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Jul 30, 2006 06:46 AM

THE COUNTER!! NO a/c and no waitress service at lunch!!

Oh my lord! Met a friend there for lunch on Friday. There was a huge line at the register, and a lot of confusion over procedure. What you have to do at lunch is order at the register, get a number, and WAIT for a table to open up, hoping you can grab one. This took us 40 minutes at lunchtime. You even have to get your own drink from the dispenser. To top it all off, there is NO a/c, so the place was sweltering. People hovered by our table the whole time, checking to see if we would give them our seat when we were done.
I HATE this. When did this start at the Counter? If you needed anything, you had to desperately hope a bus boy would catch your eye. An unpleasant experience, despite a great burger.

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  1. I ate there about three weeks ago around 4:30, and the place was calm, but the service still wasn't good. I don't think their method -- counter orders, runners to bring out the food, and servers to check on things, works all that smoothly. I was seated at the actual counter/bar, was told to place my order with the guy who attended the bar/counter, and after I placed my order, and he got me my drink, he promptly disappeared for around 10 minutes. They brought me my burger, but not my fries. I had to ask for utensils. And, I had to ask three times for the fries, and by the time they were served to me, I was done with the burger and really was kind of over wanting the fries. Earlier on, there had been a server guy wandering around with an order of fries, but where to deliver them, he did not know . . . they could have been my order, but as he came nowhere near where I was seated, I didn't think it my place to get up from my seat and ask him if they were mine. It was weird and unnecessarily hectic.

    The burger itself came on a bun that got so mushy, I had to salvage what I could with a fork. Overall, I was not impressed, especially for the price (around $13 with tip, for their smaller burger (with cheese), fries and a soda.

    I'm just not sure their method promotes the best service. Nobody is ultimately responsible for a table, so while the people working there may be nice, they get no penalty if they spend their time gossiping with friends over attending their tables. I personally wouldn't go back.

    1. I've been going to the Counter since it opened, once every few months, so I feel qualified to comment on this one.

      The Counter has NEVER had table service for lunch. The wait staff comes in for dinner only. If you need anything you have to get up and fetch it yourself. They argue that this is because 90% of their lunch business is take out and it allows them to focus their energies where they are needed. I just never go for lunch.

      The Counter has NEVER had air conditioning (on hot days, if it's raining they'll close the "garage door" and run the air). One of their organizing concepts is that the front wall opens completely allowing for an indoor/outdoor atmosphere in what is one of the worlds great beach cities. I just never go when it's too hot.

      The burgers and fries have NEVER been served together. At the Counter the fries are treated like an appetizer, or at the very least like an a la carte meal. They generally come ten to fifteen minutes ahead of the burgers. This has always been this way. This is by design. If they come at the same time it's due to a communication break down in the kitchen... late is comparatively unusual.

      The Counter had NEVER had a coherent crowd control policy. It's more or less the same as Father's Office. In this case it's been an issue of increasing urgency for over a year now, as the restaurant has gained in popularity. I'll presently only go to the Counter early in the week, early in the evening... say a 6:00 dinner on a Monday or a Tuesday. Even then, there can be some table jockying, but you will get seated in fifteen minutes or less.

      There has been a newish manager at the Counter for about ten months as the owner looks toward a franchised future... she hasn't been a salutory influence. Instead of working to address any of the crowd control issues directly, she's focused on an aggressive seating policy by which every table has specifically the number of patrons that it seats. This means groups of four are at a slight advantage over groups of two (as the "four tops" don't fill up as fast and she refuses to seat parties of two there), and odd numbered groups can cause problems. To me this is a matter of arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship...

      That being said... anybody who has a bad burger at the Counter really only has themselves to blame. The kitchen TRULY will prepare your meal ANY way you want it. Once you get familiar with the options at hand it's a relatively easy thing to engineer the pefect burger for you every time. If you're the sort to be baffled, or tempted, by too much choice, this isn't the restaurant for you. Period. Whenever I take my mother, who lives for good rare burgers with blue cheese, I do the ordering for her. She's the sort who would order herself a well-done burger covered in sprouts and peanut sauce just to see whether she'd like it. She wouldn't.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Moomin

        Great, informative posting, I especially like the sinking ship analogy.

        1. re: Moomin

          "anybody who has a bad burger at the Counter really only has themselves to blame. The kitchen TRULY will prepare your meal ANY way you want it"

          Uh, no. IIRC, one of the issues (for quite awhile at least) was that the burgers were often NOT cooked as requested. Perhaps that's changed. Still, a lukewarm/cold burger can't be blamed on the customer either. FWIW, the last time I was there for lunch a couple of years ago, I specifically recall having table service.

          I've only been to The Counter a handful of times and found the burgers respectable, but certainly nothing to go out of my way for. I keep waiting for a Counter partisan to come back with a report from the Ramp in Burbank, something I doubt will happen because of the geography.

          And yes, I understand they've already begun the steps toward franchising. Jerry's Deli ring a bell?

          1. re: Briggs

            The complaints about doneness were addressed almost immediately... the owner was a chowhound poster and he took them very seriously. You can get your burger anywhere from raw to incinerated at this point.

            If I could turn back time and stop the franchising of any number of restaurants, I would... both the Counter and Taco Mesa seem to be quickly sliding off the face of planet chowhound, due in part to franchising. In both cases, it's too bad, as they had a lot of potential at one point and franchising isn't the way to reach it.

          2. re: Moomin

            As a follow up to my post above, yes, I did expect my fries to come out before the burger. My point was that they didn't, nor did they even come out with the burger. Somebody messed up, and it wasn't me, because the fries were on my order slip.

            As for the burger, I don't see how a mushy bun is the fault of the patron. The burger was cooked properly, and I got basic toppings (red chile sauce, lettuce, cheese, tomato). But the whole ensemble did not come together into a cohesive whole, and it fell apart way too easily.

            Agreed on the service issues.

            1. re: DanaB

              I feel like I'm on the wrong side of the discussion as this is a restaurant that I have very mixed feelings about... but...

              I would point out that you have a selection of three different bun options as well as a burger salad. The degree to which you have to resort to knife and fork is also, pretty much, up to you.

              I'm a strong believer that the basic options at the Counter are not a particularly good way to go. I'm a devout member of the blue cheese or feta camp. They tend to compensate for the lack of seasoning in the meat.

              1. re: Moomin

                "I'm a strong believer that the basic options at the Counter are not a particularly good way to go"
                Respectfully, this is a bit amusing and confusing. What's the point. If the burger is "saved" by the accoutrments, then it wasn't really that great a burger to begin with. Whatever charm The Counter had, seems to have disappeared as the franchising started to outweigh food quality and service.

                But then Perhaps this was the business model all along.

                1. re: Briggs

                  When I referred to the basic options I was specifically making reference to your "basic toppings (red chile sauce, lettuce, cheese, tomato)." Incidentally, the red chile sauce is actually a very bland sweet red relish, not chile sauce, which I agree, really should be an option but isn't.

                  The Counter doesn't season it's beef much, if at all. They provide a basic burger in the same spirit that pizza joints offer a basic cheese pizza. It's popular with some, but frequently bland... they believe that it has to be, because well more than half their patrons are going to use it as a palate upon which they can build using other (often badly mismatched) ingredients.

                  It's not a matter of saving a bad burger, it's about building a burger that you'll like, in the same way that you order a pizza you like, or build a salad at a salad bar.

                  So, yes, this was part of the business model all along.

                  If you want a great pre-built burger, or a well seasoned basic burger you'll have to go elsewhere... and when I want one I do. I just posted about my favorite greek cheeseburger in another thread... in that case I wouldn't change a single thing.

                  1. re: Briggs

                    i LOVE blue cheese on a burger.
                    the counter, unlike most other places in this town, actually serves a good quality blue cheese on their burger AND their burger is seasoned correctly to accomodate the good cheese.

                  2. re: Moomin

                    The instantly disintegrating bun is a fatal flaw -- knife and fork is not an option when the bun disappears. Of the 3 "bun" options, only 1 is an actual bun as I recall. A hamburger works because of the combination of burger, extras and bun. Whatever extras you order at the Counter, can't make up for the mediocre burger and a horrific bun.

              2. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but as far as I'm concerned Counter burgers are for people who prefer toppings to the actual burgers.

                I find their hamburgers and turkey burgers to be among the blandest I've ever had.

                2 Replies
                1. re: PaulF

                  I have to agree. The meat is downright tasteless.

                  1. re: hrhboo

                    Yup, which is why the general school of thought seems to be -- order expecting that the meat is essentially unseasoned. Saltier, spicier toppings tend to result in terrific burgers, whereas a conducting a "plain burger test" is probably a waste of cash.

                    That said, I think I made it clear above, I think that the Counter is having problems fulfilling it's potential, and I don't think that's going to change any time soon.

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. went 4 weeks or so ago....the previous 3 times I've been (including lunch) I sat at the "counter" and there was a girl working there and taking my order, getting drinks, etc.

                    Last time was different...I had to order at the register...I even brought up that I usually get service at the counter....the girl at the register was quite rude...then overcharged me.....when I brought it to their attention, they had no idea how to add/subtract.

                    When I did get my burger...for some odd reason I had two extra sides of mayonaise for some random reason (probably the source of the "overcharge" but I never said mayo...and told them so)....then my dining companion's burger took 10 MINUTES longer to get out.....

                    it was cracy.....sure, the burgers are pretty good...its an interesting place but the last time, the servers seemed miserable working there and it showed in the way they handled not only I, but the other customers in the restaurant.