Monday, December 15, 2008


The economy is in the tank…big box retailers closing, unemployment going up…only the strong will survive. Chain restaurants aren’t great, and in fact, some have become utterly awful (see blog posts from Holidays past on the Olive Garden.) Eric Schlosser (author of “Fast Food Nation”) operates on the thesis that chains survive because they breed consistency and familiarity. No matter what Burger King you eat at, the Whopper theoretically should taste the same. So too, the pizza at Pizza Hut or the Chalupa at Taco Hell (someone told me “chalupa” is slang for “Chihuahua intestine”). Table service restaurants are no different-that’s why many use commissary, partially prepared pre-cooked portioned foods-so the diced vegetables at the Olive Garden in Linden, NJ are the same size and taste of those in Pawtucket, RI (as if anyone would ever admit they went to either place).

But now, inconsistency reigns supreme…we had a really bad meal at the Outback Steakhouse, which followed my friend Hugh’s warning about their bad meal (we passed as they were leaving and we were coming), which followed another friend’s tale of woe from last week. It seems that the new slogan is Outback Steakhouse…No Rules, Just Wrong.

So we order, and any of you that have read this with any frequency or listened to me on the radio, know how much I can’t stand it when a restaurant makes a point of inviting you to tell them your food allergies and then proceeds to give you food laden with offending foods. What is wrong with these places? So I ask, “Outback, what is wrong with you?”

I’ll cut to it-Mrs. Palate ordered a salad off the menu--Fresh chicken breast salad on a bed of mixed greens with Monterey Jack and Cheddar, bacon, diced egg, tomatoes and toasted almonds. We told the waitress what she’s allergic to, and had her hold, the cheeses, bacon and almonds. The first salad came full-blown, right off the menu description, and even included the extra ingredient of blue cheese. Why, we can’t figure, but hey, if we tell you she’s allergic to cheese, just add more.

We sent it back, after giving the server a VERY detailed explanation of what she can’t have on the salad. The second time it came back, it was the same chicken salad, on new lettuce, no cheese, but with bacon and candied pecans. Did I mention that “candied pecans” are not on the menu!!! And they’re nuts!!! Sent this one back, and the third time, it came out on a plain bed of lettuce, but it was clear they used the same chicken salad, because when we took a closer look, it still had some bacon and cheese shreds on the bottom. It is absolutely crazy that they would just keep moving the chicken, containing all the allergens, from plate to plate. Were they hoping we wouldn’t notice? Were they hoping that when Mrs. Palate was in the ambulance having an allergic reaction, she wouldn’t realize it was something they served her? Can you really hide bacon???

The manager finally came over, and we now explained for the third time how she wanted the salad, and thankfully, the 4th time was the charm. While this is all going on, we had sent another meal back (a quesadilla) because it came with bacon in it, but we had been very specific about requesting “no bacon” in that too. And, when they brought my appetizer salad out, it was covered in bacon, which is not described on the menu (since there no description at all.) It was a pork parade! A soiree of swine!

The manager was pretty clinical in her handling of it, and when she brought the salad and new quesadilla out, the rest of us had finished eating and the manager offered us some desserts, which we declined. I just asked for the check so I could “chew and screw” out of there. I have to admit, I was a little surprised when the bill came and we were charged for the salad.

I told the waitress that I was a little perplexed why were being charged for my wife’s salad, since it took four attempts and a visit from the manager to ensure she could consume it without needing to wash it down with an epi-pen. Her response-“the manager offered you a free dessert, right?” I told her that it was puzzling, and I didn’t think I should be paying for that experience. To her credit, she brought me a new bill, and she had removed the salad and the quesadilla.

My buddy, who is not a complainer, told me as he was leaving that the service was utterly awful and that it was such a bad experience for them (replete with rude, forgetful wait staff and poorly prepared food) that he decided not to buy several gift cards for his staff (saving him a couple hundred dollars, but costing the Outhouse.) Our friends who had a bad meal there the week before were very dissatisfied with the quality of the meal, going so far as to say that their steak tasted and looked “steamed”.

In a world where the economy is crumbling, and restaurants should be tripping over themselves to get, and retain, your business, the Outback seems to be taking the position that you’ll come to them no matter what type of experience they serve up. It had been a long time since I had eaten at an Outback…I think it will be ever longer before I go back.

You’ve been great…enjoy the Little River Band.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So I guess you don't want the gift cards to the Outback that I have sitting at my house. Someone gave them to us, but we won't use them so I was going to give them to you. Also, another example of why you should be eating at home more often. There the only person you can complain to is yourself and we all know you love your cooking.