Just a few weeks back I submitted a review of The Refuge in Menlo Park that was borderline giddy. Loved the atmosphere, the food was awesome, service was attentive and knowledgable. What could have been better? On the strength of that earlier visit, I bullied a biggish group of friends (10) to go there for dinner last week. Suffice it to say I am no longer giddy. With a party that large, we called in advance for a reservation. The answer we got: "We don't accept reservations-even for a big party." I asked about the likely wait and heard "30 to 40 minutes, probably." I should have paid attention to that "probably" word.
So, you can guess how things went. Party after party, all groups of 3 and 4 and 2. kept going in and we kept waiting. We discussed breaking up the group and the waiter's response: "You can do whatever you want." I knew that already. We waited outside on the curb for over an hour. When we finally got in, the food moved our way pretty quickly but the orders were confused and people settled for items they hadn't ordered. Anything to get dinner at this point. If The Refuge were my restaurant, I would actually require large parties to obtain a reservation--and I'd take a credit card number in advance to make sure they showed. This isn't rocket science--people have been doing this for decades.
The final blow came with the bill. We put in 4 credit cards and asked for an equal division--standard practice literally everywhere in restaurant land. "Oh, we can only accept three cards," the waiter informed us. But they didn't have any trouble adding a handsome automatic tip for large parties. So here's the deal with the Refuge. You can't make a res for your large party, you can't split the bill up for a large party, but since we were a large party we were more or less guaranteed to pay more through the "service included" arrangement--only for large parties. Suffice it to say I was embarrassed to have recommended this restaurant, a mistake I won't make again.
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