An Excruciating Restaurant
Wednesday - July 30, 2008
Excruciating is not a word I normally use when referring to an evening spent dining out. I’m more prone to the use of words like “fabulous,” “memorable” or “unforgettable.” I even use the odd directive or two, such as “you must go” or “don’t miss it.” But try as I might, I can’t find a better word to describe last night’s dinner than “excruciating.”
Our little escapade started happily enough. We decided - at the end of a long day - to take the boys for a quick bite to eat. Arriving at the restaurant, we were cheerful and hungry. Twenty minutes later, we were less cheerful and still waiting “just a few more minutes.”
Once seated, we became hopeful and cheerful again. A waiter did drop by with glasses of juice for the kids (no tops, no straws: “We ran out,” he said limply), but our attempts to get water were in vain.
Forty-five minutes later, after I visited the kitchen and stood glaring at the door, our entrees arrived. I tried to make the best of cheering on our tired and hungry group, but nothing had prepared us - least of all our growing hunger - for the tiny portions of food on the plates.
“Hey, Dad, how come you ordered a kid’s meal?” Max asked innocently. Inedible beef, overcooked vegetables and the most parsimonious portion of french fries sat on his plate in a sad impersonation of dinner.
We didn’t stay for dessert. No one came by to ask how we were, and no one asked why our glasses were empty and our plates still full. Why? Because no one cared.
I thought about complaining, but we barely saw our waiter all night, let alone a manager. So, I did what most of you (I suspect) do in similar circumstances: I got the check and left.
But the experience did serve to remind me that what we expect from a restaurant is so much more than just a hot meal and a place to sit down. Professionalism is a sign of respect in any field. Why should the restaurant industry have lower standards? If you’re running a restaurant with untrained staff, incompetent cooks and using poor ingredients, why do you expect to succeed?
As consumers, we expect that our dollars are appreciated, and that we are welcomed as more than “four tops” or “big tippers.” We are people who work hard to earn those tips we leave for you. We are also people with the potential to patronize your restaurant for generations. A good friend of mine treated her 21-year-old son and his girlfriend to a local steak house dinner last year. Her son didn’t know anything about dry-aged steak or fine wine, but the wait staff was so helpful and interested in making sure he had a great time that he told his mom that he’d be going there as often as he could. Think about it: 21 years old with a lifetime of events to celebrate with family and friends. It adds up to a lot of restaurant dollars.
There are an incredible number of fabulous restaurants in Honolulu with superbly trained staff and world-class chefs - and they’re not all fine-dining, impossibly expensive restaurants. There are mom-and-pop places that welcome customers with open arms and comforting food and, in many humble neighborhood spots, there are talented chefs and passionate servers.
What we need to do is seek out the best restaurants we can, support them and then spread the word. In these days of spending wisely, those restaurants giving their all deserve our dining dollars.
You guys in the industry who are hiding in the kitchen afraid to hear what guests have to say about your terrible service and your awful food - please, go work somewhere else.
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