Archive for May, 2010

Another Bad Dining Experience

I just came back from yet another bad dining experience. What is it with the food services industry these days, anyway? Have all the good chefs and cooks committed suicide, leaving only the crappy ones to cook the food I and others eat? I am really starting to wonder if it is possible to get a good meal in this town any more. I should note that I am not deliberately going out looking for bad dining experiences. I would be happy to never have one ever again for the rest of my life.

Tonight, my son and I went to the Swiss Chalet at 1899 Cyrville Rd., Gloucester, Ontario, near the Costco, as a bit of a change of pace. I have had many good meals there in the past, and I was in the mood for some roasted chicken. It is not gourmet dining, but the food is usually edible. Except for tonight, that is. My son was not very hungry, so he just ordered a plate of fries and a drink. I ordered their “special”, which consists of a soup or salad, quarter chicken, fries, a dinner roll, and a slice of blueberry pie for dessert. I ordered a Diet Pepsi with no ice, as I don’t like my fountain pop to be watered down by melted ice, which makes it taste gross.

This is where the “fun” begins. First, our drinks arrived, and mine is quite warm. A short time later, my salad arrives, which, sadly, is a plate of lettuce with a small wedge of a small tomato and a couple little shavings from a carrot, and a few small chunks of celery. Not exactly what I would call a salad. I just wish I had thought to take a picture of it. It was one of the most pathetic salads I have ever seen in my life. I mean, who calls a plate of lettuce with a slight bit of garnish a salad?

Next, my main course arrived. The dinner roll was warm, but a bit hard, so I asked for some butter for it. The waitress returned a short time later with two butter packages, both of which were obviously fresh from the freezer, as they were hard as a rock and quite unusable. As well, the chicken was a bit on the over-cooked end of the spectrum, as the skin was quite hard to cut through. I finally managed, and the little bit of meat underneath was hardly worth the effort. I was quite hungry, so I ate it anyway. I managed to eat a few french fries as well, but the majority of them were over-cooked and burnt, obviously left in the fryer too long. I mentioned all this to the waitress, who talked to the manager, and she informed me that our entire meal was free.

Once my son finished as many of his fries as he was able to, we left. The waitress didn’t even offer to give me the slice of pie that came with my meal. Consequently, I left the restaurant still hungry. I have informed my son that the next time I suggest that I want to eat there, that he should promptly talk me out of it. That is one restaurant location I will not be returning to, ever. I may try a different location, as they are owned and run independently, so this is not a poor grade for the entire franchise.

Update (June 19, 2010): I was contacted by Swiss Chalet’s Guest Services division, and as an apology for the poor service, they have sent me a pair of $25 gift cards, good at any of their parent company’s restaurants, which comprise of Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, Montana’s Cookhouse, Milestones, and Kelsey’s.

My East Side Mario’s Experience

East Side Marios Logo On Mother’s Day this year, I took my wife and son to East Side Mario’s, an Italian restaurant chain. We went to the franchise located in the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, in Ottawa’s east end.

When we arrived, we were told there would be a 10 to 15 minute wait, but we were seated in 5 to 10 minutes. The wait was mainly because it was Mother’s Day, and most other thinking people had the foresight to book a reservation, which I hadn’t thought to do. But, even without the reservation, the speed and efficiency of seating people was very good.

We were seated at a little after 5pm, and we had ordered our food by about 5:20pm, give or take a few minutes. While looking at the menu, one of the bar staff dropped a box of straws, and my son rushed over to help them pick them up. He is only 9 years old, but he is a very helpful and considerate little guy. He never ceases to amaze me at his kindness and generosity. As a reward, they gave him a nice fancy drink on the house.

We had been chatting and relaxing for a while, and watched as people came in and were seated around us. About a half hour later, my son’s pizza arrived, and we were told that our meals would  be arriving shortly. A couple seated behind us came in about 10 or 15 minutes after we did, and they had managed to get their food before us, but I didn’t think about this too much at the time, as they were behind me, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to them. However, a half hour or so later, the couple behind us were paying their bill, and my wife and I were still waiting for our meals. Needless to say, we were getting pretty hungry. I even commented to my wife that I was having a Ramsey feeling, as I was feeling like I was on an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. By this time, my son had long since finished his meal, and was getting pretty antsy.

It was at about this time that our waitress came over, profusely apologising, and informing us that there was a problem in the kitchen, and that our meal was going to be completely on the house, and that our meal was definitely coming. We were impressed with how straightforward and upfront she was about the problem, and how she offered to waive the bill, without any prompting from us at all. She went to check on the progress of our meal, and returned a short time later to let us know it was almost ready, and she brought us a pair of $25 gift certificates for our next visit, which was definitely going above and beyond the call of good service! By this point, we were quite impressed with the quality of the service there. All restaurants will make mistakes. The true measure of the quality of a restaurant is how they deal with such an incident, and the staff at East Side Mario’s in the St. Laurent Mall was quite exemplary in this regard. We were also visited by the manager, who was responsible for managing the front area of the restaurant. For some reason, however, there was no manager on duty in the kitchen, even though this was one of the busier days of the year. She apologised profusely several times as well.

It was close to 7pm when our food arrived, and we ate it fairly quickly, as we were quite hungry by this time. If it wasn’t for the salad and bread that they gave us after ordering, we wouldn’t have been able to stay as long as we did. So, for a bit of pasta and a couple of small pieces of chicken, we ended up being there for 2 1/2 hours. The pleasant and attentive wait staff was all that made the experience a positive one. Thus, despite the problems in the kitchen, we will definitely be back again. Our waitress and the floor manager turned what could have been a bad experience into a positive one. This is how a good restaurant treats its customers.

So I guess what all this is saying is that I would recommend East Side Mario’s in the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, as they care about customer service and customers going away happy. This is more rare these days than it should be.

Update (June 19, 2010): On June 10th, 2010, my family and I went back to East Side Mario’s to have another meal and use the gift certificates from our last visit. This time, our food was delivered in a reasonable time, and it was quite delicious. Management was quite attentive, as would be expected, as we booked the reservation through the general manager. Despite the mishap with the meal the first time, I have nothing but positive things to say about East Side Mario’s and their excellent front staff. As far as I can tell, the issues from our previous visit were primarily due to issues inside the kitchen by the kitchen staff. I would highly recommend the East Side Mario’s St. Laurent Shopping Centre location based on the food quality and especially because of the importance on positive customer experience that they have displayed throughout.