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How would you interpret our Vienna restaurant experience?

How would you interpret our Vienna restaurant experience?

Mar 10th, 2015, 08:43 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 233
How would you interpret our Vienna restaurant experience?

An enjoyable trip report is hopefully coming soon, but for now, something was on my mind and I just wanted to solicit any opinions here:

We arrived in Vienna in the afternoon after having traveled all day - it had been a somewhat harrowing experience and we were exhausted and jet-lagged with basically comfortable athletic-type wear on our persons for the flight. A big goal was getting to the Mozart cemetaries before they closed, so we just dropped our bags off quickly and headed into town. We luckily got to both the Zentralfriedhof and St. Marx, and by this point we were very hungry. We just decided to push forward and head into the City Center rather than backtrack and waste time, in the area of Stephansplatz. We consulted a certain guidebook and thought it would be fun/casual to get a "near-heuriger" experience, so we headed to the one recommended in the guidebook. When we arrived, there was a hesitation, and then we were told it was "reservation only" - the placed was mostly empty, although it WAS a Saturday night. By now we were REALLY tired and headed back toward our hotel - near the hotel, seemingly away from a touristy area, there was another restaurant that seemed casual/unassuming from the outside, and we liked the menu so we tried our luck there. We got the same reception - some hesitations and apologies, but no seating was possible (this place did seem more full than the other). At this point, exhausted and hungry, we just bought food at the grocery store and ate it back at the hotel room. We were very polite in being declined and yet would have been able to be good customers.

My question - did we underestimate the formality of Viennese restaurants and should have cleaned up better - were we turned down because of our dress/appearance? Or is it very well possible that we were turned down at 2 restaurants because they were genuinely busy (or going to get very busy) and that reservations are typical on a Saturday night in Vienna? It just seemed odd to us that it happened twice in 1 night...

Thanks. We are just looking to learn from our experiences.
itspat is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 09:01 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
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It is very possible both were booked up. Just because a table is empty doesn't mean it isn't booked for arrival in the next 20 or 30 mins. They would not seat you if you would only have a short time to finish your meal and clear the table

(European restaurants don't generally 'turn table' quickly as is common in the States). I;d give them the benefit of the doubt.
janisj is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 09:24 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 25,285
Right. They might very well not "turn the table" at all. On the other hand, depending on how you looked, they might have suggested that they could seat you if you could be out by a certain time - you didn't say what time it was.
thursdaysd is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 09:28 AM
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as janisj says the need to turn the table is not in the culture, for the maitre de he would think "meals are meant to be relaxing affairs not a quick food grab"
bilboburgler is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 09:32 AM
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Still, I've never had a true "heuriger" problem with getting access, yes with having to share a table with a happily drunken person and yes with food having run out but never a reservation problem
bilboburgler is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 09:55 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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itspat, I "think" I know where you may have attempted to eat near Stephandsom, and if I am correct in my thinking, you did not miss much.

As for being turned away, that's tricky to assess. Whenever DH and I take a Saturday evening into the InnerStadt we are always "dressed," even if that only means tailored jeans for me and a jacket for DH. Our experience has been that even if we're speaking expat-DEnglish (American German), being "dressed" helps a great deal.

We have also been seated at a "Reserviert" table on a busy Saturday night and have been asked if we could leave by a certain time; again, though, we were "dressed" and speaking expat-DEnglish.

A couple of weeks ago we had friends visiting, and stopped at a casual restaurant near Peterskirche hoping to snag a table. The four of us were casually dressed (two in sneakers) and were at first told there were no tables. When i asked in German if we could have a quick lunch, suddenly a "Reserviert" table opened.

In our three years here we have found neither rhyme nor reason to InnerStadt dining on a Saturday night, except that being "dressed" helps. Up here in the WienerWald I have walked into our local heuriger wearing running clothes and with DDog seeking a table (in German) and have never been declined.

I hope the rest of your time in Vienna is pleasant. The weather here is beautiful, and the city is sparkling!
fourfortravel is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:04 AM
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It seems that on a Sat night in the center of the city it is perfectly possible that the tables are reserved. And no - they won;t let you in if the party is scheduled to come in 30 or 45 minutes - they just don;t operate that way.

Most restaurants have one set of diners in the evening - unless it's for a very early dinner (5pm) pre a theater or opera - and they could get another set of diners in at 8 pm.

We have never had this problem - but agree that unless going to a very casual cafe for a meal - and esp for dinner - we do go back to the hotel and shower and change - would not try to dine in travel clothes and sneakers except at a fast food or equivalent.
nytraveler is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:21 AM
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The "typical" restaurants that lie within the inner city (first district/ zip code 1010) are often the first choice for any groups of business travellers who usually use up many tables. So I would not be amazed if any restaurant that was empty at 7pm was 100pct packed at 8pm. In a gazillion trips to Vienna (mild exaggeration), 100pct of all official dining I had to endure happened in either the first district or Grinzing.

Personally, I try to avoid the first district whenever I can, both for accomodation as well as for dining. Though this does not mean that the food was lacking or extremely overpriced.

If you are happy with a smaller menu you can as well try out the coffee houses. Other than the Café-Konditorei (cafe-patisserie) establishments which cater almost only to the sweet tooth, a real coffee house also has cold and warm food, typically hearty soups and 3-5 mains. Again, I would not know of any places in the first district, but usually frequent the 5th to 7th district.
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:23 AM
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The phrase "Proper Dress Required" is in the fine print of menus and websites all over the world. It's meaning, even in the same place may differ from one day and time of the week to another, but is always there. Saturday dinner might be a lot more formal than Wednesday lunch.

I am trying, and not in a snarky way, to think what kind of athletic wear you might have been wearing, tennis warmups? Yoga pants? I think those would get you turned away from a lot of places, but I doubt that those are what you would be wearing.
Ackislander is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:45 AM
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This would be a typical experience I would encounter at "reservation recommended/smart/required" type of place on Saturday night in Europe. This would be even more so in Paris or in Rome. For arrival day dinner, I like to line up several "no reservation taken/required" type of eateries to deal with the type of issues mentioned. If I have to unexpectedly eat at a reservation "smart" type of place, I would be the first one at the door when they open. Many places have an undesirable table or two they would offer to those who chose not to make a reservation. Sometime making a call even half-hour before the arrival time made a difference in whether I could get a table.
greg is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:51 AM
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Thanks for the responses, I really appreciate then and again was looking to learn (which I have). We are back in the USA now and again had a good trip. This experience did not diminish our enjoyment at all!

(sheepishly), yes, we were in similar clothes as Ackislander described. We were under no delusions that we were "dressed up" and weren't actually confident how we'd be received. In fact, we felt underdressed compared to the majority of people and other tourists simply wandering the square area, heck, even on the metro or checking into hotels! We weren't "dirty", just underdressed - although I guess looking disheveled can feel slightly subjective. We looked at the menus outside and didn't see anything in particular about dress code, but maybe we didn't look closely enough. Also, the prices at the places we looked weren't comparatively high, so we just assumed we could wing it. We just aren't accustomed to fine dining (especially in Europe) and had just never experienced what we did, so I was wondering if our experience is "what it's like" to try to get into a moderate restaurant in an international city destination when not dressed up - so we can be better prepared next time, wherever we decide to eat.

Our second night, we had better clothes on and had no problem getting into a nice restaurant right in the center. As several of you mentioned, we arrived around ~7:30 PM and the ground floor was filling up but the upstairs was empty except for one couple. As our meal went on, the whole place filled up. A conference was going on in town, and there were definitely a couple larger group reservations that were apparent here and at another restaurant we tried to get into which was completely rented out.
itspat is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 11:26 AM
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Unfortunately, I think Vienna can be a bit snotty. It's the only place I've been treated badly in restaurants--at 2 different places, and I speak reasonable German, as I was born in Austria.
elberko is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 12:22 PM
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The main problem we experienced at restaurants in Vienna [and indeed in the rest of Austria as well] was being allowed to pay the bill.

even if we were the only people in the place, we more or less had to beg to a) get the bill and b) be allowed to pay it. At the cafe in the gardens in Baden, the waiter behaved as if we had offended him when we got up to leave, having asked for the bill several times and at another place we had our coats on before they deigned to take our money.

did i miss something? I speak passable german [or perhaps I just think that I do] so it can't have been the language barrier.
annhig is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 12:29 PM
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It has been some years since I was in Vienna but restaurants and the opera seemed far more formal than anything I'm used to in the day-to-day of my life here in mostly casual Boston.

I felt distinctly under-dressed the night I went to the opera. I was all in black and hoped I blended in, but while no one was wearing a tiara (that would have been wonderful!), many women were in formal, long dresses and all men were in ties or dinner jackets.

I mostly ate my big meal at lunch in museum cafes and the like as I just wasn't prepared for the formality. But I LOVED the city and hope I can return some day. So I am not complaining.
CharlotteK is offline  
Mar 10th, 2015, 12:34 PM
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Charlotte - that must be it. The waiter in the gardens in Baden was offended by our chinos.
annhig is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 12:37 PM
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annhig, that was exactly the problem we had at one place. After asking repeatedly, I went inside to the register and was told I needed to wait at my table. We finally just left what we thought we owed and left. No clue why this was an issue!
elberko is online now  
Mar 10th, 2015, 10:55 PM
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Even speaking fluently German as your mother tongue does not always help in Vienna. Or even being Austrain. If you wanted the hear the worst rap you should ask a Tyrolean what he or she thinks of their capital. ;-)
In fact, if you got something to complain about you got already immersed into the local Viennese culture.
A certain constant mild grumpiness is part of the fun.

You will never, ever hear a true local giving praise and describe any restaurant or cafe as gorgous, lovely, amazing, wonderful, sublime, etc. None of these adjectives exists in Viennese German.
If a local acquaintance told you that you that a restaurant near your hotel was "sort of okay but not as good as they used to be" and their schnitzel was "not all bad" you will probably end up eating the best piece of veal of your life.

Personal interactions should be governed by mutual contempt. The customer is always making a fuss, the waiter is always slow and not helpful. To achieve this level you must never ever ever try to that perfect happy clappy all-smiles everything-I-have-seen-today-in-Vienna-is-so-wonderful tourist. OTOH, you can try to be Sally (as in Harry and Sally, the movie) as ask the waiter to replace the potato salad that comes with your schnitzel with fries on an extra plate and if they had organic gluten-free bread.
Typically, you will get your fries the way you want them - but they won't have your choice of bread.
So both parties have a reason to be grumpy. The waiter, because you complicated the schnitzel order. And you, because you did not get your bread.
It takes decades of local residence to accomplish this level of perfection.

P.S. That was tongue-in-cheek. Mostly. Well, some parts of it.
Cowboy1968 is offline  
Mar 11th, 2015, 03:00 AM
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very funny, Cowboy. or should i say sehr lustig? which is clearly not the way to describe your average viennese waiter.

Is my memory that some of them were helpful and friendly playing me false then?
annhig is online now  
Mar 11th, 2015, 06:00 AM
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 3,397
We're in Vienna now, staying in the Spittelberg neighborhood, our favorite part of the city. Most of the restaurants we've been going to (Kussmaul, for example) are in the same area and we have needed reservations, although we've been able to make them just a day in advance.

We're dressed the same as we would for going out and about at home in Basel. We are speaking German to everyone (I do forget from time to time and say Gruezi instead of Gruess Gott and merci in the Basel way instead of danke).
WeisserTee is online now  
Mar 11th, 2015, 07:28 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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WeisserTee - I'm sure that they forgive you the odd lapse.

What i most want ti know is how successful you are at getting the bill at the end of the meal? and having eventually got it, how long it takes you to pay.

oh yes, probably the most important - how is the food?
annhig is online now  

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