The macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mushed and the chicken it tastes like wood.
— The Sugarhill Gang
Most of us who dine out on a regular basis develop a list of favorite eating establishments, whether for the quality of the food we’re served, the service we’re provided or other intangibles such at atmosphere, convenience, price or popularity.
Those of us with any sense of loyalty will generally support our favorite restaurants even while the more trendy among us flit from new establishment to new establishment, bent on being among the first to see what new store A and new store B do different with their chicken and beef.
I went to one of my old favorite restaurants the other day, my taste buds working with that part of the brain that responds to the stimuli of the senses to stir up anticipation over tasting favorite dishes that I hadn’t had in a while. By the time I’d polished off my dessert, though, I was left wondering how long it would be before I came back or if I would even return at all.
What management and staff at the restaurant apparently had forgotten over the years of their successful run is that loyalty is a two-way street, the product of an unspoken bargain: You fix good food at a reasonable price, serve it to me in a timely and friendly manner, and I’ll come back again. Oh, and while you’re at it, keep the damned place clean and in good repair.
As we settle into our homes, time has a way of giving them a lived-in quality that makes them uniquely ours. Little imperfections might mount — things we always intend to get around to but rarely do — yet they’re the kinds of imperfections we can live with.
The same happens at restaurants and other places of business, but imperfections that threaten the quality and cleanliness of our meals are not the kinds of things we can live with. That fact appears to have escaped management at the restaurant I visited.
There were little things: older, faded flatwear and serving dishes, cloudy and scuffed drinking glasses, stained and worn carpeting, signage that was new when I first started eating there, a menu that had not been updated in quite some time.
But there were larger things as well, things that made me wonder if management and staff had simply given up and decided to rely on a good name that was built at the restaurant years ago. Perhaps most noticeable was the lack of enthusiasm and the general malaise of the staff. It appeared, from the reception I got and the attention of the wait staff, that they would have been happier if I hadn’t shown up at all ... You know, that, “Dang, now I’ve got to go wait on this guy” look and attitude.
Less obvious but still of note was the quality of the food. It was OK, had obviously been prepared from recipes that drew me to the establishment in the first place. But it was a little off, not quite the same as I’d come to expect.
Topping off my disappointment was the condition of the restroom. Calling it a pigsty would be an embarrassment to pigsties everywhere. Paper towels and trash were strewn all over the sink counter and floors; the toilets were disgusting and unusable, one of them backed up to the point of overflowing; and you’d have to have been really hard of smelling not to have wanted to get the hell out of that place stat.
Certainly cleaning bathrooms has never made anyone’s favorite-things-to-do list, but
if your business centers on serving customers and you can’t do any better than this ... Well, let’s just say I can’t help but wonder what things were like in the kitchen. And, yes, the bathrooms were trashed because the restaurant’s customers are filthy slobs. But those slobs are also the people paying the management and staff’s wages and bills.
Anyone can have a bad day. We’ve all been to favorite establishments with high expectations only to be disappointed occasionally. But the kind of
collective bad day this restaurant and its obviously unconcerned management team had
is the kind of bad day that keeps people from coming back ...
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.