn't happen here) and who isn't. More importantly, the group that asks 20 [dumb] questions and runs you all over the place more often than not is going to find SOMETHING to complain about anyway.

My point is this. Porter's is a neighborhood corner bar with a loyal clientele. It does not claim to be the Capital Grill. They don't have backwaiters, a sommelier, or decanters for their modest wine list. What they do offer is above average bar food, a lot of beer, and a place in federal hill to escape the chaos of the college crowds. If you want venison carpaccio and waiters in tuxedos who treat you like you are far more important than you are, then go to Ruth's Chris. If you want a place to escape, drink a beer, and grab a burger, go to Porter's. Don't complain when there are only 2 people working, remember, if we all tipped better, they could have more people work. Unfortunately we feel the need to forget that bartenders and servers have bills to pay too! So to compensate for the Baltimore diner's incompetence as a diner (which includes pronunciation, the fact that so many people ask for a glass of white zin [ha!!!], manners, ordering well-done steaks, and last but certainly not least, tipping) we need to keep the least amount of servers and bartenders working as possible, otherwise no one makes money, they all quit, and carousel of new server after new server begins!

I'm not one to complain much about service at bars (as opposed to restaurants). I mean you're only there to sit around with friends and drink right? As long as the beer glass is full what's the rush. Baltimore seems to do a decent enough job with that, and the staff/clientele are generally friendly to boot.

At a bar, good service is mostly about friendliness, and Baltimore has cities like Boston beat. ($5 beers, no selection, and competent/fast but unfriendly staff - no thank you)

I hope that everyone who complains about service has worked at some point in their lives at a restaurant. There are many factors that affect quality of service. It is important to remember that being out of food or a particular liquor is not the servers fault. If you are rude to a server or bartender, chances are they will be rude to you. If you tip poorly, they will remember you. Being understaffed is also not the bartenders fault, they are doing the best they can with what they have. Porters does not have bussers. The bartenders make all the drinks, take the majority of tables, take all togo orders, run all their food and drinks, buss all their tables, make all the salads and somehow still find time to make small talk with the regulars.
I understand the feeling that if you are spending money at an establishment you feel the need to have good service.
Porters requires just a little patience. There are plenty of regulars who visit several times a week without the complaints. For the record, the above photo is NOT of Porters.

the photo looks like regi's.

Sam: time for a name-that-bar photo contest?

Are you guys sure that photo is not Porters? It's in the photo archives, dated 2001, as Porters. It ran with a review we did of Porters.

Also, 21224, that's a great idea. I'm going to try that tomorrow morning.

The photo is definitely not Porters. They don't serve mussels, they use napkins not white linens, their wine glasses are stemless and they dont have any of the stuff in the background. The place looks familiar but not exactly sure where it is.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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