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St. Augustine’s A1A Ale Works: Curb Your Enthusiasm

| December 30, 2014

Not the greatest view out the window at A1A Ale Works: sure the first empty table is a three-top, but the empty four-top next to it stared us in the face too until it was filled half-way through our meal. (© FlaglerLive)

Not the greatest view out the window at A1A Ale Works: sure the first empty table is a three-top, but the empty four-top next to it stared us in the face too until it was filled half-way through our meal. (© FlaglerLive)

Our daughter was in for Christmas (or the holidays, as gender-neutral chic goes) and my son and I had just gotten over an unholy-like cold that can only be blamed on germs immunized by global warming. So we decided a couple of nights ago to head for St. Augustine’s A1A Ale Works for a beer and fries cure. We’d never been there before. It’s known for its fantastic brews. The town’s reputed 2 million Christmas lights were nearby. Sunday night’s lighter traffic might be in our favor. What could go wrong?

pierre tristam flaglerlive editor's blogJust the small matter of customer service, which proved more French for its conceit and more Levantine for its disarray than either Southern or Vulcan, if it’s logic you’re expecting.

So we get there at the admittedly peak dinner hour. We’re told we’d have to wait 60 to 75 minutes. Not a problem. A1A Ale Works brews its own beers, and what it doesn’t brew is just as enticing. The suggestions sounded as good as tripel froth from a Belgian monastery. Going strictly by heightened alcohol content, Cheryl and I took an Abaddon and a Winter’s Nip—and some sort of bubbly diabetes-inducing water for the children—and slid down by the bar to welcome the buzz, chat and wait.

A1A Ale Works opened in May 1995 in a centenarian building, what used to be St. Augustine’s Plaza Hotel and—before its move a few doors down then to Orange Street last year—Potter’s Wax Museum. Despite a few waxy and none-too spotless remnants its selling point was roominess with a view: many of its innumerable tables look onto Matanzas Bay, whether from inside or from the balcony above King Street.


We were by one of those big bay windows with a great view. Between us and the window was a table for four. Empty. One of several empty table tops. My daughter now waits table in her college town, as I did in mine. An empty table top in a restaurant is like a plane sitting on the tarmac. It’s not making money. It’s keeping famished patrons on their feet, waiting. It’s not permissible. But there’s such a thing as permissible turn-over time.

Apparently, not at A1A Ale Works. The table (and a few we could see nearby) kept going unfilled, with us standing there, waiting for the text telling us our table was ready. We surmised that maybe, just maybe, these were bar tables, not actual dinner tables. We were wrong. They were dinner tables. The parallel balcony also had its share of empty tables. We thought of sitting at the empty four-top two steps from where we stood, then thought better of it. The beers downed, we hopped out to walk under the white-lit oaks and along the makeshift craft bazaar. We weren’t there long when the text came in. Our table was ready. Not bad: 40 minutes’ wait time.

But this was bad: we were seated at the very same table we’d stood by for the better part of our wait. Larry David would have had a fit. I explained the absurdity to our waitress and suggested that as an amend, perhaps we could be seated on the balcony at a table that had been similarly empty all this while. The waitress disappeared, reappeared, and said I could speak the hostess (never a good sign in a restaurant when waiters are granted less authority than amoebas). The hostess was more like a version of last year’s healthcare.gov website. Anything I’d say wouldn’t register against her pre-programmed scuttling algorithm as she explained in inexplicable terms why we couldn’t be seated outside and couldn’t explain why we’d stood by the very table we’d been seated at, or how we’d have to go back to the bottom of the line if we wanted to be outside, even though by then several tables were unoccupied on the balcony and a four-top near us would remain open halfway through our meal.

So it went. After that the food was fair to good (putting aside that they were out of their signature burger not yet halfway through the evening), the service a bit slow but competent and the bill unsurprisingly overpriced. We knew that going in. But for that price we expect a bit more conciliation on the customer-friendly front. Instead A1A Ale Works projects the attitude of the unaccountably entrenched: with its clientele considerably tourist-based, it needn’t depend so much on return customers from down the road. That’s too bad. It lost us, as I’m sure it loses other relative locals. Which may explain its paradoxically long wait times and chronically empty table tops.

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14 Responses for “St. Augustine’s A1A Ale Works: Curb Your Enthusiasm”

  1. R says:

    In the restaurant business this means that they are either under staffed and are unable to provide a server at that station or they are giving the kitchen a chance to catch up. If they sat you and the kitchen has 75 tickets in the line the server has 3 options. Not take your order for half an hour in which case you would be furious. Take your order but then leave it in their pocket until the kitchen catches up but then they may lose it or forget to put it in at all, in which case you would be furious. Or they can take your order, slam the kitchen and risk losing your ticket, in this scenario your food will probably take at least an hour from order to service so likely you will once again be furious and glaring at every move you server makes that doesn’t involve bringing you your food. I waited tables for years, on busy nights, your damned if you do, your damned if you don’t.

    • J says:

      Halfway through reading this article I had decided to respond to it. My response was going to be similar to the one above so I won’t repeat it. I would just like to add that, as a restaurant manager for many years now, I know all to well that there are many people that simply do not have the ability of looking at the bigger picture. I understand that you have to exercise patience while waiting, hungry, with hungry children, for your table. I understand that you don’t know how that particular restaurant is run as you have never worked there. And I understand that you would have no way of understanding all of the little things that can go wrong that effect you getting to your table, and getting your food. As with most things in life, they don’t always go as planned. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are. People call in sick, people get sent home sick, people have sick kids at home. It could be busier this year than it was last year at this time but we can’t get anyone to come in and cover the high volume of business because it’s the holidays and there are employees out of town or home sick. And the kitchen could run out of certain menu items because it is busier than ever and there is no way the person that does the ordering could have anticipated that. The kitchen may be short staffed, or have newbies that are still learning the ropes because it is hard to find and keep kitchen help. Your waitress might be flustered because she has to pick up extra tables to keep business flowing and she’s dealing with several irritated customers because things are not happening the way they think that they should be. Your hostess may appear rattled because she is trying to keep the countless people that keep pouring in through the door happy and calm while they wait for their table with their screaming children. And let’s not forget that it is the holidays and many people are over indulging in those special brews which makes one more thing for the staff to have to deal with, intoxicated patrons are always so much fun! I go to A1A frequently. The food has always been good, as has the service. In fact, my family and I ate there on Christmas Eve. And we had a very pleasant experience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear. Used to like that place.

  3. Lora says:

    Sorry, but disagree. We go there at least once a month. Yes you can expect to wait a bit. Right now is the busiest season in St Augustine, so of course the was it will be longer. We have always had great service, fun waiters and waitresses. The food is always great. We usually take friends and relatives there when they come to visit. I will still recommend A1A Ale works every time.

  4. Ron R. says:

    With all due respect to the comments made by “R” and “J” above, would it not have been more prudent for the restaurant to just seat customers at the empty tables asap, and have the server explain that there will be a wait for their meal due to… (whatever the reason/excuse might be)? At least the customer would not be standing and staring at those open tables and getting more frustrated by the minute. Perhaps a complimentary first round of drinks would be in order, as well.

    An experience like that would definitely sour me from going back, and I don’t think that’s something that the owners of A1A Ale Works would want if they wish to survive in the VERY competitive restaurant business.

    • J says:

      Ron, restaurant’s are divided into “sections”. Each section has a certain amount of tables for 1 server. It is set up like this so each server has only what they can realistically handle, to ensure customers are getting good service. If a server has more tables than he/she can handle then customer service suffers. If customers are seated in a section that has no server, they will get no service, or poor service. As all of the servers are busy in their own, assigned sections. And if a server left their section to tend to the customers sitting at “closed” tables, then the customers that have already been there, that have already waited for their table, will be neglected. Please understand how this could easily get out of control. And giving away drinks? So your saying a business should give product away for free to anyone that complains? Or to anyone that is waiting for a table? Well, the business that does that would certainly not last. I have never been given free drinks at a restaurant that I had to wait for a table at. Here’s some good advice, be aware of the time of year, week, and day that you decide to go out to eat. It’s the holidays, it’s St. Augustine, it’s a popular restaurant.

  5. Edward Hammett says:

    If you want great service you should have gone to Snack Jacks on A1A in Flagler. Only restaurant serving all organic produce and wild game. Elk burger is the best around these parts.

  6. Unanimous says:

    Sorry to hear about that persons bad experience, but I have my own view on the situation. I have been going to A1A Aleworks for years and I actually commend the staff and management for their efforts in keeping it one of the best restaurants around. Great food, great beer, great atmosphere, and great people. Larry David would be proud. As with the rest of the small businesses in St augustine, the holidays and bueatiful lights bring and influx in business. In order to run a restaurant smoothly, you need to slow that business down in order to give the diners a pleasent dining experience. In a perfect world we would all get sat in five minutes at the most popular restaurant in St Augustine (A1A Aleworks), get through airport security in 5 minutes, even get through the grocery line in 5 minutes. But, with the holidays, it’s not going to happen. So quit being a bah humbug and like everybody else, enjoy your time out with friends and family. It could always be worse. You could be one of those poor servers and bartenders who have to work on the holidays, server ungrateful customers like yourself!

  7. annomymous says:

    They are always over crowded and under staffed, they have the best beer n cheese soup though , but Pierre if you are looking for better food then beer, Ned`s on US1 , or Gypsy Cab are much better and if your in the mood for Mexican La Corrina`s is best in Fl , that is before you get to Ned`s on US1, for Italian go to Amici`s on AiA over bridge past Longhorns and Fridays, they make their pasta fresh daily. For good \steak over by carosel is Cortessa`s Cafe can eat inside or out, plus theirs plenty more good places there , screw Snack Jacks and their tainted meat that goes uninspected Flagler don`t do anything at all right and restaurants is no exception , crappy people running county equals crappy everything

  8. sw says:

    used to love that place still do. stay home, cook, hang out , never go out in peak times. If you do don’t complain about it

  9. Mary says:

    We go to A1A Aleworks often enough to know that this review is from a person who doesn’t eat out in busy times very much. St. Augustine is very busy this week. The reviewer should have had a PBR beer at home and a hot dog. Good food comes with patience when the city is this crowded. Go during the week when it’s not a holiday and you’ll have no wait. The food is fabulous at A1A. The fact that they were ordering a hamburger at this fine restaurant shows they have no idea what makes A1A the best for eating out. Go to McDonald’s if you want fast food and service.

  10. John Smallberries says:

    Dude, just go to the Turtle Shack. Best burger around.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    We’ve been to the “cattle call” at the A1A Ale house twice. . . I always like to give a restaurant a second chance. In general they do a balanced job for a tourist oriented, “great view” property. Often, I have found that you can have a either a good view, or good food, or a good price. . . but not all 3.

    In this particular case, the impression I had both times is that these 3 things are carefully balanced to maximize profits:

    1. Food quality= good, but over priced
    2. Location= good except for terrible lack of parking
    3. View great= but only if you are lucky enough to get a “view” table
    4. Ambiance= not romantic and if crowded, so loud you can’t communicate with your dining partners
    5. Service= robotic and efficient – unwelcoming/uncaring- no effort given to creating repeat business
    6. Value= There are many other better choices for the price, if you want the “festival of lights” experience

    – O’steen’s has the best fried shrimp in Florida, and at a great price! Avoid the line at this very popular place. Call ahead and pick them up To Go, if the weather is good and you want a glass of wine or beer. . . then do a picnic on the grounds of the Spanish Fort.

    – Harry’s has reasonably priced, excellent “New Orleans” styled food, a warm/welcoming staff and a beautiful court yard to enjoy on balmy evenings.

    – La Pentola has excellent food, a beautiful court yard for alfresco dining, and a high end, romantic, interior fit for special occasions, friendly professional service. . . all at a similar price to A1A Ale House.

    – The Back Forty may be located kinda on the other side of the tracks, but the quality of the creative, delicious food is some of the best in St Auggie, the service again is warm and welcoming, and the ambiance, in an old house is cozy, and unique.

    – In that same area is King’s Bistro which has a friendly chef that prepared meals on Air Force One. Again, in a cozy old house, the crab soup is memorable, the menu creative, and the portions huge= really great value. Be aware, they are only open Friday- Sunday though.

    St Augustine. . . many better choices to A1A Ale House!

  12. Sherry Epley says:

    We’ve been to the “cattle call” at the A1A Ale house twice. . . I always like to give a restaurant a second chance. In general they do a balanced job for a tourist oriented, “great view” property. Often, I have found that you can have a either a good view, or good food, or a good price. . . but not all 3.
    In this particular case, the impression I had both times is that these 3 things are carefully balanced to maximize profits:

    1. Food quality= good, but over-priced
    2. Location= good except for terrible lack of parking
    3. View great= but only if you are lucky enough to get a “view” table
    4. Ambiance= not romantic and if crowded, so loud you can’t communicate with your dining partners
    5. Service= robotic and efficient – unwelcoming/uncaring- no effort given to creating repeat business
    6. Value= There are many other better choices for the price, if you want the “festival of lights” experience

    – O’steen’s has the best fried shrimp in Florida, and at a great price! Avoid the line at this very popular place. Call ahead and pick them up To Go, if the weather is good and you want a glass of wine or beer. . . then do a picnic on the grounds of the Spanish Fort.

    – Harry’s has reasonably priced, excellent “New Orleans” styled food, a warm/welcoming staff and a beautiful court yard to enjoy on balmy evenings.

    – La Pentola has excellent food, a beautiful courtyard for alfresco dining, and a high end, romantic, interior fit for special occasions, friendly professional service. . . all at a similar price to A1A Ale House.

    – The Back Forty may be located kinda on the other side of the tracks, but the quality of the creative, delicious food is some of the best in St Auggie, the service again is warm and welcoming, and the ambiance, in an old house is cozy, and unique.

    – In that same area is King’s Bistro which has a friendly chef that prepared meals on Air Force One. Again, in a cozy old house, the crab soup is memorable, the menu creative, and the portions huge= really great value. Be aware, they are only open Friday- Sunday though.

    St Augustine. . . many better choices to A1A Ale House!

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