Friday, January 06, 2006

Two Hours

Tonight's weekly dinner with Kerrie's family turned into a minor disaster in customer service. I promptly twisted it into a flawless demonstration of snobbery.

We went to Lucciano's Cafe in Londonderry, N.H. Kerrie's mother had called earlier in the afternoon and was told they didn't accept reservations after four o'clock. First come, first served. I suppose that's reasonable for a popular restaurant like Cheesecake Factory, which doesn't want to hold tables empty while throngs of would-be customers fill the lobby; but since there were only four other parties in Lucciano's 20-table dining room when we arrived, I think they might have been giving themselves too much credit. But whatever. We got a table, so we were fine.

The first page of the menu explained that Lucciano's was a "chef-owned restaurant," and asked for patience if entrées took longer to prepare. I'm not sure how one followed from the other; but it was one of those things that seemed charming at the time — and ominous in hindsight.

We got drinks, and the waitress took our orders; mine was bruschetta and chicken cacciatore, both without cheese. About ten minutes later, the waitress comes back to explain the chef "doesn't want" to make bruschetta without cheese. "The mozzarella kind of holds it all together," she said. Ohh-kay. So instead, I told her, I'd have the beef stew from the specials menu. She agreed.

We had arrived at the restaurant at 6:30; our appetizers were delivered to our table at exactly 7:17. Along with my beef stew, Kerrie had ordered caprese; her parents didn't get appetizers. So it took the kitchen 47 minutes to spoon stew into a bowl and slice a tomato onto a plate.

It was 8:00 before our dinners arrived. The waitress brought Kerrie something entirely different from what she had ordered. My "chicken cacciatore," described in the menu as a breast of chicken served over a bed of pasta, peppers, and onions, was a bowl of penne and bite-sized chunks of chicken overflowing with marinara sauce — and cheese.

It was another ten minutes before our dinners were fixed, by which time her parents had finished eating. Frankly, nothing had arrived together. You'd think a waitress could balance a tray with four plates; at worst, she could deliver four dinners in two trips. Nope. She carried each dinner out individually, slowly, a few minutes apart. Keep in mind, during our meal the restaurant remained less than half-full with two other waiters working tables. This wasn't a crowded, bustling, Friday night dining room. They weren't swamped. They just sucked.

The kicker was the bill. I've seen fewer mistakes at chain restaurants and watched management trip over each other to apologize and then compensate by knocking items off the check. If this had happened at the Outback, the entire dinner — everything except the alcohol — would have been comped. The bill would have been $15, and I would have left a hefty tip. But here, nothing was comped. Not the appetizers. Not the entrées. They didn't even offer a dessert.

I figured most of the blame belonged to the chef/owner/slacker. I was inclined to leave our waitress a decent tip; but I certainly didn't intend to pay full price for that train wreck of a meal, so I called her over. I explained my objections, having waited 45 minutes each for appetizers and dinner; and I figured she would comp two of our entrées to cover her tip. Instead, she looked at me and said, " wasn't 45 minutes."

I suddenly flashed back. A few years ago, I got out of my car at a stop sign. The woman driving behind me had been tailgating for several miles, and I told her to back off. She shouted that I had been driving 20 miles an hour and that I should speed up. Now, anyone who has ever driven with me will snicker at the idea of me driving slowly; I've got the speeding tickets to prove it. I had been doing 45, and I couldn't help laughing at this woman. Why would you lie about something like that? It's like a kid lying to his mommy about stealing from the cookie jar: We both know who ate the cookies. Why would you bother lying about it?

I looked at this waitress and I saw that woman. Sure, I could have argued. We were a table of four; and we had been watching the clock, annoyed, throughout dinner. We knew damn well how long we had been there; it was ridiculous to hear her insist otherwise, and it might have been amusing to watch her squirm. But that's the difference between me and every other arrogant sonofabitch in the world.

I walked away.

I just turned and walked away from her. She asked if I wanted to speak with the manager; I said no. She mumbled she'd bring him out anyway, and she did; I brushed him away. "I'm done," I said. "Good night." I paid the bill, and we left. The total was $81.82. I left $82.

I don't mind having a reputation as a prick. But I have friends who behave that way just to behave that way, just to stir trouble because it amuses them; and that's not what makes me tick. Kerrie's mother still wanted to argue about it; she couldn't believe the waitress would question something like that. I told her to forget about it. That's what separates a true snob from a garden variety prick, I said. "She wasn't worth my time."


At January 07, 2006 2:28 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

And for the record: When I say "our dinners were fixed," I mean that Kerrie got what she ordered and mine was remade without cheese. It was still a bowl of pasta with chopped meat — which isn't chicken cacciatore, even notwithstanding their own menu description. It's like those restaurants that claim to offer "steak sandwiches," then serve you a slab of London broil on a sub roll. A steak sandwich consists of shaved steak; and if you don't understand that, you shouldn't serve it. If you think chicken cacciatore is a hot pasta salad with bits of chicken and tomato sauce, then you need to get out of the Italian food business and go pump gas.


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