To all those people who rail about poor service standards in North America, and everyone who complains about the lack of selection in their hometown bars and restaurants, I say…come to Bucharest!
I’ve been in this city for a few days now, and Romania outside of the capital for a little longer, and I have to say that never before have I experienced such consistently abysmal service. To begin with, it appears to be a Romanian custom to let you wait for a good ten or fifteen minutes before approaching the table, something which is not just my observation, but has been confirmed to me by my Romanian friends. Order a beer and you’re lucky to have a selection of four or five virtually identical lagers. (For anyone planning on a Romanian visit in the future, stick to Ursus and Ursus Dark, and Bergenbier if that’s not available.) For spirits, expect major international brands only, unless you happen to be in the Hilton’s historic English Bar, or a similar high-end spot, where you can expect to pay decidedly un-Bucharest prices for single malts and American whiskeys.
Then there’s the attitude. Even at the highest of the high-end restaurants – which, it deserves to be noted, still aren’t terribly expensive by western standards – where service is kept at a relatively high level, the dour look on your server’s face is almost enough to put you off your food. During a meal at Balthazar, one of the city’s elite tables, I felt the whole time like the waiter was doing me a very great favor by refilling my wine every three minutes or so. And he certainly seemed like he wanted me to know it!
The odd thing in all of this is that it appears that the more modest and traditionally Romanian the restaurant is, the better the service and attitude. Why, at lunch today I actually had a waitress smile at me! And the food at the rustic Burebista Vanatoresc was homey, delicious and about a fifth of the price of Balthazar.
On the whole, however, the next time anyone is giving me a hassle in a North American restaurant or bar, I’ll likely think about Bucharest. And smile.