tempest in a tea room

Recently I was involved in a shitstorm that arose due to public comments I made about a great meal I had at a local restaurant (Hamilton’s Earth to Table), contrasting the experience I had with a number recent experiences with a competitor, located just down the street.

My comments were based on the fact that, over the last three visits I made to the competition, the food was cooked to the point of being inedible and was either returned to the kitchen less than 1/4 eaten or in the case of two take out orders, placed in my green compost bin.

Here’s the rub:  on ALL three occasions, I either told the waitress of the issue or called the restaurant to inform them.  The one time in person, I received a shrug and a “sorry”, no recommendation to re-cook my order or to “comp” my meal.  By the time the waitress popped around to ask how our meals were, my dining partners had completed their meals, tried mine and agreed that it was burnt to the point of being inedible.  Having a dinner re-cooked would have been out and I wasn’t hungry at that point any more.  With the two takeout orders, I wasn’t about to cycle half-way across the city to get a replacement meal for myself.

Regarding the comp:  I’m not out looking for free meals, I’m looking to have a decent meal with my friends and family in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere that clearly cares about its customers.

I have known the owners of this establishment for a number of years and have let them know about uneven and often awful service there on a couple of occasions.  This waitress’ indifference and lack of response highlighted this to me.  However, I like to give a place a second chance.  The two take out orders that were, again burnt to the point of inedibility (different menu items, no less) confirmed that I will vote with my feet and wallet and not darken the doors of this establishment until I’ve heard otherwise.

Now having worked in the food industry for over 10 years and living with a retired chef, I’d like to think that I have sympathy for restaurants.  It isn’t an easy industry to exist in and I heartily applaud those who can survive in it.

The main bugbear for any restaurant is consistency.  Consistency in food, recipes, service and atmosphere.  I’m not looking for a life changing meal when I eat out, I’m looking for something that is good, predictable and that I can ensure will provide me with the same level of food and service experience the next time I go there or provide the same to folks that I recommend eating there.

I simply cannot with this restaurant.  The food is uneven and with my experiences, the service ranges from hurried and indifferent to downright surly.  Which is a shame, because another restaurant owned by the same people is high up on my list of recommendations for local eateries as the food is consistently good and service is phenomenal.

And the owners know I am not one to suffer quietly; I WANT them to succeed and do well and inform them if there is an inconsistency or bad experience.  I have reported the issues to them honestly and openly.  They have responded appropriately and even offered to comp me a meal, which I refused because they are a small business and can’t really afford to do that.

I also don’t believe in letting them know when I’ll be in next because that will also allow them to make sure they go above and beyond their usual.  I don’t want that – I want to be treated as every other customer and KNOW that I will get a predictable product and service that I can feel comfortable recommending or bringing friends and family to.
That isn’t too much to ask for, isn’t it?  Customers are paying for a decent, edible meal in a comfortable atmosphere with attentive service.  One of their locations provides this, after several attempts eating at the other location, I cannot say I have experienced this.

I can’t (and won’t) apologise for my opinions, especially when they are based on multiple experiences and I had informed the staff and management of issues on a number of occasions.  Due to my taking this stand, I have been asked not to attend any of their locations.  I am, however happy to say these establishments are busy and will hopefully remain successful for years to come…so a lot of people disagree with me.  But that is what life is about – differing opinions.

So I will continue eating where I had the great meal and hope folks continue to eat at this place, while supporting the other restaurants if they find there a better experience than I have.

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