A (Horrible) Tuesday Night At Sterling Place Tavern

UPDATE: Sterling Place closed in October 2014.

I apologize that I don’t have any pictures of the food but honestly, the food was the least important part of my experience at Sterling Place Tavern.  I’ve heard the horror stories about long waits and just outright horrible service but I’ve also heard great things about their food, specifically their burgers.  So I figured that during Restaurant Week I could stop by Sterling Tavern on an off night (Tuesday) and try out this infamous food.  What happened was really a disaster and some of the worst service I’ve ever had, even considering my somewhat low expectations going into the meal.  Here’s what happened…

Sterling Place Tavern is a low key bar on Hertel Ave.  When you walk in you’ll see a no frills dining room, a floor with several tiles missing and two old tube televisions behind the bar.  If there wasn’t several neon beer signs placed in the windows, I would never have guessed that they actually have a great beer selection.

We walked into a half-filled restaurant and a single waitress running back and forth from the bar to the dining room.  When she told us to take a seat she warned us that it would be a couple minutes and a bit of a wait before we could order and, honestly, I was OK with that in the beginning.  There was a Sabres game just starting and my friend Jay and I ordered some delicious beers, so I was willing to wait.  Eventually, we placed our order… two hamburgers (cooked medium) with fries ($7.95 each).  Our wait for food went on for 30 minutes…then 30 minutes turned into an hour…and all the while we looked around and saw people who had been sitting just as long as we had slowly getting their food.  We assumed we were coming up next, in fact our waitress even told us that we were, but the food still didn’t come.  While we were waiting I noticed a gentlemen coming out of the kitchen and slinging drinks from behind the bar for extended periods of time.  I then overheard the waitress mention how he was the cook and I started to realize that the wait wasn’t because of any prep time but because this cook was running around trying to do everything (bar-tend and cook).

The tipping point of our horrible service came when the dining room had basically emptied out, leaving ourselves and a couple of tables of customers who arrived 20 to 30 minutes AFTER we had arrived.  Then one of these tables, who ordered their food 20-30 minutes AFTER us, had three burgers delivered to their table.  So my friend went up to our waitress and mentioned how we had been seated long before these people and clearly placed our order (of the same menu item) before them.  Her response was that the food comes out in the order she places…which still makes no sense as we clearly ordered way before these other tables.  The waitress then ran into the kitchen and came back with only ONE burger and told us that the cook had thought she only had written down one burger.  On top of that, the burger was cooked very well done (we ordered medium).  I think what may have happened is that our waitress completely forgot to even place our order with the kitchen and then tried to cover it up by blaming the cook and grabbing the first burger she saw to bring to us.  She did offer to have him make a 2nd burger but said that we would have to wait ~20 minutes and made no effort to make up for her mistake by offering any discount on our check (as most restaurants would probably do).

Eventually another woman who seemed flustered and ran into the restaurant to work, told us that she was very sorry for our experience and asked us again if we’d like that 2nd burger.  I appreciate apologies but we had ordered four beers in total (about $20 bucks worth, not necessarily cheap beer) and had only one overcooked burger served to two people after an hour and a half of waiting.  It was honestly some of the worst service Ive ever had in my life at any restaurant.  Maybe if you are a “regular” at Sterling Place you get better service or you have just become numb to the long waits.  But if the place can’t handle food orders, or a kitchen for that matter, then why are they a restaurant?  For a place that is well known for their burgers (I’m assuming it’s their most popular item) how do they have such long waits (it ended up being about 90 minutes) for such a simple item to make (it should NOT take 30+ minutes to make a burger).  Were they just really understaffed this night (again, though, it wasn’t even that crowded)?

Imagine going to Anchor Bar and when you order Chicken Wings they tell you to expect an hour wait and then only serve you half of your order which end up overcooked.  You would probably get up and leave, right?  Or expect a large apology and maybe a discount on your check, right?

Before this experience, I’ve never been upset about waiting at a restaurant.  I know people who have worked in the restaurant business and know its stressful, especially on an understaffed night.   That said, I can accept having to wait to be seated on a busy night, but I can’t accepting being seated right away and then waiting for literally HOURS for your food AFTER you placed your order.  Sterling wasn’t that busy and isn’t that big of a restaurant.  Again, the dining room was only about half full and three tables were just their to play board games and not even order food.  On the drive back to the house, my friend and I joked about the service because it was laughably bad (also to cover our anger of spending 2 1/2 hours to just eat half of a burger).  On top of that, the overcooked burger not even worthy of the headache we endured, needless to say I won’t be going back.

Sterling Place on Urbanspoon

7 thoughts on “A (Horrible) Tuesday Night At Sterling Place Tavern

  1. kyle

    we had a similar visit to sterling place tavern. our first visit we were told the kitchen was closed when clearly patrons were in the dining area eating. we grabbed a few beersand left. 2nd visit the bartender and I presume owner said the wait for food would be a few hours so we grabbed a few beers and left. third visit we finally got seated. ordered 3 burgers which tool about 45 mins to arrive. we were told the log wait was due in part to a very small grill that could only handle a few items at a time. burgers were good but I mean cmon now.

    • Don Burtless

      It’s almost like I’m putting them out by ordering food. My first visit might be my last, at least for food. Their beer selection was pretty good.

  2. Tia

    This is why places like Vizzi’s shine. How terrible.

  3. Chris

    The two times I’ve been to sterling, the waits have been 30-45 minutes for burgers. I asked why it took so long, and I got the same “small grill” response. Also, the cook looked to be like 70 and not completely with it.

    It’s been 2 years since I was there – but I still have this temptation to go back, because, honestly, the burgers were fantastic.

  4. Paul

    I’ve been going to Sterling Place ever since I moved to Buffalo (about 5 years now). I probably go a few times a month, either with my wife or alone… but we invariably meet someone there we know. I go for the food, the very good selection of beers on tap, and the tight-knit North Buffalo neighborhood atmosphere. Yes, John makes the best burger I’ve ever had, and I’ve been to Vizzies and Grovers, and by the way, try getting quick service at Grovers…good luck with that!. Last time there, we waited an hour just to sit down (recall the chalk board waiting list?).
    When we have friends visit from out of town, I invariably take them to Sterling. The food is all hand made in house, and what they do, they do right. I think the owners know the service is slow, and so does the rest of the Sterling going public by now. So, if you don’t have the time to sit back, enjoy the company, soak in the neighborhood, experiment with some different styles of beer, there are compromises…err, I mean alternatives.

    I too love to celebrate the City of Buffalo and its great food!

    Regards to all,
    Paul

  5. Miss Buffalo

    Yes, the Sterling is always a bit chaotic, but in case you didn’t notice, the crowd learns to go with the flow – and after traveling the world, I have found no better burger. So you see “rude;” I see “quirky.” It’s truly just like home. Go to Olive Garden for efficiency.

    • Alli Suriani

      really? they were rude, not quirky at all. I always go with the flow, but not when its a horrible flow.

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