"Letters, oh we get letters, we get let-ters ev-ry day…"

Not all our dining experiences on vacation were as sublime as the one detailed in my last post. This is an actual letter about an actual “dinner” we had at a restaurant run by a very well known National Restaurant Group that operates places in LA, Vegas, Washington, D.C., and used to run a couple of joints here in The Valley.

At first I thought I might have been expecting too much, given the resort setting and the clientele one can draw in such a locale; or maybe it’s just that so much of the dining public today has been conditioned to accept mediocrity as “four star dining”, given the high concentration of “meh” that’s out there. Or maybe the memory of our magnificent Coq Au Vin from the night before was still too recent, blotting out my ability to be objective. But, when any place operates under the umbrella of a “Name Chef”, it should provide the appropriate bang for the buck, not just coast on reputation and the fact that they have a “captive audience”.

I am reminded of my old boss from Chops/Lobster Bar in Atlanta, Kevin Brown, who went to Antigua on his honeymoon. On one side of the island is a very busy cruise ship terminal, with several on-shore restaurants nearby who cater almost exclusively to this very transient clientele. He and his bride ate at one, and K.B.’s comments were, “Can you imagine the feeding frenzy among a bunch a waiters, serving a group that is going to be there for about 90 minutes, and that they never have to worry about seeing again, ever?”

Anyway, keeping with my philosophy of “If you don’t say anything to the right people, you have no right to bitch about it to anyone else” (note the “CC” to the Director of Operations, as I think crap should definitely be allowed to flow uphill wherever appropriate), here is my letter. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and, I guess, the guilty.

I had originally put a paragraph at the end stating I “was not looking for a refund, just wanted to let you know, etc.” as I definitely did not want an invitation to return for yet another crappy meal, even if it was free. After some thought I decided I was pissed enough to accept a refund if one was offered, so I took it out.

Mr. XXXXX XXXXX
General Manager
XXXXX Restaurant
XXXX Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802

Dean Mr. XXXXX:

We had the opportunity to dine at XXXXX on Sunday, August 9th during a three-night stay at the Disneyland Hotel. While we appreciate the many dining options now available in the Downtown Disney District, I am sorry to say we were less than “wowed” by XXXXX.

Being a GM of a hotel restaurant myself, I can certainly appreciate the challenges of hiring and retaining quality staff in a resort setting. Food quality, too, can be hard to maintain when doing large numbers during the height of season. However, the prices at XXXXX demanded a higher standard of food and service than we received. I also know that ultimately everything that happens is the fault of the management, both the good and the bad. So it is with that philosophy in mind that I am letting you know of this less-than-stellar experience at your restaurant.

There were several reasons for our dissatisfaction: sub-par food, lackadaisical service (although our primary server, Nicole, did an admirable job), and most disturbing, an unkempt dining environment which none of the staff seemed concerned about.

The Flat Iron Steak served to my daughter looked like it had been sitting quite a while under heat lamps (sauce was dried around the edges and a ring was left when it was moved, the spinach also had edges that were dried up) and the potato “gratin” had little or none of the advertised blue cheese. ($23.00). The Roti Chicken I was served tasted exactly like the rotisserie chickens we buy at Raley’s supermarket deli for $3.75 and the fries served with it hadn’t a hint of the garlic the menu said they would. Again, it looked like this dish, or at least the chicken, had been kept warm somewhere for a long time, waiting to be served. ($21.00). The only saving grace of the main courses was my wife’s Paella, which was tasty, although the rice on the bottom was burned, which kept us from finishing the dish. The Burrata Cheese appetizer was a flavorless blob.

Given the resort setting, I can understand, somewhat, the lapses in food quality. I cannot, however, excuse the condition of the patio throughout our dinner. We were seated around 9:20pm. There were four other tables on the restaurant’s patio at the time we were seated, all at different stages of their dinners. My seat at our table was facing a party of 6 who were paying their bill as we were seated. They finished up, paid and left. The table sat there, dirty, for the duration of our ordering; while we waited for 1st courses, ate first courses, had our1st courses cleared, and well into what turned out to be a long wait for our main courses. The mess on this table made me quite uncomfortable as I had always been taught, at every restaurant job I have ever had, to jump on dirty tables like a live hand-grenade. Not only did this particular table go un-cleared but also several others (some I was facing, some behind us) had now left. During this time at least four different staff members (including your floor manager) came out to the patio, looked at the dirty tables and did nothing (although one waiter did pick up a check presenter and walk back inside).

One busser did less than nothing: he came outside with one of those large oval serving trays, placed it on the dirty six-top, shoving glasses, beer bottles and coffee cups aside to make room. He then proceeded to clear items from the other dirty tables in that section of the patio (using the “one finger in each glass” method, which is not only dangerous but completely unsanitary), placing said items on the large clearing tray; and then he left. I now had not only the garbage and dirty dishes from the one table, but all the trash from all the tables in that section, piled up less than three feet from where we were sitting.

This mess remained in my view until our main courses arrived (25 minutes after apps were cleared, with an almost empty restaurant at that point); and I was unable to say anything about it, as our server was also nowhere to be seen during this interval. Indeed, during this portion of the meal, I could see no staff anywhere: behind the bar, inside the dining room or on the patio. When our main courses did arrive, I asked the server if I could speak to the manager on duty.

A woman came to our table and I explained the situation, indicating my displeasure at having to look at this mess and gesturing to the offending table(s). She apologized, then began to tell me they were short-staffed that night, that one busser hadn’t shown up for work. I don’t think I need to tell you that this is something that should never be done and was a further indicator of the lack of staff training. The point of crisis should never be allowed to reach the diner. There were many other staff members (I counted six that made appearances at various times, not including our own server) that could have been tasked with the job of clearing and re-setting, had the manger been paying the slightest bit of attention to her dining room.

As the icing on this cake of poor service, mediocre food and a dirty dining room, our server brought our check and had run my credit card on the wrong table. I could have signed it and left, paying less than half of what our bill should have been, but chose to point out her error. She apologized, yet again, and returned with the correct vouchers and bill.

I am always willing to pay for quality food, over-tip for quality service and recommend great dining experiences I have had to others, but I am neither willing nor able to suffer in silence when I feel my pocket has been picked.

Sincerely,

nativenapkin
Manager, XX XXXXX Restaurant

cc: XXX XXXXXX

Director of Operations, XXXXXX Restaurant Group

XXX South XXXXX Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012

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3 Responses to "Letters, oh we get letters, we get let-ters ev-ry day…"

  1. SNAP! I think you torched ’em. And … I’d guess Patina Group, but they don’t have any restaurants in DC, do they? Sorry to hear they just didn’t measure up to the “good frickin chicken” on my back deck.

  2. waiternotes says:

    Sounds terrible and frustrating, compounded by high prices for that frustration.

    You really let ’em have it. The whole thing sounds like a justified diatribe. The only qualifier I might add personally, is that when short-staffed, I can totally see letting a dirty table sit. For a little while (nowhere near as long as it did for you).

    As a waiter, a long-time pet-peeve is when I see bussers clearing and resetting vacated tables while my existing tables need water, plate-clearing and other maintenance, etc. To me that’s like a retail clerk making a face-to-face customer wait while he answers the phone and fields the call. Hey, love the one you’re with!

    That said, your account sounds like the restaurant was emptying at that point, so there should have been ample opportunity for staff to clean up the patio. Especially in the long interval when nothing was happening with your dinners!

    • nativenapkin says:

      Short staffed, yes I can understand the tables sitting a bit, but sadly such was not the case here. They had plenty of staff on but these guys were just going throught the motions at the tail end of a Sunday night. I might almost be able to sympathize as I hate working Sunday as much or more than the next guy; but as a guest I don’t get a discount for dining late on a Sunday, so shouldn’t I get the same ambiance, food, service, etc. as the 7:30 dinner rush?

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