Sometimes tough love is needed. Straight talk. Telling it like it is. Black Butte Ranch Restaurant, my friend, you’ve got to get your serving-time act together. Plus, what you serve has got to include a decent vegetarian entrée.
Two “got to’s.” Not much to ask. You can handle it. Then we’ll keep coming back. We love looking out your floor to ceiling windows at snow-capped mountains, a meadow, grazing horses, geese on the pond. The atmosphere can’t be beat.
But no matter how beautiful the setting, diners get cranky when they wait half an hour to have their order taken, wait another half an hour to get two basic dinner salads, and then, a full hour and a half after sitting down at their table, are served an unappealing vegetarian dish that would have brought a smile to Bugs Bunny. But not to us.
Yes, I did tell our waiter to go heavy on the vegetables and light on the pasta. However, it looked like the chef poured a pail of cut cooked carrots over some linguine, added a dash of broccoli and mushrooms, and called it an entrée.
If either Laurel or me was afraid of orange, we’d have run screaming for the exit when the plates were put down. It was an awesome sight. To rabbits.
Look: I’ve been a vegetarian for thirty-seven years. It’s common for me to walk into a classy restaurant like yours, open up the menu, and see there isn’t a single entrée that didn’t once walk, fly, or swim.
No problem. I just plead my case before the waiter. “Hey, we’re vegetarians. We don’t eat meat or fish. Could the chef make us something special? Doesn’t need to be fancy. Just put together some grilled vegetables, rice or pasta, maybe some other side dishes from your menu?”
This usually works like a charm. In fact, at the very Black Butte Restaurant where we dined last night, over the years my wife and I have enjoyed the creativity that’s emerged from the kitchen in response to our vegetarian pleadings.
But last night we got off to an inauspicious beginning when the waiter looked at us with a deer-in-the-headlights stare when I went into my “Hey, we’re vegetarians” rap. Right away he tried to buy us off with a veggie appetizer, but we pressed for a real entrée.
Should have stuck with the appetizer, in retrospect. After a few bites, Laurel’s reaction was “I could have made something better than this back at the cabin.” She was right. And while I’ve got tremendous respect for my wife’s cooking skills, she’d be the first to admit that they are nowhere near chef-quality. So you’ve got a problem here.
We asked for something vegetarian. I can understand that requesting a kosher, gluten-free, macrobiotic, low-carb dinner might throw the kitchen for a loop. But vegetarian? That should be easy.
You never know when you might get a Hollywood star dining at Black Butte. Get the chef to think ahead, figure out a tasty dish that can be assembled from the ingredients you always have on hand, pin the recipe on a kitchen bulletin board, and have at it when a restaurant customer says that he or she is a vegetarian.
Better yet, make it your policy to always have a vegetarian entrée on the dinner menu. You might be surprised to discover how many people order it. I praised your grilled tofu Garden Plate three years ago but you changed the menu soon after to be entirely meaty and fishy, like it is now.
Big mistake, which you need to rectify if you want to stay on the good side of the Vegetarian Gods.
And us. Who also have some advice about how to handle over-taxed restaurant situations, like you experienced last night. Waiters and busboys were rushing around like crazy. Yet food took a very long time to arrive. We saw other diners frowning as they wrote on the comment card that accompanied the check, just as we did.
Restaurants, like people, have bad nights. We understand that. Your parking lot was full when we drove up. It looked like a party or reception of some sort was going on in your banquet area. Maybe that over-burdened your kitchen. Maybe a cook was sick. Maybe you were short-staffed otherwise (our waiter looked like a busboy given a temporary promotion).
Regardless, be upfront about it. If someone had said to us, “I’m sorry about how long you’ve had to wait. We’re not living up to our service standard. The reason is _______. We want to give you each of you a complimentary glass of wine in appreciation of your patience,” that would have smothered a lot of the frustrated fumes that were rising from our hungry heads.
But we never got anything but a brisk “Sorry for the delay” as our salads were dropped on our table an hour after we sat down. Even worse, we weren’t asked if we wanted ground pepper! I, horror of horrors!, had to use the regular pepper shaker rather than enjoy the ritual of the three-foot-long grinder being wielded above my (tasty) Lodge Salad.
Leisurely meals at a fine restaurant like yours can be enjoyable. However, the diners need to feel like they’re largely in control of the pace of the meal. We did a lot of unwanted lingering last night, made more unwantable by the fact of it being my birthday dinner.
Hey, I had presents to unwrap back at the cabin, some of which I hadn’t bought for myself, so I was curious to find out what they were. We both had better things to do than stare blankly around the dining room in a low-blood-sugar stupor, vaguely pondering why the people who were the most overweight and looked like heart attacks waiting to happen were the ones who ordered a thick steak.
We still love you, Black Butte Restaurant. We just hope you’re open to becoming ever more deserving of our adoration. Learn how to minimize long waits. And have your chef come up with a good vegetarian entrée.
With just a few carrots. Please.