Last weekend I had one of the most unpleasant dining experiences of my life at The Inn at Phillips Mill in New Hope, PA. Living in Bucks County, where the choice of good restaurants for small celebrations is limited, I have been to this restaurant a number of times, and while the look of the place is charming and the food generally better than average, I have never found the service more than barely adequate. Last weekend it was even worse than that.
As we’ve done in the past, my guests and I shrugged off, the dour snooty attitude of the “greeter” at the door (I’ve never been able to determine if there actually is a host or hostess), as well as the rude shoving aside of the various parties waiting to be seated by the “waitstaff” as they hurried through looking harrassed and unhappy, announcing their passage with staccato phrases like, “You’re in the way. Get out of the way.” This has always been par for the course at the Inn, where there is no unobtrusive place to stand when several parties are waiting for tables, backs up against the entrance door or against other waiting diners, and it’s too cold to wait outside. We jumped around to get out of the way for a half hour or so before being led to a table on a dark, closed-in terrace at the back.
There were only three or four tables on the terrace, two on our side of the door. At the table behind us was a young couple. A pleasant waitress brought menus and our opened wine bottles (it’s a BYO place). I was beginning to pour the first glass when a cell phone rang at the table behind us. It was answered by the female member of the couple with cries of delight, after which she and the person she was speaking to—her mother, it turned out--shouted jubilantly at each other for the next five minutes (we could hear not only her part of the conversation but her mother’s as well). Obviously something quite wonderful was happening in her life, but after a while we started getting a little irritated at my table; I turned to ask if she could tone it down a little. Her male partner got incensed, informing us that they had just become engaged and she was telling her mother about it. We said congratulations but it was their celebration, not ours, and the conversation might better be carried on outside.
The altercation is not important. It’s not a restaurant’s fault when customers lack manners and become abusive (though banning the use of cellphones in restaurants might help to avoid some particularly noisome types of abusiveness). What is important is what the restaurant does or does not do when that happens. After being challenged by the young man to “take it outside” where Galahad was no doubt going to defend the honor of his lady, my partner, old enough to be his father, said we should leave. My sister and I followed after a moment and joined my partner in front of a fireplace where the person who may have been the host was talking to him and the young man, urging us to wait a moment; we would be given another table in a different room.
We were seated to wait on a couch in front of a fire. Eventually our wine bottles were placed on the table before us, without, I should say, the glasses I had been pouring the wine into. Those glasses never arrived, nor did any glasses at all. Nor did the host, for that matter, for another 25 minutes, at which point we started putting on our coats again. Desiring to get the corks back in our bottles for the drive home, I went to look for the host who was setting up a table for four in the front room, a table that had been set up and empty since our arrival, let me add. I said we were going; he said they were just fixing up the table for us. I didn’t want what had been intended as a festive evening to end on such a sour note so I convinced the rest of my party to stay, especially since the host assured us the restaurant would go out of its way to see we could now look forward to a very pleasant evening.
We should, of course, have left, but I thought the restaurant might really go a little out of its way, possibly plunk down an amuse-gueulle or something, to take the nasty edge off the night, especially since it was already after ten and we had been there since 8.30. We did now get wine glasses, it’s true. And our new waiter did come to us soon after we sat down to say that having heard why we had changed tables he was absolutely behind us. That, unfortunately, was pretty much the extent of the restaurant’s attempt to make us happy, or the show of our waiter’s allegiance. After taking our orders he disappeared from the room and, the few times he walked through, he paid no attention to our table at all. We had to wait an inordinate amount of time to get our food, and “If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you tell me?” he did say when he went to take away the plate of my sister, who sent back her overseasoned entrée untouched. But that was after it had been sitting in front of her for the duration of the meal and she certainly had no desire for anything else. (We were, for what it’s worth, charged full price for her entrée).
I will never return there myself, and will certainly discourage anyone I meet from dining at the Inn at Phillips Mill. Old, romantic and charming as any place may be, nothing excuses this kind of indifference to the well-being of a restaurant’s guests.
- Also Known As:
- Inn At Phillips Mill Hotel New Hope