Monday, May 24, 2010

Iced Tea Report: Ruggles

Friday night, some parents took their Kindergartners' teacher to a "nice dinner" at Ruggles' original restaurant location near Montrose. The event was held upstairs, the only plausible solution to the layout of the noisy restaurant, and an effective way to police the movement of the children: guard the stairs.

When we arrived, nobody took drink orders even as family after family arrived with children. Nobody took appetizer orders. It was an undirected mess for the better part of forty-five minutes while I walked around wondering who would take responsibility for ensuring that we were served. It took forever to get a waiter to come to our tables, and I knew the kids were at their limit.

The hunger-maddened children was my first order of business with the waiter.

"For the safety of your establishment," I began, "bring this girl --" and here, I pointed at a child who was past all patience but soldiering on like a champ "-- Mac and cheese as fast as it is possible for the kitchen to deliver." I gave this instruction before ordering anything at all. I kept pointing at the girl while I looked from the waiter to the girl and back to make sure he had directed his attention appropriately. I thought my point had been clearly made: this was an emergency.

After an eternity, one parent begged for some bread, or something, to aid the increasingly distressed children. By then some kids were past reason, unwilling to eat anything but what they'd ordered. Like the Mac and cheese ordered by my targeted would-be diner.

The girl held her abdomen as if in pain and said, "I'm hungry."

I found the waiter and urged him to do something about the kids' meals and the Mac and cheese I'd specifically requested be brought faster than anything else. He agreed.

Adults began receiving their appetizers, mine included, and I went in search of the waiter. I asked about the Mac and cheese. He said they were moving as fast as possible and he was doing everything he could.

The adults received their entrées. I tried to work with the little one about whom I was worried, and she was insensible. She was hungry past reason. She wept – literally wept.

I went asking after a manager, and found someone willing to enter the kitchen and ask for the Mac and cheese. Within a minute, Mac and cheese sat before all the kids who'd ordered it. One parent reported that from their arrival to their kids' receipt of food took an hour and forty minutes.

Then, I reached for my tea.

The big steak in the foreground of the photo on the left was well-favored, but I'd ordered it medium and it was delivered mostly well-done and therefore considerable drier in the middle than I am accustomed to eating and lacked the texture I expect in a quality steak. Despite the definitely-quality-steak price of the thing, I was starved and unwilling to wait again for food, and entirely unwilling to take up another customer service issue with the staff. The stress of telling people they've botched things when you are trying to have a sit-down dinner with your family and the kids' teachers is just not my idea of a good evening.

After a couple (2) of tea refills, they stopped sending anyone near enough to notice, or even to have their attention attracted to the state of my tea glass. So look carefully at the picture, paying special attention to the empty glass with the ice, lemon, and tea spoon: if you go to Ruggles, this will happen to you!

Eventually, dinner was completed around 8PM, and the kids needed to go home. Unfortunately, Ruggles doesn't help people get home with any more seal than they help people get food or iced tea. Those families that came in two cars split up: the bill was so slow coming that a paying adult was left to wait while the families took off for home and bed.

It took an hour from finishing dinner to see a bill. A dinner that "started" at 6PM didn't let me back to my car ($4 to valet, and no apparent parking anyplace) until after nine o'clock.

Everyone had pitched in to cover the teachers' bills, so they were together. Everyone else had a one-family bill. Nevertheless, despite the three- and four- and five-person checks, that characterized the room (we went so far as to place name tags on the table so the staff could tell whose bill they were serving), there was a 20% tip added. After an hour waiting, and with kids past sense, I had no possibility of spending time getting justice. The wretched service – one waiter for maybe thirty people who took up the entire upper floor of the restaurant, and not a very attentive waiter at that – wasn't worth 5%, except that I like to make sure the people who actually work get paid. (L's chicken was superb, but you won't want to suffer the rest of the experience to get it.)

By chance, I had a lunch date the next day at the more mainstream-priced Ruggles Café and Bakery in the Village on Rice Boulevard. I ordered a turkey Reuben and iced tea, with fruit substituted for the fried potatoes that are normally served with the sandwich.

The iced tea is self-serve, so you can get all the lemon and sugar and refills you care to pour. There is no tip tacked onto your bill, even when you eat with friends. If you are lucky enough to get a table close to the drink fountain, you can get refills without much hassle.

The picture on the left shows how Ruggles substitutes fruit in favor of fries.

My conclusion is that while there are outstanding elements at Ruggles' associated restaurants, there is no ethic of service at all, and the tea – despite being offered with lemon, a tea spoon, and even sugar in the raw – is a C at the main restaurant for want of service. It is a B+ at the Ruggles Café if you can get a table close enough to the drink fountain to make refills likely. (Otherwise you leave your company repeatedly to get refills, or forgo them, either of which greatly reduces the quality of your experience.)

Between the two, Ruggles Café is the one to visit. It is also vastly cheaper. You can easily get better service nearly anyplace else in town, though. For the price, what you get at Ruggles' main restaurant is awful.

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