Table for Two? or maybe THREE!

I love date night.  The problem is, couples all over the world go on date night far to infrequently.

My last date night was totally impromptu.  My wife and I saw about a two hour window and we jumped at the opportunity.  We were riding in the car trying to decide where we would spend our date night.  Usually she picks.  If you want her to be happy, either you let her pick or you pick one of her favorites(note to the newly dating).  This time however, I picked the location.  She actually was excited to go to one of my old college hangouts.

Honestly, our date took us to a place where I have always received below average service.  When I was in college all I cared about was cheap food.  Customer service was definitely not #1 on my list of how to make dinner decisions.  That being said, this American grill has awesome wings and great salads.  I’ve been frequenting this place for 15+ years.  So we get in and seated fairly quickly.  The really cool thing is that we actually got seated by a hostess.  Back in the day you would have to brave the crowd on your own.  Finding some group of people that maybe had two extra seats and were so kind as to let you share the table.  So being seated by the hostess was very convenient and hassle free.  We ordered very quickly and got our food even quicker.

The food was delicious!  Our waitress came by regularly to check on us even.  This date night is going very well until………… A LIVE SPIDER!  In my celery.  Unbelievable!  As you could imagine, I was surprised to say the least.  Not to mention, I was more than halfway done eating the celery.  I love celery.  So I, very calmly, told my wife while I corralled the spider in the bowl.  She immediately got the attention of our waitress.  When she got over to the table I handed the bowl to her and explained there was a live spider in my bowl.  She really didn’t seem shocked or disgusted, which I thought was kind of strange.  She killed the spider (I could have done that); however, I wanted her to verify it was ALIVE!  Her first response was “Did you want me to replace the celery?”  That is a funny question to ask when a live spider walks out from under your food on your plate.  I told her that would not be necessary.  She apologized for the inconvenience and left the table.

Spider in my celery (not actual spider). My waitress saved me from getting bitten.

You would think that a manager would be notified of the situation and would then at least visit the table and give a formal apology.  If I managed a restaurant, I would want to know if something like this happened.  However, a manager never came to the table.  Our waitress came back with some fresh celery and assured me that she washed it herself.  I thanked her.  Knowing that the unexpected guest was not at all her fault, we left her a 15% tip for her service.

Now you tell me, should I have made a stink about the whole thing or did I handle it well?  I thought that I was very patient and handled it very well.  I just wish that employees were empowered to make the right decisions on their own; and if not, people in the service industry in general should want to ensure that issues are reported to management.  I don’t even know if a manager was made aware.  Maybe they were and just didn’t care.  I can’t believe that I just wrote that.  I have patronized this restuarant for years and will probably still give them my business.  Should I?

The Taste of Chicago………….. Eating good too!

If heaven was a buffet with only delicious gourmet food and huge portions along with colorful people serving, that heaven would be Chicago.

During my many visits to Chicago, I have learned to never eat at a restaurant or eatery that I could eat at home.  The reason is, there are so many great places to eat.  So if I eat something I could have eaten at home……. why eat at all.  I love to experience new foods.  My eating habits and adventurist nature in regards to food is definitely thanks to my parents.  If you are not trying new foods and tasting new cultures, you are missing the boat and need to free your mind.  Try it, you may like it.  However, if you don’t like it, jump off the boat and swim to shore.

Our first night in the “Windy City”, we went to a very well-known restaurant.  My wife and I absolutely love this eatery and stop here during every visit to Chicago.  This visit however was a bit less than  average.  First off, on the way to our booth I slipped on the tile floor three times because of the grease.  Second, our booth was extremely dirty.  I remarked to my wife that we could probably eat and be satisfied if we only ate the food from underneath our table.  The bright spot in our visit was the great customer service given by the server.  He was very attentive to our needs.  When we mentioned the smorgasbord under the booth, he very quickly summoned someone to clean it up.  He also made great suggestions on appetizers.  He was very professional.  There were 8 in our party and he remembered all of our orders even though we made it very difficult as we were tired from travel and very hungry.

The next days plan was to eat good at “The Taste”.  Therefore, we made no plans to eat at any specific eatery.  We made our way to Grant Park to stuff our gullet with the food goodness of some of the most tasty, exotic, and decadent cuisine Chicagoland offers.  But guess what?  It was raining.  So after we got off the train we ducked into a restaurant to get a small appetizer.  It was just about lunch time so the restaurant was packed.  We were seated quite quickly even though we had a large party.  We were given water and menus almost immediately.  Here comes the kicker.  We sat for about 30 minutes before our waitress came to the table.  By this time the rain was pretty much over and I was dining with among others 3 women.  They were for sure ready to eat and very upset at the wait.  Of course we gathered our party and left for “The Taste”.  Maybe next time they will get a second opportunity at a first impression.

Now “The Taste” will never disappoint.  If you have never been, just look for the roasted corn on the cob (delicious).  Also, you have to get some of the Chicago Style Pizza (upside down and unbelievable).  One of my new favorites is the monster size Churro (Spanish doughnut).  The Churro was so delicious, but probably 2000 calories alone.  Totally worth it!  While we were down there we also enjoyed some of the street performers.  Style Pro Crew, a few contortionists, and one memorable girl with multiple hula hoops.  On “The Taste” main stage Rapheal Saadiq opened up for Chaka Khan.  Cool show!  Overall, “The Taste of Chicago” didn’t disappoint.  Make your reservations now for next year.

On our last day, we went out for breakfast at a well-known nationwide breakfast restaurant.  I won’t divulge their name but a hint for you, they serve pancakes (horrible hint…LOL).  Once again 8 person party and a great server.  The bright spot was that we really didn’t wait that long.  As we were waiting a server from another section came over and started a conversation with the whole table.  She was great at engaging the whole table in the conversation.  We were all having this great conversation that it felt like no time before our food came out.  These servers are working for small tips because the price range really dictates the tip.  This is a lower end restaurant price wise.  This was actually the best service we received during our trip.  This goes to show, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

So the next time you are in Chicago, go all out and have some fun.  Remember to seek out restaurants that you have never eaten in because if you can get the same food at home, maybe you should have stayed home.

The Taste of Chicago……….sleep so good.

I love Chicago.  Everything about this metropolis is totally inviting.  Recently I along with some of my closest friends took on Chicago during the famous “Taste”.  There are a few important choices to make if you are vacationing in Chicago.  Choice number 1: Which of the many magnificent hotels you will lodge.  Choice number 2: Of the many amazing restaurants, which few are a must to visit.  Choice number 3: Too many historic locations to visit.

Now the really cool thing about Chicago is that of these three choices, you can almost throw a dart and be guaranteed a great trip.  When planning my trip I did not however throw that dart.  As I have spent countless long weekends in the Windy City, I was a little more deliberate in my selection.  I decided to bed in the west suburban city of Rosemont.  The plan was to take the Blue line from Rosemont into the city daily.  Normally we bed in downtown at one of the four or five-star hotels(I’m not rich just a smart consumer).  Now these hotels have location hands down.  You can access all the major museums, all the pro sports venues, too many restaurants to name, and the nightlife is amazing.  Some of the challenges are parking is sky-high(all big cities follow suite), the wait for any of the eateries is 1 hour or more, and it usually takes forever to check in to your hotel.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE CHICAGO.  I know when I go downtown to eat I’m going to wait for an hour at least before I sit down.  For me, the challenges are part of the adventure.  Knowing this, if you’ve never been to a monster sized city you will be faced with these challenges.

“Buckingham Fountain” in Grant Park downtown Chicago Illinois

Anyway, we bedded in Rosemont.  The hotel/resort we stayed in was a very nice hotel/resort.  We were greeted with a warm formal introduction by the concierge.  He welcomed us to his hotel/resort and asked if we needed help with our luggage.  I proceeded to check in while the rest of the group helped with the luggage.  When I go to check in I was greeted with a smile and was made to feel comfortable.  During the check in process, I was engaged with small talk and was asked what was on our agenda for our weekend.  I mentioned that I was starving and then was offered a paper menu from the restaurant in the lobby and was also given a list of some of the local eateries.  I love local eateries in the Chicago area.  As the check in process was coming to an end I asked for a complimentary upgraded room(be careful what you ask for, you may just get it).  The CSR informed me that the hotel/resort was completely booked for the weekend; however, she could put me in a corner suite with more square footage and a better view.  Of course I accepted and thanked her.

Our suite was very spacious.  It had a sitting area with a love seat, a coffee table, a desk, and a magnificent view.  Also it was at the end of the hall.  Quiet and very secluded.  We stayed for two nights.  For breakfast we had a good amount of choice.  We could have a nice breakfast in bed, we could have a five-star breakfast experience in the restaurant, or we could get bagels and cream cheese in the cafe.  We chose the cafe as we were saving room for the “Taste”.  One of the surprises was that there was a casino in Rosemont in walking distance from our hotel.  And even cooler, there was a free shuttle bus from the train station.  We went to the casino for entertainment but I didn’t win any money.  I never do.  The casino always wins.  Don’t go to casino’s to make money.  Go to casino’s for the entertainment.  Back to my hotel/resort.  As we went to check out the CSR asked how our stay was and I informed her that we had a great time and would definitely bed there again.  We checked out and headed to the van to shove off.  However, we never paid for parking.  So I rolled back to the desk to pay for parking so we could be on our way.  When I arrived at the front desk and told the CSR that we needed to pay for parking she took my ticket validated it and told me it was on the house.  I was blown away.  She basically saved us in excess of $75 for parking. AMAZING!

Overall my stay was great.  I didn’t come across one issue until I arrived home.  The issue didn’t have a thing to do with the hotel/resort.  It was my fault totally.  As I was unpacking, I realized I had left my toiletries in the hotel room.  I was kicking myself, kicking myself, kicking myself.  I left my crazy expensive toothbrush, some of my favorite cologne, and my grooming kit.  I was totally bummed that I forgot my toiletries.  I couldn’t let it go.  I had to get my belongings.  On Tuesday morning I called the hotel and informed them of my belongings being left in the room.  They tracked down my things and told me they would send them to the shipping department.  I would be called to verify my address and shipping preferences.  Now I was feeling good that I would eventually get my things.  However, I never got a call.  Wednesday came and went no call.  I was being very patient because this situation was totally my fault.  On Thursday lo and behold my package arrives.  Unbelievable!  Due to my absent-mindedness I left some belongings in my hotel room, and in less than a week I had them back in my possessions on the hotels dime.  This customer service was far above and extremely beyond normal.  Just to put it into perspective, during one of my many trips to Vegas I was gifted $1000+ worth of gifts from vendors.  These gifts were stolen from my room by the housekeeping staff.  I did get a tour of the back house of one of the more famous casinos; however, I never recovered my gifts.  But my Rosemont hotel/resort made me whole in less than a week.

My hat is off to the folks at the Westin O’hare in Rosemont, Illinois.  You made my stay a very memorable one.  I will definitely be back.

New To Me?

Recently, I was going into one of my favorite coffee shops to take care of my coffee fix and get a bite to eat.  I walk in and get a smile and greet from the Barista.  Everything is going well.  I order my normal tall drink and my favorite bagel with cheese and roast beef (DELISH!).  The Barista offers me a Grande.  I decline.  I am trying to be more conscious of what I am eating.  Yea right!  I’m eating a bagel with roast beef, cheddar cheese, and cream cheese……… not quite the breakfast of champions.  Anyhow, my drink comes up and the Barista tells me he will bring my bagel to my table.  Thanks.

I walk over to my table, power on my laptop, and connect to their wifi.  Now I am up and running and ready to work.  Two to three minutes later the Barista delivers my bagel sandwich to the table.  As he sits it on the table, I notice that it is over cooked.  The bagel was basically burnt on the outside.  Now here is the “New To Me?” part.  I knew right away that it was unsatisfactory; however, for some reason I felt like I couldn’t take it back.  Why in the world would I feel this way?  This is one of the cafe’s I frequently patronize.  Some of the Baristas know me by my first name.  I felt like I had to eat it or throw it out without saying anything to the staff.  So I tried a bite of the sandwich.  It was too hard and the roast beef was rubbery.  The whole slice of roast beef came out of the sandwich because I couldn’t cut it with my teeth.  That is it!  I put it down on the plate and decided not to eat it.  At the same time I decided to do my work and finish my coffee and leave without saying anything.  After a few minutes I told myself that before I left I would tell the Barista and ask for a refund.  Then I thought, man I’m hungry!  I want to eat something.  I can’t work well on an empty stomach.  I have got to give them the opportunity to make this right.  I am a regular customer here; therefore, I have an obligation to my relationship to this cafe to let them know about the situation and give them the opportunity to make things right.  So I go over to the counter and tell the Barista that the sandwich is burnt and I would like a replacement.  No problem he says.  He will deliver it to my table.

Now here’s the lesson.  I am a regular customer at this establishment.  I have made a relationship with some of the employees by way of regular visits.  If I am somewhat reluctant to bring this issue to the employees and give them the opportunity to satisfy me, what will happen when a new customer comes in and has a similar experience?  Will they be upset and say nothing and never return?  Will they ask for a refund and storm out?  Will they eat the burnt sandwich and tell everyone they know never go there because the employees don’t know what they are doing?

At the end of the day, we must attempt to take care of our customers the first time we have the opportunity.  Some customers won’t say a word and they will never return.  Some customers will return with an idea of the service they will receive based on previous bad service.  And then you have people who may work in the service industry and will give you a second opportunity to take care of them.  You can never please all the customers all the time, but if you take the attitude that you are going to own the service or stand behind the goods 100%, you will take pride in what you do and you will therefore make a better product or give exceptional service because that is what you want to receive.