Project: Walkout

Project: Walkout

This is a very personal post. Personal in the sense that when I am out on a limited budget and willing to spend my money, I expect to be treated not with royalty, but the same common respect I give everyone who does not even owe me a dime for smiling and holding open a door.

I don’t use and refuse to use sites that intentionally harm businesses, large or small with unregulated reviews of any kind.  I often find that sites which welcome opinions are often a mix of people over praising a place that you know is not legitimate, or the mean-spirited blogger who just feels a need to do some harm because they are otherwise helpless in their own lives and only can wield their power hidden behind a firewall of an internet connection with no recourse from reality.

Personally I am at a point in my life where I hate drama, negativity and just prefer to move on when I had a poor dining experience.  When I write, I want it to be out of happiness, not out of resentment because I simply do not want to relive the experience. But something I will forget is how I was treated in spite of any dining establishment’s shortcomings.  Its called hospitality.  It is a simple as this: You cannot exist in the hospitality business if you cannot be hospitable.  If you are in the business as hospitality, you must be hospitable.  I worked in retail before the internet was even a household item and rule #1 is whenever someone walks into your store you acknowledge with a smile and a simple greeting like “hello”.  If you want to ask how their day is going or if they need help is optional, however, the one thing you never do is ignore them, not make eye contact and/or go about your business as if they are an un-welcomed interruption of whatever it is you are doing.

I am not going to call out any establishment but I am going to give you very clear examples of when you should walk out regardless of how hungry or desperate you are.

It is rush hour, the power is out due to a bad storm and an electric power line is down.  My wife and I have to grab a quick bite before I get her off to night class and I need to get back to work.  Its a tough situation, but a pizzeria should be a safe bet.  The worst case scenario is you have to eat a room-temperature slice of pizza, but if they have coal, gas or wood burning ovens, this should not even be the worst case scenario.

We walk in, and the lights are dim, I actually wonder if they are open, but once inside I just realize that the power is out as it is a block away.  One of the pizza makers behind the counter back by the oven looks at me as he is leaned against the counter.  I will never forget the time I was working at my first job at Burger King and I was leaning against the wall.  The district manager walked in and said “that is a permanent fixture, it does not need your support”.  We joked about it later, but her point was clear, when someone walks in, be attentive even if you and the patron are the only people in the room.  So I am there wondering if I should stay or leave, and I am waiting, wondering, and finally a young gentleman who could not be more than 17 years old says hello.  Meanwhile there are literally 8 other people who work there who are stone cold like statues.  “You here for pickup?” he asks, and I say no, I just want to get a few slices if he is able to heat them up.  He tells me he will be with me in a moment.  Beside me there is a woman on the phone talking loudly who is there for pickup, and another woman who is there waiting for pickup, and I see their boxes of pizza sitting on top of the oven. However, this young guy is busy doing at least half a dozen other tasks. He is taking a phone order, using the calculator since the register does not work, signing for a delivery from UPS and making a box for more takeout orders.  He finally gets back to me and I point out the 3 slices of pizza I want.  The obvious question is, why aren’t the 3 office staff, 2 pizza cooks, the restaurant chef and 2 other cooks in the takeout section helping?  No diners are coming in, they probably lost a good deal of dinner business because of the outage, so why are they not in the takeout section helping the 6 people there waiting and getting annoyed?  Eventually I get the pizza, its barely warm because the one teenager is doing all the work and trying to move everyone on as fast as he can because he has too much to do.  The owner’s daughter walks in with a few of her teenage friends and he is giving them more attention then to even looking up to say hello to me when I decided to come sit in the restaurant section to eat my slice of pizza since the takeout order was filled with people sitting at the 3 tables waiting to be served.

This place might have the single best slice of pizza in town, but sadly they will never see me in there again. And to be fair, this was not the first experience like this I had there.  I gave them a second chance and they wasted it.

A few weeks prior my wife and I went to celebrate an important milestone in our lives.  It was not an anniversary or anything like that, but it was very significant to us. It was news that came in the mail, so we had no time for reservations, so I decided to go to a nice place that boasts a happy hour from 4-7 and half price appetizers.  This could have been a perfect experience, good food, good drink and all at an economical price so we can actually afford to go there.  It was also a Tuesday, so its no wonder why they have a banner outside advertising their happy hour specials.

They have a luxurious bar, fireplace, fancy dining room, etc.  I walk in, no one at the front reception desk.  The bartender sees us about to walk out and then goes to get the management.  I stop her and ask “I just want to know if everything on the menu is 50% off for happy hour” she tells me no, just the bar menu and its only 40% off.  I look at the bar menu, and I see a few items there like a burger and some appetizers I would enjoy along with my wife.  We continue to stand there, then sit and about 10 minutes later the bartender asks if we want a menu.  Well, if its not obvious, we already looked at the menu, we are sitting at the bar, and then she finally puts out a napkin and walks out of the area.  She returns, I ask for a Mojito which is on their cocktail menu.  She leaves the room again, comes back and says “we don’t have mint”.  Meanwhile I am watching all the regulars enjoying house made potato chips but none are brought to us to enjoy while waiting 10 minutes or more to even get a menu.  I tell my wife to put on her coat, we are leaving.  Upon leaving the head waiter and/or owner or mater’d say “have a good night”.  Too little, too late.  This makes me wonder if this was a speakeasy or illegal gambling joint like during prohibition, where we were not regulars so we were not welcomed.

We drove to the mega mall down the street and went into a Bahama Breeze franchise/chain where we were greeted with a gracious smile  before the door behind us even closed.  The atmosphere was pleasant, Caribbean music was playing and our waiter brought us menus and asked if we had ever been there so she could explain the menu if we had never been.  For the record, I really don’t like franchises or chains of any kind.  However, when you see a small business like the one mentioned above being replaced by an Applebee’s, Bahama Breeze, Chili’s or any other mega chain, perhaps it is not because the odds are stacked against the small guys, but because they don’t know the simple science (not an art) of hospitality.  The food can totally suck (as it often does with many chains) but as long as you are consistent, friendly and treat the customers well, you can be there for many years to come. I know its often a far more complex set of reasons why small businesses fail, however, if the odds are stacked against you, you would think you know you have to work harder even if working harder simply means saying hello once someone enters the door.

The message here is simple and I hope you help me to help everyone that ever needs to be treated like a human with money in their pocket and not a beggar off the street:  If you walk into a place and you make eye contact with anyone, even the janitor and do not get a smile and a greeting within 10 seconds, just leave. Go to McDonald’s 7-11 or even a vending machine. These people do not deserve your business and they need to be taught a lesson one patron and $7-70 dollars at a time.  I know that no one can be one hundred percent 100% of the time, and I know that the person wiping down the tables is not responsible for the experience. But if they cannot smile, say hello and say “let me get someone to help you”, they failed just as much as the business owners.

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