Is Stevie Wonder to blame for slow restaurant service?

You might be asking yourself, “What could Stevie Wonder possibly have to do with slow service at a restaurant?” The answer is, “More than you know.”

I am very happy to say that I recently attended a Stevie Wonder concert in Washington, D.C. It goes without saying that the concert was amazing. Stevie Wonder is a must see. Now, back to the restaurant story and lesson.

Before going to the show, my family and I went to a restaurant directly next to the Verizon Center. Prior to getting to the restaurant, we called up to confirm the wait time and ensure our name was on the waiting list. As a result of being told that the wait would be no more than 20 minutes, we cancelled a reservation at another restaurant.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we stopped at the host stand; only to be told that our name wasn’t on the wait list. For your score sheets at home, that’s Strike 1. After telling the host that we had literally been on the phone with one of her colleagues no more than 5 minutes earlier, and with some gentle prodding, she finally found our name on the list. Her explanation for not finding it earlier was that our name had been misspelled (even though this is annoying, I won’t levy a second strike).

My party and I went over to the bar and ordered a round of drinks. After waiting 40 minutes, my girlfriend went to the host stand to “check” on our status (she felt responsible for the wait since she had recommended the restaurant). She was told that 4 parties were still ahead of us on the list, but that our table should be ready in no more than 15 minutes.

After another 30 minutes, we still had not been notified that our table was ready. At this point, the show was set to start in a little over an hour. We had been waiting over an hour and 10 minutes for a table that we had been told would be ready in 20 minutes. I went over to the host stand and asked when our table would be ready. This is where Stevie Wonder takes a more prominent role in my story.

The hostess told me that our table still wasn’t ready and that the Stevie Wonder concert was to blame. Now, there are a lot of excuses that a restaurant can use for a having an off night, but one of the greatest singers of our time should never be one of them. This was a big Strike Two.

The host proceeded to show me the seating chart and the fact that so many tables hadn’t moved in well over an hour. She said that they hadn’t planned for this, and it was a result of the concert next door…Stevie to be exact.

This is where I called BS. Given that there have been thousands of sporting events and concerts at the Verizon Center, the restaurant should have been fully prepared for slower table turns. As a result, expectations should have been set that wait times would be significantly longer than normal. If we had been told this from the start, we would have had no reason to be upset with the restaurant.

I challenged the hostess with this very explanation, and she, in fact, gave me a knowing look. Within minutes, she “miraculously” found us a table. I wish this were the end of the story, but the poor service experience didn’t end at the host stand.

Having been waiting for so long, we had a thorough knowledge of the menu and exactly what we wanted to order. Each member of my party ordered their meals as soon as our waiter came by for our drink order.  In addition to our entrees, my girlfriend and I decided to share a bowl of vegetable crab soup.

As our waiter left, my girlfriend commented that it was likely that our soup would be forgotten. She ended up being half right. As we waited for our food, we naturally expected our soup to come out before the rest of the order. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It actually was brought out a few minutes after we received our entrees. Strike Three.

To make matters worse, our food was less than spectacular. For a restaurant that my girlfriend had recommended based on a previous experience – and I trust her taste on food completely – our dishes were lackluster. The only explanation was that the kitchen wasn’t adequately prepared for the concert, which, as I previously explained, was not a worthwhile excuse at all.

The Fourth Strike, coming after the restaurant had already struck out, came in the form of paying our check. Our harried waiter hadn’t remembered our check, but offered to take my credit card to pay the bill immediately. Now, in rare circumstances, I would be okay with some like this. But, in this case, the waiter already had 2 credit cards from other tables in his hand, without a check holder in sight.

Rather than risk getting charged for another table’s meal, I figured it would be better to wait. I certainly didn’t have faith that this part of the restaurant experience would go any better than the previous 2 plus hours had.

When finally bringing back our receipt, the waiter apologized for the slow service and again blamed it on the “concert next door.” I smiled and put on my coat, knowing that it was poor management, not Stevie Wonder, that was to blame for the restaurant’s failures on this night.

Image by Thomas Hawk.