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Islands - Southwest & HI - Slipping or just raising prices?

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We used to consider Islands as our go-to chain restaurant and were probably weekly diners a one of their South OC locations or when we needed a quick bite somewhere else they had locations. For business reasons (long hours) we stopped eating out for about two years but tried Islands again a couple of months ago.

I guess, with business difficult these days, they're trying to boost margins by raising prices and making portions smaller. Don't know if this has been gradual or a quick change but it was really obvious the last two times we've been back. Quality seemed to be about the same, but the whole experience was dampened by the combination of the two negatives. ie- used to get 3 fish tacos (always thought theirs were really good), now you get 2 for what seemed like the earlier price, and pay extra for the third. My wife's favorite China Coast salad was more money and seemed to be about 60% of it's earlier size.

Is it us or have they REALLY changed things? I'm thinking that Cheesecake factory is a better deal these days, overall, except for the lines. BTW- our nearby Islands don't seem all that busy, which may be the handwriting on the wall for them.

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  1. I never liked Islands as it was one of the very few sit down restaurants that did not include french frys with their hamburger, it was extra. I dont know if that is still true as it has been awhile.

    7 Replies
    1. re: malibumike

      It's still true. We used to go often because it's comfortable for families, we like their booths, my kids (and I) love their fries, everyone finds something on their menu to their liking, and their cold beer is always refreshing on a hot afternoon. We haven't returned since our last visit a few months ago. They had some kind of special deal where you get an "endless" basket of fries. The problem was the waiter seemed reluctant to take our order on the fries, and then when he served the basket of fries, it seemed about 3/4 full. Okay, so it's endless - it doesn't matter, right? The problem is we tried waving him down for more fries - one 3/4 full basket for four doesn't go very far in our family - and he didn't return until we were about 2/3 done with our food. He finally brought a couple of small saucers of fries for our kids about five minutes later. WTF? We asked, "What happened? We thought the fries were endless?" He just shrugged, said, "Oh", and left. He came back later with another half-basket of fries - and we were pretty much done with our meals by then. The bottom line is, please don't F#*! with us with these half-ass deceptive deals. If you want us to order the right amount of fries or anything else, don't send out those ultra-colorful/glossy mailers filled with deception that probably cost as much as an order of their fries to flim-flam us into thinking Islands or anyone else is trying to do us a favor. We will not be returning in the near future.

      1. re: bulavinaka

        Well.............. that could be related to my portion-size and price question. We never used to have a problem getting more fries. Didn't order any these last visits but your experience would be consistent with what we observed on other items/prices. Could be this is all part of a management strategy to control costs and it's not doing so well from the customer perspective.

        1. re: Midlife

          We saw the problem as deception. We don't mind paying more - if costs are going up, then pass on the expense - we can understand as long as everything else stays the same. We don't mind getting less for the same price - we'll just order more or learn to cut back ourselves. We just don't like getting led on with the big glossy mailer telling us that Islands is now offering a bottomless basket of fries. Our kids nearly flipped when they saw this. The only problem is the mailer didn't give us the details about the reluctance to follow through with their offer and how the fries get served to us a few at a time. Had I known this were the case, I would have just ordered the two baskets that we usually get. These are used car lot tactics at a restaurant chain...

          1. re: bulavinaka

            I don't think I'd automatically discount the idea of a poor server or an overly aggressive manager at that location. Could be as simple as an instruction to "not be overly generous with the fries" with no follow-up to see what that translates to. Outright deception would be somewhere down on my list as Islands has always been a pretty good place IMHO.

            It's interesting to me that some events like you describe are discussed as server/manager issues and the same circumstances can be looked at as systemic dishonesty. Not impossible, and nothing against you in particular, but I think you'd have to be pretty desperate and stupid to run a restaurant that way in these times.

            1. re: Midlife

              You're probably right - I'm still spewing vinegar at Islands for being so tight-fisted with a product that costs them pennies on the dollar. Up until this incident, we have been pretty pleased with them as well, given their particular niche in the industry. Again - we have no problem dropping dollars at a place that we feel is giving us a square deal. But that incident is now my new perfect real-life example of penny-wise and pound-foolish. Again, we have no plans on returning any time soon.

        2. re: bulavinaka

          All burgers and sandwiches at Islands come w/ fries*, have since at least end of August 2008** and are "endless" (call and verify as I did).
          bulavinaka, I'm not disputing you had a bad experience w/ the endless fries at Islands and you certainly can be excused for thinking it was a few months ago when it was probably prior to 9/08. But when you write:"The problem was the waiter seemed reluctant to take our order on the fries." I have trouble imagining exactly why and wonder how the server communicated a reluctance to taking an order for fries at a place where fries are a basic.
          Although I certainly agree in not returning to a business that is intentionally deceptive, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn't intentional. They did bring more fries, never denied the fries were endless and inattentive servers are an all too common problem. Since you mentioned several reasons why you used to go often, why not give them another try, especially since you now know fries come w/ many orders. Maybe call 1st or verify w/ server the fries are "endless" and they don't have a problem w/ your taking advantage of that. When served remind the server to check back soon to see if you'll want more. Remember a basic rule of dining out- If a resto pisses you off, NEVER leave w/o telling whoever's ( or is it whomever's?..... whatever) in charge.

          I'm not affiliated w/ Islands other than as a customer ( once recently in the last 10+ yrs and there's one 3 blocks away). I liked it, fries came w/ burger and service was attentive.

          * http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/menu/

          ** http://www.dealreka.com/2008/08/islan...

          1. re: ilikefood

            >>All burgers and sandwiches at Islands come w/ fries*, have since at least end of August 2008** and are "endless" (call and verify as I did).<<

            This policy was not systemwide, at least no one told the locations in Marina del Rey, West LA, or the location at the Howard Hughes Center. We usually would go about once a month, and until we received the mailer, we did have to order fries separately.

            >>I have trouble imagining exactly why and wonder how the server communicated a reluctance to taking an order for fries at a place where fries are a basic. <<

            We had trouble imagining this as well. After all, they were the ones who were promoting this - we were just showing up to partake. Maybe they were running low on potatoes? I don't know - all I know the waiter's face displayed a look of great reluctance, question, and maybe a little panic. Whatever the case, if it was the case of them running low on said-item, just let us know. Anyhow, we felt somewhat jilted on this with no explanation. We brought in the mailer to show the waiter, asked him if this really was the case, and with that reluctant look on his face, he acknowledged that the offer was true. Since the resulting outcome was not what we expected in the least, we felt jaded about returning.

            >>When served remind the server to check back soon to see if you'll want more.<<

            He didn't give us a chance: >>The problem is we tried waving him down for more fries...and he didn't return until we were about 2/3 done with our food. He finally brought a couple of small saucers of fries for our kids about five minutes later. WTF? We asked, "What happened? We thought the fries were endless?" He just shrugged, said, "Oh", and left. He came back later with another half-basket of fries - and we were pretty much done with our meals by then.<<

            What did we do wrong to not get this promotion/new policy fulfilled? Were we supposed to stand on top of the table and holler to the waiter? Not my style. Now I will admit that I did fail to follow through. But I don't think any manager would want to face me when I'm upset. I'm normally a pretty nice person. I don't ask for much, I think I'm very polite, and I tend to tip relatively generously. But if I'm P-d off, it was because I felt I truly received a bad deal, and when this is the case, I'm not a pleasant person to confront. And instead of the usual 20-25% tip, the waiter got a buck. Hopefully, that was enough to send a message...