Monday, January 31, 2011

The Most Ridiculous Lunch Story Ever

Once upon a time (this past Sunday), in a not-so-far away land (Rhode Island), I went to lunch with my sister and mom to partake in Providence's Restaurant Week.  We selected a restaurant that we had tried countless times and loved.  I will not disclose the name of the restaurant at this time because quite frankly, that's not really the point of the story.  We've been there so many times and this was definitely not normal.  Maybe there was a full moon or something, but in any case, the story is so ridiculous I can't keep it to myself.  Here is some pure entertainment from me to you...

So we arrive at the restaurant at brunch-time with reservations and wait for the maitre d' to greet us.  When we tell him we have reservations he doesn't even consult the book but just starts looking around to see where to seat us.  I was under the impression that making a reservation reserved a table at a certain time, but I must be crazy, right?  Anyway, we're seated and handed menus.  No Restaurant Week menu.  We have to ask for it.  They give us one copy to share.  We place our order for our chosen entrĂ©es, since the first and last courses are the same for everyone... a salad to start and sorbet for dessert.

We wait for over half an hour it seems and yet no salads.  These are simple, small mixed green salads, nothing special.  Why is it taking so long?  Moments later we see a cook walk in through the front door (right next to our table) and walk by us with bags of mixed greens and other salad fixings.  Two minutes later our thrown-together salads arrive, barely enough dressing to coat the greens.  Really?  How do you offer a menu and then not have the ingredients to make the dishes, and yet our server didn't tell us anything.  We figured it out ourselves.  Our salads were supposed to come with French bread and butter, and that was delayed even longer than the salads.  Finally we get some bread and scarf it down.  We're starving.

She tells us our entrĂ©es are almost ready and asks if we want more bread.  We say not if the food is almost coming.  She brings us a couple ramekins of ketchup for the fries that were being served with the bison burgers my sister and I ordered.  Then she brings over some more bread "just in case."  Hmm, okay.  She says she will get us more butter and then disappears again.  We're so hungry we start eating the bread anyway.  My mom and sister start spreading ketchup on the bread!  The waitress returns and tells us she can't find any butter.  Seriously?  It's brunch, how do you not have butter?

More time passes.  We've been there for an hour and still no real food has arrived, only some poorly-dressed greens and a few pieces of bread.  The same cook walks through the front door, now with a box of what seems to be pre-formed burger patties, from my sister's observation, along with a tub of some kind of condiment.  We start complaining, tell our server that this is ridiculous already.  She claims that they are just really busy, and I snap back that I've eaten at lots of "busy" restaurants and never had to wait this long for food.  My sister tells her that she's embarrassed because she brought my mom and me there to treat us to lunch, and added that it was a birthday that was now ruined (it really wasn't, but my sister wanted them to realize they had screwed up big time).  The waitress says the owner will come talk to us in a minute.  And so we wait.

Finally, after well over an hour from when we arrived (people came and left in the time we had been waiting for our food), our waitress and the owner emerge from the kitchen carrying our food.  The owner brings us some complimentary appetizers and profusely apologizes for the situation.  She offers us free champagne as well.  Our food is distributed.  My sister's bison burger is incredibly soggy and is lacking the pickled onions that were advertised.  Mine isn't soggy, but is cooked well done, as is my sister's, while I asked for medium/medium-rare and she asked for medium-well.  They return and ask if the food is at least okay and I tell them the truth.  My burger is super overcooked.  The owner says she won't charge me for it, and then returns a minute later and tells me to stop eating it and they will make me another.  I tell her that after waiting over an hour, I will not wait another minute to eat my meal, and will just eat it anyway.  It was dry and bland, and obviously made from a pre-formed patty.  The cheese isn't even melted.  Also, the fries are supposed to be hand-cut garlic fries, and these appear to be frozen steak fries seasoned only with salt and pepper.  Definitely not as advertised and our dishes once again look hastily thrown together (in a restaurant which usually serves beautiful food).

This is definitely not the food expected from a restaurant of this caliber.  It seems that they didn't have any of the food that was offered on the RW menu, maybe assuming people would simply order off the brunch menu if they didn't offer the RW menu to people up front.  So because of that we were made to wait for ages for our food and then served crappy food.  The only good things were the free appetizers, one of which I had enjoyed on a past visit.

After we finish, our waitress tells us that we are all set, that we don't have to pay for anything.  We're a bit shocked, but we nod and start gathering our things to leave.  As we have our coats on, the owner anxiously tells us to wait, that they had made a special cake for us.  They made this extravagant chocolate mousse concoction with chocolate meringues sticking out of it, and lit a couple candles and came over to sing happy birthday.  As we sang, we weren't really sure whose "birthday" it was supposed to be, and my mom quickly sang my name into the chorus. Happy birthday to me! Haha.

I chatted with the owner and told her that I loved this restaurant and that we had come here on many occasions in the past and so we realize this was completely out of the ordinary for them.  She said she was glad we had been there before and knew this wasn't normal, and said that this had never happened before, and that it would teach her humility.  She seemed really sweet and I know that unlike the rest of her staff that just let this situation get out of hand, her reputation was on the line.  I'm pretty sure the server didn't even inform her of what had been going on until we finally complained.  Truthfully, as the owner who was in the dining room the entire time, she should have known anyway, but still.  I hope the rest of the restaurant staff learned a lesson too.  If it's on the menu, you should have the ingredients on hand!  If you run out of food, don't walk in the front door with it!  And if you have to, then at least be honest with your patrons or offer them an alternative instead.  Waiting for crappy salad, bread with ketchup, overcooked pre-formed burgers (which as far as I'm concerned weren't even bison) is not worth it, even for a free meal.

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