Published Date Written by Natalie LaddSpooky, bloody, gory movies are not my thing and equally as unappealing is the retelling of a horror story that took place in a bar or restaurant that I really want to think is great. Aside from the reality slap, one reason I don't tell the tales is because everyone deserves two and a half chances, so for the most part, I ignore other people's rantings about bad food, poor service, slovenly dressed kitchen staff and the like. A negatively slanted incident forever recorded in print, no matter how accurate (or not), can do a world of harm considering we're all bound to make a mistake upon occasion. And let's face it, unless it's a striaght up restaurant review, we rarely read about the good stuff, and those too are usually one woman's opinion, in one moment frozen in time.
Like an off duty Vet who constantly hears about Fido's chronic flea problem, or the retired school teacher who listens to Sally's mom complain because her mini-Einstein's elevated academic genius is overlooked, I am bombarded with truly frightening stories of less-than-OK restaurant experiences. I've been stopped in Shaw's at 7 a.m., dressed in my rattiest sweats trying to sneak out with hangover-curing ginger snaps, then again when leaving Beal's with a double scoop of ice cream after a Weight Watcher's meeting, and still again by the sketchy toll booth guy who held up a line of traffic on a Friday afternoon telling me about the stale Big Mac buns he always seems to get at his local McDonald's. Is a stale bun acceptable at 2 a.m. at a 24-hour restaurant? he asks. Should he write a letter to the corporate office?
Truth be known, it isn't because I'm so evolved, or forgiving that I don't share these tales, and it isn't just because it can be damaging. It's also because anything negatively writen about me, or my mad server/bartending skills, would depress me for weeks. Plus, karma has a weird sense of humor, and that's why I hesitated to share Tamara's horror story.
My friend Tamara is a longtime hospitality worker who understands the difference between having a random bad day, and the overall situation sucking beyond redemption.That's why the more she went on and on with her story, the more compelled I felt to write about it. Yes, it's out of character for me, but this one is a dark and stormy night campfire doozy.
Last Friday evening, Tamara and her partner were winding down from a long ride on their Harley and felt like having a cold beer and a hot pizza. Debating between OOB and a small chain restaurant at the mall, they opted for the latter and arrived sometime around 8:30. Here's her story word-for-word:
"Just about the only good thing is we were greeted and seated immediately. Our server was a 20-something girl and the place wasn't very busy. She asked if we wanted something to drink and I ordered a PBR with a lemon and Mary ordered a water. She came back with a tall boy can popped open, and like a quarter of a lemon on top. No glass. And she walked away. We sat there and sat there and still no glass. It was seriously 10 minutes and I wanted to get up and go to the bar and get one, but Mary was like, 'No Way.'"
Tamera went on, "So, I can see this open kitchen area where like three servers and two hostesses who looked like the Doublemint Twins were chatting. Finally, she came back and I asked for a glass and we ordered a specialty pizza off their list. Another 10 minutes goes by and Mary is steaming while my beer is getting warmer and warmer. When she walked by and actually made eye contact, she said, 'Ooops, your glass,' which she brought over."
"So, now it's been like half an hour since I got the glass, and no pizza. The servers, the Doublemint Twins, and a few bussers were still down there chatting and finally our server looked up at us, said something to the kitchen and came over. 'Um, there was this really big party on the other side of the restaurant and the kitchen got backed up.' No apology, nothing. Mary went to the bathroom, which was located on the other side, and guess what? There was no party. She just didn't put our order in."
"Mary never gets upset in restaurants, but she was ripping and to make it worse, the girl comes over with a small salad bowl half full of wet, nasty, seriously stale popcorn kernels and says, 'Here, this is for you,' at which point we asked for the manager. Let me tell you, the server went by the open kitchen and there was like a huddle of all the people working, and they were laughing and sort of looking at us. The manager started walking our way and walked right past us to the register, where she started acting busy with receipts or something. She never even came over."
"At that point, Mary said, 'We're outta' here...' and we walked toward the register where the manager was standing, not making eye contact with us. At that very moment, the server comes running over with the pizza on a board and says, 'Here, your pizza's done.' I took one look at it and it was doughy and barely half cooked. I thought Mary was going to lose it."
"There was no apology, no ownership of the problem. Nothing. Mary said, 'We don't want your pizza and you can pay for the beer. We're leaving.' At this point, it was 9:45 and we hopped on the bike and went to OOB after all and had fries and an awesome slice of feta, spinach and fresh tomato pizza. And we were served in 5 minutes."
Sometimes the bad stories have to be told so we can appreciate good experiences and outstanding service. Karma or not, this is one that screams terrifying from start to finish, and to make all right with the Universe, I'm going to recant one that's equally as wonderful and impressive as this epic fail in the near future.
The Down Low: The fabulous Susan Axelrod, editor of Eater Maine, has asked Yours Truly to be a guest writer for a cool series the Eater folks are doing nationwide featuring local food writers' favorite front-of-the-house people. I'm flattered as all get out, and choosing my victim will be tough, so be sure to check it out online and on facebook this week. Thanks to everyone in my corner for the great birthday wishes. I'm still tasting the paella at Local 188.