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Friday, October 30 Front Page >> Random Rants >> Fiction Restaurant in Vancouver - is getting good service the fiction?

Feb 04, 2006, 12:10pm

You know, I thought I wrote this critique months ago, but a recent convo with Brad showed me that somehow, I forgot to publish it. Still, it's very appropriate to let fellow Vancouverites know about some horrible service at Fiction restaurant, on W. Broadway in Kitsilano. This is a long post (apologies), but it has to be long to make sure every detail is covered.

is good service just "fiction" at Vancouver's fiction restaurant?

So, I don't go to fiction Restaurant any longer in Vancouver. I used to go a fair amount, and I’ve introduced more than a few out of town people to the place. But my last visit there was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in a Vancouver restaurant, and the three people with me agreed. I guess we’re just not the hip, young, pretty crowd they want - I dunno.

I’ll get to what happened in a minute. But even though the experience was terrible, what happened afterwards was worse. See, they have a mailing list, and after this last visit, I was still getting their emails with their upcoming plans and events. I wrote to the author of the email (who turned out to be the owner, Sean Sherwood) asking to be taken off the mailing list because I had a bad experience at the restaurant and would not be going back.

Now. I normally never post emails without permission. But I have to in this case – it really sets the tone for how a bad situation turned worse.

Sean emailed this to me:

Hi Mark

Obviously I feel terrible thatyou didn't enjoy your experience at fiction the other night.  I spoke briefly with Sue regarding the evening, and she mentioned that you spoke together on the phone.

Would you be interested in elaborating on the difficulties you had, so that I might have an opportunity to address them?  I would appreciate any feedback as a continuing dialogue on how we can improve.

It sounds like we have a shared passion in the bean.  I've been so neurotic about my search for the perfect shot within the restaurants I'm known as the coffee nazi.  I'd love to get your feedback on top beans in this town as well.  We all have our faves, but I'd be curious what your opinion is.

From the tone of your letter I would assume that you may never want to speak to me, or anyone ever affiliated with fiction, again.  I hope that isn't the case and I look forward to the opportunity to make it up to you at a later date.


Sean Sherwood

I felt at this point, okay, I would elaborate. Perhaps this owner can make things right, or at least learn from the situation. Before receiving this letter, I had no interest in even bothering to complain or let them know about the experience, but Sean’s easy tone, especially where he said “Would you be interested in elaborating on the difficulties you had, so that I might have an opportunity to address them?  I would appreciate any feedback as a continuing dialogue on how we can improve.” actually convinced me that he was sincere.

So I wrote a letter back to him. This is exactly what happened the night we had a bad experience:

Hi Sean.

That wasn't me who called Sue. I can only assume that perhaps another customer had a bad experience that night.

I've been an infrequent visitor to Fiction since you expanded, and have generally really enjoyed the experiences there. So much so, when I have visitors from the food industry from out of town, Fiction is on my short list of places to bring them.

The other night was one of those nights, but in this case, it was a Vancouver cafe owner I've recently become friends with, and his wife (my girlfriend was the fourth person). This person has recently gotten a major contract to import one of the best coffees in the US ( into Vancouver, taking over from Caffe Artigiano.

He wanted to take me and my girlfriend out to dinner, and asked if I had any preferences. I talked up Fiction to him and specifically mentioned the amazing prix fixe menu you have been offering this summer.

Once we arrived, we were told at the door that it was not available because of a busy previous night. Obviously we were disappointed in this (and I think the two women expressed this) but we decided to stay and get creative with the menu. Still, I was uncomfortable with this, because I had turned Brad's $150 (with wine) night into something that could cost him a lot more.

We were seated at the table against the west wall, closest to the DJ booth. It was very dark. It was literally impossible to read the menus, because the light over the table was not on. We all held the menus on angles towards the single candle on the table so we could make out the options available. The server Yana (sp - I asked her name before we left) came over immediately and asked for our drink order (as soon as we sat down). Because we had not a chance to read the menu yet, I asked for water to start.
The table was relying on me to pick the wine, because amongst our group I'm the wine geek. I asked what people felt like having in general (meat, fish, poultry, pasta), and determined a nice medium red would be best.

We tried to decipher the menu, and I tried to see on your wine list if you had the 2000 Jackson Triggs Proprietors Grand Reserve Merlot on your menu - this was a wine I had the week before at my house, and it was so fantastic, I was hoping to share it with our dinner guests. But again, I found it nearly impossible to read the menus, I had to open my cell phone to shed some light on them.

Up until this point, this was a situation we could all live with, and still enjoy our stay at the restaurant.

Our server came back with the water, and asked for drink orders. At this point, I stated again that it was too bad the prix fixe menu was not available, and said I thought this was the last week for it. Then I asked her if she had a "fresh sheet" of wine offerings for the week. She said no, everything's listed.

I said "well, it's quite difficult to read the menu or wine selection because the light is too low...." and I was about to just ask about a couple of wines off the top of my head. But I didn't get the chance. As soon as I got to "too low..." she turned heel and walked off. I called to her as she passed around our two guests, and was ignored.

We then sat there for about 20 minutes. The entire time, Yana ignored our table. New customers arrived, were seated, and were served by her. It was painfully obvious that she was not willing to serve our table, and didn't want us there.

Eventually, we decided to go to another restaurant (Aurora Bistro). We got up, got our jackets on, and before leaving, I went up to the bar and asked her name, and said thank you when she gave it. And we left.

This was not a case of being busy. This was just plain rudeness that not only turned me off the restaurant where I've spent a substantial amount of money in the past (heck, I'm the guy who got you to crack the single casket Bushmills!), but made sure our dinner companions, there for the first time, would probably never go back.

I was concerned that my own tone or talk was perceived as being too rude for the server, thinking about that during our 20 minutes of being ignored. All of my dinner companions said that other than expressing our disappointment in the prix fixe menu not being available, I did nothing rude to the server. And all agreed that with the quick withdrawal of the server in the middle of me talking about the wine menu, and the subsequent arrival of new customers being served that we were being ignored in the hopes we would leave.

We ended up going over to see Jeff at Aurora, and having a great meal.

Lastly, I have tried to cover everything that happened in the text above. Before sending this to you, I asked my girlfriend to review it to see if I left anything out, or gave too biased a report, but she believes everything above is very accurate.

To answer your questions on coffee selection, I understand you know Alistair Durie at Elysian Room? He may be the best person to talk about the coffee situation in town, and specifically in restaurants. Currently in Vancouver, I'm not overly impressed with anyone's roast these days, especially since I get to try so many top-tier microroasters in the US. But if I had to list the best local roasters, it would probably be Ethical Bean, JJ Bean, Origins, and Caffe Artigiano (who are now roasting their own).

My personal fave roasters (available in Vancouver if you really want it) are Hines Coffee, Intelligentsia, Stumptown Roasters, Counter Culture Coffee, then Ecco Roasters.




That was my letter back. And that was our experience at the restaurant.

Well, I never got a reply back from Sean.

But I did “hear” from him again. A few weeks later, in a non-related thread that appeared on eGullet, Sean posted a very negative, condescending and rude post about me in a thread where someone else was critising my ideas about coffee. Thankfully, eGullet deleted his post (and the thread, which was mainly just a personal attack).

I was literally in shock. Here’s a fellow who said “Would you be interested in elaborating on the difficulties you had, so that I might have an opportunity to address them?  I would appreciate any feedback as a continuing dialogue on how we can improve.”

fiction... not just a name, but an indication of the service, and the sincerity of the owners. I don’t recommend going to fiction in Vancouver any longer.

I guess maybe Brad and I aren’t “hip, young and pretty” enough to qualify for decent service in that joint (though Miwha and Beata sure are).

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