Would You Like Flies With That?

Posted: June 8, 2013 in restaurant rant
Tags: , , , , ,

As a postscript to my last offering concerning poor driving habits rife in our modern society:  Yesterday, alone, I:  1.  was passed on the right on a one lane (curvy) road while going the speed limit, 2.  was cut off in mid-left turn with the green arrow by a right-turning pickup truck towing a trailer, and 3.  followed a prominently signed corporate vehicle as the driver, first, crossed the double-yellow center line in a curve, then blew through a stop sign, then blew through a red light to turn right into traffic.  I called the cops on the first one and the company on the last one.  The company owner was genuinely appreciative of my call.

Anyway…  I’m guessing most of my readers like to go out to eat occasionally.  My dear, long-suffering wife and I enjoy the ability to dine out on a regular basis, not because we don’t cook (she’s a self-taught hash slinger of the highest order), but because we thoroughly enjoy good food made better if someone else cooks it.  My philosophy is:  If you don’t cook, clean your plate without complaint, because you don’t know where your next meal may be coming from.

On the other hand, too many dining-out experiences are substandard and therefore worthy of dishonorable mention if not complaint.  Restaurants vary in quality, cleanliness and consistency.  It can be difficult to know in advance what the breakfast, lunch or dinner experience will be like until it’s too late.  By too late I mean:  You’ve ordered your food and now you’re committed to the adventure for good or ill.


    The Object of My Affection

The day I was inspired to begin this string of rants (remember the blue-hair in the Buick who almost creamed my corn in the parking lot?) I was heading for Mickie D’s to buy “lunch.”  Actually, I was in the mood for some comfort food and the McCheeseburger fills the bill if not my stomach.  It’s warm and chewy and tasty, with that little surprise of pickle tang about half-way through it.  I ordered my treat, unpacked it from the sack and wrapper, staged the napkin for easy reach in case the ketchup got loose and tried to escape, and with pleasant anticipation, took a bite.

It was cold.  And crunchy.  Usually even if it was left over from the last batch of mass-produced burgers from five minutes ago, it’s still warm from the heat lamps.  But this was a different animal altogether (although, I am assuming it was cow…)  A horse of a different color to stretch the metaphor and beat a dead horse at the same time.  The bun was the texture of burnt toast.  The meat was tepid and the cheese (the horror, the horror…) was c-o-l-d cold.  How this combination of abominations came together I can’t begin to guess.  I hardly noticed the pickle piquancy.

I finished it, of course.  My dollar investment was not going to go to waste.  That’s wasteful.  Like I said, I don’t cook; not wasting food is a survival technique I learned as a child.

I finished it, but there was no joy in my enjoyment of it.  It satisfied only my hunger, which is small consolation when my expectations were so great to begin with.  Sadly, this comfort food was just the opposite:  discomforting food.

So I went back to the “restaurant” to speak to the manager.  I’m guessing if you are like many people (unlike me) you wouldn’t bother taking the time and composing a complaint for such a trivial matter.  However, it’s what I do.  I have always felt it was productive to give constructive feedback to someone who cares and can do something about the issue at hand.  I’m not expecting or hoping to change the world, just the little corners that I haunt.

Walking up to the counter and turning my back to nearby customers to exclude them from hearing my comments, in a quiet voice I asked to speak to the manager.  Who should I be speaking to but the Manager Herself.  This was perfect, because I did not want to A. “make a scene,” or 2. involve any other customer or employee.  I’ll talk to the manager privately, and let her do her job vis-a-vis quality control.

Holding my receipt as evidence of my veracity, I mentioned the three points of my case:  the bun was dry, the burger was shopworn, and, worst of all, the cheese was slightly icy.  Hardly nonplussed (she did not fall off the prep table yesterday), the manager apologized and offered me a replacement cheeseburger.  While I understand offering to replace the problem product with another one just like the other one, I wonder:  Why would I want to take a chance on another possibly crappy cheeseburger?  Not only did I not want to risk getting a second cold, crunchy, tasteless wad of beef and bread, I also did not want a refund.  Yes, it’s a trivial amount of money (albeit a day’s wages in Sneakerland, Bangladesh), but that’s not the point.  I’m not in it for the money.  I’m interested in  CQI;  in business-speak it’s known as continuous quality improvement.  There has to be a counter to the slippery slope of decline in quality in products and services, and I’m the self-appointed vanguard of this movement.

So, who likes flies in restaurants?  Raise your forelegs.  I thought so:  Only other flies.  Yet how many (indoor) eating establishments have you patronized where there were noisome and numerous winged ordure-eaters present at the table?    I mean, come on!  If you (as the restaurant owner) don’t care enough to monitor and control the vermin and disease vector population, what do you care about?

We went out to eat the other evening to a local Greek food restaurant in downtown Bellingham, Washington.  (I don’t worry about ruining their “reputation” because, as few readers seem to be hitting on my blog their secret is safe…)  We sat down and I immediately saw a large dead fly on the window sill at my wife’s elbow.  (I don’t know why I emphasized “large:”  fly is a fly is a fly to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.)  The pleasant waiter came up to the table presently and asked if he could get us something to drink besides water.  Unable to contain myself, but in a controlled voice, I said, “No thank you, but could you get rid of that dead fly?”  Pleasantly, he asked rhetorically, “Oh, is there a fly over there?  I’ll get rid of it.”  He went away, presumably to steel himself to the task and gather the necessary equipment.  Shortly, the corpse was removed.

To Name But One in a Long List

To Name But One in a Long List

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spy a live fly buzzing in the window right beside me.  If I had been alone, or twenty years younger and dumber, I would have packed up my appetite and bugged out for the Indian food restaurant next door at that moment.  But I wasn’t and I didn’t.  I simply gave my wife a pained look and stuffed the proverbial sock in it.  We (I) pretended to enjoy the rest of the meal, despite the reduced portion size and increased price since we last ate there.

Which brings me to my next point:  Why is it an inevitable law of nature that portion sizes are inversely related to the price of the entrée?  Go to a buffet, pay $8 and get all the industrial food you can force feed yourself.  Pay $16 for an entrée masquerading as an appetizer, only to find out the dinner salad was “extra.”  A $12 hamburger?

Consistency is another trait some eateries seem to have a problem maintaining.  I have a few favorite restaurants which I depend on to provide a good meal and good service each time I show up, weekdays, weekends, lunch, dinner, whenever.  I’ve been spoiled at home because my live-in chef never misses a beat when it comes to high quality noshing.  Each and every dish she prepares is a feast for the senses.  (Well, there was one time she decided to clean a cast iron skillet with Pine-Sol, then make me tuna casserole…  I still have a vague sense memory of the result…  I think we buried the skillet in the back yard…)

Every once in a while, though, a place we’ve patronized for years suddenly “goes bad.”  A favorite selection  is now bland, or lukewarm, or too spicy, or gristly, or, worst of all, no longer available on the menu.  This happens too often:  I go to a specific restaurant hungry and salivating for a delicious dish I know this joint serves as a regular item.  This happened at the Greek place last week:  Looking at the menu, my wife said,  “They have eggplant moussaka…” in her most come-hither tone of voice.  Tempted beyond my limit I responded, “Cool!  That’s what I’m having!”  The pleasant waiter returned and asked me what I wanted.  “I’ll have the moussaka, please,” in my best Greek-inflected accent.  “I’m sorry, but we don’t have the moussaka tonight,” he said cheerily.  Just like that.  Not “Sorry, we’re sold out of the moussaka,” (the place was empty) nor “No problem, we’re a Greek restaurant, after all, and we can probably scare up some eggplant, potatoes, onions and bechamel sauce and easily create a serving for you, since, after all, we are a Greek restaurant…”  Nope.  Just a polite but perfunctory, “Yes, we have no moussaka, we have no moussaka today!”


As you can imagine, despite the fact there are around 420 restaurants to choose from in this small burg in which we live, by choice and necessity we patronize only a handful on a regular basis.  Which makes it all the more heart-breaking when having decided to return after a long absence to one of our former favorite haunts, we sit down to a high-priced mini-meal of poorly prepared  grub that, quite literally, might contain a grub, or two.  Or four.

And it’s not the waiter’s fault, so you still have to tip…


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