Sunday, December 30, 2012

Musings About Chicago Diners

The first time I went to Deluxe Diner, I was impressed. It had received some bad reviews, so I didn't set my expectations too high. What I found was a classic Chicago diner with great diner food. Rather than having bad service, I had a perky, young waitress that was very on top of things. It quickly became a regular haunt.

Over time, the food remained the same, but the service wavered. We started going every weekend. One of our waiters was good, and for awhile he was always there, but that became less predictable. The perky waitress from our first visit began to seem moody and unhappy. For example, one time, she hastily doused my french toast with powdered sugar and slammed it on my table--not because I had said anything to offend her but because her replacement was ten minutes late and she was pissed that she had to stay late. We heard her blow up at some co-workers as well. On another occasion, she waited on us and was again cheerful and helpful. She did forget one of the items from my husband's order. It was a small item, so he didn't say anything. When it showed up on the bill, though, he pointed out that he hadn't received it. She fixed it, although she was very expressive in her frustration.

The next time we went in there, she was gone. We don't know if she quit or was fired, but we have not seen her since. We met her replacement, who was a nice enough fellow. He seemed very on top of things. We enjoyed our meal and the tip reflected that, as it generally does. That same day, I noticed that there were no women working. I went in to use the bathroom. It in, toilets used with no water in the toilet, stuff building up over what looked like a long span of time...type of disgusting. After throwing up in my mouth a little bit, I wondered if perhaps none of the males went on bathroom clean-up duty in the women's bathroom.

After that it was a few weeks before we went back. Initially, I thought, well, if that is what the bathroom is like, what is the kitchen like? Plus, the visual was hard to shake. I began to rationalize it, thinking, well, maybe it was a timing issue, maybe it was a bad day, I don't know that the kitchen is in bad shape and think about how many times I've eaten at Chicago diners only for them to get shut down by the health department. I've never heard of this place getting shut down by the health department, so it must be okay. Really, though, I just liked that it was close by and had good french toast. So, first, I went back but waited to use the bathroom until I was out of there. The time after that, I saw two waitresses, so I braved it (it appeared to be clean).

Yesterday, we were going to go, but it was unusually busy with techno blaring, so my husband and I decided to go elsewhere. We wanted to get our Deluxe fix, so we went by today. We had the same waiter that had been so nice when he first started there. Our order was taken promptly. Then, we waited. And waited. And waited. I looked over at the food pick-up area periodically. Mostly, he was back there hanging out. He never stopped by, never said anything to us about our food coming. My husband, usually more patient than I am on these matters (or is it less neurotic than I am? A little from Column A, a little from Column B?) also started to look antsy. Whenever we looked, though, our waiter wasn't doing anything and never came near our table. (There were two servers working and it wasn't particularly busy in there. It wasn't quite a lull, but was about five minutes away from being one.) Finally, the manager came by and asked if we were waiting on food. He went over to our waiter. A few minutes later, the manager came back and said our food would be right out. Five minutes later, the waiter came by and said, "it will just be a few more minutes." I asked very matter-of-factly if he'd forgotten to place our order. (A reasonable question, since it was going on forty minutes for a basic breakfast order, and neither my husband's order nor mine had come up in that time.) He denied that, but copped a bit of an attitude, and argued about why it shouldn't be a problem, before storming off. A more appropriate way to handle it would probably have been to ask me if I'd like to speak to a manager.

I looked on Yelp later. Over the past month, other people have complained about their orders being forgotten for long stretches of time until they reminded the server, only for the food to then be hastily prepared. I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same server. When I see things like this happen, I always wonder if it's a problem with morale at that place or if it's a problem with youth and inexperience. This might be another "A little from Column A and a little from Column B" scenario. I do think that there are a lot of younger, less experienced servers but that might also be a by-product of it being an unpleasant place to work, since more seasoned servers would quickly move on to greener pastures. The less experienced servers probably stick around with the intention of building up experience, until the place starts to make them a little bit crazy. I'm not sure if it's a case of management greatly overworking the servers or if it's a case of there just not being a lot of money to be made due to all of the college students in the area. After all, the tipping system only works if most customers abide by it (See this guide to tipping). Whatever the case, there's something wrong there that makes the waitstaff become really reactive after awhile. I can't say I'll never go back (I really like their french toast) but I think we're going to take a break until at least the spring to try out some other places. Once I do, it will probably only be an occasional thing and not our default regular breakfast place.

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