Sunday, July 24, 2005

Fixing a Travesty at JFK, part 1

Yesterday evening, after checking Vero's mother in for her flight home, we went to the food court in JFK's Terminal 1. The food court only has a few choices: Mickey D's, a Chinese fast-food place, a stand that sells sodas and snacks, and a more "upscale" place called the Greenwich Village Bistro. The Greenwich Village Bistro has a cocktail area where you order at the bar, and a table-service area with food.

When we put Vero's father on the plane last fall, we'd had a drink with him at the Greenwich Village Bistro. We'd remembered that the drinks were way overpriced, but that the casualness of the occasion relaxed him after the tenseness of getting to the airport and getting checked in. We really wanted Vero's mom to be calm for her flight, so we thought we'd repeat the tradition.

We picked a table and sat on the raised stools. Vero and I decided to share a glass of wine, and my mom-in-law wanted a grapefruit juice, no ice. I went to the bar and waited for about 5 minutes while the bartender fixed sodas for another table, brought them food from the kitchen, and studiously ignored me. Eventually he came over and took my drink order. I forgot to mention the "no ice" part, and he was very quick about scooping the ice into the cup and filling the glass as I asked, "Excuse me, can we have the grapefruit juice without ice." Neither Vero nor her mom like ice in their drinks - I don't know why.

What a mundane little story, right? Why am I blogging this?

Because what happened next will be the beginning of a little adventure. The man walked over to the sink and started spooning the ice out of the glass, slopping juice all over the sides of the glass in the process. This being a bar, I would have grabbed a cocktail strainer and poured the juice into a new glass, but what do I know? Now the barkeep walked back to the drink-fixing area, filled the old glass to the rim, and put it on the counter. He rang up the drinks - $6.49 for the one glass of Pinot Grigio, and $2.80 for the juice, prices that did not appear on any menu so could only be learned by watching the cash register. Total of $11.73. I asked the man for napkins, which he plunked on the counter, and I wiped the sticky juice off the glass before I brought it to our table. Then I came back to the counter and signed the receipt, taking care not to include a tip.

I always tip. But this service was horrible. And when I joined my womenfolk at the table, I learned that my area hadn't been properly wiped from previous customers - in order not to have my arms stick to the table, I had to make my own tablecloth from one of the napkins.

Oh well, right? At least the wine was ok, and the grapefruit juice was what my mother-in-law was thirsty for. We sat and talked, with the desired pre-flight soothing effect.

As we got the bottom of our glasses, a thought hit me - $11.73 was way more than the price of the drinks plus New York tax. I pulled the receipt out of my pocket. It wasn't itemized, just a total, and then this notation: "FOR TABLE SERVICE ONLY A 18% Service Charge is included." The math works out. Even though we didn't have table service, our service charge was built into the bill.

No wonder the man was surly. No wonder he slopped juice all over the outside of the glass and didn't wipe it off or put it in a new glass. No wonder the table was sticky. In this high-priced eatery, there was no accountability. The customers pass through quickly and then they are on another continent. Management provides some tables, a menu with no prices, and pockets the profits. By the time you realize you've been overcharged for service after being overcharged for drinks, if you ever do (remember, there are no prices on the menu or the receipt), you've gone through security and passport control, or you've paid the short-term parking attendant and driven off.

This is only a matter of $1.67, but I'm thinking, wouldn't it be fun to see what it takes to get things set right? Really, whether it's one dollar or a thousand, bad business is bad business. This sort of thing has happened to me at many other places on the road (Paris Gare du Nord, I'm thinking of you), where businesses take advantage of travelers. So, the next few entries to this blog will track my efforts to find someone responsible for the Greenwich Village Bistro at Terminal One in JFK Airport.

I'd like an apology. I'd like my $1.67 back. I'd like to know that I can sit down at a restaurant in an airport or train station and have a tasty, enjoyable meal or drink. I'd like to restore civility to the public space through which we all must pass. This sounds like a tall order, but I recently realized that I've spent a month of my life just sitting in airplanes going to or from Africa, not to mention all the other flights, the time in airports, the time in trains, the time in busses, time getting to or from the point of departure or arrival. Wouldn't it be nice if you could count on that travel time being a civil experience with pleasant human interactions?

So I'll start with this little quest for the $1.67 that I paid for service I did not receive. I'll start here.

(P.S.- The spell-check on is simply awful! Among the words in this post that blogger didn't recognize? "Blog." And "blogger.")


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