This is part 2 of my previous post. It includes my observations about how Asian customers are treated in restaurants in Florence and Rome.
L’Osteria di Giovanni (March 2017)
Although we wanted to try the famous Bistecca alla florentina (Florence-style steak), we deliberately avoided Il Latini, the most well-known Florentine restaurant for this dish. Guessing that Il Latini could be a tourist trap, we made a reservation at L’Osteria di Giovanni, which belonged to the son of Il Latini’s owner (if I remember correctly). L’Osteria di Giovanni is a lot less popular than Il Latini.
The reception was wonderful at the beginning – the staff were friendly and we got a lovely table. Up until when the steak was served, the service was quick, and waiters were attentive. Unfortunately, our waiters could not keep this up until the end of our dinner.
As we finished our delicious steak, suddenly none waiter was around. Even if there was somebody, that person would be in a hurry and avoid any possible eye contact. We could understand this because the restaurant was getting busy.
Watching other tables, we noticed that all customers were given complimentary cantucci e vin santo (traditional cookies and sweet wine) after finishing their meals. Then we realized that our waiter completely forgot about our table. Eventually, we did get our cookies after a long wait and some subtle signals (such as keep looking at the guests who got their cookies). We even got more cookies than other tables – it was probably how our waiter indirectly apologized us.
However, there was an exception. A table nearby of a Japanese or Korean couple did not get their cookies at all. They just had some tea after their meal then left. Did they say no to free cookies?
A lesson to be learned: If a restaurant offers complimentary food and drink, never leave the restaurant without getting them. Every customer should be treated equally.
Where to go instead in Florence: 4 Leoni
As I was ready to let go of the incidents in Venice, Lucca, and Florence, two recent experiences in Rome made me think otherwise and become more critical with restaurant service in Italy.
Pizzeria Ai Marmi (April 2017)
This is the worst case in this series. I read somewhere that Pizzeria Ai Marmi was one of the best pizza places in Rome. As I and my friend did some shopping nearby, we gave it a try.
Similar to the service at L’Osteria di Giovanni, the waiters were smiley and efficient at first. Although the restaurant was packed, we got a table quickly near the cashier and also the pizza makers. The pizza oven was literally one metre away from us. So we knew exactly how long it took to get a pizza ready, possibly 20 mins maximum. We quickly got our supplì (Italian rice balls).
30 mins later… our pizzas were not ready yet. Oh, that is okay, we thought. Many customers came before us also had not got their pizzas.
1 hour later… still no signs of our pizzas. All other tables around us seemed to get their pizzas already.
I waited another 10 mins before standing up and talking to the cashier, who could be the manager. I asked him in Italian how long it would take to get our pizzas. He told me to ask our waiter. But our waiter kept avoiding any eye contact with us. The restaurant was too noisy so we could not call him. Then we asked another waiter, and he said our pizzas were almost ready.
20 mins later…. As we were ready to leave the restaurant in anger, our pizzas came. Although I was hungry, I must admit that I did not taste much. Maybe the pizza was tasty because I remember the crust was quite thin, which is how I like it. However, I also had to digest my complimentary side dish, which was my frustration.
So in total, we waited about 2 hours for two pizzas that would take 15-20 mins to make. It was because our waiter totally ignored us and would not serve us our pizzas. The worst thing was that… a couple who came later than us got their pizzas after only 45 mins of waiting. Was it because their table was served by a more attentive waiter or was it because they were not Asian?
By the time we asked for our receipt, our waiter became obviously grumpy and rude. Instead of apologizing for the super long wait, he acted as if he was bothered by us.
Not only do I eat with my eyes, but I also eat with my feelings. I do not think that I can enjoy pizzas in that restaurant ever again.
A lesson to be learned: There are plenty of fish in the sea.
Osteria Barberini (May 2017)
This is the most ridiculous case in this series. Having read tons of good reviews about Osteria Barberini, I and my cousin made a reservation for lunch at this restaurant, which specializes in truffles. From the reviews, walk-in guests do not have many chances of getting a table.
As we arrived, the manager did not give us a warm welcome. I did not think much of it because the waiters, on the other hand, were very friendly and attentive. The waiter showed us our table, which was right opposite the front door and very close to the manager’s desk. I politely asked in Italian to change to the table closer to the wall. Although the other table also had the sign “reservation”, we thought that as we were the first guests we could choose our table. However, the manager coldly refused without any explanation.
Unfortunate for the manager, since we sat so close to him and the front door, we observed every single of his actions and saw all the guests who came in. What I saw made clear to me why the manager was not friendly with us.
We were the first guests. Following us were a white couple who did not make a reservation but got a table immediately. I did not notice anything strange at first because it was still early for lunch. I thought that the couple was lucky because, for us, we had made a reservation a week before.
Later, a group of white tourists came in, and they were asked how many they were. They said 6, and obviously, they were turned away.
After a few moments, a Chinese-looking guest came in. When she was asked if she had made a reservation, she simply shook her head. She was then turned away coldly. The strange thing was that she was not even asked if she was alone or with other guests.
Another Japanese-looking couple came in, and they also did not have a reservation. They seemed to be determined to dine at this restaurant so they asked if there was a table another time. They were asked to come back at 9:30 in the evening.
Interestingly, only a few moments later, a young American white pretty girl came in. She said that she did not make a reservation but then she still got a table – the reserved table close to the wall that we wanted to move to. Suddenly the reservation for that table was canceled. What a perfect timing! Then out of a sudden, the manager came to us with a smile and said that the table was reserved for very special guests. He said that we were unlucky that the table was not canceled when we came in. He also said the American girl was luckier than us. Well, not just us, I thought, she was also luckier than the other Asian guests who came earlier.
Guess what! The manager became friendly to us at the end and even took off 50 cents from our bill. Did he feel guilty or what?
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hence, this rather bitter series.
Another lesson to be learned: Mass reviews are not always trustworthy.
Where to go instead in Rome: Antico Arco, Retrobottega, Culinaria, Virginiae.
Italy is like a spoiled kid, who is as beautiful as an angel, yet can be evil sometimes. Despite my unrequited love for Italy, I cannot let him get away with his unruly behaviours. I write this series with the hope that he can learn from his own mistakes and become a better person.
According to Professor Baumeister quoted in the article “Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall”, five good events can make up for one bad one. So I will try to find better restaurants in Italy. That is to say, if I can dine at Osteria Francescana (the best restaurant in the world in 2016) before living Italy, I will forget all of these unsatisfactory experiences. (Does anyone have a valuable tip on how to make a reservation there?) I sincerely hope that I will not have to write part 3 of this series. Still, everyone who is coming to Italy should read this to know what to expect about the hospitality industry in Italy.
So does service matter in Italy? The answer is NO. Tourists will continue to be trapped. Meanwhile, Italy has thousands of other urgent issues to be solved – immigration, trash crisis, poor public transportation, domestic violence, mafia, art looting, etc. However, my blog has focused too much on the positive side of Italy so I would like to give you a more balanced account of what Italy is truly like. Restaurant service might be a trivial matter here, but what about the ethics of Italian restauranteurs and the feeling of the minority diners?