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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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‘I Don’t Want Anyone To Go Home Hungry’ [Follow-Up To The Feast Of Peeves]

Posted Jul 2, 2012 by Jeff Houck

Updated Jul 2, 2012 at 06:34 PM

Waitress angst

On Sunday, I wrote in my Stew column about a recent meal I had that turned into what I now refer to as the Feast of Peeves.

In the column I tell the tale of a lunch gone wrong, with lots of my pet peeves rolled into one tidy meal.

It has elicited more than a little reader mail, like this one from a woman who asked to remain nameless. So I shall call her Lola:

“I can so relate to your column Sunday regarding restaurant woes. My husband and I dine out at least three times per week. We have endured many incidents just as you described and one of our worse was recently at a South Tampa restaurant we frequently take guests to when in town visiting us.

“We have always regarded this restaurant as one that makes you feel like they Want you to eat there and regard you as a welcome guest. Unfortunately, we were highly disappointed a couple of weeks ago. A chicken order was served with severely undercooked chicken. Unfortunately this was discovered after I took a bite. When we finally got attention of our server (she had not come by to check on us after food had been served, as we are accustomed to) she asked to take it to show kitchen staff. She did not return to ask what I wanted to do about it.  During that time my husband continued to eat his steak meal before it got cold.  After about 10 minutes the manager brought a new chicken order which was quickly placed in front of me and he left. Since I was now out of the mood for chicken, we again had to get our waiter’s attention & ask for a to go box. I would have liked to have been asked if I even wanted a replacement order. 

“I came home and wrote a letter to their corporate office in Tennessee. I suggested that it seems only good practice that any restaurant serving poultry should use instant read thermometers to insure it is safe to serve.  I do that at home with any meats I serve, especially poultry.

“I also told them I was not interested in a free meal as we spend at least $500 per month dining out, but I am interested in food safety. I felt they could have at least sent a letter acknowledging receipt of the complaint.

“On the other hand, one evening when we took our son and his wife to dinner the server noticed one of our party had not eaten a lot of the steak because of gristle in it, the manager came to the table, offered free dessert and a $25 gift card for future visit. That is a caring restaurant manager who not only values his customers but the reputation of his restaurant. Also commend the server for showing it to the manager.

“Just thought I would share just one of our disappointments. We can all relate and I could also write a full column on our experiences.”

Other readers like Ron McCord took a shot at trying to guess the restaurant where my family ate:

My first (and only) guess for your restaurant trip would be that it was a trip to the Longhorn Steakhouse. I know it uses those flashey-vibratey devices.  However, I’m not certain that your teenager would have chosen such a place over that of another.

No, it was not Longhorn. Had it been, I certainly would have referenced their Texas Tonion, mostly because I like the name of that appetizer.

A follow up: On Saturday, I had lunch in Brandon at at Romano’s, a Greek/Italian restaurant that I enjoy. It’s a casual neighborhood spot that serves a mean Greek salad and gyro. It’s so out of the way, it’s tucked behind a tire store off State Road 60, and rubs shoulders with Moreno Bakery.

My family and I love Romano’s. It’s a tiny spot, with only about a dozen tables. It’s been there for 35 years. If you go there, you go on purpose. It doesn’t have a flashy store-front or a big advertising campaign. They don’t put a Twitter logo on their menus. They don’t have to. They do an amazing amount of take-out business.

I dig their Greek Lemon Soup, so much so that one time when I craved it, I found a recipe in the Gasparilla Cookbook to make it at home. It’s that good.

On Saturday, though, it was a bit too salty for my taste. I ate two spoons worth and pushed it to the side while I ate my salad. I didn’t complain. I just wasn’t digging it like usual. I figured something goofy was going on with my palate.


About 10 minutes later, our server noticed and asked if something was wrong with the soup. When I mentioned the saltiness, she apologized and asked if I would want another soup. They made a gyro vegetable soup if I wanted to try it. Sure, I said.

She brought a cup out. I thanked her.

“I don’t want anyone to go home hungry,” she said.

I ate the soup. It had great flavor. I left happy.

That’s how you do customer service. It’s not a gimmick. It’s just paying attention and making the customer happy.

I wish more people like her worked in restaurants.

How about you? Got either a tale of woe or a story about great service? Leave it in the comments, per favore.

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