[Update 7.09 : Since this incident happened, the restaurant has changed hands.]
For a restaurant that reportedly spent $5,000,000 on the interior and claims to be customer service oriented, you’d think they might have the graciousness to handle a situation like this another way. Personally, I don’t care to give my business to an establishment that would traffic in rudeness. Here is the story:
A friend called me in early November, asking for a restaurant recommendation. His boss’s 50th birthday was coming up and he wanted to give him and his wife a gift certificate for a meal that would be really special. Since they have two young children, any night out would be an occasion to celebrate. I had heard several good things about the new French restaurant in the Pearl District called Fenouil and recommended he send them there. Here is the rest of the story, in his own words.
“I’m all up for promoting great restaurants in our area. I stopped by around 3:30 in the afternoon while the staff was preparing for the dinner seating. I spoke to the manager asking if it would be possible to buy a dinner certificate for $100. It took him a while as he ran up and down the stairs trying to figure out how to do this. I didn’t mind waiting, because I could tell from the beautiful interior that it was the perfect place to send my boss. The manager finally came back and said this was their first gift certificate. He had spoken to the Chef and they agreed to print out the certificate on their menu stock. Then they spent another 15 minutes trying to figure out how to charge for it on their computerized cash registers.”
“They handed me the certificate with the manager’s card stapled to it. At that time I asked them if this was enough since the certificate looked really plain… they guaranteed me it was all I needed.”
[Note from Food Dude: He called me and mentioned them making the gift certificate after he left the restaurant]
“Fast forward to February. My boss was saving this certificate to share it with his wife for her birthday. On February 3rd they had a wonderful dinner, even pausing at the end to send me a text message saying that is was one of the best dinners they have ever had. However, 45 minutes later, I got a call from him saying the restaurant wouldn’t take the gift certificate, that they used gift cards. I was in total disbelief, but luckily I only live 6 blocks away, so I went down with a copy of my bank statement showing that I had purchased it, the date, and time.”
“When I got there my boss and his wife were sitting at the front door with a very disappointed look on their faces, to Baird (not sure how you spell his name), the manager.”
“I promptly apologized to them and asked the manager what the problem was. He showed me the certificate and claimed that he didn’t believe they ever issued it. Now I’m sure it’s possible that someone could have stolen a blank menu and printed the certificate on it, but not only did I also have the manager’s card, but also documentation showing the purchase!”
“I showed him the paperwork and asked him to verify the transaction in their computer. He said, “trust me… our registers are not as sophisticated you think”. Frankly, I didn’t believe him. Don’t tell a technical specialist that their high-tech custom point of sale register does not have this basic capability. Even if this was true, it would be ridiculous they wouldn’t have a paper record of this transaction. He kept telling me nobody knew about the certificate. For a restaurant of that caliber not to keep track of a $100 certificate is beyond me. As a consumer, I am willing to pay good money for services; it’s not my job to keep track of how or when the certificate is used.“
“The whole time he kept stating that “he’s never seen anything like it” and that “people have tried to pass similar things like it before”. It was clear he thought we were trying to pull a fast one. The whole time he listened to me, he had a grin, like he thought the situation of me being embarrassed in front of my boss, not to mention the inconvenience, was funny.”
“At one point, Baird had told my friends they could go; that they were going to honor the certificate. Then as they were leaving, he apparently changed his mind and ran out, further embarrassing them, and asking where they were going. The way they were treated, it was obvious the management assumed they were guilty of fraud, and treated them like criminals.”
“The sad part is my boss said everything from the food to the service was perfect. He and his wife said it would have been one of the best dining experiences they ever had if it wasn’t for the ending. Having the manager come to the table in front and tell them in front of the other patrons that he thought the certificate was fraudulent, was embarrassing. Having the manager tell them they could leave, and then chase them into the parking lot saying he had “changed his mind” was even more embarrassing. “
“I went back just before closing to talk to the management. The whole experience was so disturbing, I wanted to discuss it with them when I was not so upset. Unfortunately, the manager I had talked to earlier had already left for the evening, so I ended up speaking to Rick Lumagui, another manager. I had told him how disappointed I was at the way the situation had been handled. There were so many other things they could have done like taking some basic ID information and make a promise to check the books the next day and call if there was an issue. Instead, they ended up embarrassing everyone involved, and ruining a birthday celebration.”
“Rick confirmed that they could probably look up the transaction upstairs to prove the certificate was legit in their system. He explained to me that there were three managers. Only two were working that night, and the third was probably the one who issued the certificate.”
“He could tell that I was not happy with things, and asked me to bring my friends back another evening. I told him that we were not looking for a free meal, but it would help a lot if the restaurant would call my boss to apologize for how they were treated that evening. We were hoping to hear something from them by Tuesday, but still have not received any call or letter.”
“The sad thing about the whole situation is, because of the way this situation was handled, it will probably cost Fenouil many customers, as my boss and his wife tell their friends and neighbor’s in Lake Oswego about their experience. I can tell you one thing. As a Pearl district resident, I will never purchase a gift certificate or recommend my family/friends to go to Fenouil.”
Update: After this story, the owner of Fenouil contacted the couple that had their gift certificate refused. He was very apologetic and offered them a free meal, which they declined, as they have no interest in going back. The person who originally purchased the certificate has not been contacted. The owner also left a comment below: #28.
There is a complete follow-up post with lots of comments here.
WOW. I’m astonished that a such a successful restaurant would treat customers with such utter contempt. As a chef I find this shocking and alarming, and Fenouil’s chef should be outraged, as the poor behavior of FOH management is going to cost him dearly. I believe he is also an owner, so a letter directly to him (Pascal Chureau) may render some more satisfactory results. The manager in charge at the time should also be put out on his ass.
Pork Cop says
Ooops. Someone’s in deep doo-doo.
The part that’s so incredible here is the assertion that “people have trying to pass similar things like it before…”
Is it so common to try and scam a meal from a high-class restaurant like this one? Or have other customers been fleeced out of using what might have been a perfectly legitimate (if amateurly prepared) certificate…?
I’m betting this is a reflection on this particular manager’s thinking of a previous (presumably less high-end) employment experience, don’t you think?
Dave J. says
Woah. That’s freaky. Sounds like the first manager has a little bit of that “I might be wrong, but I’m not going to back down and be embarassed” attitude in him. So of course he keeps digging, keeps making the situation worse. The whole thing–from the initial uncertainty over gift certificates, to the refusal to look at the documentation, to the changing mind over whether to let your boss leave–speaks of poor managerial training there. To have that kind of inconsistency over something as simple as a gift certificate…pretty shabby.
That’s horrible. What do you expect when you have managers that came from the Cheesecake Factory, and owners who previously owned a restaurant in suburbia? The food is very good, but I have never had very good service there.
this is disturbing to say the least. We had just visited for our first time and were blown away by the food and service, but this….I don’t think we can go back….this is Portland, OR, where does this ego come from !!!
What I am about to say in NO WAY EXCUSES THE BEHAVIOR OF THIS MANAGER.
Sadly, it really is very common for people to try to scam meals from high end restaurants. There is also a whole cottage industry of people claiming to have eaten in a restaurant and had their coat stolen or wine spilled on their silk dress etc., sending bills to restaurants for cleaning, new coats etc. They have never actually been to the restaurants or even west of the Mississippi. They just telephone or mail 100s of restaurants hoping a few will just pay them to go away.
BTW, I thought people were making up the name “Cheesecake Factory” so I googled it. I was in shock when I saw their 40 page menu.
Food Dude says
Even though it wasn’t posted until this afternoon, over 1,000 readers have clicked on ‘more’ and read this entire story. Most likely, tomorrow will bring another 3,000 readers. It is now being picked up by other websites (thank you). Site traffic is growing every day, (today, the 23rd, will be the 3rd biggest ever for PFD).
If I were the owner of Fenouil, I’d be all over this. Word travels fast in this town, he has to know, and realize what the potential impact will be. Yet still, silence.
As an owner, you can’t be aware of everything, but you can certianly take measures to mitigate the damage done by your employees. A little contrition goes a long way. Something like, “I had no idea this happened, and we’ve taken steps to make sure it will never happen again”.
The silence is deafening.
I used to eat 150 meals or so a year in SF. These days it’s only once or twice a week in Portland. None of them will be at this restaurant, ever. I’ve been in the industry myself, and though the bill was $100, the actual out of pocket for the business was MUCH less. It would have made sense to give the benefit of the doubt, given the bad word of mouth they are presently receiving. My best advertising was always the customers for whom I made a less than perfect situation right.
Mr. Viddy says
This is exactly the type of service I’d expect to find in the Pearl District. Everyone doing business there has an attitude and most of them are simply [jerks].
Note: area in brackets was edited by Food Dude. Let’s keep it reasonably clean please.
Food Dude says
Dave J. I have thought about that, but I’m not reporter. I know people associated with the restaurant read this site on a regular basis. It seems hard to believe they don’t know about this, but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Either way, at least two seperate managers were made aware of the situation. Either they failed to pass it on, in which case they should loose their jobs, or the owner failed to act.
For my part, I talked to both the person that bought the gift-certificate, and the couple that dined there that night.
Dave J. says
I read this story at about 4pm this afternoon, and figured that when I checked 5 hours later there would be a post from the owner, one of the managers, etc., explaining their side to this whole story. Pretty surprised to not see that.
Food Dude, perhaps this is sending you in more of a “60 Minutes” direction than you would like, but would you ever consider calling a restaurant and telling them about the piece you are about to run, and asking for their comment? That would at least alert them to the post, and give them a chance to respond on-line, if nothing else. It’s incredible to think that you could spend $5m on a restaurant and be unaware of a popular local food blog, but there you have it.
I think it would be bad form for Food Dude to alert the owners to any post of any kind. It’s the responsiblity of an establishment, be it a restaurant or a shoe store or a hospital to stay apprised of what’s going on inside their business, as well as out. I suspect management knows of this post, and is trying to figure out how to best address it before responding, if at all; he/she may choose not to do so in a public forum, and I’d say there’s some wisdom to that: better, maybe, to get all the staff in a row, make known what’s what, and carry on from here; that, assuming management is upset by the incident.
OMG my boss told me about this on the line tonight i couldnt bleave that it realy happend that way im realy shocked. :(
Mr. Viddy, why do you think every place in the Pearl has an attitude? I think the attitude at the estabvlishments here is great. It is the “I could care less, I’m a hipster” attitude at many of the hip restaurants on the eastside that turns me off. 20-somethings these days just don’t seem to care.
I’ve been trshing their resumes long before Fenouil opened.
To the people who had a good time but now think thay can’t return, why? Clearly the manager was out of line or out of his depth but number one, it didn’t happen to you, and number two if the owners hear about this post and eventually they will but it might take longer than you expect (running a restaurant is a more than full-time job), I will bet the problem will be dealt with, whether they post here or not.
People seem quite eager to seize on the negative experiences of others to trash an entire neighborhood, or insult the resumes of the managers and owners.
I totally disagree with you. I think the Pearl District has fantastic restaurants with amazing service. What happened in Fenouil, however, is disgrateful and the manager should offer a written apology to this couple.
It’s an amazing story. I am coming to Portland in a couple of weeks and had been thinking of Fenouil as a potential venue for a “splurge” type evening out (among other places). I’ve read good and not-so-good things about it but usually like to see for myself. Now I’m thinking I might pass in favor of another location.
I don’t think it’s age that gives people an “I couldn’t care less” attitude. I’m a 20-something and I get really ticked off at some of the snobby attitudes I see tossed around at the ‘hot places to eat.’
Ya know the old there’s 2 sides to every story saying? I sure would like to hear the other side.
I’m curious. For a restaurant that has been only open for a few months, I find it interesting that the owners of such a largly funded endeavor aren’t there 24/7 to ensure that their investment is safely guarded and well run. As a restauranteur myself, I’m way too paranoid that our employees won’t handle incidents in a manner that is beneficial to our growth. This is a lifestyle that requires total dedication and attention to detail. Restauranteurs don’t get days off in the initial stages of a new business. That payoff comes much later if at all. My impression, having not eaten at Fenouil yet, is that someone is thinking they’ve already made it big and can relax now. Kiss of death. Or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to build a business that runs without the owner’s constant attention. Even Bill Gates micro managed Microsoft after he became the richest man in the world.
Even after this incident, I’m still going to go and eat there. I wish Fenouil a speedy recovery, however if it were me, I would have fired the manager immediately and presented his head to the customers as a token of our sincere apology. This will definitely put a black mark on their chances of getting restaurant of the year.
And finially, as sgj pointed out — there are definitely two sides to every story.
Dave J. says
The thing that kills me is that this involved a gift certificate. I’ve always thought that (and correct me if I’m wrong, industry folks) gift certificates are seen by restaurants as an opportunity to increase the normal customer base–in the normal run of events, someone who likes your restaurant buys a g.c. for someone who might not know about it. In this scenario, it’s the chance to impress a current customer, and attract a new one. So the fact that they couldn’t get their ducks in a row over something so important really makes me wonder.
By way of comparison, I bought a g.c. for my parents at Paley’s Place this Christmas season, and the whole experience couldn’t have been better. Kimberly asked who it was for, remarked at how nice it was to give a gift like that to parents, thanked me for the purchase, and while not making a big fuss, definitely made me feel like I was doing a good thing in buying it. When my parents used it, they said the treatment was just as good. That’s what a gift certificate experience should be–both the buyer and user should come away from it feeling rewarded.
mfk fisher says
On my first (and last) visit to Fenouil, I asked the waiter about the origin of the salmon, and he responded thusly: “Everything on our menu is organic, wild or sustainable.” I took that as code for “Shut up and don’t bother me with questions.” (And since I saw a Pacific Seafood delivery truck outside, I knew it couldn’t be true.) Added to the utterly mediocre food and the mid-America-Sheraton decor, well, there are plenty of great restaurants in town with names you can pronounce.
Food Dude says
Pascal: I wouldn’t normally have posted about this here, but there are several mitigating circumstances:
1. I was involved in the original purchase, when they were concerned as to whether the certificate would be valid later.
2. I was called when everything was happening at the restaurant, asking what I thought they should do.
3. I was called several more times during the evening.
4. I have known the three people involved for years and trust them explicitly.
5. The restaurant management was given plenty of opportunity to rectifiy the situation, but failed to respond in any way.
Even so, before I ran this story, I showed all three parties the post and had them sign off on it. I think in this situation, this is more than gossip. When an establishment treats a customer in this way, they had better be prepared to deal with the fallout.
I have heard a rumor that the restaurant contacted the customer this afternoon, but have been unable to confirm it.
Pascal Sauton says
I think it is unfortunate that you describe hesaid / she said stories on your site. I have witness many restaurant stories unfortunatly being distorded so fast… I would understand if it had happen to you, however, reporting it seems to me kind of displaced. It is amazing how much bad one can cause a restaurant with stories…What will happen now is that each person reading this story will add their 2 cents (and it has been proved) and by next week, it will end that this manager punched the customer in the face and got his wife as a hostage…you know it.
I really believe you have great site here. It would be so unfortunate to turn it into a gossip creating machine.
This said, I agree heartfully with the person who said you might want to contact the owners and let them know about the incident. Most likely they didn’t heard of it and probably would never had of…A manager doesn’t necessary represent the restaurant. If owners are contacted and still nothing happen, then there’s a BIG problem. I really wish my wife or I would hear of every incidents that happen when we are not here. We would be a much better restaurant!
Please, give up the gossip and let’s talk about food!
Pascal Chureau says
I am one of the owner and chef of fenouil.
As we all know now, the way my manager dealt with the situation was to say the least innapropriate.
I heard of the post on this web site by a friend today and was shock by the way your friends, were treated that evening.
I regret that I was not personally involved in the matter sooner.
I look foward to speaking to offended parties so i can rectify the situation.
I do beleive that my staff is curtious,gracious and attentive and that incident does not reflect the way we treat our customers.
Jess the Prep says
It’s refreshing to see restaurant owners weigh in on this situation, as it was starting to look like this discussion had devolved into mass generalizations (Pearl v. Eastside, 20somethings v. everyoe else, etc.) and trash talk.
While I find Mr. Chureau’s email to be perfunct, I can imagine that he is aware that the most important thing to do here is appease the actual customers, and not us, the chattering masses. I hope that either you, F.D., or Mr. Chureau will update us on what has been done. I somehow doubt the manager(s) in question will be fired (it is, after all, just one mistake) I wonder what is the best way for a restaurant owner to make the best of such a high-profile blunder . . .
Also, I agree with Mr. Sauton, it would be good to contact the restaurant. There is simply no way for a restaurant owner to know everything that happens with each customer in their restaurant. Even if they are there “24/7”, as PVS seems to think is required, a lot can go unnoticed. In my position at the very bottom of the food chain, at a restaurant that has been successfully and attentively run for over a decade, I’ve seen a lot of things simply slip under the radar of the restauranteurs through no fault of their own.
What is shocking to me, actually, is that neither ‘manager’ reported the incident to the owners themselves. It is the job of the employee to keep their employer apprised of any potential issues. This is particularly the case at a new restaurant, when the owner(s) may not have had the chance to lay out how they want their employees to act in a given situation. If I were Mr. Chureau I would be utterly livid, not only that this happened, but that this is the first I had heard of it.
Pascal Sauton says
Waow, that was fun!
What are we going to argue about next?
I want to play…I want to play…
I’ve eaten at Fenouil and had a wonderful experience. I would definitely eat there again.
The core issue here seems to be a lack of communication between management personnel. One manager created the gift cert and another manager was presented with it after three months had past. If the manager who sold the cert had told the rest of the management that the cert was out there ‘live’, it’s likely this situation would not have gone south.
Another thing to consider is that the manager did tell the others but because of the three months between the cert being sold and the cert being used, it slipped everyone’s mind.
Lastly, regardless of any of that, from the description of the events of that night, that night’s manager handled himself very poorly. It’s a lesson I would hope that manager will learn from and take to heart.
I stumbled onto your website while searching for the address of Fenouil. Last night was our first visit. We had a light dinner in the bar with friends who are repeat customers.
Everything about our time there was excellent. The food was delicious and the service superb. Our waitress was bright, witty, and always attentive. We enjoyed our banter with her almost as much as the good food and drinks.
I’m glad I didn’t see the previous comments earlier, though I probably would have gone there anyway since our friends recommended it so highly. I plan to return there tomorrow evening with my daughter for a repeat performance of the outstanding French onion soup and the scrumptious Coquilles St. Jacques.
I hope (and suspect) that all parties have overcome the unfortunate incident of a few months ago. Everyone deserves a 2nd chance. May Fenouil continue to grow and succeed.
I have mostly good things to say about the appetizers. In fact, I think the best things on the menu at Fenouil are the appetizers/bar food. The escargots were a little weak, but I really enjoyed the terrine and the foie gras napolean–and I thought I didn’t like pate or foie gras! Our entrees? Ho hum. Good, but nothing really memorable. They’ve got a great location, however, and hopefully the dining room experience will improve.
Can’t comment on the food, as we stopped by only for a drink because we had heard so much about Fenouil and wanted to have a look. However, as a restaurant family, we were less than impressed by the slow, scatterbrained service and the bar tables and benches, which they had apparently not gotten around to cleaning–stains on the corners of the tables and a generous scattering of crumbs. Staff was not busy–in fact, had only one other table in the bar. Bad impression for such an upscale place.