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DISSAPOINTED AT SAB-E-LEE

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I love the quality of food at this place but now I find the customer service to be so bad that I don't want to go back. The first 10 times I went there I didn't have a problem but when I got some spring rolls to go and ate one in the car I realized the shrimp didn't taste right. I go back inside and tell him the shrimp does not taste fresh can i get something else he said no mam you already ate one so I can not sell it again. Then I said to him how would I know without tasting it if the shrimp was bad? He said the same thing again and went to go talk with a lady in the back. He then asked me what I wanted but in a way that he didn't want to make me anything. I ordered the hawaiin fried rice then he said to me no you can only get the regular fried rice when they are the exact same price. I waited there for a while then finally got my fried rice and it defintely wasn't a regular portion size. Another problem I have with the place is that they're stingy. I really like the sweet and sour sauce that comes with the spring rolls so I always order to sides of this when I'm with my gf and it costs me a dollar each. They give me about one dolop istead of being generous. I usually have to order more than two for me and my gf. I just want some sort of customer service for going there so many times. On the way out i asked for a little sweet and sour sauce because I decided to get three and he asked me for a dollar but gave me half the regular size I just didn't bother saying anything. I still eat here because the food is fresh, tasty, and reasonably priced. I just feel that is you don't think something tastes right you should be given something else so you leave happy.

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  1. I remember you posting this before- not sure why this isn't something that can go onto a preexisting thread, but oh well...

    Let me see if I have this straight:

    You have been there ten times before, and were happy each time.
    You were served an item that didn't taste right to you, and after eating half the order, you went inside to let them know something wasn't right, and asked for a replacement with something different- a perfectly reasonable request.
    Then you said that he asked you what you'd like, but he actually didn't really mean it, even though he asked you.
    Then, after ten visits, you feel that the portion size is insufficient.
    They bring you the extra sauce (which I know they make from scratch) you request, but then charge you for it.

    I'm just not sure what to make of this, considering that Koby and his family and staff are genuinely kind people, and care more about their food than many people care about their children. I feel that their serving sizes are a nice change from "standard Asian restaurant jumbo portions" that require a whole round of boxing up at the table so that you can let them rot in the refrig over the next week at home. If smaller portion sizes mean that they can afford to put the best ingredients into their food instead, I'm all in. On top of that, I don't even consider their portions to be all that small. Sab-e-Lee is not the kind of place I go to for Le Cirque customer service levels, and for that quality of food at their absurdly reasonable prices, I'd be happy to put on a dinner jacket to dine there. But this is not required- so even better. As far as your favorite sauce- they say that fortune favors the bold, so the next time you're there why don't you lean into the kitchen, compliment the cook on her amazing sauce and ask her to show you how she makes it. If she's too busy, I bet she'll be happy to give you as much as you want- but I wouldn't ever expect them to give anything away. But you never know...

    Another thing- you feel that you expect better customer service since you are a regular. It may be just me, but I am so happy to find restaurants that treat all diners exactly the same way. I'm happy with a warm "hello," and don't expect handouts from places where I eat regularly. I love that being served well at Sab-e-Lee doesn't mean that I have to "be in" with Koby. I think your criticism should be reserved for other places that certainly deserve it more. Complaining about the only really special Thai restaurant within a 100-mile radius of San Diego? Pah-leeez!

    1 Reply
    1. re: SaltyRaisins

      First off I didn't complain about there portion sizes; I like their portion sizes so I don't gorgue myself. Im talking about a side of sauce for a dollar that barely fills up one spoonfull is dissapointing. I dont' mind paying money for sauce if I feel like im given the right amount. Yes Koby and his family were very nice until I had a problem, if you have a problem with something you order which may never happen you will see what I'm talking about. I didn't eat half the dish I had one bit of one roll. The point was he wouldn't take it back because he couldn't sell it that was the worst excuse I have ever heard. You should always put your customers first and thats what I'm getting at with this post.

    2. I think you were within your rights to ask for a replacement for a bad dish, however, Koby is within his to replace it with something at the same cost. Just because a dish isn't right doesn't mean they should replace it with whatever you want. If anything, I'm surprised they just didn't replace your spring rolls, because they most likely had fresher shrimp on hand for a new order of rolls. The portion size part definitely sucks, as does the part about him having to confer with the lady in the back.

      If they're charging you for the sauce, then I assume they're charging everyone else, regardless of how often each patron frequents the restaurant. To say that it's "good customer service" to treat you differently is a little much. Stevewag has a point... it's good business to treat regulars well, but I think it's poor taste for a customer to expect (or worse yet, openly demand) that kind of favortism. If it happens, great... if it doesnt, does that really distract from how good the food is?

      I've been eating at Sab-E-Lee since right after they opened. It's clear that Koby knows us and he's always a gracious host, but we have never received any preferential treatment from him or his staff nor do we try to "get in" with them. No, the customer service is not perfect, but a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant is hardly the place to expect amazing service. "I just feel that is you don't think something tastes right you should be given something else so you leave happy." is not unreasonable, but it seems like you expect more than replacement for a bad dish.

      As far as I've seen, Koby generally brings his customers their food with a smile and a few kind words. The food is reasonably priced and tastes awesome. That's not bad for customer service.

      1 Reply
      1. re: geekyfoodie

        I don't expect more than a replacement or even a replacement that was more expensive then what I purchased at the beginning. But to have to put my point across for 10 minutes and kept being told we can't replace it because you alreaddy ate it is ridiculous. Asking for a little more sauce for the money I pay I don't think is unreasonsable at all. I am not asking for impossible requests just simple things that any good business would do to keep customers happy and coming back

      2. I've never been to Sab-E-Lee. It may be the best Thai in SD and the owners may be salt-of-the-earth, wonderful folks who are fair and appreciative of their customer base. But if I try to return food that I find poorly cooked or not fresh and the establishment tells me "no mam you already ate one so I can not sell it again", I would never step foot in that restaurant again. Perhaps those spring rolls were not fresh because someone else had returned them uneaten and they were sold again...to a take-out customer who would probably not return them. I don't know, and neither do you.

        If you get a bad dish in a restaurant, it's not unusual to ask for something different. If I get bad shrimp I am not going to ask they replace it with another shrimp dish. I am turned off to shrimp in that establishment. If there is a price difference between what I ordered and what I replaced it with I am willing to pay that difference, of course. However, many places comp the replacement dish to keep a customer happy. Why should "the only really special Thai restaurant within a 100-mile radius of San Diego" play by different rules?

        4 Replies
        1. re: Divamac

          This thread is going Dada, seriously.

          I don't believe anybody is implying that Sab-e-Lee is playing by different rules. On the contrary, it seems that according to the OP, when he requested they replace his spring rolls with something else, that's exactly what the restaurant did.

          Koby said the OP couldn't return them because he "couldn't sell them again." I'm not sure that he was being literal, just that he wasn't sure how to best explain a same-cost replacement. Correct me on this if you know me to be wrong, but I do believe their spring rolls are made to order, and do not sit in the fridge prepackaged, Saffron-style.

          One thing that struck me as odd is that the OP claims to have eaten there ten times. He or she obviously loves the restaurant. Why demand better treatment at one of your favorite places when in fact your request for an exchange was, after all, met?

          Since this is a forum where individual experiences are aired so that a discussion can be drawn from them, I appreciate that this may not have been the best situation for the OP, but I think my first post reflects that. So I feel comfortable airing my own opinions: his experiences are in such contrast to mine (and the OP has eaten there perhaps more than I have) that the original post makes me think that something has been left out of the story. Call it a George Bush gut feeling.

          As far as good service goes- I think there has been a mixing of the concepts of "good customer service," and "better treatment." Good customer service inherently lends itself to acts of "better treatment." If there is a hierarchical level of service at a restaurant, with certain regulars receiving "better treatment," then there is a problem with the restaurant's attitude toward the customer. Since Sab-e-Lee is not an upscale restaurant, their "good customer service" is very much based on the quality of their food, which is so much better than the field in general, and worth defending in light of the OP's experience, which seems to be a fluke.

          1. re: SaltyRaisins

            You make a good point, SR. I would not come here and complain about one bad experience (or even several - yes, I am looking at you, China Max!) at a place I truly enjoy. What's the point? And if I was a patron of Sab-E-Lee I may very well be defending them.

            I actually don't mind brusque service and usually rationalize a borderline customer service experience to either language or cultural differences and let it roll off. Perhaps that's what happened with the "I cannot sell it again" comment.

            1. re: Divamac

              We are regulars at Sab E Lee and Koby recognizes us. He also recognizes me when I'm w/ friends and greets us with a smile and "welcome back." We have never expected preferential service just b/c we are regulars, although I know that 1st generational Chinese "expect" this after returning several times and chatting it up w/ the chef and owner. Koby has always given us warm, friendly and attentive service.

              My hunch is that Koby's comment about "we can't sell it again" was something lost in translation, given that English is NOT his 1st language. We saw lots of "Chinglish" and bad translations in China which made no absolute sense in English but made sense in Chinese.

            2. re: SaltyRaisins

              "So I feel comfortable airing my own opinions: his experiences are in such contrast to mine (and the OP has eaten there perhaps more than I have) that the original post makes me think that something has been left out of the story."

              Yup, I had that feeling, too. On a separate note, I have also witnessed a language-barrier misunderstanding at Sab-E-Lee. Did both sides handle it well? No. Koby should have rectified the order and the customer should have been far more polite. Instead, he refused to consider what she actually wanted (he prepared two orders of a dish when she only wanted one for her group's takeout order) and insisted she pay for the extra. She took a really angry tone of voice and rudely told him that she spoke clearly and how could he misunderstand her? Yet, as she repeated over and over again what she said, exactly, I could see how he did. I'm a native English speaker and I could have misunderstood her poor wording. So, who's right? Should he absorb the cost of the prepared dish, which she shares some responsibility because of her poor choice of words? Should she pay for a dish that she did not order? There are many aspects to every story and, on CH, we don't get all to see all of it.

              I do want to add something to the OP's point... his/her order of spring rolls was $5.95. The replacement regular fried rice was the same price... I'm not sure what the OP meant by "Hawaiian fried rice" as it's not on the menu, but none of the fried rices exceed $6.50. Just to give everyone an idea of the numbers side of it. For me, at least, I admit to being critical because of my experiences at SEL and that I don't agree with the OP's expectations of "good customer service". However, for the particular instance of spring rolls vs. fried rice, I feel Koby should have given the OP his fried rice at its full portion size.