Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Meal Deals or Gouging?

August 30th, 2008 · 7 Comments

A complaint just came in from a long-time friend of mine — someone who dines out with her husband regularly. They are not above spending hard-earned cash for a good meal as a form of entertainment, though both are good cooks. They travel the world and are sophisticated diners — and love good food and wines.

Her note questioning the price of an entree has me wondering if the restaurateurs are crazy from the heat. This is September in S.Fla. — hurricane season (clean out the freezers, boys). The Dead Zone already. How can owners think they can charge their patrons exhorbitantly for little, and still survive?

Here are snippets of her note: “Last night we had dinner at (an east Boca Italian spot).  (Jan’s aside: It’s a nice reliable — but nothing all that ta-da.) We ordered from the specials (recited by a waiter); I was attracted by the Langoustines on linguine.”
She notes it was “very good — four of the little critters in garlic butter sauce on a little pasta.” Stress the word “little.”

But she wonders — was it worth the $56 price tag for that entree? That dish, plus a $40 bottle of wine, plus a veal chop totalled up to a $175 meal ticket for two. Hmm.!

They met up wtih two other couples outside in the parking lot who also were fuming over a $350 dinner for four.

My friend explains the prices weren’t listed when the waiter recited the meal specials. “I should known,” she said. Still, “I was really mad. He (the waiter) looked kind of sheepish when I ordered the dish and asked him to tell me a little bit about it. I feel taken advantage of.”

How would I have handled it? I would have:

1/ Gotten the prices of the specials before ordering. If they aren’t given, I come right out and ask.  I don’t play those games where the price can change with attitude. 

2/ After being presented with such a small portion, I would have asked if they had mistakenly given me a child’s portion, perhaps, since I believed I was paying an adult price.

3/ Probably would not go back, just as my friend has decided not to. And I’d tell others who blog. Quickest way to a restaurateur’s heart is through his wallet.

Moral of story: Diners: Get prices for foods. Restaurateurs: It IS about value, no matter what your level.

Tags: When Meals Go Wrong

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 fsutoby // Aug 30, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    I am also noticing, Jan, that some places are raising prices and shrinking the size of portions. The nerve of these places!

  • 2 Ben // Aug 31, 2008 at 9:18 am

    I think we have all learned the hard way about asking for prices associated with ‘today’s specials’… especially those involving lobster, stone crab, etc.

    One of the biggest shocks of my life was the bill I received from a private club of which I belonged. Since the menus had no prices, I incorrectly estimated the cost of items like appetizers, desserts, etc…. items that can raise the bill dramatically.

  • 3 torym // Sep 2, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I agree! $24 got me 5 small pork chunks at rosa mexicana recently.

  • 4 Matt // Sep 2, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t mind paying for food. I don’t mind tipping well. But I really hate it when a restaurant blatantly rips me off.

    Amigos on Okeechobee advertises ’99-cent margaritas’. Aside from the hangover, what is not to like about that? I’ll tell you what is not to like: their 99-cent margaritas come with a 20-cent surcharge. So, while their ads, signs and menu say ’99 cents’, when the bill comes the margaritas are $1.19 plus tax.

    I don’t mind paying Amigos $1.19 for a margarita — that is much better than the $9 (or was it $11?) I paid at the aforementioned Rosa Mexicana. What ticks me off is they aren’t advertised as $1.19 margaritas, they’re advertised as 99-cent margaritas.

    Lying bastards.

    —Matt

  • 5 Jan Norris // Sep 18, 2008 at 1:45 am

    I hate the sneaky stuff: ordering a bacon and cheese omelet — and having them charge extra for the bacon in it.

    Do you want cheese on that burger? OK. But they don’t tell you it’ll be $2 extra.

    Could I get a roll with my salad? Sure: $1.50.

    Or PABBQ’s exhorbitant price for iced tea!! They sell a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for $2.50 — same as their tea — go figure THAT one! It’s always good tea, but still… Way over the top.

  • 6 aly2121 // Oct 21, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    I agree. Charge me more, just don’t be sneaky about it or find another way to make up the difference. Panera used to charge $.29 put two thin slices of cucumber on my sandwich. Tomato, I understand, but cucumber?

    In another “when meals go wrong” stories, avoid Shorty’s on PGA Blvd. Much better to go a few feet north to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Get the eggplant marino pie.

    Get this: Shorty’s serves about 10 items. Well apparently it’s four to many because, on a recent visit, they were out of the two items I ordered, beef ribs and sweet potatoes, and they were also out of pork ribs and regular potatoes (one of my dining companions was equally frustrated). Best of all, my husband got brisket and it wasn’t until we were almost done when I asked the waitress for something and she said, “oh you should try the brisket sauce, it’s my favorite.” Why didn’t his meal come with it in the first place?? In fairness, the chicken was good and the brisket was excellent but for nearly $60 after tax and tip for four people to eat BBQ, I won’t be back. Anyone else have a similar experience ?

  • 7 Matt // Oct 21, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    OMG, Shorty’s!!!!

    I was going to email Jan about them this week. I still may. I had their bitch of a manager tell me I was a liar right to my face. Then she refused to make what I had eaten the six of the last eight times.

    I want their grilled chicken salad only, instead of the grilled chicken, I want the BBQ chicken on the salad. My two favorite servers there, Julie and Natasha, have no problem with this order. Like magic, it appears at my table shortly after it is ordered. I have ordered that salad often.

    One night, neither of them were there. I gave the new server my order and she was confused but said she would talk to the kitchen.

    The next thing I know, the manager, Ms. D, was at my table with tone in her voice. She would not allow that salad to be made. That salad had never been made before. It was impossible to make that salad. The grilled chicken was the exact same as the BBQ chicken so why would I not be happy with the way the salad was listed on the menu?

    I calmly explained that I had eaten the salad with BBQ chicken several times before. I said that the kitchen obviously had the materials available. The BBQ chicken certainly wasn’t a more expensive substitute than the grilled chicken. While it might take an extra 30 seconds to pull the BBQ chicken meat off the bone, I’d be willing to pay a 50 cent or even a dollar surcharge to cover the labor.

    It was then Ms. D went from rude to oh-no-you-didn’t outrageous. She said that I could not have the salad with BBQ chicken and that I had never had that at Shorty’s before. I said I was sure that I had eaten it there before and my dinner companion agreed that she had seen it served to me. Ms. D said that was not true. I asked her if she was calling me a liar.

    She then looked me right in the eye, raised her voice and said ‘we have never made a salad like that and the kitchen can’t do it’ and walked off.

    Wow!

    I was in at an off-hour so there were only four or five tables in the entire restaurant seated. It was not as though it was a busy evening and the kitchen was swamped.

    My wife and I sat there absolutely stunned for a couple minutes. Did that really just happen? And then, our server arrived with our dinner, including my salad exactly how I wanted it to be. After I had taken a few bites, Ms. D came back over to say that the kitchen would never make that salad for me again. Ever.

    When Manager Ms. D went to the kitchen, one of the other servers came by to apologize to us . She said that Ms. D was a raging bitch to everyone, that she hated to be wrong on any matter and that I shouldn’t take it personally.

    I have not been back to Shorty’s since.

    It’s a shame, too, since they are less than a mile from my house and office. Their meat and sides are good even if their BBQ sauce is awful. Their prices are a little on the high side but, given my other option is an eight-mile drive to Sonny’s, are acceptable. Before I ran into Ms. D and the salad situation, I was eating there about twice a week.

    I’ll give Shorty’s another try once Ms. D is gone. Certainly not before.

    —Matt

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