When it comes to writing off a restaurant, it takes remarkably little to put most diners in a vindictive mood. A cold greeting, a bad seat, a less-than-sparkling restroom: Any of a hundred such oversights can ruin a restaurant visit for deservedly picky guests.
As for myself, though, I’m usually more tolerant – jaded, perhaps, by constant restaurant going, to the point that I often shrug off the “small stuff,” focusing instead on the big pictures of food quality and service. ...
Still, last week’s lunch stop at the 100th Bomb Group www.100thbgrestaurant.com, the WWII-themed banquet facility and restaurant at 20920 Brookpark Road, across from Hopkins International Airport, reminded me of how easily the small stuff can become a big headache. One tiny miscalculation on the part of a hostess – namely, sticking me at a crummy table – was all it took to leave a bitter taste in my mouth, a niggling sense of disappointment and dissatisfaction that lingered long after my wallet had been put away.
Not that the space immediately suggests warm fuzzies. A corporately owned behemoth, the 22,000-square-foot party center features five private banquet rooms, plus a main public dining room seating 230, giving it cold, impersonal air. In fact, the first thing guests come across upon entering is the catering Sales Office, and racks filled with glossy promotional brochures.
But if the vibe tipped toward the institutional, at least the WWII-themed décor and the view of the airport promised to provide some diversion. Too bad, then, that I was ushered directly to one of the worst seats in the house -- a dark, enclosed booth tucked into the back corner of the lounge, about as far away from the windows as possible.
Limited view, few diversions, plus I was right beneath a television, with golf blaring in my ears. And, as it turned out, I was also the only actual diner in the room, the rest of my15 or so companions apparently preferring to drink their lunches. So while the friendly bartender tried her best to get to my table, she was usually too swamped to step away from the bar.
Beyond the sheer tedium, the upshot of the ultra-slow service was that once my food finally did arrive, it was cold. That goes for the otherwise not-bad beer cheese soup that had grown a rubbery, viscous skin, and a decent pot-roast sandwich that showed up in a pool of congealing jus.
An after-lunch foray into the dining room just deepened the mystery of why I had been stuck in the bar. While the enormous room contained both lunchers and an attentive service team, it also held plenty of empty two-tops near the windows, providing prime viewing of the Hopkins’ airfield.
Why didn’t I get one of them
, I whined to myself, feeling thoroughly put-upon, unloved, and disregarded. It was the kind of black mood that usually lasts until a miffed diner can vent to all of his or her friends – either in person or, more often, by way of a blog entry, where the bitching can reach hundreds of potential diners.
In retrospect, I can accept that my bad treatment was probably “just one of those things” – a decision made by the hostess without any particular forethought or intention. Still, even a modicum of consideration on her part could have prevented it, making an enormous difference in the quality of my visit, and influencing the likelihood that I might ever return.
Beyond demonstrating how easily a small blip can snowball into an avalanche of ill will, though, such episodes also should serve as wakeup calls to management. If you own or operate an eatery, remember: Snubbed customers don’t return – and they tell all their friends. Cultivating a consistent culture of customer care among your staffers must be a top priority. Small things matter. Thoughtfulness counts. And when it comes to lobbing love grenades, a good table is da bomb.
--- Elaine T. Cicora
Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at clevescene.com.