Saturday, February 20, 2010

No visitors please...

As a follow-up to the fun time at O'Connell's, some people have emailed me asking about whether the manager came over to speak with us. The answer is no!!!

I'll admit, I didn't ask for the manager, because this was such a bad experience, I would have thought the waitress would have made a point of letting the manager know that a table was having a lousy experience. The fact that she either did not, or she did, but no manager ever came by, is indicative of how poorly they manage the staff and restaurant. Like most places before them, I expect a very short life-span. They would be wise to focus on the liquor because they are way out of their comfort zone, if they ever had one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Out of their zone...

The world is full of examples of tremendous failures when people go out of their “comfort zone”. Like Robert DeNiro doing comedy, or Rocky Balboa leaving Philly and going “Hollywood” after winning the belt from Apollo Creed, once you stray from your strengths, only bad things can happen. Take a look at “Analyze This” or Clubber Lang…so, too, with restaurants; when they change formats, or expand their menus, nothing good usually happens. Witness, O’Connell’s Pub in Framingham.

O’Connell’s is derived from “Lloyd’s Diner” here in Framingham; despite the Senior Palate’s appreciation of their breakfasts, it was a little lost on me. They only seemed to be open for about 15 minutes a week, and not always consecutive, but my father was a fan. Apparently, they sold out and decided to go “big time”; that is, if you consider “big time” an Irish-named, sports-themed pub…and sell out they did.

I could just leave you with this review: I left without eating. But so much more needs to be said …I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t...

I could bore you with a whole dissertation on how the waitress was clearly over her head. I could bore you with how the table across from us was seated, served and checked out before our meals even came. I could bore you with tales of an exploding toilet in the men’s room, but let me focus on the positive…

Wait for it…

Ok, so now that I got the positives out of the way, let me tell you about our experience.

After Burger Quest last year, I have pretty high expectations for a burger, and when you go to a “sports pub”, you expect a burger to be right in their comfort zone, or wheelhouse. But my experience here was exactly that of DeNiro in “Rocky and Bullwinkle”…O’Connell’s is way out of their comfort zone, and that’s too bad.

I order my burger “medium”. Not complicated, no special requests…just medium. Service issue number 1-when the waitress brought the food, she only brought out half the food, including mine. So while four people had their meals, 4 people didn’t. She did say she’d be “right back”, but I guess “right back” meant 15 minutes. She did come back a minute later (with a couple of meals, but not all), and by then, I had cut into my burger. I guess to the kitchen, “medium” means incinerated beyond recognition, or cooked to resemble a hockey puck.

When I pointed it out to the waitress, she scooped it up and said she would bring me another. About three minutes later, she appeared with another burger, but another odd observation-she still had not brought out the original burger for one of my dining companions. So here we were, everyone at the table with their meals (albeit not all cooked correctly), and me with my SECOND one, and someone just sitting there watching us. That’s only slightly uncomfortable. However, I would not wish this second burger on anyone.

Despite the nuclear cooking method used on the first burger, I think they employed the “hold a match in the near vicinity” method for the second. Despite what appeared to be a cooked exterior, the inside was raw. Not medium rare, not rare, but raw. If you put your finger into it (which I did), there was no bounce back, no resiliency, just soft, raw meat. I’ve had “steak tartare” that was cooked more. “Listeria” anyone?
Full disclosure-this is a "composite" photo since the lighting wasn't good enough for my cell phone, I found a photo that accurately represents what my burger looked like.

When the waitress came back to check on me again, I showed her this burger. She agreed “that’s not medium” (you think?) and I told her that I wasn’t even sure they breathed on it heavily. She offered to bring me another one, but at this point, two strikes and you’re out. She persisted, to her credit, but frankly, if you’re a sports pub and you can’t cook a burger right, can you really expect anything to be right? I told her that I did not want her to bring anything else.

A few minutes later, she returned with a third burger, despite my protestations otherwise. When she came over, she said “he (meaning the cook, I guess) really wants you to have this. No charge (as if they would?). This will be just how you want it.” I told her I didn’t want it, and told her to take it away, but she insisted on leaving it. (As an aside, having no idea what is going on in the kitchen, but I can only imagine what the cook did to this burger; I would not have eaten that burger on a bet.) One of my dining companions decided that we needed to see how this burger was cooked. Of course, if it was cooked “medium”, all my dining companions would be taunting me to eat it, but I am a man of principles, and would not eat it no matter what; however, that decision was made for me when we cut it open, and it was as “undone” as the second burger. Whoever is working the grill just doesn’t understand the concept of how to cook food. Not a good thing when you work in a restaurant.

Having worked at my father’s diner, there is one concept that you can’t get away from-quality and consistency. If you’re not consistent in giving someone a quality product, there is no reason for him or her to come back. No one wants to go to a place that can’t get basics right, and certainly don’t want to go somewhere where it’s a crapshoot for each meal (in this case, emphasis on “crap”). Besides my meal, other dining companions noted that things were inconsistent from plate to plate. I had fries that looked well cooked and crispy (even though I didn’t order them-I ordered cole slaw), but my friend next to me had the same fries, but they looked soggy and pasty. This was true from plate to plate on the table. How does that happen?

Lastly, O’Connell’s calls itself “family friendly”-two observations about this. First, they are a “sports pub”, which by its very terms, means “bar”, and with “bar”, comes an element that’s fine for me, but not for kids. Add Keno to the mix, including a Keno screen in the dining room, and it’s not really as family friendly as the local “house of correction”.

Second, Junior Palate had to use the restroom, and he came back chuckling. I asked him why, and he said that the bathroom was disgusting (as most in barrooms are), but there was a funny poster. As it just so happened, I needed to use the men’s room. He was right-the bathroom was nasty, and the poster was funny, but totally inappropriate for a “family friendly” restaurant. While I chuckled when I saw it, and still do, rather than send a family-friendly message, it’s more about how to “make” a family.

I always hope that these one-off, local places will be great and survive, and we all know, the MetroWest doesn’t really need another chain-style place. But given my experience at “O’Connell’s”, I’d rather eat the pre-fabricated pretend food at Ruby Tuesday’s across the street, and that’s saying something!

O’Connell’s…until they get back to, or find, their comfort zone, I’ll be staying away, and I have a feeling the other people with me might not be back anytime soon either. Eat at your own risk.

You’ve been great, now enjoy Celtic Woman…

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You’re going to hate the way you look, I guarantee it! Part Two!

Read the prior post first…

The next day, I called Men’s Wearhouse to speak with Mike, but he wasn’t there. After waiting almost five minutes for the manager on duty to pick up the phone, I called corporate to leave a message for George Zimmer and his toupee. I got through to a helpful customer service rep, she got through to the store, and told me that they’re expecting me back, and that I can have the choice of returning the suits, having them adjust these suits again, or having them start over from scratch with new suits; despite my initial hesitance to keep these suits, I decided to give them a chance. To the customer service rep’s credit, she offered me a $50.00 gift card for the inconvenience, though she said “even though it’s not likely you’ll be shopping with us anymore.” At least she understood me.

So I brought the suits back last Friday (1/22/10). When I arrived, the woman working the floor immediately greeted me by name; apparently, there were well aware that I was coming. She asked me to explain hat happened, but I asked that she bring Mike out to hear it as well, so I would not have to repeat myself. As soon as Mike came out, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to go as well as Karyn (from headquarters) thought it would.

Apparently, Mike had heard all he needed to hear from corporate, because he came over to me and asked me to put the suits on. I told him I wanted to explain why I was so upset, and he said that he just wanted to see how the suits fit (or didn’t, as the case may be). If there’s any one customer service blunder that really roasts my cookies, it’s an unwillingness to even listen to someone’s complaint. Nevertheless, I would not put the suits on until I shared with him my disgust about the my experience with HIS store. After expressing myself, and after having him try to quiet me down because there were other customers in the store whose alterations they had yet to screw up, I put the suits on. It was immediately apparent they didn’t fit right. Mike asked me “Len told you this suit looked good?” I told him that Len had, in fact, told me it looked great, even though I told him that the jacket was too small and uncomfortable, and the pants were cut for Manute Bol and I’m built more like Spud Webb.

Mike brought out the tailor, and we spent quite a bit of time reviewing exactly what was wrong and what I wanted. The tailor could not explain why the pants were too long, why he didn’t agree that they needed to be shortened a week earlier when I needed the other pants taken up, why the sleeves were different lengths, and why the jacket was cut to fit Tony Atlas, but you know me, I just want to focus on the positive and get this done. I also tried on the second suit, and once again, it was immediately apparent that my sleeves were substantially different length, but oddly, this jacket wasn’t as sculpted as the other.

Mike told me they would have it ready within a couple of hours, but I just couldn’t be bothered to waste more time there that same day. I told them to take their time (and maybe do it right) and I would come back the following week sometime. Fast forward to a week later…this past Friday, January 29, 2010.

I arrive around 1:30pm, and the place is deserted, other than the few employees. I walk in and Mike sees me and grabs the suits. He has me put them on, we review what was done and how it fits, and 20 minutes later, he says “well, things seem to be all set; hopefully you’re satisfied.” I said “I’ll be satisfied when you reimburse me for the alterations, like I said last week.” He says “Oh yeah, let’s go up front to the register”.

So we get to the register, and he calls my transaction up on the computer. He begins making notes on a piece of paper, adding some things up, then turns to me and says “let me ask you this-would you agree that we did some alteration, like the back or neck of the jackets, that didn’t have any problems?” So now I can smell this a mile away, and it stinks. I say immediately “Do I agree that there were some alterations that didn’t need adjusting, yes. Do I agree that I should pay for any alterations? Absolutely not, like I said last week.” So he says “no, I think just reimbursing you for the things we had to fix again is enough.” I ask “what about all the wasted time, aggravation, and embarrassment?” He says “no, it’s $100.00, and that’s good enough.” Of course, my response was “not for me. As requested by corporate, I’ll be following up with them. If you don’t to give me the additional costs, that’s fine, but I’ll report it to corporate and they’ll pay it and take it up with you.” His response-“that’s fine. Here you go…” and he hands me the refund slip for the $100.00. I take my suits and walk out without saying another word, and he walked away without saying anything either. Really nice.

When I got back to the office, I called corporate to express my dissatisfaction with the resolution. Karyn was apologetic, and of course, is sending me check for the balance. While I think corporate handled this matter appropriately, that cooperative spirit has not trickled down to the retail stores.

As I expressed to Karyn, it has nothing to do with the balance, and everything to do with feeling that your business is valued, and if there is a problem, the company will do what they can to keep you as a customer. It became apparent to me, from the day I brought the suits back, that I was an annoyance to the store and manager, who didn’t even want to bother to listen to me. I was an angry customer who had been sold a bill of goods, but had now “come off the ledge” because corporate offered to make it right for me. When the suits fit on Friday, I felt a little better and perhaps had confidence that MW would follow-through and make things right. That feeling was immediately thwarted when Mike decided that savings face with his tailor by not reimbursing me the extra few dollars was more important than making a customer feel that his three visits to the store and all the time dealing with this problem wasn’t a waste of time. Maybe he even had a chance for me to come back and use the credits given to me by corporate and maybe he could have told his staff and corporate of his success in turning a bad situation into something positive-he could have used me as a training tool to his advantage with his staff. Did this happen? No, instead he chose to draw a line in the sand, knowing full well that I would cross it by calling corporate and forcing the issue with them. He must have realized that this would be reported downstream from them to him, and perhaps he just doesn’t care. That’s sad.

I have copied Karyn at MW headquarters pretty much on the content of this blog, which she requested I do. She told me that she will forward this to a variety of parties, including the Regional Manager, whom she will encourage to share with Mike and talk about proper raining and customer service.

In conclusion, I suggest you stay away from MW, especially the one in Framingham near Jordan’s Furniture. Milton’s has been the favored local player for years, and rightfully so. The corporate mentality, and store manager’s affect is good reason to never darken the doorstep of MW again. If you shop there, they’ll treat you poorly, I guaranty it!

You’re going to hate the way you look, I guarantee it!

“Everyone makes mistakes oh yes, they do. Your sister and your brother, and your dad and mother too. Big people, small people, matter of fact, all people, everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do…”

With that catchy little tune from Sesame Street in the late 1960s, I bring the “critical” back to the Palate. Let me tell you a story…

For years, I have been very particular about where I buy my suits. I have always defaulted to “Milton’s” in Chestnut Hill, and I have never, ever, been disappointed in the quality of the suit or the quality of the alterations. In fact, I got my bar mitzvah suit there 31 years ago, and last year, we brought the Junior Palate there to get his bar mitzvah suit as well. I can tell you that JP (Junior Palate) is very particular about his clothes (I have no idea where he gets that from), and we only needed less than 10 minutes to find a great bar mitzvah suit for him, with the help of a great salesman.

It was my error then when I let him convince me on New Year’s Day to take him to “Men’s Wearhouse” (hereinafter “MW”)to get a couple of new shirts. I always prefer to go to Milton’s, even though it is about 20 minutes from home, as opposed to anywhere else. But, we have friends who shop at MW and we decided to give it a chance. I had previously purchased a suit from MW in 1997, from their Solomon Pond Mall location. While the suit was actually quite nice, I did not like the saleswoman, who kept calling me at home trying to get me to come in for their next sale, or a new shirt, or their spring tie collection…etc. David Letterman hasn’t had stalkers like this.

In reality, his shopping experience there was fine. The store manager (“Mike”) waited on him, measured him up, and 10 minutes later, we were out of there. Mrs. Palate really liked the shirts and the material, so I thought about going back and seeing what they had for men’s suits, since they were having a buy one, get another for $100 sale. Being someone that has a frequent need for a suit, I figured “why not?”.

I should note here that I am pretty cautious about making any purchase; I analyze and over-analyze the decision until I convince myself it was the right thing to do. I wondered if I was being a traitor to Milton’s, but how could I resist the come-on from George Zimmer and his toupee.

Even though I saw Mike when I returned, he was busy with another customer, and I was “helped” (read “sold a bill of goods”) by “Len”. Len was clearly a guy just burning time while on retirement from his original career, but he certainly had strong opinions about clothes. Since this was a “buy one get one” promotion, I picked out two suits and tried them on. This is where the fun began.

I cannot quite detail the level of frustration I feel when I have to repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself. I must have told the tailor at least 3 or 4 times that I like the sleeves of my jackets a little longer. I talk with my hands quite a bit, especially in Court, when I’m pointing at exhibits, and I don’t like it when a lot of sleeve comes out. I also stressed that due to my physique (designed by the finest Chinese chefs and sandwich makers) I like my jacket a little less tailored and more boxy. I repeated this several times while the tailor kept marking up the back of my jacket with that mysterious white chalk. She assured me that they would shape it “just a little” but I kept stressing that I didn’t like it pulled in on the sides. I also told them that I wanted the pants cuffed at the bottom and really didn’t want them coming to the back/bottom of my heel. After $136.00 in alterations, I assumed I’d be ready to go.

A week later, I returned to pick up the suits. I tried the first one on, and immediately I realized that I look like Toulouse-Lautrec; the pants were unusually long. I point this out to Len, and he tells me that they look fine and that this is the current style. I again say that they look too long and ask if they could be taken up, and he tells me “wait until you’ve worn it and you’ll see how they look when you’re out and about.” I also put the jacket on, and the sleeves were too short and the jacket is pulled in on the sides, making it very form fitting (and believe me, my form doesn’t like to be fit). I tell Len that I do not like it at all, and he tells me how great it looks and that people will really like the suit on me. He tells me that sometimes it’s not bad to go away from your comfort zone, and contrary to my normal affect, I let him sell me that line of crap.

When I put the second suit on, the pants were also too long, but this time he agrees with me and has the tailor come out and fix them. I asked why this one and not the other, and he tells me it’s the way the material hangs; the second suit was a heavier material and looked different. Whatever…

Though I am not vain (despite what Carly Simon sang about me), there is something about wearing a new suit for the first time that makes you feel better about yourself. I had a new matching shirt and tie combination, so I was ready to go when I put the first suit on the next morning for a bat mitzvah. Of course, I was immediately deflated when Mrs. Palate said “Is that one of the new suits? It’s too small”. Ouch! So now, it’s too late to change, and we go to the event we me all self-conscious about this suit. It certainly didn’t get any better, when I good friend said to me, after I made a presentation to the bat mitzvah child “Is that a new suit? Your tailor messed that up. The pants are too long and the sleeves aren’t just too short, they’re different lengths, and the jacket is too fitted. Bring that back.” I assure you by now, I am “fit” to be tied.

The next day, we had the party to attend, so I wore the second suit. No sooner had I arrived than someone else said to me “those sleeves are too short, and different lengths. What’s up with that?” Great, now I have two suits that make me look like abnormally long arms and 24 inch legs. I assure you, I spent the rest of that day particularly unhappy.

Tune in tomorrow for what I did about it! Hint-I didn’t stretch my legs or shorten my arms.