I’m not a fiend for perfect restaurant service. I know wait people get tired, kitchens get busy, and everybody messes up once in a while. Generally, I have a lot of patience and a high tolerance level for eccentricities of table service.
But last night, Lisa Costello and I had one of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve had in quite a while at Outback Steakhouse over here in SE Portland. Comparable to my very bad experience at Papa Haydn about this time last year [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Much as with Papa Haydn, the evening was sufficiently irritating that I won’t voluntarily go back to the restaurant ever again.
On entering the restaurant, we were seated immediately in an otherwise empty section. There were very few diners in the place, as we had arrived relatively early in the dinner hour. A little more than five minutes later, we had to ask the host to send a waitperson to our table, as there had been no attention at all. The section was simply dead. He rolled his eyes, which I did not appreciate, then headed off to the kitchen. A waitress shortly appeared.
We placed our order, which was simple with no special requirements. It came out very slowly, and piecemeal. Two appetizers arrived about ten minutes apart. The steak arrived about forty-five minutes after we ordered, just after I’d politely complained to the host, who again was indifferent. Others around us entered the restaurant, were seated, ordered, served and finished their meals in the time it took our entree to come to table. The waitress never acknowledged this and made no attempt to explain the slowness, make up for it, or secure us our food. (She did eventually take one of our appetizers off the bill.)
What the heck do you do as a diner in that situation? I respect that food service is a tough job on its best day. The waitress was not being personally rude to us. I’m a little too well socialized to raise hell, though I did speak to the host twice, for all the good it did me.
Restaurant politics are funny. The whole low-wage/tip thing is weird. (There’s some history about it here, in an otherwise fascinating article about a tipless restaurant.) And I know chances are good the problem had little or nothing to do with our waitress. But her job is to be the restaurant’s face to its diners, and her job includes making sure people know what’s going on. Even a plausible lie about some embarrassing kitchen screw up would have been better than the dead silence and excruciatingly slow service we received.
I think that’s what frustrates me the most. That lack of communication, that lack of service in the larger sense of the term. The indifference.
At any rate, this is the first time I’ve set foot in an Outback Steakhouse in years. It’s also certainly the last. My life is too short, literally and figuratively, to put up with this crap. Especially when I am lucky enough to live in a place like Portland with hundreds of wonderful restaurants to choose from.