The difference between blacklisting a restaurant from our personal repertoire and endorsing it, is less about how perfect the dinner goes than it is about the reaction of the staff when all goes wrong, as long as the food is good.
It had been nearly two years since we last went to Flatbread Pizza in Georgetown MA. It’s not because we don’t like the chain – we go to two other locations at a much greater distance from our home but our first experience with the relatively new location had been abysmal. So much so it was ingrained in my memory. We waited and waited. The spring mix salad greens which I believe were supposed to be locally sourced were slimy and decaying, the service curt when table side yet mostly non-existent, after voicing concerns about the salad ( I kept quiet about the burnt pizza crust) – NOTHING was done. I insisted the waitress take it to the manager, she disappeared only to return with the statement – “That’s the way it came.” So we’ve driven an extra half hour or more to go to the other locations.
Two years later – we’re in the vicinity of Flatbread in Georgetown on Labor Day weekend and decide we’d give it another shot. The wait at the unmanned front desk was uncomfortably long and we were in the second place in line. Ultimately a woman near the pizza ovens asked if anyone had to go orders, because she could do that transaction from the pizza station. The man in front of us did, so we were at the front of the line A young man came close to the desk, apologized and said he’d be back as soon as he could. We countered with “can we sit in the bar ( a separate room) and not have to wait for a table.” He looked relieved and said “yes”.
We entered the room saw an employee and asked whether we could sit at the high tops near the bar or whether we literally had to belly up to the bar. He said sure take a table. We sat, another harried male staffer came by and said no one told him they’d be sitting anyone there, and started to begrudging clean. He looked almost scared. So I said – so why are you so short handed tonight. And we offered to move to the bar. Man #1 came back and said he would take care of us. So what was less than optimal? They forgot our salad, our silverware and place setting were not provided even when given food, drinks were delayed. We could have solidified our resolve of the last visit. However, we ended up commending the staff and entering the kitchen to recognize what a great job they did (the food was very good), and promised to come back.
So what made the difference? When I asked the server what was going on, he said many of the kids that had been working there went back to college, that he was the assistant manager and was acting as a server for the very first time in this location, the people next to us then queried their harried waiter. He’d only been there two days and was supposed to be training but they put him right on the floor because other help didn’t show. This crew was working without the staff they needed, everyone was pitching in to the best of their abilities. And they kept offering us services – want some crayons and paper (absolutely), would you like to sample the drafts before buying them (sure), would you like us to make you a new pizza after you’ve finished your salads (Not necessary)? And when we got our bill they had removed the cost of the salad.
We had a nice experience with just a bit more delay than expected. And here’s why.
- We learned what the problems were and that there would be delays
- We had the option to adjust our expectations or leave putting the power back with the diner.
- We were regularly checked on and apologized to and that let us know this is not how the restaurant typically handles business.
- The staff’s honesty engaged us, We were in it with the team not working against them. We wanted to help and tried to be less needy.
- The staff was very visible (not hiding out back) and appeared to be working at capacity
- They tried to correct the error with the salad, “we will make you another pizza after your salad, we deducted the cost of the salad….”
- The food was good and they handled our custom order (meat on only one side of the pizza, please, without complaint)
We’ll be back.