Friday, August 26, 2011

Local Restaurants Have to Try Harder

Preface: Brace yourselves, people! I'm about to have a full on Gordon Ramsey moment!

One of the benefits of living in the South is that there's no short supply of excellent, original restaurants where we live. Ty and I were following the "eat local" movement before we were even aware it existed.

Within two miles of our house, we can find the best sushi, Italian, sandwiches, Mexican, steaks, seafood, pizza -- and they're all locally-owned establishments! But before the doors even open, local restaurants are at a disadvantage. There's no corporate office dictating how things should be done. Instead, the responsibility falls on the restaurant owner, who's likely just getting his/her feet wet in the most difficult industry for entrepreneurs.

That's why it's always good to give restaurants a little time to work out the kinks before trying them. At the paper, when we would write restaurant reviews, we always gave restaurants a three month grace period before we would visit. Otherwise, you're not really giving them a fair shake. It's a good rule that I still follow when deciding whether it's time to try a new restaurant. Do you really want to be the guinea pig the restaurant works its kinks out on?

So, with all my love of local restaurants, I was thrilled to see a new pizzeria and market going in close to our house. The place was called Fresco, and for months, I drove by in eager anticipation as I watched workers transform the raggedy building into a cute little bistro.

Then, finally in June, I saw an open sign appear. We were there! I tried to wait the respected three months, but I hardly made it two weeks before my car steered itself into the parking lot. We hadn't even made it to the door when we were greeted by the owner who told us they weren't actually open yet. ... I thought that's what "open" signs meant? He handed us to-go menus and all but begged us to come back.

Strike one. But he was such a nice guy, I wasn't ready to write the place off just yet.

We decided we would go back again last night. I'd seen a growing number of cars in the parking lot, and was ready to give it a shot. The place was adorable and charming, but it didn't take long for me to know I would never return for the following reasons:
  • There was no wine or beer list. It was all left up to our waiters interpretation, which was far from accurate considering his drug induced state of mind. He could hardly hold his eyes open, so inevitably our order was wrong and Ty ended up with something he didn't want.
  • I continued to see items come out of the kitchen that weren't on the menu. And the menu wasn't even the same as the one we'd been given just a few weeks prior. There was hardly anything on the menu that even interested me. One soup. One full-portion salad. Maybe six sandwiches (the only difference between some menu items being the bread). And a variation of about six different pizzas.
  • So, if you're only going to offer a few items, they should be cooked to perfection. My Florentine pizza arrived at the table beautifully. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into the homemade crust and fresh toppings, but after my first bite, I realized it was severely undercooked. Doughy and gross. Ty asked to speak with the manager (at this point, I thought he was going to lose it!).
  • Instead of the manager coming to see us, the chef was sent to our table. He apologized for the pizza and I felt bad for him since it's not really his job to interact and keep customers happy. Ty asked again to see the manager, but he couldn't be bothered to come out of his office. I've never seen anything like that! Who does this guy think he is, The Wizard!!
At this point, we were furious beyond repair. I could have overlooked the pizza and the waiter, but the manager ... I can't get over that and will never go back to the restaurant.

I love local restaurants because the customer service is usually so much better than at any chain. ... But at this restaurant, we were treated like just another check.

And for that treatment, I will be spending my money somewhere else.

What would Gordon Ramsey say about that?


Catherine said...

Good to know...I will steer clear of it myself!

Stephanie Jordan said...

Then my rant has been successful! It's a little much, but nothing gets under my skin more than bad customer service.

Lindsey said...

We went the first week they were open... Terrible service which I could overlook bc it was the first week. They gave us full menus but had written a check mark next to the total of 6 things they were serving! After 2 hours we got our food. Neil swears he will never go back. And the owner was standing at the front telling people the restaurant was "at capacity" and they would need to come back another time!

Mandy S said...

ewwww....bad customer service makes it or breaks it for me! also, another friend of mine went there and also said he thought his waitress was "cracked out." hmmmm....

Meryl & Russell McLendon said...

This is good. Anytime I have one of these moments, I never get around to putting pen to paper. Or I lose my nerve. Hopefully your post will get around to the right person and they will make a change. Good for you, Stephanie. Tell 'em.

Erin said...

That's a bummer! Thanks for the warning, Stephanie.

sga said...

Have you seen "Ludo Bites America" on the Sundance channel? Highly recommended. You should try to get him to come to your neighborhood and overtake that place for a night.

Embellished Bayou said...

A friend & I went there for lunch the other day and I have to say I was a little disappointed with the service. Granted we were there at noon on a Friday, but it shouldn't have taken as long as it did to get one muffy. And the coke was flat, which is a big no-no for me! The pizza did look good and I was tempted to go back and try it but now I'm not so sure.

Stephanie Jordan said...

Such a shame.