Blue Smoke Burger Bar - First Look is a Fail

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Update: Blue Smoke Burger Bar has closed.

The legendary Bob Snow once told me one of his leadership secrets. Snow, of course, was the man behind the once-great Church Street Station and its dining and entertainment venues that were must-visits for tourists (and locals) before CityWalk and Downtown Disney came along to keep the tourists on property.

Snow told me that if one of his restaurants wasn’t performing the way he thought it should, he would go to the manager’s office and remove the chairs. With no place to sit, he surmised, the manager would have to spend more time out on the floor of the restaurant doing what a manager is supposed to do: manage.

Of course that would assume that the manager understands those duties. I’m not sure the person who appeared to be in charge at Blue Smoke Burger Bar in downtown Orlando knows what to do.

Blue Smoke, as I told you last week, is the rebrand of the short-lived Black Olive in the Plaza on Pine Street. The upscale Italian concept of Black Olive apparently didn’t pan out in this economy. I’m not sure the upscale burger concept will either. It certainly won’t if my experience the other night is any indication. In fact, I walked out without having any food.

I spotted only one major change to the place physically, and it’s a big change (a welcome one, too). The bar area of Black Olive was a claustrophobia-inducing space, stuck into a cramped corner of the room and closed off from view from the front door by a wall. That wall has been removed, and in its place is a long counter with seating on both sides. What a terrific idea.

And with the bar so nice and open -- and not really wanting to take up a table for a long, drawn-out meal -- my friend and I decided to sit there when we stopped in the other night. Things went poorly from the beginning. The bartender was busy, there’s no doubt about that. But she didn’t appear all that eager to keep up with the demand, and her attitude was blithesome and unconcerned. Even as we waited, she went from around the bar to hug a friend, and then spent some time counting some slips of paper by the cash register. She seemed genuinely surprised when she finally got around to taking our order and I said never mind.

Like I said: she was certainly busy, but her attitude did not express sincere regrets. But even more egregious was this person we’ll call the manager. Where was he? Why wasn’t he stepping in to help out, as a manger is supposed to do? Was he oblivious to the condition of service in the restaurant?

I guess so, because as we left, I spotted him sitting outside in front of the restaurant having what sounded like a casual conversation with someone on this cell phone. Bob Snow would take away his chair. I’d get rid of his phone, too.