On being served last

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
April 3, 2013

This post by paradelle made me think of a similar incident where we were served last. Except the perpetrators were Korean American, like me.

A few years ago, my husband and I went out to a sushi restaurant for Valentine’s Day. We had reservations. There was a snowstorm that evening, so we made sure we got there early. We checked in with the hostess, who noted our reservation and said they could seat us in about 20 minutes. I thought that was strange, since the restaurant wasn’t even half full. But we were early, so we waited.

Sitting there, we watched as couple after couple were seated. We assumed they had arrived in time for their reservations. But we began noticing people who said they were half an hour late for their reservations being seated, while we were still waiting. We checked in with the hostess again, and she said it would be about five more minutes, and that placated us.

A few minutes later, a family of five walked in, carrying a tiny baby in a carrier. They asked if there was a long wait. They hadn’t made a reservation. The hostess seated them right away.

I began to seethe. By this time, we had been waiting 30 minutes past our reservation time and I was really hungry. My husband walked over to the manager and demanded to know what was going on. She stammered that we just had a few more minutes of waiting left before our table was ready. Then she began having a conversation with the hostess. In Korean.

This is where being mistaken for Japanese comes in handy. She had no clue that I understood Korean. I understood everything they said and joined the conversation. In Korean. They looked at each other, then at me and blinked a few times.

The manager showed us to the worst table, by the restroom. Like an idiot, I was about to sit down, but my husband said, “No. We want to sit over there,” pointing to the tables by the fireplace. She said, “That area’s for people with reservations.”

“WE HAVE A RESERVATION!”

She ended up showing us to a better table, but showed her unhappiness by slamming the menus down. I admit that I kind of wanted to punch her in the throat by this point.

You’re probably wondering if we stayed or left. I would like to say that we stood up for ourselves and left. But we were both hungry. It was late. And there was a snowstorm. So we stayed, knowing that we would never return.

A few weeks later, a publicist contacted me to to let me know that she was now representing this same sushi restaurant. Would I like to join her for dinner and perhaps write an article about it?

Nope, I would not.

I have no idea why they were so rude to us. All the customers were white, but so is my husband. Would they have seated him right away if he’d shown up with a white woman? Would I have been treated better if I’d shown up with an Asian man?

I’ve told some of my friends about our experience there, and they said that was horrible. But they still dine there. Does it make me a jerk that I like those friends a little less because of that?

Note: I took this photo at a different sushi restaurant. 👍

 For those who asked, it was Swordfish Restaurant in Batavia,  IL. ← 

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (55)

  1. Stephen Haight says:

    That is outrageous! I for one will never go to Swordfish again and will tell my friends not to. There is no excuse for that kind of treatment!

  2. Mary Lee says:

    Ugh! Some people say that you should give a restaurant a second chance. I say no. There’s too many good restaurants out there that value their customers. I’ll bet if they knew you were a journalist they would’ve kissed your ass. Good riddance, I say. Too many other good sushi joints out there to hand that kind of money to a shitty one!

  3. Tina says:

    What in the hell were they thinking? Their seating plan/system (or lack thereof) makes no sense whatsoever. ANd What kind of asshole friends do you have that still support this place? I’m a sushi snob, but even if this place made the best sushi ever, I would never support them if they treated me or my friends like that. I’m with you sister girlfriend!

  4. kasiainkorea says:

    No, it doesn’t. Makes them idiots for still eating there though.

  5. Mary Alice says:

    No, you’re not a jerk, but your friends are rather clueless, aren’t they? If an establishment had treated my friends that way — and not apologized — I wouldn’t support the establishment. I wonder if your friends who continue to eat there are white or minorities? If they’re white, they can’t imagine what it must be like to be discriminated against — by their own people no less.

    I don’t care how good a restaurant’s food is. If they are obnoxious to their customers or rude, I don’t give them my business. There are too many other struggling eateries trying to make a living. I will support them. I’m sorry this happened to you and your husband. I hope the restaurant is out of business.

  6. This makes me angry for you! Jae and I experienced similar treatment when travelling last year, especially in the South of France. I walked out of ALOT of restaurants.

  7. tRISHA says:

    hORRIBLE! Name the fuckers!

  8. Steven says:

    I’d never eat there again. I’d also ask my friends why they still supported this place. Sorry it happened to you and the husband.

  9. Matthew says:

    Outrageous. And no, it doesn’t make you a jerk. It’s strange that they would still eat there.

  10. John Harrold says:

    No, it does not make you a jerk.

  11. Sung Hoon says:

    No, it doesn’t make you a jerk at all. I think I dislike your friends quite a lot for their behaviour.

  12. Timothy Michaels says:

    Wow. As a restaurant manager, I can say that if those were my employees, I would’ve fired them for their incompetence. Mistakes happen and holidays can be busy, confusing times. But there’s no excuse for their rudeness. At the very least, they should’ve comped you drinks or appetizers and apologized profusely. I have no idea what they were thinking to keep guests with reservations waiting while seating walk-in customers first. There is no excuse for that.

  13. Robert Maher says:

    Hi Jae! I was poking around your site getting caught up on a bunch of posts and found this. How horrible. I can honestly say that I have never been treated like that, but some of my Asian-American friends have told me that they are treated worse by some Asian-owned businesses because they value “white” business more. I find that counter intuitive to keeping a clientele happy, but who knows what they’re thinking.

  14. Stan Lee (not THE Stan Lee though) says:

    I was looking for reviews of Swordfish and came across your experience. I was going to take my fiancee there for NYE dinner, but I have decided against it. We, too, are an interracial couple. I can’t say for sure whether that played into their poor treatment of you and your husband, but regardless, they sound like they’re not on top of things on busy nights. And, though I don’t know them and I don’t know you personally, I am a fan of your writing and support you. I’m curious if you have decided to try it again and give them another chance? Thank you for your time. Keep up the fantastic work, Ms. Kim!

  15. Mark Lee says:

    Swordfish in Batavia? I’m not surprised. The hostess was horrible. I won’t be going back. And, yes, I noticed they served their white customers better than their Asian customers, too. They were rather obvious about it.

  16. Mairlynne says:

    I didn’t read the tags to find out the restaurant name, but I decoded it by accident by highlighting the bottom part of the article! Kudos, Miss Kim! I felt like I solved a spy mystery. 🙂

  17. Sandy Turner says:

    I know this is an old article but I was curious if you ever went back? (I wouldn’t have.)

  18. John Harrold says:

    I can testify that Yelp reviews are rigged. There are eight negative reviews about my former employer, and all but one has been filtered out. Those seven do not contribute to the total score, and they are easy to miss. Several of the reviews I know to be accurate as to what happened. While I was still working there, I was told by a manager that they had some kind of deal with Yelp.

    What were they saying though in Korean?

  19. Whitney Drake says:

    It absolutely bothers me when friends continue to visit somewhere where I was deliberately treated poorly- like that one particular bank branch where I was hit on regularly. “I’ve never been treated badly there” isn’t a very good reason if you’re supporting a place that continues to treat other people poorly.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Oh my gosh, Whitney. That’s horrible (and way worse than my experience). I’m really sorry that happened. And if I had banked there when this was happening to you, I would’ve taken all my money out and told them why I was going to a competitor!

  20. Kim Jaehwa says:

    I’ve had some Korean-run dry cleaners treat me poorly. My mom said it’s because there’s more white people and that’s who they want to cater to. That said, I have also been given preferential treatment by some Korean businesses because I’m Korean. So, I guess it all balances out. But no–that restaurant sounds horrible.

  21. Mike Kessler says:

    I’m “one & done” – no 2nd chance – there are too many places run by nice people.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Yup. It’s one thing if it was opening day and they’re working through their kinks. But, yeah, I don’t need to pay good money to be yelled at and treated like a second class citizen.

  22. Mike Kessler says:

    I can only think of 1 bad experience 5 years ago on NW side. I later learned that the owner was mad at my sister-in-law over a catering bill dispute so he took it out on me. I’ve been telling everyone to avoid his place for 5 years.

  23. Todd Fulton says:

    The chef wants you to be happy… The server certainly wants you to be at least 20%+ happy… and I’ll make a small wager that the owner would like to see you back. Soon. One of the many ironies of the restaurant industry is that the initial client contact is with the employee with the least skin in the game, and often the most obvious apathy or even power tripping hostility… So… how many chances does the restaurant get? Really depends on whether the same (non gender specific) eye candy is on the door next time I visit.

    Having spent a bunch of my formative years in restaurant work, though, I am incapable of simply walking away. I care too much about that chef, that server, and that owner who will otherwise never know. I speak
    up, And not via Yelp. I do it fueled by the 5 unexpected vodkas I had waiting for that shitty table.

    *B�

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      We’d eaten there in the past and had pleasant experiences. And, our server that evening, was very nice and we tipped her more than 20%. We would never punish the servers for the management’s poor service.

      Though I didn’t talk to the chef, we made our grievances known to the hostess and the manager on duty who were both very rude. And a few week’s later when the restaurant’s new publicist contacted me to ask me to visit the restaurant, I told her about our experience and explained why we wouldn’t be returning. So, word got back to the owners, who did nothing. Which just reinforced my sentiment that we will not be putting more money in their pockets.

      • Cindy says:

        I know that publicist. She’s an idiot.

      • Melissa Seal says:

        Oh! I was under the impression it was a small place.. Haha I guess I’m imagining all the small sushi places here where the hostess is usually also your server haha >.<

        • Jae-Ha Kim says:

          I give a lot more leeway to mom and pop restaurants where the staff is usually family members. I won’t return if they’re incredibly rude, but if they’re doing their best and the food is good, I’ll return.

          We have stopped going to a local Thai place, though. The food was good, but the service was getting too lax. The final straw was when we called in an order on a weekend for takeaway. They told us half an hour, which is when we arrived. We waited an additional hour (so it took them 90 minutes to make it). We had been going there forever and gave them the benefit of the doubt. But the owner of this small place was very rude to ALL the customers who were waiting–and didn’t apologize once for the unexpectedly long delay.

          We gave them another shot later, and when I could hear over the phone that it sounded busy, I asked him if he thought it might be a little longer wait than 30-minutes he quoted me; and he yelled at me for asking. Alrighty then. We haven’t returned. There are too many good Thai restaurants to put up with that.

  24. Melissa Seal says:

    Sometimes I think people forgive “Asian” restaurants terrible service because they think that it’s normal. Is not!! First I think a lot of restaurants (at least in vancouver) that are run by various Asian individuals do not follow the labour laws a all and keep the place understaffed and over worked without proper compensation so in that respect I do give leeway. However a lot of time I think they think they are entitled to tips regardless of service because so many people tip even with terrible service (again a lot of visitors/immigrants I have met here specifically think they have to tip regardless) and also they seem to only treat people from the same country with proper service !! I can’t tell you how many time I go to japanese restaurants with Shunya to be ignored. They don’t ask if I would like a drink and if he didn’t order for me I guess they wouldn’t give two shits if I ate either. Makes me so angry and next time it happens I have promised myself to speak with the manager because when I go in with other friends the service isn’t that terrible!
    Anyway I hope you didn’t tip!!

  25. sashimidimsum says:

    • Terrie Lynn says:

      I got the feeling that she wasn’t out to ruin the restaurant, but wanted to talk about an experience. But she did give clues. 🙂 #swordfish hehehe

  26. Siobhan Murphy-Elias says:

    A friend of mine was treated badly by her employer for many years and she eventually left because of how she was treated. I will NOT support that local business! But that’s just me!

  27. Aletha says:

    This post made me feel sick to my stomach. Yes, it is racism. They didn’t like that you were an interracial couple and showed their displeasure by refusing to seat you. I really wish you and your husband would’ve walked out of their with your heads held up high. I would’ve preferred to go home and eat a peanut butter sandwich than give a dime to such a horrible restaurant. I will tell all my friends not to eat at Swordfish. Most of them go into the city to get really good sushi anyhow. Can’t say that I blame them.

    • How is this racism? says:

      How is this racism if the restaurant is owned by Asians and they’re not seating another Asian? Isn’t it more just poor business planning and stupidity?

      • Maureen Lee says:

        Jae said that all the couples who were seated were white couples. These Korean hostess and manager refused to seat Jae and her husband, who is white. You can extrapolate that they don’t like inter-racial couples. As an Asian-American, I have experienced similar things where I was treated worse than white people by other Asians, even when I was with white people.

  28. Samuel says:

    Let’s pretend these people weren’t trying to be rude and unprofessional. Then once they figured out that they had treated you so shabbily, they should’ve at least apologized for their mistakes. The fact that the manager wouldn’t apologize says a lot about them.

    I have boycotted places that I knew treated my friends wrong. Your friends aren’t friends if they know how you’ve been treated and they’re selfish enough to continue to give these places their business. You probably already know that though.

    • Priscilla says:

      I brought from friends visiting from Japan to Swordfish and they were not impressed at all by the cuts of fish. I had thought it was pretty good for a suburban restaurant but I will admit that I am not a gourmet like they are. I am white and we are all friends, but I think they thought I was the girlfriend of one of the guys. They sideeyed me and made me feel uncomfortable. We didn’t have reservations and didn’t have to wait very long, but it still felt odd. I have no reason to go back. Shakou nearby is better and the staff is so nice!

  29. Alicia says:

    I’m not sure if you noticed, bur your friend deleted your IG comment about how this place treated you. I’m not sure why, unless he’s getting kickback from that shitty restaurant.

    • Lee Minjoo says:

      Instagram users are odd. They only want Likes and to hear praises and not anything “controversial.” I will not eat at this restaurant. Sorry for my English. I am new to the language.

      • Jae-Ha Kim says:

        Hey, I’m an Instagram user, too! 😛 I didn’t notice, but that’s OK. I believe people should do whatever makes them happy with their own feeds. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  30. Alan says:

    I have found that people don’t care as long as it doesn’t relate to them personally. Their attitude is that since they weren’t treated poorly by that place, they have no reason to stop going since they like it and who really cares if you were treated poorly. Some may think that it was your fault for being treated poorly. If a friend told me they were treated poorly at a place that I loved, would I stop going? I would like to say yes but I am not positive that I would stand alongside my friend if I am being forthright. That says more about me and my lack of conviction than him though I guess.

  31. Sophie Granada says:

    I am confused. Why would an Asian restaurant discriminate against an Asian customer?

    • Tiffany Lee says:

      Sophie, it seems like the restaurant people didn’t like that they were an interracial couple and therefore didn’t seat them, even though they had reservations. What other reason is there for not seating customers who have reservations and letting people literally walk in without reservations and seat them quickly while making Jae and her husband wait?

      I have faced something similar when my college boyfriend who is African American and I went to dine at some sushi places. They just didn’t like us and chose not to seat us until we forced the issue.

  32. Whitney Drake says:

  33. alphach1 says:

    It’s very unfortunate how you and your husband were treated and even more unfortunate that this mistreatment happens more often than not 😒 Customer service is one thing, foolishness based on race/ethnicity/class is another. I respect how you handled it…I may not have been so posed. I’m not fluent in Korean, however, respect in any language is universal. Mian

  34. Maria says:

    I came here after reading your post on Instagram, Jae, and want to say how angry I am that you were treated this way. That this happens in the 21st Century is insane.

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