Five examples of great service in Denver

Categories: The List

bobby and lachlan 2.jpg
Bobby Stuckey, left, presides over service at Frasca while Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson helms the kitchen.
After some service flubs at Charcoal, the subject of my most recent review, I lamented the fact that the quality of service in many of this town's restaurants has not kept up with the ever-improving food turned out by the kitchens. There are exceptions, of course, and those are worth noting because they're also worth emulating.

Here are five examples of excellent service in the metro area, available at several different price points.

Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe
Anyone who thinks good service can only be had at a spot with a fine-dining price tag should visit some of the mom-and-pop shops in this city, starting with Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe, a bare-bones spot that specializes in Cuban empanadas, ropa viejo and pork-stuffed sandwiches. This family-run joint features a mix of counter service and table-side care, with owners Sergio and Roxana Negrin energetically involving themselves in their small, casual dining room. They never miss a beat, and they'll frequently bend the rules of their order-at-the-counter model to bring you a refill or coax you into trying something delicious you hadn't noticed before.The food alone is definitely worth the trek, but it's the warm, caring, community-creating service that will keep you coming back.

Second Home Kitchen and Bar
The key to good service, really, is anticipation: think one step ahead of your guests and you're probably going to impress them -- and sometimes, that means heading off a problem before it's actually a problem. On a recent night at Second Home, the restaurant on the ground floor of the JW Marriott, my party's server had done everything by the books. We'd finished our appetizers and were waiting on our entrees when the manager showed up with a tray full of drinks. "I brought you a second round on me," she said. "The kitchen misfired an entree, and I wanted to apologize for the delay." We hadn't noticed (and since we were sitting in the bar, we probably wouldn't have complained about slow timing, anyway), but that gesture was enough to not only completely frame the rest of our night as a great experience, it also ensured we'd return. Soon.

The Capital Grille
Yes, it's a chain and a corporate expense-account feeding ground, and if the price tag isn't enough to deter you, the fact that you're not supporting Colorado's independent restaurateurs may turn you off. But this place is a case study in good service that's far from corporate: The steakhouse gets everything right, from the second the valet takes your key to the moment he returns it. The hosts are assertive and efficient, markings are never missed and the entire front-of-house staff is professional, honest and confident. One particularly good example of the thought and coordination that goes into serving each guest? Start with a drink in the bar, and the bartender will introduce himself and ask your name. Move to a table for dinner, and your server will show up calling you by name, too. And though this place must sell a lot of Napa Cabernet, your server will never assume that's what you're after -- in fact, your server will never assume anything at all; he or she will let you set the tone for your own evening while standing by so that he or she can play into it perfectly.

Table 6
"Casual service is an illusion," I wrote in my rant, and no one pulls off this illusion better than Table 6. Owner Aaron Forman oversees a staff that's quirky, laidback and seriously concerned that each guest have the best time possible -- I once even had a server stop me from ordering a dish, saying, "Honestly, that's not my favorite." They never miss a marking, a pairing or an opportunity to make a joke, and they manage to make every table feel like a regular or friend, regardless of that person's status or situation. And the service is consistently stellar, from the first time I stepped through the door more than five years ago to last weekend, when the restaurant flawlessly handled a brunch party of fifteen without missing a beat. And though Forman is frequently on hand to ensure things are running right, the team works like a well-oiled machine even in his absence, which is a true testament to the power of his leadership.

Frasca Food and Wine
Of all the exceptions to my statement that unprofessional service is endemic in Denver, the one that was brought up most frequently by commenters was Frasca Food and Wine, and with good reason: Co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey maintains such a high standard for service for himself and his staff that he's frequently cited on the national level for his work. I've written before about the lessons I learned about service while working under him, and Stuckey remains a pitch-perfect example of a leader. He coordinates the team, he is a wealth of knowledge, and he really, really cares that everyone leave Frasca absolutely ecstatic that they've spent their evening at his restaurant -- and he'll bend over backwards to ensure that. That enables Frasca to make a soaring service promise to every guest...and still over-deliver, every single time.

Want more? Nab a bar seat at Colt & Gray, experience on-point fine-dining service at Flagstaff House, drop into Cafe Brazil for South American hospitality, or witness an exceptional front-of-the-house personality behind a counter at Maria Empanada.


Location Info

Venue

Map

Second Home Kitchen and Bar

150 Clayton Lane, Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

The Capital Grille

1450 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Table 6

609 Corona St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Frasca Food and Wine

1738 Pearl St., Boulder, CO

Category: Restaurant

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26 comments
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Chill303
Chill303

One place that is unfairly left off this list, and possibly because it's not a formal dining restaurant like many of the above, is hands-down El Diablo. For a place that probably sells booze at a rate of 5-to-1 when compared to entree's, they are exceedingly dedicated to service of those that arrived to feast. I have been helped by most of the wait staff and have dined with small and large parties (its is THE place I bring my co-workers) and each time I'm treated as well as any of the fancy dining institutions I visit. Hat's off to the red Devil on Broadway!

Dan5280
Dan5280

I don't love the food (what's with the silly crema slathered over everything????), but I'll agree with you Diablo has terrific service and atmosphere.

Guest
Guest

Thanks for the pbr

Jenn the Barbarian
Jenn the Barbarian

 Second Home is one of my go-to faves--and I find it funny as hell that someone else noticed the massive cougar-hunt going on there. It's way worse in the summer when the patio is busy, and I must also admit to seeing more than a few cougars going "cub-hunting" there as well. Better than cable, really.

If you are a wealthy middle-aged lady or a broke twenty-something bloke, then Second Home is the place to go.

Bridget
Bridget

Grab a seat at the bar at Duo when Bobby is working. That guy is the tits when it comes to liquor knowledge, attention to detail, and style.

Guest
Guest

I really like Table 6 but they have some of the worst service, I would never include them on this list.  The food is tasty and the vibe is awesome, but when you have to wait longer than normal for some one to come to your table to get you your drinks, and over 10 minutes to get your table cleared after you have finished your meal on multiple occasions, I would say that doesn't fit the bill.  

When a restaurant such as Second Home is known around town as a roofie bar, I don't know if I would include them in this list.  

There are so many restaurants around town that have such amazing service that are not mentioned here.  One also has to remember that everyone has different experiences based on different expectations.  This list should be a little longer as there are many restaurants in Denver where the staff is professional and want you to have a good time.  Go figure it our for yourself.  

Diner
Diner

I like your point about expectations.  What constitutes great service is highly personal and unique to every one of us - while this lady likes her plate cleared as soon as she's finished, the next takes offense at the offer to remove a plate - both are "correct" but there are no signs posted.  Service people may be trying to connect with 15 to 75 people on any given mealtime - that's a lot of very different expectations to understand and manage.  Professionals do it very well and that is always something to be admired and appreciated. 

Absolute1
Absolute1

We have eaten all over the metro, from high (the hottest, the newest, the buzziest, the most blogged about, the fanciest, the oldest school, and the most expensive) to low (the divey-est, the most off the beaten path, the cheapest, the hubmblest, the most ethnic, and the truckiest), so we believe our opinion to be well grounded.

For us, the winner is a no brainer: in one word, DUO.

The service has been smooth, efficient, and attentive - all the while unobtrusive and "invisible" in the best sense of the word. That was our impression shortly after it opened, and it remains absolutely rock solid all these years later.

Behold the power of consistency.

Mschmidt4869
Mschmidt4869

Frasca and Cap Grille are amazing and in no way rush you out, as someone commented. I'd add Luca and Mizuna to this list. Had an overall horrible experience at Fruition. Food was decent but waitress was so timid, we could hardly here her.

Big pet peeve: I always finish before my wife and almost anywhere we go, the server will ask if she finished when my plate is empty, but she's only half done. Several times we've had servers ask her if she's done when she literally has food on her fork.

Great article, though.

Jeffrey
Jeffrey

I did have great service and great food at Oak at Fourteenth recently, but our server did commit one of my least favorite service acts.  Upon greeting, he asked "Have you ever dined with us before?" (two of us had, two had not).  He then proceeded to open the menu and explain to us that many of their customers like to order several small plates and share.  It seemed a tad paternalistic--as if that never would have occurred to us.  I wanted to tell him "Well, even though I have never eaten here, I have ordered off of a restaurant menu before..."

monopod
monopod

I agree that the "have you dined with us before?" question is annoying and almost always unnecessary.  Unless your restaurant's menu is really out of the ordinary, I think you can probably trust folks to figure out how to order.

Thymine Hayes ESQ.
Thymine Hayes ESQ.

Tables in Park Hill is right on, probably because the owner runs the door, efficient without pretense, casual yet elegant, well worn decor with inspired service, not to mention the food...service usually  becomes an issue only when it is so poor it is glaring...that being said, a shout to a   place where you are always greeted in a timely manner, where silver is alway ready for the nest course, where the staff is always cheerful, where drinks are replenished before asking, where check is presented and retrieved in a timely manner....Pete's on Colfax, I always use that example  to the uppity service staff who thinks they are curing cancer and solving problems, my buddy told me today that at Pucks they tell the staff to lighten up the attitude, they are not curing cancer, they're causing it...

D-Hause
D-Hause

Yes a bar seat at Colt and Grey but not a table seat. Worst service i've ever had.

ZG
ZG

Frasca HANDS DOWN.

Number Three
Number Three

It's easy to see why you left Mizuna and Fruition off this list. The best service is the kind you don't notice. FLAWLESS.

Guest
Guest

1. The service is great at Capital Grille, Frasca and Table 6. However, all three are places that try to turn tables over as soon as entrees are cleared and make it clear you're not welcome to hang out.

2. Based on my experience, the service at the Second Home's bar is terrible. The bartenders at Second Home are usually too busy cougar hunting to give a shit. Unlike Laura, I'm a male so I've never received a free drink for their mistakes.

3. Overall, I've always enjoyed the service at Charcoal. It's not overbearing and I can show up with a group of 4-8 after work and people can order what they want, whether it's an entree or a snack. We always feel welcome to stay for a few hours with people coming and going. You can't do that at a place like Table 6 or Frasca. It's unfortunate about Laura's experience. That said I've been to Charcoal at least 10 times and never experienced the missteps she claims. Furthermore, I feel that she missed the spirit of Charcoal in her review. To me, Charcoal is a unpretentious neighborhood restaurant/bar that happens to have excellent chef driven food. It's not trying to be the next Frasca, Capital Grill or even Table 6.

CB
CB

 Im surprised at Guest stating that hes felt being turned and burned at Frasca. Taht has not been my experience at all.. Ive been seated there at minutes 10pm and been there will past midnight and not felt an atom of pressure from the staff.

Laura Shunk
Laura Shunk

Thanks for your opinions -- I'm not shocked that there's variance in the system. As to your point number two, though, my group at Second Home was co-ed. In fact, I was the only female -- and the manager (and my server) -- were also female.

Uncledave8
Uncledave8

Well, in my experience no one (Frasca included) does it any better than the Palace Arms.  I think Frasca's service is lovely for fine dining in Boulder but you want to learn where to use which fork - you need to be at the Brown.  I'm not always happy with the food/cost paradigm at the Brown but the front of the house is always impeccable.    

CB
CB

I would add Oak @ Fourteenth into this mix as well. The service is ridiculous, and i mean that in a good way, there. There is on bartender there who is a bit swarmy but otherwise the service there is pitch perfect, imo

Nobo Bear
Nobo Bear

Yes to Oak. But no surprise: half the staff seems to be ex-Frasca.

Buffalo
Buffalo

Colt & Gray has great bar service, but terrible dining room service. I will no longer go there.

davebarnes
davebarnes

Hops and Pie has (at least during my 20+ visits) always had great service.

James M.
James M.

Le Grand - I took my wife there on a date before Dvotchka at the Buell, and not a single detail was overlooked.  The food was terrific, our water was topped off before I had to look around and the owner even came by to ask how we were doing.

Incidentally, my #1 pet peeve when I walk into a restaurant or step up to a bar is not being noticed.  I don't care how busy you are.  Would it kill you to make eye contact and say something like "Sorry we are so busy, I'll be with you in a minute".  

GFTW
GFTW

Frasca!! Gotta agree though. Frijoles was very friendly.

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