Archive for the ‘Restaurant’ Category

Service of Everything Old is New Again: Automat 2017-Style

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

 Eatsa back wall turned

Dashing down Third Avenue for a morning meeting I passed a business I couldn’t figure out at first glance. Was it a dry cleaner? No—no counter. Laundry? No. No washing machines–though I wondered what that wall of plastic bins were in the back [photo above]. Anyway, a laundry would be a nutty addition to a midtown neighborhood—43rd and Third Avenue–a block from Grand Central Terminal.

eatsa logo turnedI dropped in later to inquire. I gleaned food was the objective. I didn’t see the name, Eatsa, on the window—it’s on a wall inside. Right now pedestrians see only  a logo–a bowl of food with heat radiating from it [like the one on the white shopping bag, left].Eatsa has been open in NYC a few weeks.

Horn & HardartIn fact, Eatsa is a modern-day automat, an early 20th century concept. In the day, food was sold cafeteria-style from vending machines.

I returned at 1:00 and there was a short line that moved fast. Two young women guided people to iPads on stands [photo below, left]. I swiped my credit card, placed my order by tapping my choice and waited for my name to pop up on a screen on the wall. Soon it did and soon again a number popped up, much like the arrival time of a subway, telling me to go to cubby 19. There, in a cubby with my name on it [photo below, center], was my “No Worry Curry”—stir fried quinoa [pronounced KeyNois if you say the nois part like “nut” in French]; egg, arugula, roasted potato, spaghetti squash, pickled onions, red Thai curry, apple cabbage slaw and curried wonton strips. For $6.95 there was plenty for two. My mouth glowed for a while after lunch…the no-nonsense curry. The wonton strips were a wonderfully crunchy addition.

Eatsa ordering on iPadsThe concept was born in San Francisco. Founder, Dave Friedberg, made his money selling a weather data startup to Monsanto. According to Beth Kowitt in her New York Times article, “the tech-driven approach is a means to support a bigger mission: selling nutritious and sustainable food at a reasonable price.” I predict that eventually, the business won’t even need the ushers—everyone will know how to get their food from systems like this as they do their money in ATM machines.

Kowitt reported that automated ordering means he charges 30-40 percent less than Chipotle, his “fast-casual rival.” Because meat has what Friedberg calls an environmental cost, he doesn’t offer it. “Friedberg’s strategy to stay mum on the company’s environmentally friendly and nutrition bona fides comes down to his ambitions to reach more than the wellness and eco-warrior set. It’s a decision that distinguishes him from the rest of the restaurant industry, which is scrambling—and in many cases stretching—to claim its food is ‘clean’ and healthy.”

He’s invested in quinoa and is exploring other ways to make protein efficiently. “Friedberg, a lifelong vegetarian with a degree in astrophysics, then put together a spreadsheet that calculated the net energy to produce all different kinds of protein. His findings showed that quinoa required the lowest amount of energy to produce. It was also a complete protein and required a lot less water and fertilizer than other crops.”

I wonder if Friedberg knows that his first NYC restaurant is a block from where the last fabled Horn & Hardart stood. Until 1991 it was on 42nd and Third. It was late to the table, opening in 1958 when the first one launched in 1912. Then a cup of coffee cost a nickel. For years all the food cost increments of five cents.

The restaurant ushers said how the right food gets into bowls and to the correct bin is a secret nor would they divulge who or what is behind the wall of cubbies–a person? A robot? My name was also printed on the tape that ensured my container of food stayed closed.

What do you think of ordering food this way? Do you predict that fast food will increasingly be sold like this with minimal staff?

Eatsa door with name on it

Service of Marketing that Hits a Sour Note: Details and the Devil

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

New Yorker circ photo

I bought some items online during an after Christmas sale and almost three weeks later got a notice from the store that one of the items wasn’t available. OK. That happens. “LET US MAKE IT UP TO YOU,” came a proposal for a “gift”–$10 off a $100 purchase. This hit a sour note: It sounded like “heads they win; tails I lose.” Otherwise I like the store.

The next two examples are courtesy of the circulation departments of a magazine and newspaper considered top of the line in their categories. I subscribe to and admire both. However, they appear to be trying to save money by selecting under par fulfillment and promotion partners at just the time they need to excel.

  • The magazine has been nagging me to renew my subscription months early and if I do, I’ll get a free subscription as a gift. [Always suspicious, I envision losing the months I’ve already paid for, between now and the end of the original subscription, and I don’t want to waste time untangling this potential glitch.] Fine writing and elegance are just two of the magazine’s selling points and the subscription is costly. That’s why I didn’t expect to see a typo in the first word of the third line ["your"] printed on a piece of cheap scrap paper enclosed in their correspondence seeking my business. [See photo above.]
  • The newspaper didn’t deliver its weekend and Monday issues last week. I called customer service on Tuesday making clear that we didn’t want the credit, we wanted the newspapers. The operator [from a far-off land] said he understood. On Wednesday we received a second copy of the Tuesday issue. I called back and was told they would have to mail us the weekend and Monday copies and that this would take from seven to 10 days. I had already spent far too much time on this mistake and snapped “fine, do that,” and hung up. Still waiting.
  • All this reminds me of a restaurant we went to in the Berkshires years ago that served remarkable food in an enchanting setting with a terrible hostess who ran the room like a general during a military operation readiness inspection {ORI}. The tension her approach achieved added a false note to an otherwise pleasant experience. We learned later that her husband was the chef. Nevertheless, she ruined the evening.

Do you have other examples of an irritating detail that conflicted with the otherwise high quality of a product or service?

$10 off $100 turned

Service of Make Your Prices Clear, Please

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Price tag holders

A friend—I’ll call her Leslie–who is up to date on all things restaurant and retail shared a complaint that I’ve grappled with myself for years: She wants to know what something costs without having to ask.

hip female shopperLeslie wrote: “I ventured downtown to the new Target on Greenwich Street [NYC]. There is a Chobani shop inside that sells food and yogurt. The staff is very personable; however there are no prices on food on display like dips.”

She continued: “I find having to ask someone for prices so annoying. There is a tiny candy shop on the Upper East Side that also sells ice cream. There are no prices on candy so you have to ask about everything…..and you know the prices will be inflated. I said to the owner the first time that I think it would be helpful to have the prices listed and he said ‘I don’t mind telling you.’ But I am one of those people who decides in my head what something should cost so I don’t like not knowing, meaning I wouldn’t ask if I knew something is priced ridiculously!”

Back to the Chobani experience, Leslie added: “Chobani guy says: ‘Enjoy the rest of your day’ to everyone as they leave…that gets tiresome too if you’re in the store for a while! I ordered half sandwich and half salad. Pretty good. But they don’t accept the Target Visa….meaning no discount like I get on everything else in the store. Strange!”

Prices markedLeslie concluded: “What is it with the oh-so-annoying response to everything ‘No problem!’”

When I go to an art, craft or antique show—or store–I also much prefer seeing what the prices are without having to ask. And you? Do you know why retailers and restauranteurs force people to converse with staff? Do repeated expressions–like “no problem”–irritate you as they also do me?

Chobani half salad half sandwich

Service of Sudden Change

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

change 2

Change is part of life. I like to hope it comes out for the good more than not. I find it fascinating to watch either way.

No building there's Grand Central flipWalking east with Madison Avenue at my back on 42nd Street last week I saw the most remarkable thing: the full Vanderbilt side of Grand Central Station I’d never before seen. At first I was disoriented thinking, “What is that?” until I realized that the building that had hidden this view for as long as I can remember was gone. No doubt a new one will quickly take its place so if you want to see this in person, best make haste.

Cosi closed flipContinuing to my office on East 45th Street I noticed that a chain restaurant that had been on 44th and Third Avenue for years had closed. I liked Cosi for its Signature Salad and special flatbread and bought it often at one point, though not lately. I tend to eat yogurt these days and don’t often buy lunch at restaurants unless meeting others. And my office is next door to the Amish Market that sells anything delicious that I might want. I’d thought that lines at this Cosi branch were unusually short as newer chains and two $1 pizza establishments opened within a block or two which may be the reason for the closing.

Pumpkins are favorites of mine. I love the color and shape. I centered one between two pots of summer flowers illustrating summer meeting fall and imminent natural changes as my favorite season tries to hang on.

What’s your favorite season? Have you noticed any sudden or surprising changes in your neighborhood? Fall meets summer flip

Service of Wine Swine Who Take Advantage of a Host or Hostess

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Photo: Pinterest.com

Photo: Pinterest.com

 

Another Lettie Teague Wall Street Journal wine column caught my attention: “When Your Dinner Guest Orders a $700 Bottle of Wine: An Etiquette Guide.” I’ve covered her refreshingly no-nonsense column before. The subhead for this article was: “Learn how to deal with wine hogs, shameless business associates and more with these top etiquette tips for oenophiles behaving badly.”

I object to people who take advantage of others. It goes far beyond instances of rude guests making selections of inappropriately pricey wine which is the reason the topic especially appealed to me.

Some of her examples:  

  • Three dentists went out to dinner, one claiming to be a wine expert. The so-called authority ordered three bottles of Napa Cabernet which cost $1,000+ and let the others pick up the tab. [Teague’s dentist was one of the patsies.]
  • Guests who bring an expensive wine to a dinner and hog it allWine as gift or people who down what’s in their glass as the waiter approaches to refill to ensure they get more than their fair share.

If her friend, author Paul Sullivan, is hosting a dinner and his guests pick a ridiculously  extravagant wine his strategy is to say: “That’s a fascinating choice, but I don’t know if it will go with what we’re having.” He calls over the sommelier, names the extravagant wine and asks for “something over here that’s more interesting,” while pointing in the direction of more reasonably priced choices. Teague writes that a good sommelier will catch on.

Removing cork from wine bottleAnother of the reporter’s friends, an ad exec, calls ahead and selects the wine to be served to avoid a preposterous dent in her expense account when entertaining some clients who take advantage of her agency because they know it picks up the tab. However, she told Teague: “I’ve never had a client who had a sophisticated palate take advantage of a business dinner.”

While infrequently, and not recently, I’ve also been hijacked by guests—clients or friends–whose pricey or excessive choices in the alcoholic beverage category have landed heavily on my credit card. Have you? Do you have successful techniques that parry greedy tendencies of others involving wine or any other thing?

Pouring wine

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Surprise

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount Morton Williams logowhen I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Chase Bank LogoStacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Bad restaurant serviceThen there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

Bad restaurant service 2

Service of Sharing

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Half a portion

While some remember every course they ate at a remarkable restaurant, I tend to recall details of fabulous or lackluster service and that I liked the food.

Years ago I invited someone to lunch to thank them for a kindness at a lovely, now defunct, midtown restaurant. We decided to split an appetizer and each ordered a main course. When the appetizer arrived I was mortified: There was one scallop in sauce, hardly enough for one much less two. The waiter hadn’t said a word.

Cafe FiorelloRecently I was with a guest at Café Fiorello, across from Lincoln Center, and benefited from the opposite experience. We both had a yen for lasagna. The waiter asked if we were planning to split it, which we hadn’t considered, and having once been burned, I asked him about portion size. Satisfied, we followed his suggestion, shared a salad as well and when the lasagna came—expertly divided in the kitchen and artfully plated–we were so grateful. The portions filled each plate and after eating far too much of the bread and salad, neither of us could finish our half.

I’m always delighted to observe anyone do their job both well and beyond the call. Have you experienced a wonderful meal thanks, at least in part, to the wait staff? Have you run into a snag by sharing a portion that was far too small to split?

Waiter at table

Service of a Day Off to Relax in NYC in December, 2015

Monday, December 7th, 2015

Day off

A friend with a high stress job, kids and an active pro bono life leading an industry association took a day off to relax in New York City, a great thing to do at holiday time. The people she encountered had themselves—not her—in mind. I couldn’t decide if this was due to the difficult economy making people feel desperate or to cultural differences.

FacialHer day began with a facial. She was enjoying it and good conversation with the esthetician [the person giving her the facial], when the woman began a deep-dish sales pitch encouraging her to upgrade the procedure and buy a bunch of packages. She was feeling pressured, but was in a good mood, and as the holidays were coming, she bought some services as gifts.

window shoppingThis done she window shopped, passing a cosmetics business where a woman was handing out samples. She stopped to get one and was told if she went inside she’d get the right product for her skin. She expected the man inside to open a drawer and hand her a sample but before she knew it she was in a chair and he was applying products to her face and arm, telling her she could get a $700 package for $400. She somehow got out of this place unscathed—she’s an international traveler who does business in several continents–but it was still touch and go, the pressure almost frightening. One of the products he applied appeared to perform a miracle under her eyes, though she admitted it felt very tight on her face. When she washed it off that night, nothing had changed.

yelp logoShe sent me a link to some Yelp reviews of this place and I quote from parts of one that I shortened and edited: “The people that work here are the worst. As you approach the storefront, you’ll immediately notice that there are two to three employees standing out front wearing black and white, aggressively attempting to shove flyers and samples into passers-by’s hands. They don’t only pursue tourists. They harass everyone walking by. Today, I was harassed by one of the males.” The man made fun of the writer’s New York accent when the writer told him he wasn’t a tourist. Then the employee and two female colleagues laughed at and mocked him. He concluded: “For your own sake, do not go anywhere near this place.”

Grabbing for your moneyMy friend ended her odyssey by being treated rudely at a restaurant that offered a special lunch price until 3:30. She entered at 3:20 and was immediately told to “Hurry up!” Few of the offerings on the menu were available at the promotional price and when she asked for more fried noodles—that along with the soup were the tastiest part of the meal—the waitress said it would cost an additional $1–and didn’t bring any.

So her relaxing day turned out to be far from it. What’s happening here? The unrestrained sales aggression reminds me of uncomfortable experiences I’ve encountered in some foreign countries. Is this the new American way? Do these businesses rely on one-time sales—and not on the benefit of repeats? I love to shop but this would no longer be true if I encountered too much of this approach.

cringing customer

Service of Wine: Protocol & Practice

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Serving wine 1

Wine expert Lettie Teague covered “7 Habits of Annoying Wine People, Readers’ Edition,” in The Wall Street Journal. [She’d written about her own peeves in an earlier article.] I agreed with some of the grievances and was curious about others.

Like her readers I also am irritated when given harsh tasting house wine by-the-glass, reminiscent of nail polish remover, when a restaurant has countless toothsome low-priced choices to pick from these days. At fundraisers wine often tastes atrocious, equally unacceptable for the same reason.

wine glasses 1Readers told Teague they’d been served fabulous, expensive wine in crummy glasses which spoiled the impact and taste of the vintage. This hasn’t happened to me.

They were understandably perturbed when they’d bought a wine touted on a card in a store by “critics [who] rated [a wine] 95 out of 100 points only to find that it’s not the actual wine they were rating.” I don’t buy wines of this caliber so have missed the bait-and-switch, as Teague called this blunder, in which the copy about the top-rated, promoted wine applies to the previous year’s vintage, not the bottle on the shelf.

waiter with wineHer readers complained that too many sommeliers automatically hand the wine list to a man when they should ask who, at the table, would like to order it. When Teague chooses the wine, the server regularly gives the first taste to her husband. Her pique increases when her husband actually tastes it!

She also wrote about extravagant corkage fees: “As many as 80% of the restaurants in New Jersey don’t have liquor licenses, due to the state’s antiquated liquor laws. Most observe a bring-your-own-bottle policy, and legally, they aren’t allowed to charge a corkage fee.” But they can in Manhattan where Teague has seen them as high as $150 at Per Se, but generally, she wrote, they range between $35 and $50. She reported that restaurants like Le Bernadin don’t permit visiting wines at any price.

I go back and forth on the next situation though from a slightly different perspective. Teague asks: “As a guest, if you bring along a nice bottle, shouldn’t you expect to be served something as good in return?” I ask: “Should you serve a wine a friend brings?” My husband collected wine over the years. Today, some bottles are a rare treat. He opens a special bottle just before guests arrive so the wine has time to breathe. At the same time, we want to honor a gift.

champagne in bucketTeague continued, “Some might argue that a guest should not expect to drink the bottle he or she brings, with which I agree in principle, although this doesn’t make it any less painful to trade a lovely Grand Cru Chablis for a bottle of $10 Concha y Toro Chardonnay.” A friend of hers brought chilled Champagne in an ice bucket expecting the host to take the hint and open it but instead he put away the bubbly and that was that.

Like Teague I was surprised by the complaint about staff in wine tasting rooms wearing strong perfume. I don’t care for powerful scents anywhere—in an office, plane or meeting room—and especially not near food or wine. It gives me a headache. I love freesia but would never use them in a centerpiece as the sweet scent can overpower food and bother some guests.

Do you have other wine-related likes and dislikes? Do you agree/disagree with those of the Journal’s readers?

 serving wine 2

Service of Extras

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Smoothie 1

Morning radio talk show co-host Todd Schnitt recently shared his frustration when he was unsuccessful at persuading the server at a well known NYC juice bar chain to top off his $8 smoothie with what was left in the blender container. He noticed the container in a lineup by the sink. Its fate was to be washed after its contents were tossed. He’d taken a big sip of his drink to make room.

Len Berman, his co-host on the WOR 710 morning program and the news director, Joe Bartlett, asked Todd if he’d gotten what he’d paid for. He said, “Yes.”  So that’s it then, they concurred: They didn’t feel he should have received a bonus.

smoothie 2Executive producer Natalie Vacca agreed with Len and Joe and added that had she managed the branch, she’d have suggested that staff use the extra for samples to bring in new customers. Someone observed that at Starbucks there’s little if any leftover and that the manager at the smoothie place should better train the staff in portion control to avoid costly waste.

According to Yelp, there are no more Brigham’s luncheonettes in Boston though Wikipedia notes otherwise. In its heyday, when I lived in Boston, branches were sprinkled throughout the metro area. The restaurant’s milkshake/frappe was spectacular and it came in a large glass, served with  what was left in the metal blender container–the equivalent of almost another full glass of the ambrosia, my favorite being coffee or strawberry.

milkshake 2There are some businesses in which extras continue to happen. Waiters will surprise guests with a free dessert or after dinner drink. At The Perfect Pint, a pub at which I ate lunch quite often this summer, my friends and I received a free second glass of iced tea or Coke, something I’d not before experienced in NYC. [The food is terrific here as well.]  Last night we had dinner at Mckinney and Doyle in Pawling–delicious as always. My husband was adding the tip to the credit card receipt when the hostess came with a second one. She said, “We owe you $20–here’s the correct bill.” Turns out that wine is half price on Wednesday night. We welcomed the nice surprise!

In public relations, many provide extra services, such as a tweak of a client’s letter or other small project not covered in an agreement yet not big enough to upset a budget applecart.

Is a business wrong minded to give extras? Do customers appreciate them or take them for granted? Do you appreciate them?

Extra

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email


Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics