So I took my mom out to Red Lobster today for an early Mother's Day celebration. Her and I have gone to Red Lobster for special occasions for years and always enjoyed it (OK, so it's not LI's Lobster Inn, but we're landlocked in this part of FL - so landlocked that some locals don't even know what lobster is, which makes it hard to find in local restaurants).
First of all, our waitress was on a mixture of something like crack and too many tables and gleefully broke every rule I learned in Boot Camp (my last waitressing job forced me through a sort of Serving Boot Camp, otherwise known as "If you do any of this, expect to get fired"):
1) During the first minute, without giving us her name, she sat down next to me and kept swishing her hip against mine so her long hair repeatedly brushed against my bare shoulder (I almost repeatedly jumped out of my skin), 2) she talked too loud and too fast, 3) she kept starting to take our order, then running off to "do something else" even though the place was nearly empty and she only had 2-3 other tables that I could see, 4) she kept running off after starting to jot the order down every 20 seconds or so until I was ready to lose my mind - upshot of points 1-4 being 5) we waited over 20 minutes to get our order completely taken; by then she still had not brought the biscuits or salad that she kept promising. She also failed to take our drink order, so we had to get her back over to get wine on the table. By then I was so on-edge I could've drank a whole vat.
I wish that was the worst of it, but it wasn't (this is where I go all Gordon Ramsey on them but I paid good money for the disaster that follows). The Caesar salad was soggy, lifeless, pale - a flavorless mess; the biscuits had no butter (the server didn't ask if we wanted any, either; not sure if it's standard practice to not bring butter with biscuits or not, but either way, we wanted butter); the lobster, which we ordered steamed, was somehow miraculously crisply and burnt around the edges; the crab smelled fishy and there was no pick to get the meat with; the meat that I could get was so dry it dissolved when dipped in butter; the steak was, for my mom, a pile of inedible gristle; for me, about an inch of gristle on either side, with meat in the middle that was almost impossible to cut, though not exactly gristly; the scampi was hideous, with nothing like the fresh, buttery garlic sauce we do at home (ever had a scampi with a clearly metallic aftertaste? No? You gotta try this).
Once our server got her head on straight the salad and bread came fast, and the food came even faster, so I can't complain about speed from that point on. But 20 minutes to get one's head on is pushing it to almost unheard of extremes, if you ask me.
Overall, today's experience made Red Lobster into a "never again" for both of us, and I say that with some regret, because I practically grew up in lobster joints - Red Lobster included. I've spent tons of money with them over the years (I don't want to tell anyone what today's bill came to - it makes me sigh rather sharply with even more regret) but the servers always made it feel special and the food was always top notch. Today proved they must have some pretty big cracks in their seemingly fool-proof business. I'm even starting to wonder, in light of it, how long before Darden just shuts the chain down. I say that because other restaurants in this town have suffered similar dips in quality and service, only to shut their doors no more than a few months later. It's always sad to see a good eatery decline in quality and then fold, but there's not much you can do about it.
What gets me, to go back to that Boot Camp type serving job I had? At that place, my boss would have been on the whole thing within minutes and much of it would never have happened, period. I was trained to greet and seat, to give my name, to not touch, nor sit next to, nor crouch down in front of the customer, to take an order and bring drinks (including complicated shelf mixes that I was taught to make myself), bread, soup, salad and fully cooked appetizers within five to ten minutes of the customer's seating. Five to ten minutes! Any longer, even once, could get me or anyone else there fired. And it would always get the bill comped a minimum of 5%-10% if the customer had anything to say about it.
And food that pitiful at Serving Boot Camp? It would have been scooped off the customer's table at the first sign of trouble (but at first we didn't know how bad it was, that's how the place got away with this), thrown out, re-made, and again, the entire bill would probably be comped (usually, "comped" means anything from "you get a 5%-20% discount" to "you get the whole meal for free").
An early happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there - just don't take your mom to the Red Lobster by me.