Sad Food Critic Complains Because Service at Red Hill Station Is Very Friendly


As you know, Red Hill Station is the wonderful new(ish) seafood restaurant on Cortland opened by Bernal neighbors Taylor Pederson and Amy Reticker. It’s delicious. Also, it’s now open for both lunch and dinner. And food critics are starting to take notice. Zagat loves it, but Anna Roth, a critic with SF Weekly, published an odd review last week. The biggest problem with Red Hill Station, Roth says, is that it is too friendly.

To be sure, Roth really enjoyed her seafood:

There are a lot of highlights on the seafood-heavy menu. Red Hill served one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in recent memory, stuffed with albacore that had been slow-poached in olive oil and studded with capers and lemon juice. The oily tuna, bolstered with garlic aioli, melted into its buttered, toasted Acme roll, its juices dripping onto the plate and coating my fingers with every bite. I couldn’t stop eating it, even as I complained about how full I was. I had similarly strong feelings about the bay shrimp that accompanied the Caesar salad. Heavy on lime juice and tossed with toasted garlic and bread crumbs, the tiny, flavorful shrimp wouldn’t have been out of place at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Roth felt the vegetables at Red Hill could use some more love, but her main gripe had nothing to do with the food:

The most objectionable thing about the restaurant was the service, which was so aggressively friendly that it strayed into intrusive. Waiters inserted themselves into and hijacked conversations more than once, grinding them to a halt. It seemed to be a misplaced use of the friendly, small-town attitude of Bernal Heights, and the spot has already become a gathering point for the close-knit neighborhood. The restaurant was full on both visits, and the servers greeted many of the patrons by name. But all this extroversion can also be off-putting to outsiders, especially when dishes hover around $20 a plate.

Wait… what? This complaint is as sad as it is laughable. It’s like going to New York and whining that the dining scene there is “aggressively competitive,” or visiting Tokyo and grumbling that the service was “aggressively formal.”  To whine about such things is to deny the essence of the place; the thing that makes the dining experience genuinely local. Of course, its fine to want something less local — McDonald’s created a very large business by assiduously stripping out all the local from the food, after all — but to complain about a chatty neighborly vibe in Bernal Heights is to miss the point of the exercise entirely.

Sure, to someone from off-hill, many of our local establishments may feel a little bit like stepping into an episode of Portlandia. But that’s precisely why we call Bernal’s main street Cortlandia, after all. It’s funny because it’s true.

Team Red Hill Station should wear this ridiculous criticism as a badge of honor. The food at Red Hill is exceptional, and the atmosphere inside is comfortable and relaxed. The data suggests this formula is working brilliantly for a great many happy, paying customers.  If aggressive friendliness is to be the ding against Red Hill Station — and against the very thing that makes Bernal Heights so Bernal — then its safe to say we’re all doing something right.

IMAGE: via Red Hill Station on Facebook

24 thoughts on “Sad Food Critic Complains Because Service at Red Hill Station Is Very Friendly

  1. Agree with the critic. The words ‘hijacked’ the conversation grinding them to a halt is the tip off. You’re there to be with friends and chat, not have a waitperson become part of a dinner social visit. Waitperson there to serve dinner, not to entertain or be entertained.

    • Absolutely agree. “Hijacked conversations”? Thats not good. Let the diner decide how much (or how little) they want the wait staff to be involved in the conversation.

      That said, I haven’t been, so for now won’t let that gripe keep me from going. But as any good business should do, perhaps a bit of self reflection is in order?

  2. Will be over for lunch soon! You guys are carrying on for the Divine Barking Bassett by Wayne Maston! We will be regulars! We are coming!
    Love from Toby and Joe
    We don’t know you but we already
    Love you!

  3. Virginia, I absolutely agree with you. There is a big difference between providing friendly service and being intrusive.

  4. I have not been into Red Hill Station yet, but I could agree with the reviewer to some degree. I have been at restaurants where the waiter was too friendly, and inserted themselves into conversations that they should probably have maintained a professional distance from. Again, though, I am not going cast aspersions on Red Hill, as I have not been in yet.

  5. The funnel cake there is TO DIE FOR. SERIOUSLY. Everything about Red Hill- food, decor, ambience, service, and ownership is wonderful. I’m more than happy to keep it our secret.

  6. Over the top friendly drives me nuts too. Wait staff should add to the experience, not be a part of it so as to be overbearing. I’m sure they will learn the right balance shortly. Hey, it’s much easier to tone it down that to jack it up!

  7. Gotta say I agree with the reviewer. The owner was training a woman who had a very nice, easy approach to table service but the boss kept correcting her in front of us, being extremely wound tight and Type A and generally creating a really awkward table experience. The food was sensational so we go there and just hope they will start to chill out a bit.

    • I had wanted to try Red Hill; the menu looked very interesting.. However, somebody (maybe an owner) at the front desk was giving a staff member a hard time). Turned off by this; left with no intention to go back.

  8. I’ve been to restaurants where the waitstaff is intrusively friendly, but I’ve been to Red Hill Station twice now, and I thought they achieved the right balance of friendly/attentive and respectfully distant. And the food is really, really good.

  9. The food is better than average, though I have to agree the service and vibe is a bit hipster-precious. It’s good they are making such effort in their early days but it will be better as they relax. It will be a polarizing restaurant for sure.

    Server training is always something frustrating in the mid-level eatery. Someone truly expert in the art could train a staff in a day, with just minor touchups from there, but purchasing or providing that true expert training eludes the typical inexperienced restauranteur. Plus they may think it’s the server’s interest because of the tips, but tips are fairly standard and often used to punish the kitchen for tardiness rather than the server.

    I’m happy the reviewer smacked and you called attention to it by smacking the reviewer. I think your efforts to conjure a Bernal stereotype deserve a smacking too, but the comments section on your blog speak for themselves in that regard.

  10. Todd’s clearly got his “tone” value set higher than average, but it’s kind of funny to read a critique of hyper-attentetiive service from a hyper self-absorbed web site.

  11. A waiter or bartender MUST read the cues of the customer to know when to back off and leave the customer alone. If the customer is engaging the waiter or bartender in conversation, then sure, engage with them. But it doesn’t take much observation to know when a customer wants to be left alone or with their friends. I eat out most of my meals, and I have a good rapport with waiters and bartenders because I don’t go back when I feel intruded upon or ignored.

    • Sound the alarm bells. David Kaye didn’t complain that entrées avg $20 at RHS and back when he moved to the hood he used to buy fish off a truck for $2 whole.

      • I already registered my complaint about trendoid restauranteurs taking over working class eateries, so I’m not about to repeat my rant. I’m satisfied going to the places I already support, and if a friend (that is not a website, but a real in-the-flesh friend) recommends a place I’ll likely go, too.

        I realize that inflation has moved prices up over the years. That’s not the point I had made earlier. My point was that there are people SO eager to get into the restaurant or bar business that they scarf up a lease without negotiating a decent price and they don’t negotiate discounts with their food and beverage wholesalers, either. They pay full price. That’s a stupid thing to do in the food business, which already has thin margins. It’s the food brokers and the landlords who make all the money, not the starry-eyed folks who open a new restaurant.

        Previously I talked about both my past rent and food negotiations, so I know that both can be done, and that a meal doesn’t have to be priced at $25 or $30 if the restauranteur has half a brain and attempts even meager negotiations.

  12. Let’s hope Red Hill Station mgt. reads the post AND the comments. Before this post came out I tried to get a table there the other night but had no chance. They must be doing something right.

  13. We’ve eaten there four times now. Food is delicious. Waitstaff sympa, engaging, not obtrusive. Silly that everyone is so fixated on service being Too Friendly. As for “hipster-precious”, isn’t that just the style now, like tight bellbottoms and side burns once were? Who cares?! The food is fantastic, it’s on Cortland, and it belongs to Bernal!

  14. It’s funny – normally I hate intrusive wait staff but I was there last night for the first time and that never happened. Friendly and helpful – no intrusions and no chit chat.

  15. Let’s keep perspective on this — only two (2) out of twenty-three (23) comments above (about 9%) actually had a problem while dining at RHS, and both of those comments had to do with training employees on the job and maybe that not being done either correctly or humanely. Plus one more comment about being “hipster-pecious” that didn’t rise to the level of the problem that the reviewer mentioned.

    So regarding the subject of the initial post (overly-friendly and intrusive wait-staff), not a single person in the comments field has experienced that while dining at RHS, though a lively discussion about the general issue itself certainly ensued. I guess in conclusion, Red Hill Station does not have the problem the reviewer mentioned, based on the comments of these very Bernal denizens.

    Let the good times roll (on)!

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