OK, I know another food blogger took some flak over blogging about a chain restaurant like Olive Garden, but I have a point to make. Olive Garden restaurants always look perfect. A neatly manicured lawn, inviting approach, soft music, friendly host/hostess, and a food quality that is consistent from location to location are hallmarks of this institution.
Sometimes, however, the location means that employees can make or break a diners impression of the business. I know what’s on the menu. I know how good the food will be, I love the salad, the bread sticks, the soups, the Marsala dishes-I really do like it all. And I’ve never had a bad meal at Olive Garden (any Olive Garden) BUT-sometimes the service is a bit off — could be training, experience, apathy, — who knows?
Problem 1 is their tag-team approach to the wait-staff. I have had servers come and introduce themselves, tell me they will be assisted by another server, and rarely see either of them again. Once, our original server brought our soup and salad and minutes later, after we had finished our first round of soup, the second server came and cleared our table, and gave us our check, totally ignoring the fact that we wanted more, and that our glasses had not been refilled the whole evening.
Problem 2 is the “appearance of busy” that many OG servers exhibit. When in the prep area, I can see them standing and talking as if no one needed anything, only to rush through the dining room saying things like “I’ll be back with you tea,” or “Be right back with more soup,” without even stopping to see what I want or need. It’s like saying “I’ll be back to take care of you just as soon as I take care of these more important guests.” Don’t tell me–just DO IT. I even had someone pass by one evening and say (all in one breath without stopping for a response I might add,) “How was everything? Good!” and not even wait to hear if it was good or not. The time before last I ate here, we were conducted to our booth, and I asked “May we have a table instead?” The hostess sighed and almost rolled her eyes as if it were some great inconvenience to move us three feet to the right.
Problem 3 is meal pacing. Diners do not want the glass to run dry, the salad to run out, the entrée to arrive too early, OR the check to arrive and lay on the table when they are clearly not finished with their meal. I can already hear some saying “Well, you ought to try serving a room full of people sometime!” I don’t want to try it sometime! I want to be your guest, not your employee.
Are you getting this? I love Olive Garden. I love the food. I love the ambiance. I love the soft music (usually jazz.) But it only takes a few of these service snafus to put a dent in an otherwise terrific evening.
The Good: Nearly perfect food. Beautiful surroundings. Friendly staff.
Could be better: More attentive servers.