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Ruths Chris - Wearing a bowl of soup

b
billreeves Nov 6, 2008 05:13 PM

I haven't been able to shake feeling like I got a bad rap at Ruths Chris, and I'm leaving it up to the Chowhounders to tell me if I'm off base or not.

Last weekend, my wife surprised me with dinner reservations at Tampa's Ruth's Chris for my 40th birthday. Tampa has all the chain steakhouses, as well as a few excellent privately-owned places (Berns), but we've always enjoyed RC. Soon after ordering the $90 porthouse, wine, sides and two bowls of lobster bisque, the waiter spilled the bisque on my wife's dress. She spent 20 minutes in the restroom cleaning up and the rest of the evening apologising to me for "ruining the night". The manager did come out when she returned to offer his apologies and a comp for her drycleaning bill.

We didn't make a huge scene in the dining room, and understand accidents happen, but were shocked when we received the bill and saw that the entire $180 bill was due. I appreciate the $4.00 comp to dry clean the dress, but my wife ate dinner in a wet dress that smelled like fish that night, had to return home and scrap after dinner plans and they even charged us for the soup!

I spoke to the manager a few days later and explained I felt "unappreciated" by their response to a ruined evening. He said come back in and they would make sure our next visit was up to our expectaions. What does that mean?

Am I being to hard on RC? Its been two weeks and still feel like they valued the bill over the customer.

Your thoughts?

  1. k
    KayZee Nov 21, 2008 05:07 PM

    All devil's advocating aside and having worked in two restaurants and dated the manage of a national chain...

    There are only two possible outcomes:

    1/ The patron goes on a widely read internet chat board and says, "RC treated me shabbily."

    2/The patron goes on a widely read internet chat board and says, "RC handled it classily, tactfully and completely."

    If I'm the manager guess which one I choose?

    Years and Years ago, I was a kitchen grunt at a Straw Hat Pizza. The prep guys would seal the big bags of sliced ingredients with twist ties. So one evening this big nasty looking biker type comes up to the pick-up counter and holds up a rusty, cheesy, twist tie. It happens that both managers were working the pick-up counter. Skinny Ed and Big John. Skinny Ed doesn't blink (and jokingly) reaches over to the register saying, "Extra ingredient, we should have charged you for that." Biker dude looks like he's going to jump the counter and start ripping heads off but Big John leads him to the bar and pours a whole pitcher of beer and comping not only this dinner but a pizza for the next time. By the time Biker Dude leaves he and John are on a first name basis. The guy and his family become weekly regulars, usually with another family. Multiple pizzas and pitchers of beer. Biker dude brings in his softball team. At least 20 guys on a Wednesday night. 8-9 pizzas and 10-15 pitchers. Pizza joints live for this kind of business. When I worked for a big stereo outfit they used to tell us that their market research told them that a really bad or really good experience could reach 200 people through word of mouth and that was before the internet. For most of us a trip to a RC type place is a few time a year event--usually to celebrate something or have a special night out with a special someone. Having that hobbled or ruined has a cost that can't be counted in dollars but I would certainly care to know that the management of a restaurant where dinner for two EASYLY goes over $100 cares about that cost as well. This however is the result of lack of sense of ownership in large chains. Manager A comps a few two many meals so his General or Regional gets a call from Corporate about the "losses". The general calls the House manager and says, "Knock it off. Comp the cleaning and give em a dessert and they'll go away happy. If those bean counters at Corporate are breathing down my back, I have to breathe down your back." Just like most workers, the experience of an end user isn't the issue, keeping from getting written up by the boss is.

    Kurt

    1. b
      billreeves Nov 21, 2008 05:51 AM

      Thanks for everyones input, shared experiences and suggestions. I've followed the advice of the majority and have sent a letter to corporate. I'll let you know if I hear back.

      1. danhole Nov 19, 2008 11:37 AM

        So Bill, what was the end result? Did you send a letter to corporate? Just curious.

        1. podunkboy Nov 18, 2008 06:27 PM

          All I know is this -- if I'm ever in Tampa, I'm not going near RC for dinner, because I'll wager the cost of the uneaten lobster bisque is a heck of a lot more than the dry-cleaning bill on that dress. And there are more places to eat that don't treat their customers like a paycheck to be cashed.
          Oh, and happy 40th birthday -- they didn't make you wear a sombrero while they did that clap-and-sing thing, did they?

          1. pikawicca Nov 8, 2008 06:37 PM

            I never expect to be comped for small errors. However, if a bowl of hot stinky soup is dumped in my lap, my meal had better be free.

            1. ipsedixit Nov 7, 2008 09:25 PM

              Let me try to play devil's advocate here for a minute (in the most polite way possible).

              Presumably, the bisque accident occurred during the beginning of the meal, right? Yet, despite facing the prospect of "wearing" (instead of eating) soup the entire evening, you and your wife decided to stay for the rest of the meal, right?

              If the "soup-on-a-dress" ordeal was going to be a major issue, perhaps you should have cut the evening short and gone home and changed?

              Given that you chose to stay for the rest of the meal, I don't think it is entirely unreasonable for RC not to comp the entire meal.

              Just thinking out loud ...

              3 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit
                n
                nosh Nov 8, 2008 12:52 PM

                Yep, the old "knock the waiter's elbow" or "pull out your chair unexpectedly" so the soup gets spilled and the meal gets comped trick!

                I doubt that the whole cup of bisque was spilled -- maybe a splash of one ounce of a six-ounce cup serving. So should 1/6 of the bisque be comped? If the entire cup was spilled and then replaced and eaten, is any comp beyond the dry-cleaning cost deserved?

                Some of these righteous discussions are getting a bit entitled, presumptuous, or silly. On the one hand, I completely agree with Danny Meyer's philosophy that yes, mistakes will happen, but they are actually opportunities for the restaurant to shine with a classy, gracious response that leaves the patron talking about how wonderful the people reacted. And by the way, I hate when a manager will throw it back on the customer with a "We are so sorry. What would you like us to do to make it right?" But I also think the customer has an obligation to speak up at the time, not stew over it and call two weeks later and then go up the chain. The OP mentioned that his wife spent 20 minutes cleaning up in the bathroom; even if it were a fraction of that time, her husband should have taken that opportunity to call the manager over and discreetly settle the problem then and there. Then by the time his wife returned, she wouldn't have to spend the night apologizing; the husband would simply have told her "it has been taken care of." If things had not been resolved satisfactorily, he could simply take her hand upon her return and escorted her out the door.

                1. re: nosh
                  m
                  mlgb Nov 8, 2008 06:16 PM

                  I dunno, the title "wearing a bowl of soup" makes it sound like more than a slosh, doesn't it?. That's why I asked. A lot of restaurants will comp you appetizer or dessert on your birthday anyhow. And walking out on a special birthday dinner? Not likely to enhance the evening.

                  As far as comparing this to auto accidents, ever heard of "pain and suffering"?

                  If someone goes so far as to chose your restaurant for the special decade birthday, I think there is a special duty to behave nicely. Spilling the soup was an accident, but the restaurant could have gone a little farther toward making it up, (I'm assuming they did in fact know that it was a special day?)

                  It would be fair to call and ask for the manager when making a reservation (or not) for a return visit, mentioning the incident and see if he offers anything specific, and I mean something more than surving dinner without getting doused.

                  1. re: nosh
                    GodfatherofLunch Nov 9, 2008 01:30 PM

                    No No Nosh. These nice folks went out to a nice upscale place and deserve to be treated well.
                    Making things right should be about insuring a proper standard of customer service not about if the customer makes a scene or does a smack down on the waiter. An apology from both the waiter and the manager would be a smart start toward making things right. Then followed up by a request to please allow the house to pick up the evenings check and please call me for your next reservation. This is good service and by that I mean service to the restaurant. The cost of the comp is nothing compared to a damaged reputation, a happy customer comes back and spends more money, a happy customer tells others. An unhappy does not come back, tells many others and posts all about it on CH. Doing the right thing is both RIGHT and good business.

                2. Ette1010 Nov 7, 2008 09:20 PM

                  I wouldn't have left without politely requesting the bisque be taken off the check. Perhaps it was busy and since this manager seems less aware than others I have worked for, it's possible it was an oversight.

                  As far as comping the entire check, I know (almost) every restaurant is reticent to do so because of food and labor costs. The bisque should have definitely been taken off the check and dessert should also have been offered.

                  Still though, I wouldn't expect the entire meal to be comped, especially since the management (rightly) offered to pay for your dry cleaning.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Ette1010
                    ccbweb Nov 8, 2008 08:52 AM

                    I'm picking your post to ask the specific follow up mostly because you stated your position so nicely and clearly:

                    given your sensitivity to the food and labor costs involved why is it that the dessert and soup should so clearly be comped and not other food?

                    I'm not at all clear why anyone should expect more than the incident itself to be rectified. I'm comfortable with expecting the restaurant to pick up the full cost of cleaning a garment that is soiled by virtue of something an employee did (although I think an argument could be made that in many many other circumstances we wouldn't dream of holding someone accountable for such an accident). But why do we think that someone should be compensated over and above that cost for an accident? If someone rear-ends you their insurance will cover the repair on your car but not compensate you for your time and annoyance about having had it happen. We don't expect or require that their insurance also comp your oil changes for 6 months.

                    1. re: ccbweb
                      Ette1010 Nov 8, 2008 03:15 PM

                      I totally agree with you, ccbweb. I only mentioned dessert because that seems to be the standard remedy when a mistake such as a spilled drink or dropped main occurs in the restaurants in which I've worked. It is simply a nice gesture, nothing more.

                      1. re: Ette1010
                        ccbweb Nov 8, 2008 03:26 PM

                        Fair enough :)

                      2. re: ccbweb
                        lynnlato Nov 8, 2008 06:37 PM

                        Respectfully disagree - and I've served my time in resto mgmt. It wasn't just a soiled garment. It was also an inconvenience, an annoyance, a tarnished celebration. A bowl of soup in your lap is a big deal not easily shaken off or rectified. Unlike an undercooked steak or a mix up on the sides. As mentioned above, it's far cheaper to comp a meal (and of course the offending bowl of soup), apologize and resolve the matter then and there rather than have your good name smeared on CH. JMHO.

                        As for the fender bender, if there is minor auto damage than the innocent party can claim resulting bodily injury which means they are coming after you for pain & suffering. Comping the "injured parties'" meal is pain and suffering.

                        1. re: ccbweb
                          i
                          irishnyc Nov 22, 2008 10:02 PM

                          The difference between the bowl of soup and the car accident is that the soup spillers should want to make things right so you come back again. Insurance companies don't need to do that, especially if you're not their customer. Of course, when you are hit by someone else, you are "comped" with a rental car, on them, to make up for the time your car is being repaired. Why shouldn't RC repair your faith in them?

                      3. m
                        mlgb Nov 7, 2008 10:11 AM

                        If it was the whole bowl, they should have comped SOMETHING on the menu...like the wine which you definitely needed. If it was a small spill (like a teaspoons worth) at least they should have taken off the price of both soups!

                        I would write to corporate.

                        1. rockandroller1 Nov 7, 2008 09:23 AM

                          I think restaurants get tired of comping people for every little complaint. Not that this was little in any stretch of the imagination, but on a given busy night a manager is getting TONS of complaints and many of them are completely without merit - it's too cold in here for me, too hot in here, my steak, which is properly cooked to the temperature I requested, is too done/underdone in my opinion, the food is too salty, we weren't seated for 15 minutes even though we had a reservation, etc. I think unfortunately that more and more people are complaining just to get something comped or to get a gift card for a return meal instead of having a legitimate complaint, and I bet this is a case of the bad apples spoiling the whole bunch since you obviously had a very legitimate complaint. I personally would have asked for the food to be boxed to go and would have left if my dress was soaked with stinky fish soup; perhaps since you stayed they thought it wasn't that big of a deal? I do agree $4 is ridic for a dry cleaning bill and that they should have given you a free dessert or something, and that's probably what they intend to do on the next visit. The freebies and comps are less and less these days as (I'm guessing) managers are getting pressured because they end up giving too much away, and I think they're told to tightly control comps because it really does end up hurting the business when there are dozens each night.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: rockandroller1
                            e
                            Emm Nov 7, 2008 10:41 AM

                            You're probably right about the complaints, comps and freebies. That doesn't excuse not properly compensating a customer for something that is OBVIOUSLY a big blooper on the part of the restaurant. Sure, accidents happen, but there was no judgment call needed here as to whether service was slow, food was over or undercooked, etc. I think they should have comped some major part of the check, such as all the alacarte items, or perhaps the entree. I, too, would write to corporate and ask if the manager followed policy.

                            1. re: Emm
                              lynnlato Nov 8, 2008 06:30 PM

                              Absolutely. Her meal, etc. should've been comped. There is no excuse for dumping a bowl of soup in a person's lap. Period. Management should've been at that table quicker than a blink of an eye., apologizing and comping like crazy! Making it right then and there is damage control and helps ease the pain. If I were her , I'd be bitter and never step foot into RC again. There's too many non-corporate folks that'll appreciate your hard-earned dollars.

                              1. re: lynnlato
                                rockandroller1 Nov 20, 2008 04:02 AM

                                As I said, it was obviously a legitimate complaint. I'm just trying to play devil's advocate and show why things may have gone the way they did. I do think I have a valid point though - if the dress was drenched and stinky, most people would leave. If it was simply a minor splash, perhaps all that needed done is to comp the soup or bring a free dessert. It's still not clear to me why anyone would have an entire bowl of stinky fish soup dumped on them and then continue to sit through the entire meal. The "pleasant" outing would no longer be pleasant. Unless it's the type of place you waited a year to get a reservation, cut your losses and go home and order pizza, I'm thinking.

                          2. c
                            cstr Nov 7, 2008 06:58 AM

                            I'm having a problem understanding your post. The $90. porterhouse is dinner for 2, you are indicating in your post that the high $90. price tag was just for you. Next I can't believe they only offered $4. for cleaning, you can't even buy Oxyclean for that. Regardless of my opinion, I'm surprised the manager did not comp the entire evening. Having dined there many times, they always go out of their way to please. I'd write to corporate, they'll respond and will most likely replace the dress and also give you a comp for 2 on your next visit.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: cstr
                              b
                              billreeves Nov 7, 2008 07:51 AM

                              Thanks for your response and suggestion. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that a $90 steak was for just for me, neither were the two bowls of soup referenced in that same sentance.

                            2. d
                              dtud Nov 6, 2008 05:49 PM

                              that's crazy. poor management style. i would have complained then and, at least, would not have paid for the soup! i have no idea what his response means. maybe they won't spill the soup the next time?

                              1. k
                                kkachurak Nov 6, 2008 05:25 PM

                                They didn't even comp the bisque? Crazy.

                                Honestly, I would've expected your entire wife's meal to be comped, at the very least. True, she (or you) didn't make a scene... and honestly, management should've been thankful for that. But the reality is, your Wife's evening was indeed ruined and she was able to keep her cool.

                                First of all, kudos to you and your wife for being calm. Second, contact corporate. The response was completely inappropriate.

                                You came in for a nice night and an error occurred. The error should've been corrected that night... not a subsequent visit.

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