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When Patrons Take Their Revenge . . .

“I don’t claim to be proud of what we have done,” reads an unsigned letter. “My wife and I take pains to honor our reservations and always notify a restaurant if our plans change. However, it seems to us that this is one way the normally powerless consumer can cause a restaurant to listen. . . .”

Accompanying the letter was a copy of another letter, this one sent (also anonymously) directly to Rosso e Nero, a popular new Italian place on Melrose. According to this missive, the writer and his wife were “treated with rude contempt” while having dinner, rushed through the conclusion of their meal and presented with a check before being offered coffee and dessert. When they complained, the restaurant treated them with “complete disdain.”

The next morning, the offended couple thought of a way to protest: “The following week we made the following reservations at your restaurant for Saturday evening, 5 March: 7:30 Talbot (4), 8 Wolf (4), 8 Leslie (2). . . .

“To make certain that you got the message, we followed up with the following reservations for Saturday evening, 19 March: 8 Singblat (4), 8 Carvan (4). . . .”

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In all, the couple made phony reservations for 39 fictitious customers over the two Saturdays. “At an average bill of at least $20 per dinner,” the letter continues, “this represents a loss of approximately $400 in anticipated revenues.

“We will return to your restaurant sometime in the future,” the writer adds. “If we receive the same kind of treatment, we will repeat the above.” The writer didn’t sign his name, he concluded, because, “If you don’t know who wrote this letter, then you must assume that every patron might be the person. This may help you see more clearly that your success depends on--in fact requires--the good will of your customers.”

For the record, I immediately called Rosso e Nero manager Ermanno Neiviller to get his side. “We have a certain customer who has reserved the same table every Saturday night at 9 for a full three months,” he said. “He always brings three or four new customers with him. Naturally, we want to always have his table ready. These people who complained were seated at his table, but they must have been told they would have to vacate it at 9. Anyway, we offered them free dessert at the bar. It was their decision not to accept.”

As much as I sympathize with diners who are mistreated in restaurants, I must say that I find this particular approach pretty childish--and ultimately self-defeating. The right way to respond is to calmly and coherently complain to the management--either in person or by letter. If you don’t get a satisfactory response, write me or to a consumer advocate about the matter.

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If that doesn’t work, about all you can do is to avoid the place and recommend to your friends that they do the same. After that, if you want my opinion, you’ll drop the matter. It’s not worth the trouble.

About this phantom reservation-making, though: I object to it because it simply isn’t fair to innocent bystanders--to blameless waiters who might suffer a loss of income, to hard-working kitchen personnel whose pacing gets thrown off entirely by jumbled reservations, to other customers who are refused a place or made to wait because the restaurant is anticipating that others will arrive.

More than that, it isn’t very civil. It’s a petty revenge of the kind that really ought to be above civilized diners. Then, of course, there’s the possibility that the whole idea could backfire. If customers start taking out their frustrations in this manner against restaurants, what is to stop restaurants (or their employees) from taking out their own frustrations in the other direction? Suppose a waiter thinks you’ve mistreated him and decides to, oh, maybe demagnetize your Visa card? Suppose the parking lot attendant thinks you stiffed him the last time and decides to play around with your spark plugs to get back at you?

Suppose, for that matter, that a neighboring customer doesn’t like your tone of voice and decides to “accidentally” slosh Petit Sirah all over your new white linen suit. Where will it stop?

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MUNCHFESTS: Jog-a-thons are fine for the physically fit but what about the physically hungry? San Pedro’s first annual pig-a-thon begins at 9 a.m. outside the Yankee Whaler restaurant in Ports O’ Call on Saturday. Participants, outfitted with complimentary pig snouts and piggy bags, raise pledges ahead of time and then visit as many as 15 restaurants along the 3 1/2-mile course. The more you pig out, the more money you raise for the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. . . . Sample food from 30 L.A. area restaurants--including Citrus, Champagne, La Toque, Trattoria Angeli, Tumbleweed and Prego--along with wine from 25 California vintners at today’s Great Chefs of L.A. fund-raiser for the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California at Le Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood.


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