I started “blogging” because I, quite egotistically, felt I had a lot to say but didn’t like getting into internet arguments in forums or being told I didn’t know what I was talking about. I figured having a space of my own, without a lot of online traffic, would let me vent my complaints without being bullied and, if someone were searching for similar topics, perhaps they’d find my ramblings helpful. Over the years, it kind of evolved and then food blogging got really popular and PR groups were reaching out to me for reviews and media dinners. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good media dinner and event and am tickled pink to be included among the company of some lovely San Diego food bloggers. I should have a shirt made that says, “Some of my favorite people are food bloggers” – this blog introduced me to them!
But, you know, posts pile up, pictures need editing, you start writing about food you ate over a month ago because you’re behind and then it all starts to feel like work. Sometimes, I just want to eat. If it’s something particularly tasty, maybe I’ll Instagram it. But then I don’t want to write a post because the only picture I have has already been put up on Instagram! It’s a vicious cycle. So, you’ll notice things have been deadly quiet around here. And then my best friend and her husband tried to take us out for dinner for Christmas while some friends were in town.
I have a soft spot for the Rancho Bernardo Inn. It’s a gorgeous spot, with this weird self-guided fountain tour, and has always had a fancy, grown-up restaurant that always seemed out of reach for our budget. We almost got married there. We’ve spent the night there in a bare-bones room during a where-are-all-the-tourists promotion with said best friend and husband. Living in Poway, it’s like our local fancy-pants destination. So, when RB Inn starts running promotions to make themselves seem more affordable and, I guess, try and draw more people in, we try and give it a shot. Their latest winter promotion includes nightly dinner specials at the Veranda, which has a lovely dining patio perfect for San Diego’s non-polar vortex winter weather.
Monday is $10 all you can eat chili and cornbread, paired with $1 off beers. We thought that sounded lovely and trekked out to be treated by friends and enjoy their company. Calls were made to confirm chili would be there over the holidays, reservations were made, and off we went.
As we sat (at 5:30pm, mind you, we are not late night diners), we were promptly informed that the kitchen was out of chili and cornbread as well as the Catch of the Day and some other stuff I wasn’t listening to because I stopped listening after I heard No Chili. We were told that the kitchen was not offering chili and cornbread because they hadn’t received their delivery today. Seeing as how our sole purpose for being at the Veranda was for chili and cornbread, we asked if the kitchen was substituting something else for the chili. I don’t know if our server was having a hard night or really just does not care about being a server, but all we got in response was a shrug and a “Probably not”. Blank stares followed (from us and our server), like a game of chicken where the first person to make a move loses. I guess that would be us because we ordered some beers and thought we might peruse the regular menu. Except, when your heart is set on chili and cornbread (mmm… warm cornbread with soft butter!), looking at $16 burgers and $28 seafood is really not satisfying. Bread and tapenade was delivered (I do love their tapenade) and while we munched on the free bread we decided to cut our losses and just go somewhere else. The beer tab was settled and we instead dined at Chicago Kitchen, which used to be Chicago on a Bun but still serves tasty Chicago dogs and other food.
The night was still filled with good food and great company. This would have been the end of the story (and would not even warrant a post) except that I was so annoyed. I was annoyed that no one at the restaurant seemed to care that we came specifically for the chili, had called specifically to make sure we would be able to have chili, and no one there apologized or was sorry or really even cared if we were happy or unhappy customers. Just to see if I’d get a response (because one would think if you have a Twitter account as a business, you might also be responsive), I tweeted at what I thought was RB Inn’s GM. [as of January 10, I haven't heard a peep from their Twitter account.]
A few days later, I wrote a sad little break-up note on Facebook to RB Inn. I didn’t want to post it directly on their page since that seemed too direct. And, in all honesty, if that had been ignored I would have just gone on with my day. But then the weird stuff started happening. My friend shared the post and commented on it and we both received personal messages in our Inboxes (actually, the “Other” inbox). Not from RB Inn but from the personal page of their Online Marketing Specialist. A personal account that is quite open, which is how I know his Aunt calls him “Tinty”. [side note, y'all should really lock down personal FB accounts, people.] Anyway, it was from his personal account, but the message was from the Veranda General Manager and at least half of it was copied word for word to both of us. However, my message assured me that the kitchen definitely makes their chili and cornbread in house and does not have it delivered and invited us to return to the Veranda to enjoy a “night of our favorite pleasure”. That’s a direct quote. I’m not really sure when it was decided that $10 chili and cornbread was our favorite pleasure, but there it is. He also offered to have the Chef stop by our table to share his Secrets of the Chili. I wrote back (to the GM, via the personal account of the online marketing specialist) and requested reservations for Monday night and mentioned we would be happy to give the Veranda another shot.
Now, maybe all my time at media dinners has spoiled me. Maybe I just have high expectations of how a meal should go when you are specifically invited to dine. But, out of all the ways our return visit could have gone, my imagination never came up with the scenario we got in reality.
We checked in with the hostess and, thankfully, she did have a record of our reservation. I thought there might be a note on the reservation letting them know were were here as guests of the GM, that our meal would be complimentary, or something that would prompt anyone to comment on the fact that we would be enjoying chili and cornbread. Instead, we got a table, a very nice server, and some menus. The only reason I knew they actually had chili that night is because the server at the table next to ours was trying very hard to sell it to her patrons. I think we had to ask OUR server about the chili and cornbread special, which we ordered. I don’t know – I guess I thought someone at the restaurant would know why we were there and just bring us chili and cornbread?
Sorry for the terrible iPhone-flash photo. It was dark, but I knew I had to somehow document the moment. Our mostly-warm chili and oddly half-melted and dried-out cheese showed up promptly, along with a square of cornbread and what we think was honey butter. Not a trio of infused butter, as the menu claims, but I guess we should be happy the butter got delivered at all. I’ll get to it: the chili was pretty good. It would have been better hot, but the chunks of short rib were tender and soft and, you know, it was decent chili. I thought the cornbread was good, too. Again, would have been better warm but it had a tight crumb and wasn’t too cakey or sweet. I actually didn’t want a second bowl of chili, but I did want more cornbread and I was determined to eat up while we had chili available to us. So, we ordered a second round. The chili got delivered, possibly warmer than the last time, definitely with less-dried-out cheese. But we were lacking more cornbread. The guy at the table next to us got TWO pieces of cornbread delivered, so when our server came by I asked for more cornbread. And was told the kitchen had run out. I swear, for a second, I thought he was joking and was ready to laugh about this oh-so-hilarious joke that the kitchen would run out of cornbread on the night we came back after the kitchen had run out of both the week before. He wasn’t joking. No more cornbread.
I want to specifically point out that this happened before 7pm. There were maybe 5 tables in the whole place occupied and the only other table eating chili was the one next to us (of 5). By my math, I think the kitchen made one pan of cornbread cut into 12 pieces and that was it.
When our server came back, we decided to let him in on the reason we were there. I felt like we were blowing our cover, but in hindsight I think the restaurant should have been made aware of who we were before we sat down. We told him we had been there a week ago and were shut out of chili and cornbread, so the GM invited us back for chili and cornbread and now… “we ran out of cornbread” as he finished my sentence. So, at least one person at the Veranda understands customer perception and I’m pretty sure if he were in charge our night would have been very different from the start. He did go and talk to his manager and in the end our food, beers, and grand dessert plate was comped by the restaurant. I gave him a tip that was maybe too extravagant, but I thought he was really nice, treated us well, and it certainly wasn’t his fault the restaurant and kitchen management and communication is so screwy.
I did write back to the GM (via the personal account of the marketing dude) and subtly let him know that we never did see the Chef or learn his Secrets of the Chili. I directly let him know that I was disappointed the kitchen ran out of cornbread after only 1 piece. I’m guessing that’s the end of our correspondence because I haven’t heard anything since.
Do you think my expectations were out of whack? I thought that if you invite someone back to show that your kitchen does have things together and that the previous experience was a fluke, you’d make sure that their dinner went smoothly. I don’t need to be fawned over, but every time I’ve been invited to a restaurant, someone there know why I’m there and usually a chef or manager will come by to say hello and make sure everything is okay. We never even saw a manager after the second kitchen shortage!
Should we have specifically asked to speak to a manager? Should I have directly called the GM afterwards? Should I have dropped the whole thing from the start? Has blogging gone to my head? (I mean, I have been called a social media maven in PR release e-mails…)
ps – if anyone from Rancho Bernardo Inn does read this, I would accept a jar of mustard from AVANT as a small token towards an apology. I would also like you take Fried Chicken Oysters off your brunch menu when you so rarely ever have fried chicken oysters; things like that should be a special, not a menu item that is never there.