I just experienced one of the most egregious examples of poor service that I’ve witnessed in my 23 years of reviewing restaurants. I’m trying now to think of something worse, but can’t.
It was in Cocoa Beach, at a place called Florida’s Seafood, the sort of place that when a restaurant critic walks in, he hears voices that whisper, “Turn back,” “Run,” and “You’ll be sorry.” But I stayed, even though the decor was over-the-top Early Wharfside and the glow of aquariums (aquaria?) competed with the glow of televisions hanging throughout. But a friend had recommended it to me, saying that it was sort of like the stupefyingly popular Dixie Crossroads in Titusville. (And, come to think of it, I heard the voices telling me to run the first time I dined there, too. You’d think I’d learn.)
The fellow who seated me was pleasant enough, though I’m always a little irritated when a host tries to steer a single diner to the bar instead of the requested table, even when the restaurant is largely empty. And the woman who was assigned to my table was congenial. I listened as she told, with refreshing honesty, the couple at a nearby table that she didn’t recommend any of the oyster dishes because the oysters they had been getting lately were too tiny. As I looked over the menu, trying in vain to find an edge to hold where the laminate hadn’t curled and peeled, I found the selections too varied, so when she approached my table, I asked for some recommendations.
She cheerfully pointed some out, and I settled on the Canaveral combo, which featured a fish fillet, scallops, crab cake and rock shrimp. Except there were no rock shrimp available, so the restaurant was substituting a Georgia shrimp. (That’s right, Florida’s Seafood was featuring Georgia’s seafood, but we’ll just let that one go.) Dinners come with a choice of salad and a side dish, so we went through those choices: garden salad please; blue cheese; mixed vegetables, thank you.
The salad was delivered along with a bowl of fried dough balls sprinkled with powdered sugar. Never understood the allure of eating sweet, fried dough at the beginning of the meal, but I know a lot of people like it, so there you go. I knew that my server got my salad dressing choice right because the words blue cheese were clearly marked on the container. The greens were sufficiently crisp, though the carrot sticks were dry, and the lone grape tomato seemed to be there only to add color.
At about the time I was eating my salad, a young woman -- not the server -- brought a tray carrying the entrees for the family of three across the aisle. I thought I heard her ask the man to open the tray jack for her, but I told myself I was mistaken. (In retrospect I believe she did.) She then auctioned off the food: “I have a mahi mahi,” and the young son raised his hand. The scallops were claimed by his mother. The food runner then declared that the remaining plate belonged to the father. Clever deduction.
Then it happened. The man tried to hand her their salad plates, but the young woman said, “Your server will get those.” So the man moved them to the other side of the table. Mind you, her tray was empty; she was returning to the kitchen. But she did not take the salad plates.
So I finished my salad and waited for my food to arrive, leaving my plate squarely in front of me. She came. She didn’t have the tray, so I wasn’t asked to open the tray jack for her. She lifted my side plate of vegetables off the top of the seafood on which it was resting and placed it above my salad plate. Then she put the entree to the right of the salad plate and tried to push both in far enough so the entree did not fall on the floor. Satisfied that it would not fall, she turned to go. “Could you take this, please?” I asked, indicating the salad plate. “Your server will get that,” she replied, predictably. “Is there a reason you can’t take it? I inquired.
“It’s not my job,” she said, with a smile that showed a certain satisfaction for having a position that did not require her to stoop so low as to handle a soiled plate. I believe I asked if she was serious, and, perhaps seeing my jaw agape when she simply turned and left, my server came over to ask if something was wrong. When I told her, she said, “I don’t know what her problem is; she’s only been here three days.”
Sorry, that’s not a good enough excuse. A restaurant has to work as a complete system, and that means everyone has to work together. If someone from one area can do something to ensure guest satisfaction and does not do it -- refuses to do it, in this case -- what joy will that person get when the guests leave and talk about the restaurant in a negative way? It’s not my fault; I did my job, and that wasn’t part of my job. When the restaurant closes because it has a bad reputation, what is your job description then?
If I were the owner of this restaurant, and found out about this, the first words out of my mouth would be, “You’re fired.” And I would say them not to this hapless woman but to the manager, or whoever else was responsible for allowing her to have interaction with my guests without knowing the scope of responsibilities expected of her.
And I would have told the manager at the restaurant my thoughts if I had spotted anyone I could identify as one. It certainly wasn’t one of the teenagers standing at the door when I and another party left the restaurant. They didn’t even bother to glance at us, let alone thank us for coming.
And the food? Although not specified on the menu, the scallops were the bay variety, little tiny eraser tip types. The crab cake was closer to deviled crab, an overly bready concoction crammed into a tiny shell. I detected nothing I could easily point to as crablike in appearance or taste. The shrimp were good, broiled just right.
Following the clearing of plates -- the server again, of course -- guests are presented, along with the check, a dollop of hard-frozen sorbet, served in one of those teeny pleated paper cups like you’d find next to the ketchup pump at a fast-food restaurant. It’s a nice idea, but couldn’t be cheesier in its presentation.
But then cheesy was one of the words I’m pretty sure the voices were saying when I first walked in the place, so there’s no surprise with the decor or the food or the ambience.
But there is no excuse for that kind of service. One of the often asked questions of a restaurant critic is, “What’s the worst service you’ve ever had.” Previously it was the fellow who begged me to accept the dish he delivered instead of what I had actually ordered because the cook was in a bad mood and he didn’t want to tell him it was the wrong thing.
We have a new winner.
This is where I usually give you the details of the restaurant, but you don’t really want to go there, do you? If so, here’s a link to their Web site.