A Disastrous Dining Experience

My family and I had an experience with a local business recently that represents why some are successful and others are not. It is rare that an owner, when his/her product is deemed unacceptable, will engage in a confrontation with a customer. However, it happened to us in front of our children, and it was a reminder of just how unprofessional some “professionals” can be.

Bernadette and I would frequent this establishment (the restaurant will remain nameless) when we were first dating, so we had warm memories of this place. Years later, and now with our children Zack and Zoe, we were treated to the opposite: a remarkably disastrous lunchtime experience.

Let me qualify where I am coming from. I am not a food snob. I am just as comfortable in line at a plate-lunch joint as I am at a fine-dining restaurant. I love to cook, and I prepare meals regularly at home. I enjoy dinner parties where I plan a menu to include appetizers to dessert. I am not a professional, but I don’t believe it’s necessary to be a professional to appreciate quality food and dining experience.

That said, from the tepid quality of the bread to the Nicoise Salad to the Lasagne Bolognese to an uninspired fish special and a disastrous pasta dish, my dear readers, I can with all honesty and forthrightness inform you that I have never had a worse dining experience anywhere in my adult life. Three of the four entrees were inedible. Zack’s pizza was better, but even he commented that it tasted like a “cracker.”

Our server could tell that something was amiss when she checked on us and we had hardly touched our plates. When she did ask, I simply said that we were disappointed in the taste of the dishes and asked if I could have the check. I understand the server’s position. He/she is on the front line. They are not responsible for the quality of the food emanating from the kitchen – the chef or the expediter is. It was clear she was uncomfortable with our reaction.

The manager came to the table and we reiterated our concerns. And then the owner came to the table. After walking by our table and shouting to “take the fish off (the check),” he proceeded to argue with the disappointment I had with my dish. He chastised me for “creating” this dish and lectured me that you cannot mix “spices and cream.” I responded with, “So, this is my fault.” And he said, “Yes, you changed the recipe.” (BTW, there are countless combinations of spice and cream sauces, one is the wonderfully spicy Vodka cream sauce, a staple of Italian cooking).

At that point it was clear that he was not concerned with a customer’s feedback, but felt compelled to preserve his misguided ego. We paid the bill with our certificate, tipped our server and walked out, vowing never to return again.

Lessons learned?

First, businesses should-n’t cut corners at the expense of quality. Whatever cost reduction you must employ, ensure that the level of expectation of your customer is met. Second, train your staff to identify potential difficult situations before they escalate. You must empower them to remedy concerns when they arise. Third, if you are the manager on duty, GM or owner, do not accuse your customer of being in the wrong and proceed to embarrass them and yourself. The belligerent tone of the owner continued into the bar area, where we could still hear him complaining. If an egregious mistake is, in fact, being made, then intercede and counsel the customer instead of acting like a jilted teenager stood up at the prom.

I am a tremendous supporter of small business and especially restaurateurs. This was an isolated experience, but it does serve as a siren call to expect a certain level of quality, service and response when you are a rational, paying customer.

You deserve it.

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