A place claiming that its service is so fine that tipping is compulsory should not be as flawed as this.
I am speaking here about Per Se, where their treatment of a foie gras option was to me proof perfect that the service fee plan is flawed. At fine dining restaurants in New York, especially at the rates they command, I have learned to trust in my waiters for guidance as to the ins and outs of best enjoying their particular venue. At the better of these establishments, great service and menu navigation garners better tips than check inflation and one's experience is often enhanced by the sure hand of a skilled guide.
The servers were aware that this was our first trip to Per Se. We had discussed with our waiter that I would be having the vegetarian option and the other three people at the table had chosen the Chefs Menu in order to maximize our ability to sample the food. For the third course, the Chefs menu offered a foie gras option for a $25.00 supplement. When we discussed it with the waiter we decided two would get the foie and the third would have the hearts of palm.
When the food was served, the foie was certainly enough that one portion would have satisfied all four of our tastes, while the entire hearts of palm offering was not actually big enough to cut into four. A good server, actually interested in our experience (and, as a result, his tip) would have either said, "the foie is far larger then the hearts of palm, maybe you would rather have two of those instead," or switched one of the foie courses for one off the short menu so that when we finished we would not have sent about two-thirds of one order away because it had gotten mundane.
When seeking out a next wine, I consulted with our server asking what the next two courses on the Chefs menu would be. I was told lobster would follow a seared Suzuki. No brainier, big white.
I discussed with my server the fact that Keller is well known for his 1/2 bottle program and that I was thinking a 1/2 bottle of white burgundy seemed appropriate to get four of us through the two courses. He went on to assure me the $485.00 bottle was in his opinion "far better" than the other three offerings, which respectively were $70.00, $80.00, and $110.00. It seemed appropriate that it would be, but not necessarily a helpful piece of advice. Moving on, I chose a nice Chassagne Montrachet for $110.00 that was beautiful, huge and perfect. It acted as a good foil for the Suzuki, which my three co-diners found overly salted (third course in a row salted with a very heavy hand) and had given up on. The heart breaker happened when the following course appeared: a seared scallop, not lobster. The poor little guy never stood a chance against such a huge white.
At Per Se's prices, and with fixed service fees, this is inexcusable. It was the server's job to realize he had goofed and fix the situation. The flow of our dining, although a good shake may have been beneficial, could not have withstood the wait for the selection of a new, appropriate wine while new scallops were cooked to join it. Our server should have looked in the window at the kitchen and said, " wait I told this guy lobster," then either send someone for a glass of wine to hit the table simultaneously, or ask the chef for a lobster off the other menus to go with the wine. Neither happened.