Ever since Stone Brewing opened their restaurant in Escondido we have been enjoying their food. And every single time we have issues with the service. At first, we blew it off thinking they’d get things together after they’d been up and running for a while. It’s been a year and a half and I think the service may have actually gotten worse (although, I hear lunch time is better than dinner). Yet, we still go. We still make reservations so we can arrive and wait 10-15 minutes for our table while the restaurant sits empty. We order the beers that are delivered by servers who make just enough mistakes that you start questioning what you’re really drinking. We order the food that sometimes is brought to the correct person and sometimes doesn’t even take that long after ordering to arrive. We flag down the server because, after taking drink orders, she somehow forgot someone at our table.
Our last visit was during the Russian River Keep the Pint Night. Somehow, they were ready to seat us when we arrived, but we opted to wait for the rest of our party. However, when we decided 5 minutes later that we might as well just sit at the table and order beer instead of just standing around, suddenly our table needed “finishing touches” and took, like 15 more minutes. I don’t know what they were doing to our table, but apparently it included pushing 2 tables together and making the table surface sticky. Our server told us it was Keep the Pint Night and we proceeded to order beer, except not the IPA because they were out. We all order Russian River beverages and they come in a tall glass. Not a pint glass, nor the tulip glass also mentioned in the announcement. Now we’re just confused. Apparently, so is our server. Perhaps she thought it was just a huge coincidence that we all ordered Russian River beers on Russian River night but didn’t specifically ask for the glass that we could keep? In any case, they were sold out of the pint glasses. So we were offered the tulip glasses. Later, we find out (among other things) that we’re actually being charged $1.75 for the glass. That we get to keep. I don’t know how Keep the Pint Nights work in your universe, but every other time I’ve encountered one it involves ordering the beer (at regular price) and then keeping the glass the beer comes in. At no extra charge. Originally, we were told about some tricky pricing involving smaller glasses, refills, and $1 off the beer price. Then it went back to refills in the large non-pint glasses and the $1 issue was never really resolved. It’s odd. So, if you do plan on going to any Keep the Pint Nights at Stone, be forewarned that you’re really just going to Stone, drinking beer, and then paying for the glass you get to take home.
The food at Stone is good. They don’t serve beer cheese as a menu item anymore and quite a few of their dishes are really spicy, but you can’t go wrong with a heaping dish of Mac ‘n Beer Cheese. They seem to have flaws in the system that tells them which dish goes where at the table and you can’t just tell them you need water for everyone. You have to tell them exactly how many waters you need. Counting makes things complicated. Prices have gone up, too, although I suspect that’s happening everywhere. Interestingly enough, there’s an article making the rounds about the increasing costs of running a restaurant and how the public needs to understand that restaurants aren’t trying to rip you off. Here’s the thing: the restaurant owner in the article talks about his high level of service and how dining becomes an experience that makes the $40 entree worth it, to some degree. And I agree, to a point. I’m not sure a $40 entree is really worth it – unless it’s osso buco I can almost certainly make something comparable in my kitchen for much less. But! Good service makes high prices easier to swallow, pardon my pun. If you need to pay your servers more to make them good servers (or hire good ones) and that cost needs to get wrapped into the food price, then go for it. But don’t charge me a lot of money for the same food and give me terrible service.
It boggles my mind that I’ve sat at the bar at Stone, more than willing to give them my hard-earned money, only to be ignored by bartenders. I’ve sat there for so long, with nothing in front of me, that I’ve been asked, “Is there anything else I can get you?” when I haven’t even been offered an intial beer yet. I’ve waited for dinner for so long that the server’s response is, “Hmm, I don’t know where your food is. It should have been here by now.” The sad part is, I don’t think Stone has any incentive to change. No newspaper writes them up for having poor service. Instead they are commended for the outstanding beers, phenomenal design of the restaurant, and innovative menu choices. They are always busy in the restaurant. People keep coming back. So, if they’re not losing business, why would they invest their money to improve service? Maybe they think we enjoy the poor experience.
No doubt we’ll continue to show up at their door, waiting for the day beer cheese comes back to the menu. We’ll still complain about the service… heck, we actually expect it to be awful these days, yet we are still there. I can’t explain it, but I guess as long as no one’s discovered a live worm in their organic salad (ahem, Terra) we must be enjoying our dinner just enough.
[We did go back the next night for dinner, since we were also planning to watch the movie in the Garden. We sat outside, a first for us and had a wonderful server named Maria. Not only was she nice, she was full of information on the missing beer cheese and also updated the beer list without being asked. Also, the mussels were outstanding. The chili lime chips, not so much.]