Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

When dinner out goes wrong

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Greg Peck
Monday, May 5, 2014

My wife, Cheryl, and I went out to eat Saturday night. I decided on an area restaurant we visit from time to time. It's not our favorite, but I was in the mood for this place.

It was a bad choice.

We saw lots of cars when we arrived but thought we'd see just how busy it was nonetheless. We walked in, and seats were open at the bar, so we thought, OK, not that bad.

I got a bartender to add our names to the list awaiting tables. We both looked at the clock, which read 6:55, and she told me the wait would be a half hour. That's OK, I suggested, because we planned to have a before-dinner drink anyway. Then she mistakenly put us down for the 8:30 time slot. I pointed out that seemingly was wrong, and she looked at the clock again and apologized, saying she thought it looked like 7:55 when she first glanced at it. She then penciled us in for 7:20.

Her initial error perhaps should have been a hint.

However, by the time I got around to the other side of the bar, where she had found two empty stools, Cheryl had already ordered drinks from the other bartender. We were only half done with them when our names were called for a table. I didn't glance at the clock, but it couldn't have been 7:20 already.

We took our seats at a table for four, but Cheryl quickly changed seats because an air vent against the wall was spewing out a chilly draft. A woman at a nearby table said she felt it, too.

Our waitress said she was busy because they had some parties going on but would be back shortly to take our orders, and I said fine. The dining room was fairly full. It took a little longer than I might expect for her to take our orders, but our soups, salad and hor d'oeuvres arrived quickly. We ate these and rolls, and I about cleaned out the snack tray as Cheryl and I caught up on things.

I had driven home Saturday afternoon after two days of meetings at the Wisconsin Writers Association conference in La Crosse, which gave us plenty to discuss. Cheryl told me about visiting opening day of the Janesville Farmers Market with a friend Saturday. We weren't paying attention to the time.

Finally, we paused, looked around and wondered where our meals were. I hadn't seen our waitress in a long time. Four of the five tables around us now were empty. I checked the time, and it was 8:45. Cheryl was so upset she was ready to get up and leave. I finally flagged down a waitress serving an adjacent table and asked if we'd been forgotten. She said she'd check, returned shortly to say our food would be right out, and soon our waitress arrived with the plates, apologizing for the delay. By then, it was 8:50.

Aren't 90 minutes from the time you get seated until the time you get served your meals too many? What's worse, while the portions were more than reasonable, I ordered medium prime rib and Cheryl ordered a medium tenderloin. Both were overcooked. Cheryl guessed they probably were because they needed to be reheated.

The waitress later brought our bill and said it had been “discounted” because of the long wait, even without my asking. I checked it, and it had been cut in half. I left a modest tip, reasoning the chef, not the waitress, might have been at fault. Cheryl, who waitressed as a teenager, later said I was too generous, that a good waitress should have been out, apologizing for the delay ahead of time, asking if she could get us anything more in the meantime, etc.

Sad to say, we won't return to this restaurant. We have other good options that we enjoy without risking another such episode. Coincidentally, it was the second such problem we encountered in the last six months or so. At a Janesville restaurant, the service was equally slow on our second visit, and they were out of Cheryl's first two menu choices. I was ready to get up and leave that time, but we stayed. A manager asked how things were going as we ate, and I told him. He then apologized, picked up our entire meal tab, said they were unexpectedly swamped and asked us to give them another chance. Given that it was a new restaurant still adjusting to an uncertain flow of customers, we did return and had an enjoyable time.

Is it just us, or do you experience poor service and/or food from time to time? What do you do when that occurs? Complain? Stop patronizing?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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