Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Republic Noodles on Union Square

I had a most unfortunate incident tonight trying to be fed at Republic, a place I have always loved and have eaten at since they opened.

I wanted to share with you my letter that I sent them, just in case any of you were thinking of eating there:

Dear Management and Owners of Republic,

I've been going to your restaurant on Union Square since it opened. I'm also a fan of Town. I eat at the bar at Republic a fair amount. I usually order the spicy duck soup. I tried to order that tonight, with some hot over priced green tea. Like usual I asked if I could have it without noodles, a request that has never before caused a problem, but tonight it was met with great confusion. I'm not sure if I said the wrong thing or if the waiter misheard me or what but I was told clearly that no substitutions were allowed and it was impossible to replace the noodles. Just to be clear, I don't like to be difficult, but I'm diabetic and so I really can't eat carbs, or least not very many. I said to the waiter good-humoredly that if he couldn't do it I would eat around it - because what I mostly wanted was the broth. What I got was a pile of noodles, curried duck noodles, not spicy duck soup. Not a big deal right? Well apparently I'm wrong on that score. Not one of the three people who I asked offered to change my order for me, no one in fact seemed to even care. The rude cashier woman said and I quote: "Do you want me to get a manager? I can't do anything." The waiter was happy to get me my check so he could turn over the chair and the guy who brought me the food was clueless.

So I left a complete plate of food totally untouched and none of your staff could care less. Not one of them seemed to realize that you are in the hospitality industry, not the hostility industry.

This is the first time I have ever written a letter to a restaurant, but what happened tonight was appalling - even if I had ordered the wrong thing what's so bad about making the customer happy? Or is that not part of your business plan?

I find it increasingly difficult to eat out at restaurants like your's who do things like have a "seasonal specials" menu, but have nothing on the menu that is seasonal (or local, for that matter).

Nor do I want to support restaurants who still do not offer organic free range local meat on their menu. If Bonita can offer me an all organic delicious chicken burrito for 9 bucks why can't you do something similar? The answer is: because you don't want to.

Also, you offer a presumably vegetarian dish, it's relatively new to your menu, but it's made with red curry and red curry isn't vegetarian it's made with shrimp, I'd think your veggie and kosher customers would be very angry about being deceived.

I've learned my lesson and promise to never suggest to my friends, or eat, at either Town or Republic again. I've gotten over my nostalgia for comfort food from the past.

I think you need a new manager who is able to train the staff so that they are able to do their jobs properly. Maybe think about hiring people who are interested in being nice and actually hospitable instead of moody twenty-somethings who just want to make a buck and leave.

I was so upset tonight (not to mention hypoglycemic because I was starving and ready to fall into coma) that it was the first time in my life I didn't tip the waiter. I'm 48 and have been a waiter - I am very sympathetic and understanding of what it takes to be a waiter.

I've worked in the food and hospitality industry all my life and am a professional cook. I understand how things can go wrong but what happened tonight in your restaurant is inexcusable. I mean, if you have such disregard for your customers why do you run a restaurant?

I want you to credit my account with the $16.26 I spent on not being fed tonight. The check number is 4163, the lack of server was named Dillon, I also notice now that your cashier gave me the wrong copy, I have the merchant copy - aren't you the merchant? Date Nov 25 '08 @ 6:48 authorization code 491749.

I'm not so into angry letters and certainly don't usually waste my time with them, but there was something about this incident that got under my skin. Here we are in the middle of a massive financial crisis, I'm unemployed, and the last thing I want to do is go to a restaurant that can't even get an order right and then penalize me for it.

The real reason I wanted to share this is that it is true, and not just an empty angry threat, that I find it increasingly hard to eat out at my usual "cheap and cheerful" places because it so bothers me that we have built a food culture based on what's cheapest, not what's best. The tacit understanding that we have been sold is that good can never be cheap. This is a lie. If we prioritized what was good (local, fresh, seasonal, organic) and we all bought it - it would be much cheaper. Simple fact.

If we cared at all about farmers or our health or the environment or were we in the least bit aware of the catastrophic affects humans have had on the planet maybe we would change our behavior? CAFO's*, feeding corn to cows, pesticides, genetically modified seeds, fossil fuel fertilizers, etc. are all contributing to the destruction of the planet. What is our response? Well it would seem to be that a lot of restaurateurs in this city's response is: "go fuck yourself." We want short sighted, high turnover, industrialized food "product" that can be consumed and paid for in 20 minutes and to hell with everything else (including it would seem hospitality).

It never used to bother me. Hell - like most people I was unaware it was even an issue. Over the years as I have read and learned more from all sorts of sources, as it is indeed now a regular conversation in the media, food safety, the environment, etc, it amazes me how cavalier we are as a culture. We'd rather speed ahead to our inevitable destruction then stop and think for a moment what might be best for all of us. Of course, I'm very sympathetic to the fact that everyone needs to make a living (lately I'm keenly aware as an unemployed person) but I see restaurants like Back 40, Bonita, Diner, Marlowe, City Bakery all making a living while maintaining a commitment to safe, healthy, properly raised, real food from farmers not factories.

Apropos of the clip from "Network" I think it is time that we all start to put our feet down and scream out our windows: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more! We have to collectively say: I'm not going to allow farm animals to be tortured, poisoned, mutilated and slaughtered so I can save a buck a pound on my hamburger and I can survive January without buying a cantaloupe from Guatemala and I can make it a part of our weekly schedule to make it to the market. We have to commit ourselves to being diligent in saying "I will not support organizations be they large corporations like Monsanto or local restaurant chains like Republic who still are maintaining a status quo that is not only bad for the planet but bad for us."

Change is hard, hard to manifest, hard to maintain. The only way we can effectively create it is if we see clearly and believe in our hearts and minds that we have the power as individuals to make a difference. Without that belief we are lost.

I encourage you all to write to every restaurant you eat at and tell them what is important to you.
Oh, and it might be better if you do this before you have a horrible experience there, as I believe people respond better to kindness then anger.

Write a letter, and send it to me, I'd love to publish the best ones here.

1 comment:

Sara said...

I love how in the States if you don't get good customer service it's cause for an eyebrow raising.

Here it's the opposite. The customer service is appalling and people act like it's your fault that they have to work in the first place. Like you should just walk in and say "Don't mind me. I'll get it for myself. Oh, yeh, where are the utensils? Great!"

Good luck with that!

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