Dining Out Can Be Stressful

We try to enjoy a dinner out but are foiled by bad service.

My friends John and Lorna, who spend their summers in Maine and winters in Arizona, were extremely helpful today. So helpful, in fact, that I wanted to buy them dinner.

We decided to go to a local restaurant called Sangini’s. I happen to be very fond of Sangini’s pizza. They make a thick crust pizza and the crust is good. Other pizza places in town make thin crust pizza. That’s fine, if you like thin crust. I don’t.

John and Lorna like Sangini’s Hawaiian pizza. For those of you unfamiliar with this culinary delight, it’s pizza with ham and pineapple on it. Yes, I did say pineapple. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m afraid to. Where I’m from, the words pineapple and pizza are never used in the same sentence, let alone put together on a menu or in your mouth. Hawaiian pizza is a west coast thing.

Anyway, we all met in Sangini’s at 6 pm. The main dining room had a few people in it and, as we waited to eat, it filled up. Business was pretty good for a Wednesday night.

I examined the menu. I usually eat pizza or perhaps a calzone. But I decided to try something different. I wanted to think of Sangini’s as something other than a pizza place. The only way I could do that was to order something other than pizza — and like it. I decided on the chicken scaloppine.

Trouble started when Mike, my significant other, asked for vinegar and oil on his salad. The waitress, who was probably about 19 years old, looked at him as if she hadn’t heard him correctly.

“What did you want on your salad?” she asked.

“Vinegar and oil.”

“I don’t think we have that,” she said.

“I’m sure you do,” Mike replied.

She went away looking doubtful.

The whole thing reminded me about a breakfast we’d had in a small town restaurant one day. Mike says the restaurant was in Wickenburg, but I don’t remember it that way. Anyway, blueberry pancakes were on the menu. Mike asked the waitress, who was probably still in high school, how they were. “Very good,” she replied. “The blueberries are fresh. We just opened the can today.”

(To those of you who don’t get it, fresh blueberries don’t come in a can.)

Oddly enough, I had just told that story to John and Lorna earlier in the day. I repeated the punchline: “The blueberries are fresh. We just opened the can today.” Then our conversation turned to young people who grew up in Wickenburg and had no idea of anything other than what they saw in town. And how limited that was. And then about young people in general. We were sounding like a bunch of old folks, which is very discouraging when you’re still well under 55.

The waitress came back. “We have balsamic vinegar,” she reported.

“That’s fine,” Mike replied.

When she returned with the salads, mine came with bleu cheese dressing, as requested. Mike’s came with a little plastic container filled with what looked like balsamic vinegar. There was no oil. But before he could ask, the waitress disappeared. She then somehow imagined to avoid making eye contact for the next five minutes. Finally, Mike got up and went to the kitchen. He came back a moment later to tell us how crazy he was. He’d asked for olive oil to go with his vinegar and they’d told him they didn’t have any.

Now this pissed me off. I’d read the menu and I distinctly remember reading a description that included olive oil. Virgin olive oil, if I remember correctly. So either they were lying about not having any olive oil or the menu was misrepresenting one of the dishes.

Mike poked at his salad, but didn’t eat much of it.

Then came the very long wait. I’d say that we waited for at least 45 minutes from the time we placed our order until the time the food finally appeared. Meanwhile, the restaurant filled up and just about everyone else was fed. Some people who came in after us got their checks. We couldn’t decide whether we’d been blacklisted because Mike had asked for vinegar and oil or whether ordering something other than pizza was a mistake.

The food came. It was interesting. Although mine was good and it met the description of what I’d ordered, it wasn’t what I expected. Still, it was good. And although the plate was cold, the food was hot. So I was happy.

Mike’s on the other hand, was nothing like any of us expected. He’d ordered sole parmesan. What came was some fried fish filets with the same lemon sauce that was on my dish, along with some grated parmesan cheese. Parmesan — at least the parmesan I know from being half Italian and from New York — means the meat or fish is covered with a tomato-based sauce, melted mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of parmesan. Still, it must have tasted okay because he ate it all.

John and Lorna had Hawaiian pizza. They were happy.

We waited a long time to get the check. And then, once we had the check, the waitress neglected to come by to take my credit card. Finally, Mike, John, and Lorna got tired of waiting. They left and I went to the cash register to pay.

I looked for the owner in the bar on my way out. The place was surprisingly full of young people. In fact, I think everyone in town between the ages of 21 and 28 were in that bar. There may have been some imports, too. I didn’t even know we had that many young people in town. But the owner wasn’t among them.

It’s hard to get good help in Wickenburg. The labor force simply isn’t very good. Mature, was the way someone I know put it. The young people have no work ethic, no experience, and a poor attitude. The older people don’t really need the job so they’re not reliable. Employee problems are what drove me out of the airport fuel business back in April. Employee problems have hurt quite a few local businesses. They certainly didn’t help Sangini’s today.

The way I see it, dinner out is made up of four components: atmosphere, service, food quality, and value for your money. Once you’ve lowered your standards enough to deal with the limited choices in a small town, you don’t mind going out to eat in a place that’s only going to score high on three of these four components. But when a place scores poorly on two or three components, you simply can’t go there anymore.

I’ll still eat Sangini’s pizza. But until the service problem is resolved, I’ll take it to go.

And for the record, Mike and I eat at home more now than we ever did in our lives.

January 4, 2009 Update: This restaurant went out of business at least 6 months ago. A “For Sale” sign is on the building, but no seems interested in reopening it.

One thought on “Dining Out Can Be Stressful

  1. Great story. I have to admit I have had a few similar experiences mainly with terrible customer service. When it comes to providing the prefect dining experience the customer service needs to be top notch.

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