Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Lunch in Hell and 20%
I stopped at a casual place for a quick lunch this week. It was a very well known national chain that is easy to get to has plenty of parking and reasonable prices. My job doesn't often take me to places like this. Working in the wine business I often grab lunch in a place that is independently owned with a better focus on food, wine and over-all "culture" for lack of a better word.
My choice couldn't have been worse this day. I was looking for easy, and got the opposite. Serves me right, I guess, as there are many very good places that I could have stopped into this day. I live in a place where the growth of the National Chain Restaurant is rising and the Independent Operator is disappearing. The issue for me is that I have to travel farther between accounts to make appointments and present wine or give wine seminars or develop new accounts. The distance doesn't always lend itself to easy options for lunch and since I am doing everything to stay away from the drive through and sit in a place for a civilized and healthy meal, my choices can be limited.
When I entered I immediately was greeted by a cheerful hostess and mentioned I was going too eat in the bar for a quicker experience. That was when I should have turned around. I sat at the end of the large oval shaped bar and began searching for a bartender and a menu. There were 2 bartenders at the far end of the bar with their backs turned to me. They were engaged in a game of Wii Bowling. I went immediately to my blackberry to respond to e-mails that I received and got through 3 complete responses before I noticed the bar-tenders were gone. "Hmmm, not even a hello."
There was only 1 other person at the bar and there were 4 guests seated at booths around the bar so between 2 people how hard could it be to notice a new customer and say hello? I went back to my texts and finished 3 more before someone greeted me. I asked for a glass of wine and a menu. Upon receipt of the items, which happened quickly, we both noticed there were food crumbs in front of me on the bar from a previous diner. She brushed the crumbs away with her hand towards me and left! What?
I took a sip, found my lunch item and waited through 2 more e-mails before being asked for my order by the second bar-tender. I placed my order, sat in my crumbs and finished my work. When the food arrived more crumbs were moved aside and I was left to enjoy my meal while the Wii Bowling game was replaced by Wii Golf and two more servers were now engaged with the bartenders in the fun. I finished, waited for the check, didn't get asked for coffee, dessert or anything more. I paid, gave a 20% tip and left without a goodbye. $32!
Now I should mention that I spent over 20 years in restaurants and that presently my spouse works for one of these upscale national chains as well. I am not biased, because attentive service is just that no matter where one goes. I am a stickler for patron interaction, awareness of surroundings and attention to details. If the place is making money on the interactive games, I understand its place in the bar. If the economy is slow and it's hard to get workers on slow shifts to show up for work, then I understand. I even forgive certain lax liberties given by management too, like poor uniform attire, eating and drinking on shift liberties, etc.
What I have issues with is the belief by today's servers that 20% is a given no matter what type of service you give and anything less gets you crucified on every web site sounding board. The word is gratuity and by definition is given for courteous, kind and attentive service. I could've done 100 other things at the moment I got my check but my schedule was tight and I had to go. Yet I left wondering if corporate knows that when it's slow the manager is sitting in the back office at the desk and the employees are more worried about their Wii score than the condition of the seating area or the needs of the guests.
I can say I won't go back to this place any time soon, and I will be leery of any large chain that treats me as if I am a nuisance and not a patron. While it is my right to hold back the tip, times are tough and the $6 does go a long way. Yet when will the restaurant industry get it? When will these places take an active part in training competent help? When will they get their heads out of their frozen food business long enough to recognize they are losing money for things that can be fixed by simply taking the remote out of the bartenders hand?
Maybe, probably, when its too late.
Posted by George Parkinson at 3:27 PM