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Posted at 1:55 PM ET, 03/11/2011

Ask Tom: Lunch confusion at 2941

By Tom Sietsema

To celebrate her 70th birthday on Feb. 4, Ruth Sedei and her husband booked a table at 2941 in Falls Church, which was promoting a $24 fixed-price lunch on its Web site. The day before her reservation, she noticed the deal was no longer available and called to inquire about the change, which a receptionist confirmed. Sedei relayed her disappointment, because, as she e-mailed me, "the prix fixe was the reason we would be able to dine at the restaurant for my special celebration," and "I would now have to cancel our reservations."

The woman on the other end of the phone was curt, according to Sedei. "She said, 'name, please,' so I told her, and she replied, "canceled.' I thanked her for her caring about a customer. Her final response was, 'Well, it's your choice.' " The Falls Church reader says she "realized afterward that the prix-fixe menu was probably (an extended) Restaurant Week" promotion, but she wondered why she hadn't gotten an explanation: "Expensive and top-rated restaurants are not exempt from good customer service policies. Perhaps this woman had a bad day, but she represents the restaurant."

Bertrand Chemel, the chef of 2941, says the restaurant was in the midst of changing its menus, even adding lower-priced a la carte lunch items, when Sedei was making her plans. "I'm pretty sure my receptionist was confused" when she took Sedei's call, "not trying to be mean," Chemel says. Even so, "I feel sorry and sad [Sedei] had that bad experience on the phone." The chef says he enlists friends and colleagues to conduct regular service spot checks by calling 2941 and posing as would-be customers, in part to avoid the kind of problem Sedei encountered.
In a subsequent telephone interview, Sedei, who has eaten at 2941 before, made it clear to me that she wasn't angling for much. "All I wanted to hear," she said, "was the 'S' word one time: I'm sorry." Sedei got that and more. Chemel, who asked me to pass his direct number to her, invited her and her husband to a gratis lunch at 2941 -- where the couple plan to celebrate their 42nd anniversary later this month.

By Tom Sietsema  | March 11, 2011; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  | Tags:  Ask Tom  
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