I booked Palmetto Cafe for a late lunch on my birthday, as my wife and I were in Charleston for the Spoleto festival and we had tickets for a concert at noon that day. Despite the mixed reviews, I selected this restaurant because it seemed to be the only top-rated fine dining establishment that was open for lunch at 3:00 PM. We arrived just before 3:00 and were greeted by a young woman with a scowl on her face. She did not welcome us to the restaurant and seemed surprised that we had reservations. The restaurant was almost empty. She asked if we wanted to sit inside or outside in the courtyard. Initially we asked for a table inside and my wife told her that it was my birthday. She showed us to a table next to a wall, although there were plenty of vacant tables in much nicer positions. We then opted to sit outside. The outside tables did not even have tablecloths and most people seemed to have ordered the buffet. The atmosphere was more like a cafeteria than a fine dining restaurant. A waiter came and introduced himself, then brought us menus and some water. He then disappeared. After waiting about 15 minutes, we got up and left. Having received very poor service at expensive restaurants in the past, we decided not to stay and run the risk of an unpleasant and humiliating experience. Judging by the patronizing smirks on the faces of the staff as we walked out, we made the correct decision. We first came to Charleston in 1996 and we come back every couple of years for the Spoleto festival. There are many wonderful restaurants in Charleston but Palmetto Cafe is not one of them. I wonder how the same hotel that runs the fabulous Charleston Grill has the gall to expose diners to a place like this. The menu looked inviting and the food may very well be wonderful but any competent restauranteur should know that service and atmosphere are equally important aspects of a fine dining experience.
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