Is there a right time to complain while seated at a restaurant? Many owners and managers will make the blanket statement, “if you have an issue at a restaurant, then, while you’re at the restaurant, when the incident happens, is the right time to bring it up to management so they can remedy the situation”. What if you bring the incident up to the server and the manager seemed aware, but never approached the table to ensure the customer returns another day?

A similar incident happened just the other night. Finally, another son turned 21, so it’s now up to Mom and Dad to take him and the family out for dinner. Tonight’s choice was Sublime Ale House in San Marcos’s famous Restaurant Row near San Diego, CA. What all seemed to be going smoothly for the first 10 minutes turned horribly wrong once the food was ordered.

Ensuring each of the family members arrived at our house so my wife could play designated driver caused us to get a slower than normal start on our evening. We arrived as a party of 8 without reservations on this Tuesday evening following the MLK weekend. Seating was not a problem with the many picnic style benches and tables. I had disappeared momentarily while our server Dave dropped off the menus. A quick glance at the menu upon my return, I had discovered that most everyone seemed ready to order once Dave had arrived again after about another 5 minutes. Dave took our drink order and placed it in the POS. Soon thereafter, Dave returned to start the dinner order. I ordered a couple of pizzas for the table and there were a variety of sandwiches and salads ordered as well. Dave disappeared and our drinks started to roll in about 15 minutes after the entrées were ordered, just as we began to wonder why the pizza holders were already out but no beverages, except a couple waters and the beer that was ordered before the main party was seated.Sublime1

Moments later the drinks arrived. After we began to taste our beers, a call from the table came, “hey, we should’ve ordered appetizers”. I told my son that the pizzas should be here any moment . . . but we kept waiting, without any follow-up from Dave, and thinking the soup should have also showed up by now, unless it was fired at the same time as the regular entrées. Timing this evening was seeming beginning to falter.

Well, we finally got our three large pizzas. We finally got our drinks about 20 minutes into seating and our pizzas as the appetizer about 30 minutes after seating, just about the time we began to wonder of their whereabouts (20 minutes is good). Then each of us at the table began to wonder where the entrées were hiding since each of us at the table already had two slices of pizza each (about 45 minutes in). Just as we began to wonder, the entrées began to arrive. My son’s Prosciutto and Egg burger was served just above room temperature and seemed as if it was meant for another table under the heat lamp. Considering the wait time for turnaround, my son decided to eat what he was served. Yes his fries were also cold, but crunchy. He even said they were the best french fries he has ever had. Dunno, about that one???

We didn’t immediately complain. Looking back, I feel my complaint about a burger seemed small in comparison to the fact that our table had now consumed every one of their beverages including most of the water on the table. I didn’t notice this happening, but I did notice that my beer was empty and I was finishing my water. I asked if anyone had ordered another drink and the answer was, “No, no one came by”. Just as I was finishing my water, I began to slurp in the general direction of another server who came over to check on our drinks. I saw our particular server around and was surprised there were no other drink orders taken.

I pointed out the table status to Chris and explained that no one has been by to top off water or take another drink order. I also told Chris to order another round of drinks complimentary of Sublime, because that was a clear service failure . . . and to get water out as well. I then saw our server and explained that our table went without drink for some time. He dropped off what was in his hand and immediately came over to start taking another drink order. I told Dave that Chris had already taken our order but had not refilled our water in the meantime. Even the water took a long time . . . WTF? Speaking of that; I didn’t have serviceware and asked my wife if there was any available. She said the table was told, there was no more and he’d (don’t know who) be back with more. Anyway, I ate my pizza with what I got from the bar.

Well, our second round of drinks finally arrived as did the water, now making its way to the table. I told Dave and Chris, and they must have talked with the Manager, to keep our drinks full (meaning mostly water and sodas) for the remainder of our stay. At one point, I believe it may have been the Manager approached the table after eye-balling me and asked very simply, “So, . . . are we going to be ordering any more drinks?” Our collective answer was, “no”, and he left. No other mention about our tab, or our food or our drinks.

Sublime2The check arrives and it was calculated properly without the addition of a second round of beers. I gave the server a $20 tip on a $175 bill. Hopefully he understands his was not good service. I hope Sublime also understands that they have a service problem. Just read any number of posts and Yelps about them. As I read some of those Yelps; and if I remember correctly, Sublime has a significant history of slow service, but this was Tuesday night and the restaurant was only about 60% full. My previous visit also resulted in significant service delays, like . . . really long waits between drink order, food order, drink arrival, food arrival. Perhaps it’s part of their business service plan . . . to draw more drinks out of the customers . . . but then why did our drinks go empty? And, then they had a problem bringing water as an interim. I really just don’t think they have their service structure set up properly. It was very bad service. Then to top it off, if the Manager knew there was a service problem, why didn’t that Manager approach MY table to ensure this customer returns. I hope that manager realizes our $175 cover could have been much closer to a $300 cover should the extra round of drinks been calculated in and possibly another (3rd) round for some of us. I really hope Dave realizes his tip could have been closer to $60 or more for exceptional service and a total bill properly calculated to include the comp’ed drinks.

So my question still remains; Am I wrong not to bring up this evening’s failures to the Manager to allow him/her to rectify the situation, better ensuring I return someday to spend another $300? Nonsense, that Manager (weak! , in my opinion) knew about the situation, because the Manager would have to have approved the full table of comp’ed drinks. Then why didn’t the Manager approach me? I think, if I was the manager, would have ensured I (as the customer) returned, especially knowing that I have another son yet entering the food and now “drinking” world.

Do I think this is another case of a restaurant expanding ahead of themselves? Perhaps. Sublime Ale House now has an off-branch called Sublime Tavern (Summer, 2013) located in Del Mar, CA. I have not yet visited the new joint, and I may not anytime soon. Unfortunately, quality of customer experience is what has dropped. I know that Sublime has a good concept . . . but, if you can’t continuously bring quality to that customer, I can only expect the new place may soon close. We’ll see.

Dicks

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