Inside Big Tree Inn: quality in food, service vary in fine dining

The Big Tree Inn is set on Main Street like the VIP section of a nightclub, tucked away as a concentration of class and status that you should feel lucky to visit should you ever get the chance. This is the attitude with which the Big Tree staff has been known to welcome their customers. In a presentation of silver lining, they wait for you to pay your weight in gold and then wish you well until you can afford to come again.

But does this stereotype held among many Geneseo students hold up to reality? Is the restaurant truly as snooty as it seems, or does that image just reflect the plight of poor college kids wishing to avoid the price of fine dining? As examined last week on two occasions, once on a romantic date and once among family visiting for the weekend, perhaps it's a mixture of both. Big Tree seems to offer an equitable and enjoyable experience in its food and environment, but its service was largely contingent on payment method and company.

Consistently and with great measure, the Big Tree Inn is as clean as any house about to welcome guests. The floors are vacuumed, the wood is polished, and every crack is dusted. It doesn't feel sterile, as the rooms are designed and furnished with an impeccable taste for class, nor does it feel too much like a museum, with inviting backgrounds of classical music and the aroma of good food. Leading to the restrooms - which are perhaps the best in Geneseo - an old-fashioned kind of living room represents Big Tree's commitment to an intimate and elegant atmosphere for dining.

Insofar as dining itself is concerned, the Big Tree Inn is equally dedicated to quality. The menu's selection is on par with that of any restaurant in its class, featuring soups and dips for appetizers, seasonal dinner salads, chicken, pasta and seafood entrees, as well as a selection of well-reputed steaks and chops. Most of the items stay close to $20, with only the Surf & Turf Big Tree Style breaching the $30 threshold. Many students argue that the three dollar plates of the Geneseo Family Restaurant are more filling than the plates of Big Tree. But the quality of the latter takes away most room for comparison of Big Tree with its neighboring eateries.

At any restaurant, the bill to be paid is not only for the food but for the experience. If patrons leave a place with a full stomach and a miserable mood, they're unlikely to return. Considering the quality of its environment and food, Big Tree seems to be worth the price, especially for special occasions. However, the quality of the service doesn't speak well for the restaurant on a whole. There is an air of obligated courtesy among the staff, whose transparent demeanor seems to reveal an attitude of not wanting to be there in the first place.

In any case, the quietest customers seem to receive the best treatment. When sitting with my girlfriend's family, including her 7-year-old sister, our mild conversation seemed to annoy the waiter. Across from us, a pair of older gentlemen sat quietly face-to-face and received quicker service and a more friendly approach from the same waiter. Service was definitely superior a few days earlier, when I was only with my girlfriend on a date. The waitress promptly brought out warm rolls and kept our water glasses full throughout.

It may be fair to say that quiet customers come out on top in any restaurant. Big Tree becomes interesting when factoring in payment method. If quiet trumps noisy, credit cards trump meal cards. In fact, the very mention that you'll be paying with your meal plan changes the attitude of the hostess from the very beginning. While our romantic date was pleasant, halfway through a much bigger, rowdier and more intoxicated group of adults, who were clearly paying with cash, filled the larger table across the room. From here, service mysteriously fell away and the approach of our waitress changed to getting us the check as soon as possible.

It's evident that Big Tree has a great deal of work to do in terms of service, but with their food and environment, they have also earned their reputation as one of Geneseo's most prominent restaurants. For students in the company of a small group paying cash, an optimal dining experience is almost guaranteed.