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

c
cupcake Jul 30, 2006 06:46 AM

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. DanaB RE: cupcake Jul 30, 2006 07:20 AM

    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. Moomin RE: cupcake Jul 30, 2006 03:16 PM

      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
        ChinoWayne RE: Moomin Jul 30, 2006 07:29 PM

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

        1. re: Moomin
          b
          Briggs RE: Moomin Jul 30, 2006 07:40 PM

          "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
            Moomin RE: Briggs Jul 30, 2006 09:29 PM

            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
            DanaB RE: Moomin Jul 30, 2006 10:01 PM

            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
              Moomin RE: DanaB Jul 31, 2006 01:50 AM

              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
                b
                Briggs RE: Moomin Jul 31, 2006 04:46 AM

                "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
                  Moomin RE: Briggs Jul 31, 2006 05:12 AM

                  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
                    westsidegal RE: Briggs Aug 19, 2006 10:54 PM

                    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
                    b
                    bwainiac RE: Moomin Jul 31, 2006 06:19 PM

                    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. PaulF RE: cupcake Jul 30, 2006 07:35 PM

                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
                  hrhboo RE: PaulF Jul 30, 2006 08:30 PM

                  I have to agree. The meat is downright tasteless.

                  1. re: hrhboo
                    Moomin RE: hrhboo Jul 30, 2006 09:32 PM

                    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. Xericx RE: cupcake Jul 31, 2006 04:12 AM

                  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.

                  1. PaulF RE: cupcake Jul 31, 2006 10:07 AM

                    I forgot to mention ...

                    The beers are warm ... at least they aren't all that cold ... at The Counter.

                    1. j
                      JBC RE: cupcake Jul 31, 2006 06:06 PM

                      Thanks for all The Counter Intelligence.

                      But when they start serving warm Beer, that's the last draw.

                      1. p
                        PayOrPlay RE: cupcake Aug 1, 2006 01:47 AM

                        The beer might be warm but the milkshakes are still cold and pretty good, in the Pulp Fiction "not-sure-it's-worth-five-dollars-but-still-pretty-@#%%ing-good" sense. (Sp. thanks to Dommy & P. for highlighting the apple pie milkshake, which I would not have otherwise tried.) We hit the Counter every few months, always try to go at an off hour to avoid the unjustifiable waits. The best thing may be the burger-in-a-bowl, which avoids completely the issues with the buns and somehow the bland meat (especially the turkey burger) works better in the salad context. All in all it's way down our list of good burgers (honestly, we like even Islands better) but somehow still has enough to beckon once in a while.

                        By the way, the franchising issue is not speculation--an offering brochure (and video!) is right there on the website. http://www.thecounterburger.com/franc...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PayOrPlay
                          i
                          ITurnedOutTV RE: PayOrPlay Aug 1, 2006 04:35 PM

                          In the midst of all this negative talk, I'm still willing to ask: Does anyone know where/when the Pasadena location will be/is going to open?

                          My boyfriend and I had a pleasant-enough dining experience at the bar at the Counter a month or so back. I had a bowl burger, he had a burger-burger and fries. I would not, however, recommend the fried pickles.

                        2. e
                          ElissaInPlaya RE: cupcake Aug 1, 2006 06:12 AM

                          Yeah - I HATED the turkey burger in a bowl. If it had been good I would have overlooked all of the service/waiting/heat/crowding issues. However it was bland and tasteless - even with my *exciting* toppings. When our group of four walked back to the parking garage we all wished we had gone for the supermarket salad bar right there instead; it looked a lot tastier.

                          1. e
                            eartha RE: cupcake Aug 1, 2006 06:31 AM

                            I've never eaten at the "Counter", in fact, never heard of it before (I admit I don't get around much anymore) but after reading this thread, I ask you why anyone would eat there? Bad food and bad service = never on my time and my dime.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: eartha
                              Moomin RE: eartha Aug 1, 2006 04:30 PM

                              People eat there, in such ridiculously large numbers, because the preponderance of opinion is that it produces one of the(possibly --though this isn't my opinion-- the very) best burgers in town. There have been knock down drag out fights on Chowhound about it, but even here many of the prior threads have skewed positive:

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                              But, there will always be a few restuarant names that you can throw into the ring to start a fight. Both sides are convinced they're totally right and that if they tell enough people, popular opinion will shift on the topic... for whatever reason the Counter is one of these places, just like Echigo, the Ivy, Taco Mesa, Sasabune, Father's Office, and pretty much anyplace that serves barbecue.

                              The general wisdom is that when passions are inflamed on both sides, you really have to try the place for yourself -- because the picture is rarely as rosey or as squalid as it's being made to seem online.

                            2. 1
                              14u2nv RE: cupcake Aug 1, 2006 05:15 PM

                              I have been to the Counter a couple of times and I don't understand the tastless burger comment. If you are sunch a lover of burgers and meat in general then I think you would love the Counter since they don't over season the meat and you can taste the fact it is good meat. Just one burger lovers thoughts.

                              1. s
                                sweet. RE: cupcake Aug 2, 2006 06:40 AM

                                I'm sad to hear all the negativity about the Counter as a good friend of mine is looking to own a franchise. I'm going to L.A. next week and I will have to check it out.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: sweet.
                                  s
                                  scoot RE: sweet. Aug 19, 2006 10:36 PM

                                  The Counter is a place that sounds good on paper: lots of topping options, a little style in the decor, moderately priced (sort of.)

                                  However....burgers tend to fall apart into an unappealing sloppy mass. Fries served beforehand not my cup of tea - and they were cold to boot. Service appallingly bad.

                                  I think it's popularity is based on the novelty/gimmick factor, the fact that there aren't many affordable options on the Westside, and the big lunch crowd from the office parks across the street.

                                  I, of course, will be a couple doors down at Fast Taco enjoying a delicious chicken burrito for $5.

                                2. r
                                  River Rat RE: cupcake Aug 19, 2006 11:00 PM

                                  After reading through these posts I have only one question: Why on god's green earth would anyone go to a place that causes you this much angst? Seems like once would be enough. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: River Rat
                                    b
                                    Briggs RE: River Rat Aug 20, 2006 01:01 AM

                                    Well, I suppose as bad it is to many, what are the alternatives for a half-decent burger in the area (and that's a generous description for me). I agree with scoot on the reason for its popularity.

                                    I also have a strong suspicion that many of the naysayers (such as myself), may be non-westiders who are familiar with the many superior and more accessable options around town.

                                    1. re: Briggs
                                      r
                                      River Rat RE: Briggs Aug 20, 2006 02:35 AM

                                      I don't live there, so I have no idea what the place is like or what other options may exist, but just jumping around on the board and reading things from other places, it seemed to me that if it were really that bad, people would just stay away.

                                      1. re: River Rat
                                        Dommy RE: River Rat Aug 21, 2006 06:02 AM

                                        But they have a really good apple pie milkshake... LOL!!

                                        --Dommy!

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