Frank Bonanno asks: "Is it my fault somebody stunk up the bathroom?"

Frank Bonanno 3.jpg
Lori Midson
Frank Bonanno is one of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in Denver, presiding over a commonwealth of food temples (and one speakeasy) that, for the most part, generate positive reviews and comments from professional restaurant critics and amateur key strokers alike. But even the best restaurants make mistakes, and Bonanno's restaurants -- Mizuna, Luca d'Italia, Bones, Osteria Marco, Russell's Smokehouse, Green Russell and Lou's Food Bar -- aren't immune from the occasional slip-ups.

Shit happens. And when you're dining at a restaurant -- any restaurant -- and your experience is legitimately lackluster, you have every right to complain. But when your server approaches your table and asks for your feedback, and you answer that "everything was peachy," when, in fact, you're seething inside because you don't have the wherewithal to speak up, you have no one to blame but yourself.

"If you're unhappy, we want to know about it on the spot," stresses Bonanno. "We're in this business to make people happy, but if you have a criticism, we encourage you to tell us about it while you're at the restaurant -- to give us the opportunity to correct our mistakes." Cooks, he adds, "just want you to love their food. Why else cook?"

And, as a diner, it's also your responsibility to behave appropriately. Propping your naked, stinky feet on a table top is never acceptable, and bitching that you don't appreciate the bathroom's choice of paint color is indicative of someone who is better left at home watching infomercials, Cops or Demi Moore in Striptease.

Bonanno, who's worked in this business for years, has heard it all, including a complaint from a diner who walked into one of his restaurant bathrooms and promptly groused that someone prior had -- GASP! -- pooped. Another diner inexplicably whined that his steak tartare was too rare.

On his personal blog, Bonanno often writes thought-provoking pieces that delve into restaurant industry issues, and in his latest post, which is titled "Is it my fault somebody stunk up the bathroom?" he writes about customer complaints, and the ideal way for us, as diners, to go about expressing our dissatisfaction.

But he goes even further, encouraging people to offset the negative with the positive: "For every complaint committed to writing, the critic should have to write two complimentary letters, expressed just as eloquently, and sent to alternate, deserving businesses. Don't be that guy -- be a good guy. A good human being," he writes in his post. That's some of the best advice I've heard -- from anyone.

Bonanno's entire post, reprinted with his permission, is a must-read for industry folks and diners alike. Read it on the following page.


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36 comments
theworldofmarla
theworldofmarla

Steak tartare was too rare? DOES NOT COMPUTE!!! That guy needed to go back to Mickey D's.

offdisc
offdisc

Great article, but the next time I send a plate back because "it's not what I was expecting" and the sevrer looks at me like I'm an idiot for ordering, I might just call Frank and have nim school the server in manners. :-)Speaking of how manners can destroy a dinner: on a recent dinner at a Peruvian restaurant on 17th with a fairly good reputation, the food was incredible. 4 of us, and we went through the entire appetizer menu as a small plate tasting.  We had presented a coupon at the beginning of the meal. Service was wondeful, chatty and funny. Then the bill came... along with the admonition: "Remember to tip on the FULL amount of the bill".  No Please, and seriously, no reason in the first place to mention it. But we let it slide, until he came back with to clean the table and said "I hope you remembered to tip on the Pre-discount bill".  THAT stuck with us, now even 3 months later! 

Kimberly
Kimberly

To be fair, if chefs and restaurants are going to take to Facebook, Westword/Cafe Society, Twitter, Chow.com, or any other internet source to sing the virtues of their food and drink, then those that frequent their establishments have a valid right to use the same medium to voice their complements and/or complaints. It's a two-way street, so to expect anything less than that is a bit unrealistic.   

If (and it's rare) I do post a comment about a restaurant's service, it's typically in addition to mentioning the same thing to the front of the house staff at the restaurant. Did the yellow tail that I ordered at Sushi Sasa so totally rock my world that my day was made infinitely better because of it? I'll tell Joey in a heartbeat. Craptacular attitude by the server at Green Russell (and you know who you are, hipster "Death Cab For Cutie" guy that was too busy trying to impress the really busty Russian girl who really needs to invest in a bra with a wee bit more support to keep the ladies from spilling onto the bar...although you didn't seem to mind...) who proceeded to treat my colleagues and I like a group of wicked wart-infested stepchildren? I expressed my dissatisfaction to him directly... before I told everyone I knew on Facebook in addition to every physical body who works at my office with me--including the cleaning crew and the parking lot attendants. The point being that if service and food and atmosphere are memorable--in both positive and negative aspects--you'll know about it. I don't think I'm much different from anyone else in that regard.

My guess is that most of us who use social media to look at bar & restaurant recommendations and reviews can ascertain the difference between a review that's meant to inform/enlighten and a review that is simply mean-spirited and spiteful. My hope is that the Frank Bonanno's of the world can do the same.

Kay
Kay

Bones should not take reservations. I love this place and was willing to wait to have the Lobster Ramen. Two of us walk in and we were told the wait would be about 45 mins. When we first walked in there were two, two tops open and as we waited more tables began to open up and no one was coming in. We waited for 20 mins and 4 empty tables sat open as well as two spots at the bar, but we had been told people had reservations therefore we couldn't be immediately seated. For a place so small when you have four tables open and two customers waiting wouldn't you think "Hey, I want the business!" What I found to be even odder was the fact the manager was making phone calls to individuals on the wait list. What if someone had decided they would just go home, since the live nearby, and wait for a call. You're going to hold the table for them, while they get back to the restaurant!? 

We wound up leaving after 20 mins of seeing open tables just sit there empty. Puts me off giving Bones my business.

epl
epl

This seems every bit as petty as the people who complain on Yelp.  Mr. Bonanno has gone to the internet to whine about people who...wait for it...whine about his restaurants on the internet.  <cue "this="" and="" enough="" get="" inevitable,="" is="" it"="" not="" remark="" satire="" smart="" the="" to="" you're="">

It's also worth noting that, as to Mr. Bonanno's last point regarding sending two positive letters for every one complaint, perhaps he (and others in his industry) should do the same.  For every petty blog post complaining about how horrible the people who shell out $30 an entree and $15 a drink at your restaurants are, you should write two about how wonderful the majority of your customers are.  I love eating out (and I love most of Mr. Bonanno's restaurants), but the holier-than-thou, victim-of-your-customers attitude of some in the restaurant industry in this city is bothersome.  I've stopped going to restaurants whose chefs sound off on their customers in forums like Westword.  My money's better spent elsewhere.</cue>

Scott
Scott

The food and service has always been great at his restaurants, but I do have a question.  Does Bonanno chew tobacco while he's at his restaurants?  Just wondering, becuase I saw him at a gas station a few months back at about 530 PM and he was picking up two cans of chewing tobacco.  It kinda makes me sick to think about someone, especially a chef, chewing at a restaurant.

Bagwhan
Bagwhan

The title of this piece is really rather amusing to me, because the only restaurant bathroom I ever recall mentioning in a review of a fine dining establishment (not an online review, just a review to friends) was the bathroom at Mizuna.  It was, simply put, the bathroom of a dive bar, not the bathroom of a fine dining establishment, and did impact my experience there.  I don't expect the bathroom to be fantastic, but I would expect it to be appointed a little nicer than my local neighborhood dive.  And I could not understand how a place as nice as Mizuna was could have a bathroom like that.  All I could remember thinking was "couldn't they spend just a little bit of money to decorate it?  To make it seem a little less like a "shitter" and a little more like a place I'd be happy washing my hands in?" 

Did I share this with Bonanno or his staff?  No, and maybe I should have.  But I couldn't understand how they could miss this detail, because surely they used the bathroom too  And maybe Mr. Bonanno should understand too that while it's great to get useful feedback from his customers, it's not his customers' responsibility to do so.  If you want to provide a good experience, it's your job to be vigilant, regardless of whether your customers say a word.  Because ultimately, the unhappy customer -- whether they say a word or not -- may never come back.

And I can't believe I just posted about Mizuna's bathroom on Cafe Society!

SickCustomer
SickCustomer

The only one shitting in a restaurant bathroom is an employee or sick customer. 

So yeah, the odds are it probably is your fault because your employee stunk up the bathroom or your customer came in sick anyway because it's hard to get a reservation at your places.  Better ventilation may be in order.

That being said, love your food, keep up the good work.

Oh, and you're out of toilet paper.

GFTW
GFTW

Any knowledgeable person knows that, by and large, complaining in person gets you "extra ingredients" in your food. ;P

J$
J$

Too many complainers in this town. Keep up the great work Frank, without you the restaurant scene in Denver would be lackluster.

CircleLimit
CircleLimit

I think Frank makes some reasonable points. The anonymity of the internet and E-reviews offer a tempting forum for people who can't resist over the top venting when they could have behaved like an adult during their experience at the restaurant and followed some of the suggestions mentioned. The one time I went to Mizuna is still used as a benchmark for professionalism and quality of the entire experience.

Guest
Guest

Here's a straightforward complaint.  Green Russell sucks.  The food is terrible, the drinks are worse.  And yes, I said it when I was there too.  If I want great drinks with a side of food, I go to Colt & Gray or Osteria (which is fantastic in every way, always).  Weird about the latter, since Green Russell absolutely cannot seem to put it together....

Jmac
Jmac

The Service in the town is sub par. We have many great restaurants, but the service is lacking. I always give a restaurant three tries ( Provided I enjoyed the food but the service was terrible) I am a big fan of eating out, I might even go as far as calling myself a foody. I always tip at least 20% even if the service was bad, unless it was awful. If the service is extraordinary, I will tip as much as 40%. I appreciate a good meal, accompanied by a knowledgeable staff, and polite service.    Now that I have a daughter, I find it harder to get great service. A lot of the servers think that just because you have a kid, you won't tip well. Nothing is worse than a pushy waiter, If I don't feel like drinking, nothing cries desperation more than a server who continues to offer alcohol after I have expressed that alcohol is not what I want. Just because I am not drinking doesn't mean I won't tip well. Servers who try and jack the bill up as high  as possible, playing the odds on a higher bill,  rub me the wrong way. I tend to order an appetizer, full course, and dessert. This offsets the alcohol in most cases. but there have been times where my entire meal was 20 or less and I match the tab, because I like the server. vice versa, had a 300 dollar tab and only tip the 20% because the service was awful. I'm the exception. My grandmother always tips 15% or less, great service may get you an extra 2% with her, but she is a stickler about the service and does not like it when the wait staff is overly friendly, she goes out to eat so that she can enjoy the food and the company she keeps, not to hear a waiter telling jokes. I on the other hand love talking with the staff. especially if its regarding the food.  The Edge:  inside The  Four Seasons Hotel,  always does an amazing job. knowledgeable staff, consistency in the product and a very unique ambiance.( best dessert in town; Sticky toffee pudding.  Seasonal to winter) Stueben's, D bar,Capital Grill, Root Down.  also round my list of good service good food and a great staff.  Taco De Mexico: food is great, service sucks. City O City: food is mediocre at best, the service is hit or miss but the ambiance is awesome. Kevin Taylor: I'm sorry to say is over priced, the food is never consistent and the staff is really good at making the patron feel like they don't belong. Nothing is worse than feeling belittled by a waiter when you are paying good money for food that is average. We are very fortunate to have such a diverse restaurant scene in Denver. for the size of this city. We have a wide array of great food. I just wish that the service was a little better in most of the restaurants. That's why so many restaurants don't make it in Denver, in a competitive market like the one we have here, its crucial to stay a step ahead of the competition and be consistent. 

jester
jester

Were you a group of wicked wary infested step children? You never answered your own question......

GFTW
GFTW

'<cue "this="" and="" enough="" get="" inevitable,="" is="" it"="" not="" remark="" satire="" smart="" the="" to="" you're="">'

WTF kind of hipster doofus nerd crap is that?</cue>

epl
epl

Of course I'm not smart enough to realize that putting brackets in their would mess up the text, so maybe I'm not intelligent enough to pick up on satire after all...

GFTW
GFTW

Many, many cooks in restaurants chew tobaccy. Since they can't like smoke while cooking. Anymore.

Me
Me

Hi, Scott. Frank here, and yes I do chew about a can of Copenhagen a day. Be sure to stop by and say "Hi" next time you're in. I'll make you special plate.

Me
Me

You must absolutely crap in any restaurant you visit to get the complete experience. And SickCustomer is correct, you are out of toilet paper. 

Mingteaap
Mingteaap

Seriously??? You think employees or only sick patrons shit???? WTF!¡ do you sir only go number 2 at work or when sick?? Or do you not micro-manage your bowels and let nature happen? Seriously......

Audrey
Audrey

This isn't true for fine dining. Especially, If you are courteous and respectful. There is such a huge difference between pointing out a problem to be solved and complaining. I think that is what Mr. Bonanno is getting at.

Me
Me

Green Russel did suck...three times. I feel valid in my assessment. On another note has anyone been to Denver's best kept secret...Pete's Kitchen?

A. Leigh
A. Leigh

So you are the type of person this article is referencing. Always have to put in your two cents. You have made a series of sweeping generalizations that praise or bash businesses. These are helpful to no one but your own ego. You give no specifics, no qualifications... All you did was out yourself as a big d-bag.

M
M

Service in this town overall is severely lacking. It is getting to the point where crappy service is the new norm.

greenrusselltrulysucks
greenrusselltrulysucks

Complained about the service at Taco De Mexico is the equivalent to complaining about service from McDonald's. But lets address a larger issue...your narcissism in writing this way too long blurb. 

Mantonat
Mantonat

The fact that you put El Taco de Mexico and The Edge in the same list in one breath blows your entire argument. 

Uptownbro41
Uptownbro41

could there actually be more than one Green Russell server that matches that pretty specific description? Wait, don't answer that. PS, I'm on your side on this one, I'd rather pay attention to the "really busty [lingerie-challenged] Russian girl" too...

Kimberly
Kimberly

Not a single warty stepchild in the lot! Two of us took some clients that were in town for a deposition to the GR because they read about the place prior to visiting Denver (they live in London). What you DID get were two Colorado natives and four Brits that will be, as the Fleetwood Mac song says, Never Going Back Again.

I will say, however, that the upside to that whole episode was finding another bar where the bartenders didn't treat us like we were bothering them...Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto. Market between 16th an 17th. Highly recommended.

SickCustomer
SickCustomer

Once everyday.  In the morning at home before showering.  Like clockwork.

And yes, you can train your bowels.

Seriously.

GFTW
GFTW

Oh, it's true. But usually only for chronic bitchers. Some of the patrons mentioned at the top of Frank's article deserved such. And a blanket party by the dumpsters.

Secret Pete
Secret Pete

Did you just get to town? There has been a line out the door of Pete's every weekend night after bar closing for close to 20 years.

WithAudrey
WithAudrey

C'mon, that's a stretch.  Medium or little d-bag is more appropriate.

Retiree
Retiree

You're kind of anal :)

Mantonat
Mantonat

At least he/she followed the Bonanno-recommended methodology: one complaint, two compliments!

I haven't eaten at Green Russell, but I've always had good cocktails and the bartender last time out was outstanding. Wish I'd remembered his name.

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