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Jul 17, 2007 09:56 PM

At What Point is Enough, Enough?

Hypothetical question here: there's a restaurant that you love - you eat there once or twice a week (dine-in and take-out), you're on very good terms with the managers, you LOVE the food, so much so that you write about here on CH, possibly blog about, etc. It's truly chow worthy. You take your family and friends there. You send your postal delivery person there. You have them cater an event at your office. Really, you're that kind of enamoured with the place and their food.


In the past month or so, you've noticed a serious decline in quality control - everything from orders being wrong (dine-in and take-out) to dishes being served at the wrong temp. (a burger that's cold in the center, a lukewarm glass of milk) and so forth. You've mentioned the problems (when dining-in) to the server and they've been fixed, except for the one time when the server wasn't helpful and you had to speak to the manager. And when there's been a problem with take-out, a call to the manager has resulted in an apology and an offer to either replace the food or comp. the next time you call it in.

Now imagine that this place is known for one special thing - like a pizza parlour that's known for their fresh-from-scratch pizza dough, or a seafood place known for their grilled prawns, or a sandwich place that bakes it's own bread. And now imagine that the last time you got take-out from them the pizza crust was actually (and undeniably) NOT from scratch but is rather a pre-made crust that you can buy on the bread aisle of your local supermarket - or the grilled prawn salad is made with bay shrimp - or the sandwich is made on Wonder Bread. Really, that kind of a major disappointment. Nothing was said to you about the substitution when you placed the order or when you picked it up. And when you called the manager, they apologized and said that they'd run out (of whatever that special thing is) and the kitchen had to substitute.

You realize that, had that last order been the first you'd had at the restaurant, you'd not have gone back and you would have steered people away from going there.

So what do you do?
- Write a letter to the owners?
- Write a retraction or "update" to any positive recommendations you've made about the place here on CH, warning about a QC problem?
- Bite your tongue and wait a month or two to see how things shake-out? (Though others may be going there based on your recommendation and you don't want them to have a bad experience.)
- Just quit going there and quit recommending the place?
- Other ideas?

At what point do you cut your losses and move on - and at what point do you advise others to do the same?

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  1. Given what you describe there are a couple of different levels at which I respond:
    1) definitely write a letter to the owners. You've been going a while, have a long list of reasons you like the place and you're watching some of those change or slip away. I'd say something to them in case a) they're not aware of what's happening or b) they're not aware of the effect its having.

    2) If the reasons you recommended the place have changed, update those recommendations and stop recommending it to new people unless what's happening now somehow fits what those people are looking for.

    As for cutting losses and moving on...this isn't a friend's house that you're going to for dinner parties that used to be wonderful and are now awful but they're still your friends. This is a place that you're paying for food. If the food isn't good, stop going. If you see signs that its picking back up, certainly worth giving it another shot at some point and hopefully, its back the way you like it.

    1. Since you can't be the only one going to this "place" you post an honest "down hill" alert on your local board and see if other hounds have noticed a similar deterioration in the food. Often times comparing notes is the best way to get to the bottom of the issue, and a bigger sample of opinions will give you a much better feel for whatever / if any action is appropriate to take.

      1. I had this experience with a longtime favorite place (now closed, although it's because they lost their lease, not because their business tanked). After the third mediocre meal in a row, I wrote a letter to the owners -- not a whiny note, not asking for anything, just explaining how long I'd loved their place, expressing sadness at how I felt it had slid downhill (I was able to provide several examples), and saying that I didn't think I'd be back.

        A couple of weeks later, I got a very thoughtful note back from the owner. He took my concerns to heart, comped my last meal AND enclosed a gift certificate for $75 in the hope that I would come back and try them again. I did, and I found things much improved. I sent him another note thanking him and letting him know that his efforts had worked.

        I felt really good about the whole thing -- like I had made a difference for a business I loved.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mcgeary

          I was just curious. Did he explain why things wen't downhill? New chef? He wasn't there to supervise?

          1. re: boltnut55

            The owner did explain a couple of things about the most recent dinner I talked about in my letter: for example, that they hadn't been selling enough fish specials on weekdays and had stopped offering them for that reason, and that the problems with service and valet might have been related to a fundraising dinner that had just concluded at the restaurant before our arrival.

            I found out later that the owner had recently taken on a second job as a retail-store manager, and although he didn't 'fess up to that in his letter to me, I do wonder whether that had something to do with the slide in quality.

        2. Sort of "all of the above".

          Your past recommendations, especially in places like Chowhound, are a matter of historical record - the place was good once, famed for something once, and your report on that status should stand as a record of "where the current situation began."

          Your current comments mean much more in the light of your past comments.

          What else you do (write the owner, wait a while) is a judgement call - what's your best guess? And if neither of those choices seems likely to work, in your opinion, then certainly it's time to give up and find a new favorite.

          1. You could just print and send your post to the owners! Or something along those lines. It's heartbreaking to me when a place I've known and loved for a long time goes downhill. You owe it to yourself to write and tell them how you feel, if you feel strongly about it.

            But take heart--it may not be a permanent problem. One place I loved went downhill, but came back eventually. I was glad I gave it a try again.