This is my journey as I return to school and work in a profession I once dabbled in as a means for funding an after college 7 year long ski trip...not as a viable career choice. I hope I entertain, enlighten and learn something from any readers I may attract.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Too Many Pots on the Stove

It is always a pleasure to see your neighborhood favorite open a second unit. Assuming you are somewhat of a regular, you probably know the menu, staff, and possibly owner. You are proud of this "undiscovered gem" and really hope success is on the horizon. So, the owner opens another, then another, then another. People continue to visit these satellite locations and spur the owner on to open more. You, being the nice patron you are, feel pride as you cheer on the small business owner. After all in this industry, greater than 60% of all new restaurant endeavors fail within the first year. You really want your friend to succeed. If they succeed, then you can continue to eat the products you fell in love with in the first place. Sadly for you the operation is a huge success.

The owners' success is not always good for the patron. How many times have you seen him in the last few visits? Where is the usual manager on duty? Who is in the kitchen?

These are issues I have faced recently. I am a victim of someone else's success. There is a wildly successful restauranteur here in town that has opened 9 restaurants in a dozen years, 4 of them in 4 years. I loved his first try. Still do. Obviously, I was/am not alone. He has great food, uberfair prices and excellent staff. That formula has worked great. It is real, and what people want. I have eaten at his other venues and found the formula applied at those places too, much to my pleasure. These days, though, it is like the formula got lost, probably while opening another place.

I had been going to one of these restaurants for the porkchops for years. The same manager always greeted us, and checked in on us during meals. I always got the same thing, always. I fall victim to "restaurant rut" and when I find something I like that I hate to cook, I order it every time.I know this dish. I know it well. We went to eat there the other night about a month after restauranter had opened his latest effort. It was different. The menu was the same, the tea the same, and dining room the same. Even the vibe was there. Sadly, the manager we love was not there. She has not been present for the last few visits, but it is summer (and we hope she is well!) We were seated immediately, and as I glanced into the open kitchen, I saw a woman leading the crew. Being a female culinary student, I was filled with pride for her, as she has obviously worked her way up to a great position given to those who earn it. I even pointed it out to my husband. We ordered my usual and one of his 5 favorites and settled in for what we knew to be a good meal. It was fun to have a date on a random night, and I was really looking forward to that chop! Then it all went to hell. Dinner appeared. While hub's dish was spot on, mine as far from it, not even looking like what I have ordered approximately 50 times. I tried it anyway, and it was just not right. When our server checked on us, I pointed this out to her, and being a veteran on the staff (over a year's service!) she knew my dish and agreed. She agreed that it was covered in spices not used for this dish, and didn't even look like my favorite. Surely there as a mistake. I totally understood, and as she took it to the kitchen I looked forward to the mistake being corrected and oh! how yummy that chop was going to be. We visit this place enough to know these are people who want to make it right. Wrong! As I watched her take the food to the kitchen, I saw the chef approach her and begin talking. The chef then argued with the server about the dish. She argued with not only the server but also the manager on duty. We could see the whole thing as it happened. Needless to say, after her poor reaction to people who KNOW this dish, I had Taco Bell for dinner. There was no way I was going to let someone angry with me make me more food. Her unprofessional actions led me to believe that if I had ordered something else, I may have gotten extras not found in a normal sanitary dinner. Yes, her tantrum and reaction turned me off.

I am saddened by this turn of events but I wonder if it was not in the cards. This family of restaurants is so big, the checks and balances of a hands on management experience have been lost. I am happy for the success of the owner, he has worked hard. But only for himself. He forgot about me. I have paid countless dollars to eat this food and expand his empire. I am thanked for contributing to his success by having an angry cook bawl out not one but two staff members who were representing me. In front of me at that! I was the idiot who didn't know a porkchop from a ....., and the staffers were stupid for trying to make it right. If it had been my first visit, my first taste, I would not have known she had made it differently than the recipe used for at least 4 years. It would not have mattered. I still would not have liked it, but that is part of ordering something for the first time. That was not the case. I knew this dish well, and I am not crazy. It was not right.

This incident, I believe, is part of something larger. Mr Restauranteur is busy. Very busy. What with an empire to run and all, he has no time for what got him his empire in the first place. The patrons have made this guy a name in a very competitive scene. Now as we enter his eateries, we are reminded of a corporate culture where nameless, faceless stupid customers get what chef says they get. The people who fell in love with good food at a good price suffer. The patrons who come enough to know your menu and care enough to speak up are now the enemy. And from the looks of things, the kitchen is ready for battle.

Will I eat there again? Sadly, not likely. The incident in this outlet is not isolated. I visited an outpost not so long ago only to have to an extremely inattentive staff make sure that (a.)my mother died of thirst, and (b) I needed to beg for my check only after getting less eye contact than a dissheveled fat drunk girl at closing time. Yes, what a stellar experience. Please Mr Restauranteur get rid of the distractions of an empire. Get rid of the outposts you cannot visit daily. Keep up with your staff. Do quality checks. Hell, hire "secret shoppers" Do whatever it takes to get your mojo back. You are dealing with the public. We have short memories. If we hear "it's like it used to be!" we will return. Remember who's dollars earned the interest necessary to open all these new places. Slow down, sir. If you cook it like it used to be, we will come. Pay attention to your successes, remember why they were successful in the first place. Remember me, I used to eat porkchops about twice a month. Remember when you had time for your loved ones.

Too many pots on the stove means someone is gonna get burned. I have already been burned but I will be okay. If you get burned, well,'s probably your own fault.

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