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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-10-08 06:42
Subject: [personal|food] Restaurant disservice, Outback Steakhouse style
Security: Public
Tags:culture, food, personal, portland, radiantlisa
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.

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Larry Sanderson
User: lsanderson
Date: 2013-10-08 14:12 (UTC)
Subject: Been there, done that...
You should always ask to speak to the manager.

Think of the host as an untipped waitron. The manager should either fix things, comp the meal, or make some other kinda offer, perhaps not to your liking, but a least a step in your direction. In general, the host seats tables, the manager hires and fires.

Ironically, slow times are often the worst times for service. Everybody's either goofing off, or trying to get prep work done ahead of the rush. Taking one appetizer off for a botched table isn't trying very hard.

I complained at an Outback in Fargo, NoDak, when the manager asked how everything as we were going out the door. (They'd pretty much screwed up everything that could be screwed up, but it was new and I had very, very, very low expectations.) And, of course, he offered -- wait for it -- two free dinners for the next visit.
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shelly_rae: Grumpies
User: shelly_rae
Date: 2013-10-08 15:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Unfortunately the host is rarely in charge. Ask for a manager. Outback is notorious for bad service though. Except in the bar.
If you feel strongly about it you can write them a letter and direct it not just to the restaurant but also the chain.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2013-10-09 01:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Aha. That's why we always get decent service at that same Outback...we either eat in the bar or do takeout.
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User: martianmooncrab
Date: 2013-10-08 16:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
that Outback is sucky, they screwed up my order the last time I was there.. what .. 7 years ago? I ask for Rare, extremely Rare, and the damn thing showed up cooked.
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User: lindadee
Date: 2013-10-08 18:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I had a similar experience with a Tony Roma's Ribs in San Antonio. Five of us went to dinner there, and boy, did they screw up our orders. They finally made good on it, but it took forever (and I don't recall if we actually got everything we ordered). I was also surprised that the restaurant did not offer us even a discount on our meals, since they screwed it up so badly. I don't have to worry about going back to Tony Roma's since they've left the Seattle area.
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User: twilight2000
Date: 2013-10-08 20:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I ended up at an Olive Garden recently, where we had a similar experience. Much to the credit of Olive Garden, when the manager asked how our meal was going and we commented it was over 30 minutes since our dinner had been ordered - he immediately offered to comp both my husband's dinner and mine. I will be back to that particular restaurant, happily. Everyone has a bad day, making up for it is what makes that restaurant worth going back to.

Sounds like that Outback is worth taking a miss on next time I'm in Portland.
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Rick Moen
User: rinolj
Date: 2013-10-08 20:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Second the comment about manager vs. 'host' (greeter). Also, highest possible recommendation for that series of analytic postings by restauranteur Jay Porter about economic and social pathologies introduced by the tipping model. That series is a classic, doing the same piercing dissection of the restaurant industry that Courtney Love Does the Math did for the music industry, 13 years back.

Some background:

In 1995, Herman Cain was CEO of Godfather's Pizza and soon to be president of the National Restaurant Association. Pres. Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed to raise the Federal minimum wage standard from $4.25 to $5.15, and Cain was one of the leading lobbyists trying to block the proposal. The raise was passed over his objections, but then in 1996 the matter came up again for a second modest hike. Cain was now president of the National Restaurant Association.

His campaigning against the raise and buying of votes in Congress was so effective that a deal was cut with him in Congress: The additional increase would be approve but would no longer cover waiters and other tipped workers (in any industry, not just restaurants), who would have a separate minimum wage standard of -- get this -- $2.13. Also, shockingly, that rate has never been increased in all the years since 1996. Some states have individual minimum wages that override the Federal minimum, but many do not.

The immediate result has been that waiters and other service workers have gotten even more starved, and also that employers have felt (and yielded to) the incentive to move workers onto tipped compensation models so as to starve them more.

The whole thing is horrific, and Cain in particular should be taken out and shot for it.

In civilised countries like the UK, waiters expect a rational 5-10% tip and have closer to a living wage without it.

But yes, Outback Steakhouse is particularly notorious for sucky service.

What should you have done? Note the time when you're seated. At 30 minutes, find the manager, note the delay and lack of disclosure for why, stress you really don't care why anymore, and calmly mention that your party will walk out the door in 15 minutes unless the food is delivered in good order. No, you don't want an apology or an explanation, and you realise the manager didn't create the problem, but that's what's going to happen now. And then follow through exactly as specified.

(As a matter of law, the purchase contract is 'executory', i.e., unperfected and cancelable, until the restaurant has done 'substantial performance', and I'd be flabbergasted if that doesn't equate in this situation to ordered dishes being placed on the table. Until then, you can walk out and not be accountable. And they know it. That 15 minutes' courtesy notice to the manager would be just you being nice.)

Rick Moen

Edited at 2013-10-08 08:16 pm (UTC)
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User: cissa
Date: 2013-10-15 22:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good to know- thank you!
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User: msconduct
Date: 2013-10-08 22:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I love that this is classed as bad service in the US. In New Zealand, I wouldn't regard any of these things as remarkable or even unusual. Except for one thing: you were seated by a host. Luxury! Here, the standard practice is to stand at the entrance being ignored for a while. This is why I love eating out in the US.
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User: jetse
Date: 2013-10-08 22:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's always hard, and you never wish to be the spoiler of anybody's day/night anywhere. Yet, when it sucks, it sucks and you should say so.

In a related note, I try to give North American friends--when they visit--the Dutch tipping guide (slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not far off the mark, from Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant):

--If the service was bad: no tip.

(I know: this is blasphemy in the US. But our waiters get paid decent wages, so they don't--shouldn't--need the tip.)

--If the service was good: 5%

--If the service was the best ever: 10%

--If you want to have sex with the waiter/waitress: 15%

(this made my very good friends Chris Roberson and his wife Alison laugh so hard they were--very jokingly--accusing each other of serial adultery on their last European trip. Oh well...;-)
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Sean P. Fodera
User: delkytlar
Date: 2013-10-08 23:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. The only Outback I've been to is one near my office, and the service is outstanding, even during busy lunch hours.

The worst restaurant experience we had came in a small, local Italian place a few blocks from our home. It's a very down-to-earth place, not at all fancy (checked, plastic table cloths, etc). We'd been going there for years, and the food was always top-notch and the service excellent. About three years back, the owners awarded our son a scholarship in the name of their late teenaged son, so we've gotten to know the owners since then (I'm helping them shop a cookbook now). About a year ago, we went for dinner, and the service was terrible. It's a little place, but the waitress simply ignored us time and again. The food took forever. She forgot to order our appetizers, and gave us the eye-roll when I brought it up. It took 20 minutes to get the check when we were done.

Once I had the check, instead of giving my credit card to her, I went to the counter. The owner had come in by that time, and gave me a warm greeting. We made small talk while the card was approved, and I signed it, crossing out the tip line. He asked me if I was going to leave cash for the tip. I told him our experience, and said there would be no tip this time. He apologized, and offered to make good next time (which I know he would have), and said he'd talk to the server. As we left, I saw him call her over, just as she realized there was no tip on the table.

Unfortunately, we hadn't gotten to go back before the owners lost their lease early this year. They haven't reopened a new location yet. I've never thought it appropriate to ask them what happened to that waitress.
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User: blue_23
Date: 2013-10-09 00:39 (UTC)
Subject: Also a poor Outback experience
Last time I took my family to Outback we also had a very poor experience, enough that we won't be returning.

We had some issues ordering, and the server seemed to have no familiarity with the basic wine list. (As in didn't recognize the name of the wine, couldn't figure out what we were ordering.)

Some of us had salads or appetizers, others were going for their signature bread. Well, we had a long wait with nothing (and the kids complaining about being hungry) as others around us were seated and received their food. Drinks sat empty.

Finally the salads arrived but no bread and he rushed off. We grabbed him next time he came through because we still didn't have silverware, which he got almost enough for the table but we'd have to wait for a last set.

I didn't have time to have the first bite of salad when the entrees showed up, though it wasn't our server who delivered them. He came back quite some time later (more empty glasses), was apologetic (but didn't offer to take the appetizers off the bill even though they were sitting there so we didn't let the entrees get cold.)

When asked about the bread that they usually bring out, he blamed it on a new manager that made bread "by request only". Of course, not knowing that we had to special request it (and him not being around to ask), the kids had sat for half an hour hungry and complaining while waiting for their meal while people around us who came in later were served. He did then bring us bread, while we already had our entrees and the appetizers we hadn't a chance to eat.

I did enjoy the food we got, but the experience so bad that I won't be returning.
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User: a_cubed
Date: 2013-10-09 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, this is where you needed danjite. I recall the first time I met you in person was a meal in Melbourne with multiple mostly minor screwups b the restaurant. With "professional complainer" danjite at the table, though, all (8?) of us got the entire meal free. I'd still rather have paid for a meal with no mess-ups, but the compensation was adequate and the company was still excellent.
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Bruce E. Durocher II
User: bedii
Date: 2013-10-09 01:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I remember scouting a hotel for a possible change of location for a regional con. We, of course, tried out various restaurants in the area. If we'd gone ahead with it, the hotel restaurant review would have read "Why are you eating here when there's an Outback across the parking lot?" The Outback review would have read "Why are you eating here when there's a Sizzler across the street?"
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2013-10-09 13:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As you know, M and I have pizza nearly every Friday night, cycling through about a dozen different local pizza joints. About every two months, no matter where we're dining, our order takes longer than usual and regularly we are comped the next larger size pizza (take home!!) or something else. It's almost like clockwork. We're convinced even the best places have bad nights.

Also, having worked in food service in a very distant past life, M points out that service can be worse in general during slow times and, for some reason, people tend to be more on their game when a place is busy. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that as we get older and tend to eat earlier and earlier.
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