Thursday, July 18, 2013

Local Vs. Chain - It Can Be Two Shades of Grey

I am all for supporting local businesses.  But sometimes the choice isn't, as we like to say in this country, "black or white".

What happens when you want to eat out and your choices are a large restaurant chain employing local people vs. a local restaurant business?   The answer may not be as clearcut as you might think - no black and white here, but perhaps two shades of grey.

Last week, I ate out two days in a row.  Please help me judge my experiences.

Experience One
I was in a party of eight.  We were seated promptly and efficiently by two servers, who combined to serve our table efficiently.  Both servers were personable and made sure water was refilled and salad (included with the meal) kept coming.  The menus were professionally printed and gave us the information we needed to make our choices.

One soup was not what was ordered, and the correct soup was quickly brought.  Otherwise, all the dinners were well prepared, and everyone (including my brother in law, who is developmentally disabled) had a nice time.

Experience Two
I was in a party of two. This was a lunch during our lunch periods at work, so my co worker and I had a limited time to spend at lunch.  Two menus were brought to each of us, a "express" menu and a lunch menu.  Each of our express menus were blurry, and part of the margin was cut off. In other words, some of the menu was cut off and it was also almost unreadable.  (My co worker, who is younger than I am, had the same comment about the blurriness.)

My meal, chosen from the express menu, gave a "choice of toppings".    One of the toppings was sour cream. The waiter explained the menu was wrong; there was no choice. I asked if it could be left off.  The waiter said no, because "this was the express menu". I asked if the sour cream could, then, at least be served on the side.  The waiter said he would see what he could do (it did come on the side.)

The service was very slow but this seems to be the case at a lot of downtown Binghamton restaurants, not just this one.

When it was time for us to leave, both of us had food on our plates.  The server brought boxes, then decided my companion's dinner needed a smaller box,and disappeared.  And didn't return.  We didn't have our checks yet so we just had to wait...and wait.  Finally he reappeared, with a smaller box and the check.  He said he would be back "in a few minutes" to take our payment, and disappeared again. We were very late, so we just left money on the table, and left.

Did I complain?  See below.

Questions
1.  Which of the restaurants would you eat at again?
2.  Which of the restaurants was a chain and which was local?

Answers
1.  The restaurant of Experience One.
2.   Experience One was a national chain (Olive Garden, to be exact) and Experience Two was a popular local Binghamton restaurant.

I wasn't even going to complain to Experience Two but a couple of my co-workers told me the owners deserved to know about my experience.  "Perhaps they would make it right", said one of them. 


The restaurant has a website with a contact email. This experience occurred Thursday.  I emailed them last Friday and last night got a brief response acknowledging that he received the email and he would respond.  Fair enough, he has to investigate, although if he has an email contact on his website he might want to monitor it more frequently in order to stay in touch with his customers.  But, I must have to say, at this point in time I don't plan to return and neither does my co-worker.

Have you ever had a disappointing experience at a local business and given your business to a comparable national chain instead?

15 comments:

  1. Bad management can occur anywhere. It does not have any exclusivity on locale.
    Back to the original proposition- all those folks clammering to buy locally. What do you do if you want strawberries- and they are not local. or Bosc pears? Or Jonagold apples? Forgo them to satisfy the local only demands?

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    1. Roy - for the record I shop at farmers' markets but I also shop at supermarket chains. I also sometimes shop at a local "localvore" store in Binghamton. Hypocritic? No, realistic, as much as I love the concept of "buy local". My favorite supermarket, which is family owned and originated in New York State, sells some local produce in season but also has a very nice selection of produce that is not local - including being able to sell out of season produce, as you point out (i.e. summer fruits from the Southern Hemisphere being sold to us in New York in winter). I remember (as you do) the days when certain fruits and vegetables were not around year round - and I, for one, am glad that they are now.

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  2. Local or large franchise restaurants can have bad days. I try to support small businesses as much as possible but there are instances where I am unable to do so. It still feels good to help the local businesses from time to time and give them support.

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    1. I agree - I hope this was a bad day for them - they are in a good location and have a very nice patio area.

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  3. I agree, bad management can be both local and national. But in answer to your second question, yes we forgo them wherever we can. Not all the time, but the more we question whether we want to eat out of season or out of country the less we do.

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    1. Because I was born in a time when out of season veggies and fruits were not common the way they are now, I know we can certainly survive with them. We can make the choice to buy them anyway - as long as we realize what is involved.

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  4. I have definitely had some disappointing experiences in both types of establishments. The worst experience that is coming to mind was at a chain. It all depends on who is working at the time. If there is a bad server things can go poorly or if there is a bad person running the kitchen it can throw off the entire restaurant.

    I typically don't judge a restaurant based on one experience. I like to give them a second chance before I determine that I won't ever go there again. But I eat of fairly frequently and like to keep my options open.

    There are definitely some restaurants that I avoid if I am in a hurry or if I have my kids with me. So maybe you could try the local restaurant again when you aren't concerned with how long it will take.

    I hope you get a better response from the manager.

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    1. I will certainly blog when I get a full response. As of right now, I have not.

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Roy, I put the response to your comment where it belonged. Oops!

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  6. I KNEW Restaurant 1 was Olive Garden before you said it... I think it was the refilled salad that gave it away! You're right, it is not always so black and white. I do a lot of online shopping, only because we live in a small shopping area and I can't find many things I need locally. And some of it is just too darn expensive. And I never thought of your point that the national chains are employing local people. Of course they are - why haven't I ever thought of that before? Great post! Makes you think!

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    1. I had a feeling some people would guess...oh well!

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  7. Your right it's not all black and white :)
    I am a huge supporter and promoter of buying, eating and shopping local and passionate about it BUT I also love exotic ingredients and many imported products and do not exclusively shop local only by any means, I just try and make a large portion local to support my community. sometimes its about cost, sometimes quality or other factors.
    Even a large chain to me is usually employing local people and maybe even (hopefully) sourcing some local produce, more so if we encourage them to do so and spending money back into the community in some way, they might even be a franchise owned by a local family? Either way I would not go back to bad customer service or food quality myself, life is too short for bad food :) XX

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  8. I don't think all national chains are bad (they wouldn't be so big and so popular if they weren't doing a lot of things right) and I don't think all local places are good (or else they'd possibly grow and become a big national business, right?). You're right that this just isn't a black and white issue. We need to just appreciate good business where we find it, and appreciate the fact that large or small, they are in business to SERVE, and some do their job better than others. (I am too attached to pineapples and coconuts to only eat local, anyway, though during the summer months we mainly eat VERY local--from our place!)

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  9. I've had bad experiences in chain restaurants and also in local ones. One problem I've run into with chains is that some of them have food trucked in already prepped so you can't order it fixed to order. I have food allergies so this is a big problem.

    One of my allergies is wheat and I must say that Olive Garden's wheat-free items are not very tasty. The steaks are tough and the gluten-free pasta is chewy. However, the servers are always polite.

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