Into the Litter Box
If you’re Cat Cora & dead wrong, best not to post to Instagram
It is The Alinea Group’s policy not to comment on private guests’ experiences, but occasionally a diner makes an incident public and we are forced to respond.
Such an incident happened last night and it is, perhaps, the most unfortunate of all because a fellow chef and restaurant owner was at the center. Bear with me, this is pretty long but I want to be thorough lest there is any question as to what actually happened.
Cat Cora of Iron Chef fame (I love the original Japanese version) intentionally arrived 24 hours and 15 minutes late to a booking at Alinea, proceeded to create a scene, accuse our staff of sexism, invoked a “chef’s code” whereby we were expected to ‘roll a table into the kitchen’ for her, and then left with “fuck you, fuck Grant, fuck Alinea” while flipping off one of our kindest veteran servers who tried mightily to apologize even though the situation was not his fault. When Grant would not leave the kitchen to speak with her she threatened to elevate the incident to social media and her “new ABC show”. And later in the evening she did just that.
Fortunately, we keep copious notes and records of both bookings and guest actions — our team is like James Comey having lunch with the president… we’re not always sure why we are quickly going to jot down notes in situ, but sometimes they come in handy.
To be clear up front: Ms. Cora’s actions and behavior were entitled, self important, and incredibly rude, condescending, and offensive to our hard-working staff. She was disruptive to our operations and other guests at Alinea who were there celebrating their special occasions. Her actions and subsequent post leave me no choice but to document her booking and behavior publicly — something I’d rather not do.
Ms. Cora left her non-reservation by flipping the middle finger to our GM Devin McKinney, a nearly decade long veteran of Alinea who worked his way up from runner.
The thing is, our team DID bend over backwards for her, just like we do for all industry guests. Here is the absurd timeline of this booking as emailed to me by our hospitality team at 7:33 PM March 2nd after Ms. Cora made a scene because we couldn’t manufacture a table for her. Every one of these actions is logged in real time and is verified by automatic confirmation, cancellation, and rescheduling emails (see examples below), as well as notes from our hospitality team [my comments in italics]:
- Wednesday, February 27th around 8:00 PM- Veronica Van Sant, Cat Cora’s assistant — emailed us to make a booking for Ms.Cora
- Thursday, February 28th — Chef confirmed we could use the Gallery hold to book for 2 people. [Every night we hold a few tables for visiting hospitality professionals and during convention weekends, we hold a few extra. — nk]
- Thursday, February 28th early afternoon — we sent a booking invoice via Tock to firstname.lastname@example.org for 2 guests in the Gallery at 5:00 PM on Friday, March 1st. The booking was confirmed and paid by Veronica Van Sant using an American Express ending in XXXX card holder name — XXXXXXX.
- Friday, March 1st evening — Cat Cora did not show for her booking — we reached out and offered the reschedule to Saturday at 9:00 PM in the Salon. Veronica Van Sant confirmed this change and we refunded the difference.
- The same night she emailed back that actually that time was too late.
- Later that night we asked Chef if there was anything we could do — he confirmed there was nothing. We were fully committed.
- Saturday, March 2nd morning — I reached out to let Veronica know we cannot accommodate any earlier.
- She responds that I should call if anything opens up — but 9:00 was too late.
- I emailed Veronica to confirm Cat would not be coming — no response. I emailed Chef to offer to cancel/refund — confirm this was OK.
- I followed up with Veronica — no response.
- I called Veronica and we spoke about the following: I asked for confirmation to cancel and refund the booking. I stated that if Cat arrived at 5:00 PM we would NOT have a table for her. Veronica said something along the lines of “Well I am worried they are going to show up because I tried calling and they won’t answer. They are in Chicago and I am not. Grant knows her — can’t he just reach out and let her know? I responded that I can certainly ask Chef Achatz however we do not have any contact information for Cat and that I doubted Chef would be able to reach out. I also stated that it was her responsibility to inform Cat since she purchased the booking. She was huffy and said Okay but they are friends. I thanked her for her time, reminded her I was canceling the booking and that she should let me know if we heard from Cat. [If she can’t reach Cat, how can Grant reach Cat? ]
- I sent a brief email summing up our conversation and emailed Chef who confirmed he does not know her or have contact info.
- We never heard from Veronica again.
Here’s what I think is really going on here.
A day or two before traveling to Chicago Ms. Cora decided that she wanted to dine at Alinea. Her assistant emails the restaurant and stated:
She is a friend of Grant’s and would love the opportunity to come by, say hi, and dine. Can you please contact me asap so we can make a reservation? They would love to come around 7pm 7:30pm.
Thank you so much, will be waiting for your call
Veronica Van Sant
Executive Assistant, Cat Cora Inc. | Chefs For Humanity
Grant has never met Ms. Cora, but on weekends like the Housewares Show we hold back a few tables for similar ‘industry’ requests. She was offered a Gallery experience table at 5 PM for Friday March 1 and indeed booked that table and paid for it (we do not comp people just because they are ‘celebrities’ — I suspect that this also offends Ms. Cora):
Note that Veronica booked and paid for a reservation for March 1, Friday. After Ms. Cora no-showed that reservation our team reached out to Veronica and she booked a 9:00 PM Salon Experience for Saturday. That was then refunded as well since it was “too late.” At that point the 9:00 PM table was sold to another guest and Alinea was fully committed at 129 guests.
Our reservation team went to great lengths to let Veronica know that nothing was available at 5 PM on Saturday. Veronica replied that she can’t get a hold of them, but they are planning on showing up anyways… and “Cat and Grant are friends.” The implication is that the table they purchased at 9:00 PM is not good enough and they plan on simply showing up and expect a table.
Ms. Cora believed that she deserved a table at Alinea despite no-showing on Friday, rebooking and cancelling on Saturday, and then just showing up to “support Grant” per her instagram post later in the evening. Our staff described her as one of the ‘most difficult situations’ they have ever encountered.
All of this would have remained an unfortunate but private incident if Ms. Cora did not feel so self-important that she then took to Instagram to make good on her threat and lecture us publicly on the nature of the hospitality industry, tagging many of our friends and colleagues and unnecessarily bringing them into the incident.
I realize this also drags us down into her litter box but such is the unfortunate state of social media these days. Ultimately, it’s my job to stand up for our team who do their very best every day to uphold an incredibly high standard of service, often in difficult situations.
Kudos to them.
Since Cat Cora removed her Instagram post it is necessary to put it here first:
Everything in Red is booked — that’s every table at Alinea… 129 guests.
Front-side of the evening
Backside of the evening.