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Why Do Popular Restaurants Often Disappoint?


Porthos
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My wife and I went to a popular diner in Upland yesterday for lunch. It was our first visit. They were not particularly busy, Maybe half of the booths occupied. It may well be our first and last visit. My DW said she would be willing to try them for a breakfast. I'm not so sure.

The food. We both ordered cold sandwiches off of the menu. My DW ordered a turkey with cheddar, I ordered roast beef and Swiss. They left the cheese off of my sandwich and put American cheese on her sandwich. It took about 10 minutes to get some slices of Swiss cheese brought to the table so that I could add them to my sandwich. I ordered potato salad and it was most decicedly from a commercial food producer, not bad, just surprised. I shouldn't have bothered waiting for the cheese. It was, like my DW's cheese, plastic cheese.

The service. After our food was delivered and I got our server's attention and asked for the cheese, I watched her deliver food to several tables, then saw me looking at her and that look of "oh, he still needs cheese!" came over her face. Our server did not come by the table once to ask if everything was ok (witness I had to flag her down to get my cheese). When she noticed that my plate was more or less empty she came by and asked if we needed boxes. My wife asked for one. Our server then went about taking care of other customers. After several minutes I told my wife I was beating down the urge to just go get a box myself. Another server happened by and asked if we needed boxes. My wife again asked for a box. I watched the second server then go about tending to her guests and even converse, I assume about business, with our server. At this point I went over and stood by them (the boxes were right there) and one of them realized I still needed a box and gave it to me. When we were preparing to leave a busboy brought us to-go cups of the ice tea and soda we had with our meal. It was an appreciated gesture but, if that is part of how they do business, why didn't our server ask if we wanted to-go cups of beverage.

I begrudgely left a 10% tip since I found the food mediocre and the service attrocious.
 

This diner has won awards from a local magazine that I know and respect. I don't get it.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I begrudgely left a 10% tip since I found the food mediocre and the service attrocious.

 

 

Why did you leave a tip if the food and service was so bad?

 

Twice in the past fifteen years some friends and I have encountered atrocious service, both times at well-regarded restaurants, and both times we left a $1.00 or $2.00 tip, only because we wanted to be sure the recipient knew that we didn't forget leaving a gratuity.  In the second instance I followed up with a letter of complaint describing the problems we had and our dissatisfaction.  I never heard back from the restaurant.

 

I believe that rewarding poor service with a tip and not complaining to the management just fosters continuing poor service.

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 ... Shel


 

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My personal tipping starts at 15%. If I get decent service and food, you get 15% If you make me feel  better taken care of I'll go up to perhaps 20% If I did not find it a good experience down goes the tip. I struggle with leaving less than 10%.

 

When my DW and I went out to celebrate our annivesary early this month we got server who was clueless. Basic idea: we had just been seated and he wanted to know if we were ready to order. I was a Wednesday and there couldn't have been more than 20% of the tables occupied. For reasons unknown to me the moved the servers around and we got someone who was a proper server, pleasant, knew the menu, etc.  After he left the table the first time I leaned over to my wife and said "They just rescued the tip." We were well taken care of for the rest of the meal, felt welcome there and he got 20%.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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This happens way to often. Why is this place so popular?

When you hang around here and are influenced with some great cooks, many restaurants just don't measure up to what you could do at home.

My wife will say "you didn't have to cook". But I love to cook!

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But I love a good mystery, so here's my best Ellery Queen deduction.

 

Theory 1 - I won't name any restaurants... (mine) gets tons of press about our dinners, but our lunches, while good, are not at the same caliber as dinner (its meant to be an affordable workers lunch for locals), so we also have customers who don't understand what the raves are all about - mismatched perceptions. In our case I would like to think our lunches are very good, but not fancy shmancy like dinner.

 

Theory 2 - bad day.

 

Theory 3 - Locals love it and review it and out of towners don't get the same treatment (I throw this out because of the conversations you mentioned between staff and other tables).

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scubadoo97 - I also love to cook. We were out making a day of thrift shopping and we knew that we would need lunch out. One of the thrift stores that I haunt is next to this restaurant and they always seem plenty busy. I thought it would be a nice change to try somewhere new. Just didn't work out that way.

 

gfron1, I hope to make it to Silver City and eat at the Curious Kumquat (sp) some day. I have been to Silver City years ago on business. I thought about bad day but two things kept poppling up in my mind. 1) The other customers seemed to be getting wnat they needed and were being more attended to.  2) Having a second server offer to get us a box and then not do it added to the frustration.  It still might be have been a bad day. I get that.  But I don't eat plastic cheese and that was also very off-putting.

 

Only sort of related (thinking about the plastic cheese) The is a chain in southern California that my DW and I dearly love, Farmer Boys. Since they offer breakfast all day long occasionally I get a Denver omelet. I have to order my toast dry, however. For reasons beyond me this mostly class act uses margarine instead of butter. No thanks. Just bring me some jam.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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In some ways it sounds like people weren't keeping up with training staff, or do not see the value in it. I have worked places where the owner just assumed that servers knew what to do if they experience working elsewhere, and she'd just let them go out an do whatever. We've got such a culture of worshiping celebrity chefs now, it's ironic that servers often get thrown out on the floor with little or no guidelines and standards. Most fine dining establishments train the wait staff, and most culinary schools have a course and lab class (work in the school restaurant) in the finer points. I know that in Europe, for better restaurants, wait staff go through an apprenticeship program where the position is treated like a career path, not something to pay the bills while waiting on a 'real' career to materialize.

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Sometimes there are distractions, not visible, that contribute to situations such as this.

Last fall I went to a local restaurant that has always had excellent food and fine, attentive servers - all have been there a long time.

This time the service was iffy, my breakfast was slow in getting to the table and the food was no longer hot.

 

I mentioned that I really would prefer to have my eggs and corned beef hash hot.  The server apologized and took my plate away.

The manager came to the table and apologized for the problems - their long-time head cook and their head server had been in a terrible accident the night before and they had to call in one of their "vacation cooks" with no advance notice and he had to drive three hours from the beach, where he was visiting his kids.  There was also a fill-in server who had not worked for some time and was unfamiliar with the new menu.

 

Everyone was dispirited and trying to cope with the problems. 

 

Since then I have been back to the place a few times and the service and food were 100% back to normal. 

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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Popular doesn't always mean top notch cooking. Popular can just mean 'cheap'. Perhaps it is 'popular' with younger people who either don't know the difference between plastic cheese and real cheese (and who happily tolerate lazy and incompetent servers - especially if the reason is they are friends and they are chatting with them) or they don't much care about the quality of the food as they are not 'gourmet' eaters yet. A lot of cars in the parking lot (even great looking cars) these days doesn't tell you who the primary clientele is. You have to walk in the door on a busy day to see who is really their primary customer.

 

A diner usually is reasonably priced - and not an upscale place. Granted that is no excuse for shoddy service (although it may explain the cheese thing), but, I doubt you are going to get the cream of the crop servers either when you pay minimum wage if not less. And since it is summer break for most schools, perhaps these were students without much or any experience acting as servers.

 

Why didn't you tell the management that 'cheddar' implies real, not plastic, cheese? If they are going to serve the plastic stuff, they should fix the menu to say 'American cheese' (which, to my mind, is a misnomer still but at least it is a commonly understood term) as anything else is misleading.

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My experience with diners is that popularity has nothing to do with how good the food is.  People like them because they're quick, cheap and comfortable to sit in.  As long as the food isn't actively disgusting,  people will go.  There's a place near us that is always mobbed and got good reviews in the local paper, so we finally went.  It was average Greek diner chow, edible but not very good. Go figure. 

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Denny's.  Bad food, bad service, bad everything.  People eat there because it's cheap.

I actually was in a Denny's on Maui where actually the food is not bad.  However, while we were waiting for our breakfast I had the experience of watching a family of locals at a nearby booth; during their meal, Mom whips the baby up onto the table and proceeds to change its diaper.  Thought I'd never erase that memory from my mind.  How bloody clueless!

Edited by lindag (log)
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Popularity has never, and never will be, an indicator of quality.

There are too many variables. Price, location, type of food, price, accessibility, price, that hot server, location and price.

 

I don't understand the American tipping system, so remain silent on that.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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liuzhou sure has a point about quality not being commensurate with popularity. Just look at how many folks eat at McDonald's regularly.  :smile:

 

I can't afford to eat out very often, and even then, it needs to be a good value. I know Yelp doesn't get a lot of love around here or on most other food sites, but I have found it very helpful to learn about local restaurants and see photos of their food before gambling my money on them. The overall star rating is just a rough guide. If it has two stars, it's probably not worth reading further, but it it has four or five, I'll read the individual reviews and see what they ate and whether they liked it and why. In a smaller town like mine (pop. 151,000) and within the much smaller subset of Yelp posters it's possible to get to recognize some of the ones who post about the local restaurants and share similar tastes to your own. It's still a risk eating at a new place (or any place, for that matter), but since I started using Yelp I feel like it's a much more calculated risk. I just have to put in the research time, and bonus, I actually enjoy doing it. Those with more money than time may not find it worth the trouble.

> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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Yelp can be useful, if you know how to sort out the useless reviews. It also helps if you know the yelpers, such as who just write reviews to be popular and who actually put in an honest effort.

 

Places are popular for various reasons. Some for the food; some for the price; some for the service. And there are those restaurants out there with reputations that foodies are supposed to love, therefore many foodies do love, regardless of if the food, service, etc. are actually good.

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