The best popcorn – FOR-EV-ER!!!

I still laugh when I hear the kids from Sandlot say that “for-ev-er”. It’s almost classic ’cause when you say it once in conversation, seemingly every one picks up on it or recognizes the classic movie then the conversation begins about classic movies etc.forever

When we talk about classic movies, I have to take you back into time for a short tour of a great movie house. This movie house would be by all definition a classic “big house” movies theater, although probably never filling itself to capacity unless it perhaps has hosted some of the best USO-type performances or perhaps benefit shows for our Marines. bob hope 1And speaking of USO shows, this movie house pays special attention to one of the USO’s all time recognizable guest/ performers. The name of the theater is The Bob Hope Theater on board MCAS Miramar.

This theater has been recently used by talents such as Brad Paisley, Adam Lambert and Ryan Reynolds.bob hope 2 bob hope 3 bob hope 4 I have personally sat through many-o’-lecture sitting in this theater; yet I have never had the opportunity to be served from their concession area. I even learned that during certain performances, the theater will open up the secondary bob hope 5concession area for the sale of beer and other alcoholic treats. Today I got a behind-the-scenes look at the operation. Bob Hope Theater offers this note on it’s capable facility, “The Bob Hope Theater shows movies five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday, and matinees on Thursday and Sunday. The films are current and often are still showing at local, off-base theaters. They are presented on a giant 20′ by 40′ screen in 21-speaker Dolby Sound.” They are now even showing 3D shows to keep up with the times. The concessions are available during the shows and I was told . . . “one of the only theaters still serving REAL butter” on their popcorn. Why do they pay tribute to Bob Hope . . . duh! READ:

I had a fun visit behind the scenes. If you can get on base and check out a show, I suggest you do so. It may be the only time you’ll get a chance in this lifetime to have real butter on your popcorn.



Did I really eat the best burger . . . cause I just got a “woody” !

Woodys-top-logo1Met up with a new burger joint in the San Diego (Miramar) area. Woody’s Burgers recently set up shop along Miramar Road in a previous location once inhabited by Boll Weevil and the more recent Bangin’ Burgers.

My first and foremost question is, “What makes Woody’s think THEY can survive?” I don’t know the whole story with the other two previous restaurants and their relationship with the owners of the property, the terms of their lease or the success of their business’. All I do know is that Boll Weevil had over a dozen locations in San Diego since 1967 and are now only five franchises strong. (, 2013) I remember the reason we used to eat at the various Boll  Weevils throughout the county was the good sized burger served up basically plain and the onion, pickles and other condiments including jalapeno’s were on the table for you to build your own. It was, at the time, a somewhat unique experience.

So I met the owner of Woody’s at a promotional booth set up in support of the Marines’  start of their summer season. miramar event1This is an on-base event to promote summer activity safety and awareness. I too was involved with a promotinal booth at the event. miramar event2Woody’s was promoting the openeing of their restaurant just outside the gate of MCAS Miramar in hopes to draw a significant following from the 2000 sample burgers they provided for the event. I asked the owner about the inspiration for the name. He gave some far-fetched story that “Woody” was just a nick-name shortened from his last name. Yeah right, probably carefully designed so CritDicks like me would use the name to explain what we just ate, “I just got a Woody”.

Whatever his motivation, his team at the event was preparing flat-grilled cheese covered thick burger samples on top of two leaves of butter lettuce (I’m impressed already) with a squirt of house special 1000 islands dressing.Woodys The dressing was good, I’m not sure about the burger itself because it was cooked well done (probably a safe measure); but it was still juicy, I just didn’t get much of the flavor. That aside, it’s a lot to be dropping for the promotional opportunity to make a first impression. I kept asking everyone that attended the event with me if they thought the burger was good. It rested at a 50% approval. 1/2 thought it was good and 1/2 thought it was lacking. But “Woody” was handing out 2 for 1 promotional coupons so we’ll really give ’em a try in their restaurant. I’m guessing real soon. I think they had the promo thing down. Get the customer in the store! Even if you break even with the food costs, you have an opportunity to win a long-time customer. Woody also claims to have brought the jazz and karaoke music idea with him from his first store in Palm Springs. A bit confusing on the website action since their Miramar location doesn’t seem to pop on Google to well. They have a nice looking site but perhaps a bit confusing. I’ve looked at both their Palm Springs site and the Miramar site multiple times and, as of this writing, I can’t positively tell you if and when they have the music. Maybe I had distractions. Ok, I went back and I’m still confused about the entertainment thing after another brief website visit, but what I did find is a large host of San Diego brewery drafts on tap. I definitely think he could keep in the game if he can “tap” into this crowd.

burger loungeWoody further explained to me that his burger had outperformed Burger Lounge in a recent local competition. Woody claims his burger finished second place and Burger Lounge finshed 4th. You see I just recently ate at Burger Lounge and thought them to be quite tasty and the restaurant experience to be unique for a variety of reaons, possibly to be mentioned later. But what stands out in my mind about Burger Lounge is when we went to visit them a couple weeks ago and since we were unaware of how to get to the La Jolla location, we happened upon their delivery truck . . .  Now stopped at a traffic signal and being the consummate environmental stewards we are we paid close attention; because just as the delivery truck made the left turn in front of us, we saw the side door swing open and an empty crate and 5-gallon jug of deep fate fryer oil fly out of the door and slide across the street. Just as I was able to get my phone ready, he began to pull over as we were passing him. So, although the Burger Lounge burger (I actually had the Lamb “special”, I have a thing for Lamb) was very good, I didn’t have their “regular” beef burger, so I really can’t compare.

Not to be out done, half way through the event I had to go to a small going away party at my office in which the meal that was being served was In-N-Out Burgers. So now which did I feel had the most merit?IN-N-OUT_BURGEr

Of the three I’m writing about, Burger Lounge . . . I did not try the beef burger . . . out!

Woody’s . . . I didn’t really have an entire burger . . . out!

So that leaves one of my favorite . . . In-N-Out . . . winner! I’m going to say consistently a winner. Such a simple menu done successfully.IN-N-OUT_BURGER_MENU_BOARD

I know I can go to an In-N-Out and get what I’m expecting; and since they are almost everywhere now, I’m going with them . . . for now. This battle may be continued at any time and entail other burger joints as well . . . I’m already thinking the ol’ standby Carls Junior.

So if you get a chance in Palm Springs or San Diego . . . ,

Woodys-top-logo1get yourself a Woody.


Oh Mother, that guy looks like me!

Have you recently been to any one of those Teppanyaki style eateries similar to, and probably the most famous name, Benihana? Seems they may have lost their touch with the experience of what used to be a fun time for the family or just a night of food mixed with entertainment. I thought the whole idea was to have an entertaining show along with the meal. It’s supposed to be fun! Don’t they realize we (the patron) have seen the stupid onion volcano many times before. Come up with a new shtick. And find some entertainers that can get the crowd (table) excited!

A recent visit to Shogun in San Marcos, CA was no exception to the boring and ordinary. It’s not that I need to single this particular restaurant out, seems that the last several visits over the last several years (probably 6 visits over the last 10 years) to either of Shogun, Benihana or Hichizuki in Escondido has proven this point. I don’t know, maybe our table keeps getting the new guy just out of training, because I would always hear one of the other tables nearby applauding loudly or laughing loudly at some point during their show, but not our table . . . not our table for the last 6 trips in the last 10 years. I want to say that maybe it’s the non-Asian performer (usually a Mexican cook). Maybe it’s because we were not liquored up enough. Maybe the cook was not liquored up enough.

This recent trip to Shogun for Mother’s Day had the cook demonstrating the same boring show with the same boring performanceShogun. He was laughing at his own jokes; and I think, perhaps, he was just laughing at our sorry “gringo” asses. I especially like the table behind the cook in the picture also being Asian and going to this place to have a Mexican cook their Japanese meal for them. I wonder if they realize this guy is not Japanese. Think about it!


SiriusXM, Seriously? And yes, I’m on an experience kick right now.

siriusI have not been seeing all of my favorite channels on my SiriusXM Internet On-line radio lately. Seems they have changed things up yet once again. I waited a couple of days because their internet site says they are changing channel line-up and the changes will be complete 9 May. Well it’s now 10 May. Time to call someone. Of course my first call is received by some off-shore customer service rep, to no avail, they only understand one thing, “I’ll send a refresh signal”. Sheesh! “It’s not the radio/satellite signal you dumb-ass, it’s the internet service”, I repeatedly tell them. “Ok thanks”, I just hang up. Useless!!!Lilly-Tomlin

So then,  I go to an on-line chat with yet another off-shore stenographer or professional word processing agent. I barely get two words out and they just processed six sentences of text at me, all probably while sitting in their old draperies while sipping Yoda Tea from a ceramic straw somewhere in the Middle Under-World.

For crying-out-loud, can I get someone to just change all of my shit back the way it was? Part of my inspirations for this CritDicks venting outreach is having my mind jumbled by internet radio from the stations I’m used to listening to on SiriusXM.

Here’s an embellished  letter I wrote to SiriusXM Radio this morning:

angry-customer“I have been dissatisfied with the services provided by SiriusXM for the past couple of years. I have had XM, then Sirius, then SiriusXM. I know it can’t be easy when a merger happens and organizing the various accounts, but it all started with separate billing. That was a pain. Trying to communicate with two different companies with the same name.

Program changes have again made things difficult. Every time things change, my service changes and I have to get a new login. Now I have to change my password. This last week, I was disconnected from certain channels through my Internet option so I had to change that to my Sirius account. Then I got a new login again. Now I have to change my password again. Yeah I know I should be able to change it all again once I log in. Yeah, you tell that to my Android smartphone that won’t recognize my account changes until I uninstall and reinstall the application. Do you think I don’t have anything else to do but play with my SiriusXM accounts? Oh and don’t forget the new 8-character passwords that require a CAP, a lower-case, a special character and a number. Did you ever think of the placement on the smart keyboard v a QWERTY keyboard and then a ten-key. Try remembering and figuring out the login ID and passwords on the different devices every time you want to listen after they change the software push again. I need a stiff drink!

If this seems like I’m ranting and complaining, I am. This is a case of utter customer dissatisfaction. This customer’s experience is lousy. I’m not happy and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Don’t even get me started with the off-shore customer service representatives.dr-evil

What is SiriusXM going to commit to me and the other SiriusXM customers that will better ensure we have an excellent customer experience?

If you folks at SiriusXM need some guidance and training on how to manage and better the customer experience, let me know. That’s what I do.

Oh, please do me a favor and only write back if you have something that’s going to make me happy and better my customer experience . . . otherwise don’t bother. I will probably just go away someday and talk bad about your company and its monopoly on quality radio communication.”

Yeah I know, I’m not really a professional  customer experience manager, but I did just stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!


Merchandising Food and the Service Industry – yup another school project!

Visually Merchandising Food Service

I guess one of the first things I should probably do is explain the criteria for visual merchandising, or the industry of visually merchandising. Wikipedia explains visual merchandising as “the activity and profession of developing the floor plans and three-dimensional displays in order to maximize sales”. Wiki continues to identify visual merchandising as, “Both goods or services can be displayed to highlight their features and benefits. The purpose of such visual merchandising is to attract, engage and motivate the customer towards making a purchase.” Now I know that I can’t really use Wikipedia, “the most trusted source of information on the internet” in a research paper, but I do like their definition. It’s pretty spot on!  Another definition identifies a slightly different approach in that, “The use and manipulation of attractive sales displays and retail floor plans to engage customers and boost sales activity. In visual merchandising, the products being sold are typically displayed in such as way as to attract consumers from the intended market by drawing attention to the product’s best features and benefits”. (Buisness, 2013)image015image021 image011

Once I decided I was going to identify visual merchandising successes, failures and opportunities for the gourmet food truck industry, I quickly became frustrated at the lack of merchandising space available to these guys . . .and gals. For the purposes of this paper, the first thing I noticed is that the food truck theory really didn’t afford much along the lines of visual merchandising except for their image, their colors used in the paint scheme and the menu boards provided to their customers only on the side of the order window. image009There were few actual merchandising areas that the trucks, already limited on space, could use to merchandise products for sale. There does seem to be one area that I remember often times overlooked on the food trucks. The area I’m referring to is the area of the hot coffee and water dispenser. It’s a small area, and seemingly each truck owner wants to do something with the hot holding area, yet I have yet to see if anyone actually has effectively used it.

image018Looking around on the internet at other opportunities with the merchandising available to the food trucks reveals just an absolutely abundant amount of, 1) different layouts and types of trucks available; 2) the ingenuous visual merchandising with paint schemes, colors and graphics; and 3) there are tremendously gifted merchandisers on some of the trucks out there that are not only displaying products, but have employed adaptive lighting for some of their displays, televisions with videos or the “big game’ on and dynamic audio systems providing incredible overall experiences for the customer while waiting under the flip-up canopy to get a bite at their gourmet masterpiece. image020Some of the gourmet food truck owners have seemingly even hired professional decorators, designers or even “visual merchandisers to masterfully execute the overall customer experience, better enticing them to make the big purchase. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

image013One thing I do know is that the combination of words “visual merchandising” and the words “food truck” produces very few decent examples on the internet. Almost as if no-one has actually thought about the two ideas in the same sentence. A deeper plunge into the internet reveals a much more diverse offering of ideas and truck-owner execution of visual merchandising is rampant through the food trucks . . . I think maybe I just don’t get out enough! When I typed in just “food truck”, I was able to find an infinite number of excellent examples of quality visual merchandising techniques and methods employed by the various owners of these trucks around the planet. Some are really good!

image027image030image025image023Part of the visual merchandising package of “drawing attention” to the food being sold begins with the overall look of the food truck paint scheme or motive. The first attraction could very well be the customer perceiving the thought “that just looks good”. Some of the elaborate paint schemes or using the latest advances in “”pressure sensitive adhesive films” can actually transform a rusty clunker used “roach coach” into a gourmet gastro delicacy in a matter of hours, displaying the premium look of expertly merchandised food on the side of these rolling kitchens. The first step in visual merchandising is getting the customer to take notice!

In comparison, I had to again look at food establishments. I found several in which to select from for this comparison. Seemingly I felt obligated to give each of them their fair shake if I was to be comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges (get it foodie?). I decided to look at the visual merchandising in fast-food establishments, taking some not-so-known establishments, looking closely at what they are using and how they are “attracting, enticing and motivating” the buyer into making a purchase. I then looked closely at some very well known fast food eateries, considered to be world industry leaders and saw the way they do things . . .  the right way!

Let’s first look at where these establishments are located, because in my opinion, it makes a difference because 1) the patrons are a concentrated demographic with known purchasing habits; 2) the patrons are somewhat restricted in their purchasing power because of their location; and 3) the customer almost invariably decides fast food is the way to go for lunch selections.

image032The first establishment I looked at was the latest addition of a Mexican fast food eatery on the MCAS Miramar military installation. I was told their food was “pretty good”. Well my intuition says I’ll probably check them out someday in the next 10 years . . . no hurry. A quick visit to check out what would entice me to buy revealed minimal counter-side enticements of . . . well, nothing! What I found was some signage with their name on it, some flames on the bottom and a couple of very common American gringo type of menu items listed. Ok, I think I’ll give myself an additional 10 years before I check them out. Something obviously missing here!

The next place I checked out was right next door in the same food court area. Now, just before I continue on, this is the kind of stuff us military get handed to us. Ok, the food might be ok, but no research goes into some of these fly-by-night businesses to ensure they are going to be putting their best foot forward for our military. They somehow got a bid in on the contract, and won.

So the second stop was a new sushi shop just 20 feet to the left.  image034            What I found was minimal counter-side enticements for the customer to make choices from, or from which enticed the customer to partake in the dining pleasures of the establishment.   What I found with Win Sushi was creative lighting and color schemes that make the customer feel as though they are getting authentic Japanese sushi, only this time the cuisine is from the refrigerated sales case at the front of the store. The additional refrigerator in the back houses some popular standard sodas and other soft drinks, though they are creatively displayed in the standard Coke refrigerator (NOT!)  Between the two “no-name” establishments, I really found no sign of effective visual merchandising, not even any creatively displayed food items or pictures of their food. I didn’t research either of these establishments to see if they have any other locations or if they even have a website. So, for the purposes of this research, I am just passing through.

I’m very glad I pursued this study as I did, and in the sequence I pursued; because now, not only does this make sense, I can better understand the effectiveness of good visual merchandising.

Next stop is yet still within the same food court on the base. Now stop for a moment and think back to when you were in a Subway. Close your eyes and visualize what you saw. Visualize what products are being displayed that backs their menu. What items do you remember being on sale? Do you remember the $5 dollar Foot Long? Maybe you remember the television or radio advertisement and never been to the actual Subway. What I found is how the visual merchandising of the world’s 2nd largest fast food enterprise does their merchandising, and in the visual sense of the realm.image040image042image046image044

image036Upon visiting Subway I immediately identified about 6 different menu items of menu items combinations I desired. I was inundated with choices from which to select; chips, bread types, combo meals and cookies. Everything to make my wallet shrink and increase my awareness of immediately available items and promotions.image038

A quick stop to Subway could not have been any more complete without an equally invasive photo session at the leader world-wide for fast food. Yes they are on the bases here as well. They are everywhere . . . McDonalds!image048

McDonalds has a similar approach to their visual merchandising as Subway in that getting the product in front of the customer so it becomes an option, an instinctive choice to fulfill the emptiness in the belly. Colors, sounds, interactive is the name of McDonalds nowadays. First of all, McDonalds has changed their look even before you get inside.

image051As far as visual merchandising, I saw every imaginable opportunity grasped as the logos, advertisements and products were being displayed in every imaginable corner of the restaurant, like the small banner along the wall behind the kid display luring the customer to try an “irresistible cool” drink or smoothie.. The carefully placed high chair, just in case you need it and “whoops”, you saw the sign and now you’re hungry for one of them . . . and don’t forget the kids toy or promotion on the same sign. Hah! Get ‘em from all angles!

This visit to the Big Mac house must’ve been my lucky day as it appeared to be “McWRAP” promotion month. I saw every conceivable advertisement and visual merchandising element touched in this store. What, . . . am I supposed to be thinking “healthy”.?  They pulled out every stop! They were even visually merchandising them on TV . . . and with fake vegetables (that’s another story all together).image055

image053They even had these things hanging from the ceiling.

One thing I learned from all of this is creativity and persistence. Visual merchandising is about getting the product in front of the customer . . . heck, put it in their hand already! It’s especially obvious that the big companies have it figured out. Time for the small kids to get off the swing set! “I want a McWRAP .  .  . NOW!!!”


Works Cited

“What is visual merchandising? definition and meaning.” – Online Business Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2013. <;.

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Winner! Winner! . . . Big Shrimp Dinner! Cinco De Mayo 2013.

What do you get if you win? . . . . . . . .     (The Tubes) “Well, you can’t have that, but if you’re an American citizen you are entitled to: a new Matador, a new mastodon, a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego, a Mercury Montclair, a Mark IV, a meteor, a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu, a Mazda, a new Monza, or a moped, a Winnebago–Hell, a herd of Winnebago’s we’re giving ’em away, or how about a McCulloch chainsaw, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce, a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot, or a baby’s arm holding an apple”. . .

cinco-de-mayo-pilot-petesCinco De Mayo, 2013 in Carlsbad, really may have challenged many restaurants, especially those serving and catering to the big traditional Mexican/American celebration by being associated with Mexican fair and flair during this wonderful day. And a wonderful day it was in Carlsbad, CA. Today we challenged the folks at Casa De Bandini with our group of 9. We knew we were going to be a hard seat especially showing up around 7pm with this large group without reservations. We thought WE were going to be challenged!casa-de-bandini-logo-web

We were immediately seated in the outdoor bar area and the server helped secure us a spot and closed off access to us since we had dropped an all out assault on the bar area. He closed the gate so others wouldn’t try to cross our party. He did all of that without asking. We were told by the greeters that we were in for a 45 minute wait. We thought that was a stretch. we actually thought it was going to longer. To our surprise, we just barely got our drink order delivered and our buzzer went off . . . in like 20 minutes.

Casa De Bandini has been around for a few years, Like maybe hundreds (not really) since they started out in Old Town, San Diego. They were known there for their larger than life margaritas and tantalizing renditions of Mexican favorites and authentic Bandini creations. Just before we sat for our dinner, I made my way around the very large newer facility. I had been to the restaurant when they were in Old Town, but had not visited since their move to Carlsbad. Carlsbad is a very nice restaurant. Very large (seats 475, inside and outside) and quite lavishly decorated with a beautiful outdoor dining garden. I met a gentleman named Salvador. I think he may have been the GM. He will from now on be known as the guy in the green shirt. He was very nice and welcoming. We spoke just momentarily about the facility.

We placed our orders and had some drinks. I was the DD tonight so I just had a few good straw-fuls of my wife’s 32oz giant strawberry margarita. Pretty darn good, but never enough tequila (my standard only). But a good drink. Another at our table ordered the Cincorita, a Strawberry, Mango and Melon layered margarita. That one was pretty good. A few shots later and everyone was feeling pretty good at our table, except me. I was still having a good time. Chips, dip and wife . . . I’m good! We all placed our order. The wife and I were craving shrimp so we ordered the Tequila-Lime Shrimp.

casa de bandini garden2This place was busy so we anticipated waiting a bit for our meal. Finally it came out and every service helper that brought plates out stopped by to ask me what I had, briefly attempting to place a plate in front of me. I said, “no, I ordered the Tequila-Lime Shrimp”. Finally everyone got served except me. ME? Really, . . . the Dick? Ok, the server said she’ll be right back with my plate . . . 5 minutes later she shows back up and says, “sorry, your order will be right out”. I was very patient. My wife was very concerned why I was so patient. I told her I took a Valium before we left . . . only kidding. I don’t know why I was so calm . . . maybe I felt bad for the staff, being such a busy day, I wanted to give them an opportunity to get it made and served. Obviously they missed it . . . shit happens. Me? Really, . . . the Dick? Finally I notice that everyone at the table has just now passed the 1/2-way point of their entrée’s. I said aloud to others at the table, “now”, is when the restaurant should feel obligated to make my experience right. Just as I said that, my plate arrived. A very plentiful plate of expertly prepared Tequila-Lime Shrimp, maybe 12 decent sized (13-15 count) served atop of their arroz Amarillo. I don’t know what was in that rice, but it tasted like a cilantro style sauce or almost Chimichurri style topping, minus the garlic. Absolutely delicious.  My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed that plate. Rare, cause I don’t normally get all hyped about shrimp, and they were actually cooked correctly, not tough or de bandini garden1

Well as the server presented my plate, I asked her politely to send the Manager. The guy in the green shirt (Manager) arrived and I again politely asked if he had been made aware that my plate was missed and it arrived later than the 1/2-way point of the meal. He acknowledged and asked if I he could buy me a drink. I told him, “I’m not drinking tonight, I am the DD tonight”. He said, “I’ll make it right”, and walked away. I don’t know what he said to whom, but now a guy in a blue shirt was speaking with the person at the end of the table, whom apparently slapped a credit card down for the meal. Turns out, Salvador (green shirt) had ordered taking $50 off the dinner for our table. Holy crap, we expected him to take my meal off, and maybe a couple of drinks, but $50. Wow!, That’s how you make it right. I even mentioned to another person at the table, as we were trying to guess what his (green shirt) next move was (e.g. comp dinner and desert), laughing about the flan. “Watch him bring a flan”, we laughed!

After the meal, as I was leaving, I again spoke with Salvador (green shirt) and thanked him for the “comp”, explaining that I didn’t expect it (that much), that I appreciated the gesture and that I’m leaving with a good experience (read – previous writing). Salvador said, “no problem, my job is to make sure you don’t come back again . . . but, again and again and again and again”. Wow, someone was paying attention during “customer experience” week. I told him I was very satisfied and I did have a great experience after all. I passed him my CritDicks card (you expect anything less?) and told him to read about how great this long-standing San Diego landmark did tonight. I think our entire table had a great time. Now, if my plate wasn’t as good as it was, I may have had a different story.

Hindsight – I look back at what the total cost was to the restaurant. We were originally faced with a $150 dollar bill without the first round of bar drinks (still a great value for 9 people). Green shirt took off $50. That’s still a profit margin of 50% over cost (assuming a 30% food cost, which should be slightly high). Maybe I just learned a valuable lesson from a service standpoint. I think I would’ve gone for the complimentary drink, then the desert, then the plate. I never took into account that the restaurant still made a 50 percent profit on their food cost; AND they’re going to get a lot more from me because “I’ll be back!” (Arnold).pinata

It really makes a difference when you have the customer in mind. Good job tonight!

I think today Casa De Bandini gets the big piñata.


Winner of the Blue Ribbon? Maybe I missed something . . .

I’m not too sure I caught all of the hoopla last night. I had an opportunity to check out a new joint that I had been recommended to and yet I have heard rave reviews from various other sources. I think I remember the reviews hyped the desert (butterscotch pudding) and left the remainder of the menu at “meh”.blue_ribbon_logo

I like pizza on Friday nights as do my kids . . . kinda’ sacrilege. I tried using the beautiful San Diego weather yesterday to my advantage, and take my 90yr old Mother and Father out for a special pizza night, to try a new place. We even left super early to try to get a patio seat so they wouldn’t have to hear all of the noise inside. You see, I have been wanting to try this place for some time, but have never trek’d (I forgot how far that distance really is) down the 5 freeway to Encinitas to see what I was missing. Just south along Hwy 1 (Pacific Coast Highway, or “PCH”), and exited the freeway on Encinitas Blvd, we found an open parking spot right in front of Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria. I even called ahead to try to get the inside scoop on seating and noise because of my folks. Blue Ribbon (I guess the name is taken after Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer) is a newer, very well decorated in-spot for beach go-er’s and wanna-be’s; seeking the artisan quality and fresh, local, sustainable ingredient compositions of this trendy gastro-pub style pizzeria.

blue ribbon 1What we hoped for, the outdoor seating, turned sour as we then were directed toward the inside “communal” table that sported bar-stool type seating at a raised table. Being seated next to another family of three, was different but not awkward. I began my evening in a bit of a tiff because I was hoping to have a relaxing opportunity outside vice the louder, more hectic environment inside. I was afraid the backless high barstools were not going to be easy for my mother. Turned out she was OK. Let’s talk just for a moment about “the environment”. Being a Friday night, I expect things are going to be busy. I said the décor  was very nice. Linen napkins and quality wine glasses. Then just what the heck are these mason jars. My 92 year old Father said the same thing, “what is this crap?”. “I guess that’s your water Dad”, I replied. “Humph . . . crap”, he grunted as he pushed it aside.blued ribbon4

We ordered a couple of appetizers. One was an Albacore Tuna, Avocado and Grapefruit Crudo . . . “What is a Crudo?”, my wife asks. I could not hear the server’s response above the inside customer chatter and the sub-par audio system butchering the classic rock playing in the background. Well the Crudo, seemed to be a blob of some sort . . . “fresh” is what Wikipedia has it. It was tasty, light and fresh. Perfect for these Moonlight Beach zombies. We also ordered the cheese and salumi platter. Again OK, but not really enough to share for 7 persons. We tasted it all and the presentation was acceptable. Ah . . . now for the pizzas.

We all ordered several pizzas. They are about 12 inches and baked in a stone oven. Nicely charred along the edges “artisan” style. The young server that delivered the pizzas had several in his hands. We ordered four pizzas and our original server had only put out two of those pizza rack thingy’s that hovers the pizza above tabled salads, drinks and sodas. The young delivery boy quickly placed whatever pizza he had, calling it out, “Father’s”, and placing on an open rack above the tabled drinks. Once we had a moment to think about who ordered it and grabbed it to hand it down, the server quickly called the next pizza, “Classic”, then placed it in the now open rack spot. This continued for all four pizzas until the server had none left to call out. He served them all to us in about 8 seconds. He didn’t seem to care if they ended up near who ordered them, or if they were safe. He saw the open rack and called out another, “Blue Ribbon”. We’re all now trying to hand the right pizza to the correct person. The server just kinda assures himself while looking over his shoulder, that through all of the table mêlée, he could now depart the pattern. Sure enough, one of the pizza’s goes down. The 12 inch pan size just barely has enough surface area to stay on that rack thingy, and we’re now eating one of ’em off of the table.

I started in a tiff, now the shitty sounding audio system was annoying me as it seemed to get louder with the loud music passages and quieter with the softer musical passages. I just ate my pizza and happed to pay attention to the couple and child next to us now attempting to pay their tab. “Uh sorry, we don’t accept American Express”, the server said. The guy looked just about as annoyed as I at the music. He resolved his issue by breaking out the back-up credit card. He even made a comment, “I guess there’s now two places that don’t accept American Express”. That was a pretty harsh comment, in my opinion, because they seemed to like their meal, but it also must’ve been their first experience at Blue Ribbon. If we talk about experiences, I guess I would have to say that I wasn’t having much of a good “guest experience” either. The food wasn’t bad. In fact, it was all tasty . . . just not “over the top” for me to take notice. Just the whole experience left me hangin’.blue ribbon2

So . . . , what is being hailed as “the best butterscotch pudding anywhere” was now being offered to us as the follow-on desert recommendation. I asked, what . . ., if any, other deserts are availa . . . , I was shot down before it even came out of my mouth, “Nope, that’s all”. Dang, although the butterscotch pudding was very good . . . not great, I was hoping to have a couple more items to try the waters before we paid our tab. Speaking of which, I placed my credit card with the receipt on the table for the server. It stayed there for a good 10 minutes. My mother was getting antsy so we all got up and walked out. Well, 90 year olds don’t move really fast. We finally got outside and then my wife came out after signing a good 5 minutes after. Well, when we left, the place was not as full as when we went in, so I don’t know what took so long about finalizing payment. That final impression left me empty. They had that moment to try to salvage my “less than” good customer experience for the night. I left, and I probably won’t return unless I happen to be sunbathing along the Encinitas shores, or my boat runs aground and there’s just nowhere else to eat.  Food, was better than OK. Service, was better than OK.

I guess this place has been open since 2010. They probably made a great initial impression on the food scene. They reaped their rewards, then it now appears they are opening another restaurant in the local area once again. Perhaps, and I’ve heard many stories of this occurring, is that Blue Ribbon’s popularity grew rapidly enough to make them standout and allowed them to open another eatery, that it had left some gaps in the service quality and what the customer experiences in the previous location. Well that previous location is here . . . tonight!

sinking ship

Unfortunately this customer’s experience gets a sinking cruise liner and a fistful of tea bags.

Foodietea bags

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