Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gordon Ramsey's Pub & Grill: Bollucks!

My partner, Stephen, is a big fan of Gordon Ramsey. He watches Gordon's many shows, he downloaded Gordon's massive app for recipes and cooking techniques, and, whenever we visit a restaurant, he references "what Gordon might think" about the experience. Of course, when we visited Las Vegas recently, it was only fitting to visit one of Gordon's two new restaurants there. We had a choice between "Steak," which is in the Paris resort, and "Gordon Ramsey Pub and Grill" in Caesar's Palace. Looking for a more laid back experience, we chose the latter option.

In Vegas, it is extremely important to make a reservation in advance for ANY place that qualifies as a sit-down restaurant. Although the Pub and Grill was meant to be casual, we took no risks and called in advance for a 9:00 reservation.

One of the challenges in Vegas is estimating both distance and the time it will take to cover it on foot. Walking is your primary, if not only, method of transportation. The resorts, on the other hand, are so large that you could easily cover nearly a mile and only fully pass two or three of them. Then, there's the pedestrians. Fortunately, Vegas city planners made provisions for walkers, but these narrow corridors are often clogged by slow people strolling in groups, people who stop to take ten pictures of the same thing, and individuals who make sudden, inexplicable decisions to turn around.

We were staying in the MGM Grand, which is somewhat inconveniently located at the head of the Strip, and we knew it would take about half and hour to walk the mile and a half to Caesar's Palace. We arrived about a minute or two after 9:00. The Pub and Grill is located just off of the casino floor, which proved to be frustrating as this invited people who had no idea what they wanted to do to walk up to the hostess podium in the sweat pants they woke up in that morning to have a lengthy conversation about whether or not they would honor the place with their patronage that evening. One such group beat us to the podium by milliseconds, their representatives having a three-way conversation between themselves, the hostesses, and the straggling majority of their group that insisted they "weren't hungry." This took about three minutes while we waited behind them. We finally made it to the podium at 9:05.

I'll pause for a minute--the "ambiance" that whoever the post-modern designers attempted to create bears a comment here. I think "a modern twist on the British Punk Movement" is the best way to describe it. There was lots--way too much--loud British music. The place was somewhat dark, somewhat based on what British pubs look like, and somewhat trying to be upscale. The absolute worst thing about this place (from a visual perspective only) was the "costuming" allotted to the staff. The servers were dressed in what I can only describe as "Steam Punk meets traditional British Pub c. 1900." There was one selection for men in this category, but two for women. The young ladies who had apparently been labeled "attractive" were all wearing short dresses and pumps while those who had sized out of that category were in the same outfit the men were wearing.

Finally, there were the hostesses. They were all in dresses that were inspired by Punk design, using paper clips to hook their straps to the top. The dresses themselves were about butt length (a generous assessment), styled after British newspapers, and made out of some very cheap cotton-spandex blend materials. On top of that, they had absolutely no idea what they were doing with the computer system. There were five of them. Only one of them had any form of a clue. When we spoke to the hostess team, we were given a choice between tables--a good thing. The young lady with a clue showed us a platform table raised about 3 feet off the ground that was immediately available, and a traditional table that had two empty glasses and some linens left on it. She said that if we wanted that table, we would have to wait a minute until it was cleared. We opted to do so. We stood off to the side. We watched approximately 20 additional people get seated. The hostess who spoke to us did not communicate at all with the other hostesses. Every time someone asked for a table, the five of them sat, staring for a good minute or so, at a computer screen that apparently had a seating chart of some kind on it.

A full twenty minutes later, and we were still standing there. Since only one hostess knew who we were and what we were doing there, the chances we were going to be led to our table was slim. At that point, Stephen and I went back to the podium. Stephen is a very reasonable, polite person regardless of the situation. I am not. He tried to explain it to the tiny blonde chick who was then-standing at the podium. When she didn't seem to be interested in helping, I stepped in and insisted that first, we had a reservation, unlike everyone else they were sitting, and second, we had been at the restaurant for a full 25 minutes at that point. She gave a little pout--the one I am sure helps get her way with men and her parents--but, fortunately, the first hostess returned and led us to the table. We were sitting at it at 9:30.

At this point, the hostess uniform became a problem as the hostess attempted to bend over slightly to communicate with us given the loud music. A gentleman who had, I estimate, about 2 or 3 alcoholic beverages too many, started making loud, suggestive commentary behind her (while his ditz of a girlfriend put up with it--seriously?). I saw it, pointed directly at him, and told her what he was saying. She was concerned, a little annoyed, but unable to say anything because of her position. I said, loudly, how ridiculous his behavior was. Stephen, who is a muscular, sizeable guy, stared at him. He turned away. We didn't hear from him again for the rest of the experience.

Our server appeared about 5 minutes after the young lady left. We ordered drinks, and, about another 7 minutes later, they appeared (without the water we asked for--which we had to ask for again). At no point in our experience did he check on us. He only came by when he had something to drop off or pick up. The fastest thing he ever did--no surprise here--was run our credit card at the end of our meal. The support staff was actually the most helpful--these people usually run drinks and appetizers, do clean up, etc. There was a young man who brought us the "bread," about 20 minutes into the experience unfortunately, but who took the time to explain everything to us and offered to get us anything else we wanted. This guy, whoever he was, should have been serving.

The problem was that both entrees and sides were separated on the menu (to make extra money, no doubt) so if you ordered an entree, you only got the entree. Stephen ordered the pork belly, and that was all he got. He thought the portion was a bit small, with or without sides, but he said it was pretty good. I ordered a salad and the sliders (an appetizer) for an entree. The salad, a good sized one, was too tartly dressed. By the time I finished it, I needed Chapstick. The sliders were OK--the fact the beef patties were so thin contributed to their dry texture. The garlic mayo, though, was a good condiment choice on the side, but a lot of it was necessary to make up for the lack of moisture in the meal.

Unfortunately, in a city that is known for customer service and excellent dining, this left MUCH to be desired. And, I was really surprised that this experience came from a guy who travels from restaurant to restaurant and tears people apart for bad food and bad service.

This is the best you can do, Gordon? Really?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Charlotte v. Neighbor Kitty

Neighbor Kitty, in a demonstration of defiance, returned later and was certain to urinate in several strategic locations around the yard.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Gone But Not Forgotten?

When I lived in the United Kingdom, I did a lot of walking. If I really think about it, I probably walked about 2 to 3 miles a day to get to class, to the library, or to shop for necessities downtown. There were two notable consequences to all of this walking--first, I had to completely rethink my priorities when I shopped for shoes. Second, a regular build-up of sweat between my skin and my shirt led to a breakout of massive proportions on my upper back.

As with any other previous skin emergency, I immediately went to Clinique to find something to help. I already had nearly one of everything in their acne-fighting line. What I really needed was some kind of a treatment for the red, irritated skin that the prolific acne left in its wake. Fortunately, I found it--a cream called "Exceptionally Soothing Cream for Upset Skin" (not the most marketable or catchy choice). It was amazing--within days, most of the redness disappeared. It was such a good product that I, from that point forward, always made sure I had some on hand should a similar problem arise. When my mother was desperate to alleviate some stubborn redness after an injury, I gave her a jar, and it worked its magic and created another convert in the process.

Then, Clinique stopped selling the product.

I have never understood why companies either stop selling or change popular products. A quick websearch revealed that Clinique's now unavailable cream was equally indispensable to many other clients. I called Clinique. I came away from that phone call with two pieces of information--first, that Clinique always replaces a popular item with a similar item; and second, that I could call their "Gone But Not Forgotten" phone line if I was really interested in buying old products the company no longer manufactured.

I've been waiting four years now, and I have yet to see a similar product come up. In fact, I wonder about the logic of this strategy--why do I need to put all that effort into finding that new, replacement product? I was unwilling to make another phone call only to be told they didn't have what I was looking for after half an hour on hold. I used to buy Clinique products all the time. Now, I may invest in some moisturizer now and again, and sometimes I buy the company's cosmetics, but I do not spend nearly as much, nearly as often, at their boutique.

The Body Shop recently committed a similar crime. Their Monoi Moisture Balm was the only moisturizer I could find that did not leave a greasy residue that I needed to "wait out" before covering the affected skin with clothing every time I used it. I recently went into a store to find more of it, only to discover that this product had been replaced with yet another greasy moisturizer under the same name. RedKen, often noted for their fabulous hair care products, replaced their popular "All Soft" conditioner with a very watery version of their product that literally drips down your face while it is supposed to be sitting in your hair.

What gives?

Do companies ALWAYS need revamping or restructuring, or are we really overdoing it? This is yet another example of the alienation of customers in order to somehow bring in more customers...and, if they do that, they'll just need to restructure again.

Lesson never quite learned.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where the Hell are the Breadcrumbs?!

Supermarkets offer two main connundra to shoppers. Neither of them make shopping an enjoyable experience.

First, supermarkets are constructed to offer absolutely anything and everything to customers, and the varieties and sizes of products have only diversified over the years. Where only different sizes of whole milk were once all you could find in dairy department refrigerators about fifteen years ago, today, milk is available from whole to skim and in sizes ranging from an individual portion to a shelf-sized tank. Pepperidge Farm's original attempt to branch out was to manufacture its famous Milano cookies in mini form. Today, you can get Milano cookies in mint, raspberry, strawberry, double chocolate, in standard packaging or in seasonal colors, and there is even a type of Milano that is more like a Twinkie with a chocolate frosting center.

Variety is good, right? Well, yes and no. There is no question that building on successful lines of products is a marketing strategy employed by companies to get you to buy more of their products. And, based on the ever-expanding size of shopping carts available to customers, it is certainly working. Problems arise, however, when you just want to buy one or two important things. When I returned to the store to purchase the potatoes that I forgot recently, I was stuck. Either I could check myself out, which is always a mistake when you buy anything without a bar code, I could stand in a line behind several people, all of whom had chosen the extra-large shopping carts and had stuffed them to full, or hope someone was standing near enough by the "Express" lane to check me out. Oh, and I don't think that 15 items constitutes a "small" order, either.

The other problem is product placement in the store. Yes, indeed, the produce, the bread products, and the dairy aisle are all miles apart on purpose. My main problem is the fact that the same item or classification of items will be in completely different places in different supermarkets. Remember the bread crumbs? I'll never forget how hard they were to find in one particular supermarket I went into on what was supposed to be a quick trip. I checked the bread aisle, the Italian food section, the baking needs aisle...nothing. Then, I found them--they were on a shelf over a waist-high freezer across from the processed meats and the yogurt (????).

This prompted me to look for breadcrumbs in every supermarket I went into. In addition to those mentioned above, locations include: next to the foil baking pans, under the spices and next to the salt, across from the cookies, and next to the chicken pieces. And, going into the same supermarket chain in different towns didn't help either. Years ago, Stop 'n' Shop used to have computers in the store that would tell you where items were located in relation to where you were standing. Today, I'd have to track down and ask a store employee, and unless you're in the store during restocking hours, you're out of luck before you start there.

I don't know anyone who looks forward to a long, leisurely trip to the supermarket. However, between tracking down products, walking half a mile between areas where essentials are placed, and waiting through an inefficient charge-and-pay system, you may as well plan on cashing in some of your obviously abundant extra time.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Impossible Shoe Dream

Comfortable, yet fashionable, shoes for women do not exist.

There is no greater evidence that men have truly held the reigns of women's fashion than the shoes that are generally on offer at shoe stores and department stores alike. The "armadillo shoes," shown above, are the epitome of this trend, however, they are so uncomfortable, and so dangerous to walk in that these models actually refused to wear them in a fashion show.

Now, I'm fairly sure that most of us aren't going to start wearing anything like that, but I would still like to know why women's shoes range from this:

To this:

The latter is an emergency that even Dr. Scholls couldn't fix.

It's amazing what we can do these days. The treatment of once-fatal illnesses, like cancer or AIDS, can ensure a long, healthy life. IPads are going where no one has gone before using Star Trek-era technology. Everyone asks what may be coming next. So, I ask you, why is it impossible to make even a practical women's shoe/boot/heel comfortable if she's going to be standing on it for more than five minutes? Why must shoes merely "look good" on a woman's feet, or enhance her physical attributes, such as setting off her legs or making her look (perhaps nearly a foot??!!) taller?

One of the most difficult things is finding shoes when I'm about to go on a vacation. I tend to visit places that I want to explore, and I often have to accomplish that exploration on foot. A walk of one mile or more completely eliminates the use of my ankle-high boots, so I am forced to find an alternative. On my last trip to the UK, I actually ended up stuffing shoe inserts into a pair of shoes made by Merrell. Merrell is well-known for making comfortable shoes, but even their sophisticated models wouldn't make the cut on their own. The shoe inserts only managed to shove my foot up against the top of the shoe without making the journey any easier. Socks can be as much a hindrance as a help. Fortunately, I have discovered that feet are incredibly resilient--one solid night's sleep and, bingo! Back out on an equally long walk as if the overindulgence of the previous day never happened.

Every designer wants to create the next big trend that will send women running to the stores. I'll let you guys in on a secret--design a pair of great-looking shoes I can walk 5+ miles in without my needing a foot soak at the end of the day, and you'll never have to work another day in your life.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Leave Me Alone, Loyalty Cards

I don't know what it is today with the "loyalty card" trend. When I go shopping, which is rare beyond necessary bathroom items and food, I always know exactly what I'm looking for. I've usually thought it out in advance, counted the cost of the items against my budget, and I want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Of course, I expect that whomever is on the opposite side of the counter is going to try to sell me something in addition to my planned purchase. For example, I recently visited a Clinique counter to buy a moisturizer I really like, but I can rarely afford. I selected the moisturizer, made every sign I could that I was ready to cash out, and:

"Are you interested in any eye creams?"

"No, thank you."

"Would you like to try any make-up colors today?"

One question I can take, but two questions when I'm standing there, wallet out and debit card in hand? Seriously?

Or in GNC where I wanted to buy two boxes of probiotics: First, a store employee made a move to open up a second register so I could cash out faster, and, for some reason, she couldn't get the other check-out guy's attention to help her unlock the register. Then, after the other customers had long since left, she finally started to check me out.

"Are you interested in signing up for a loyalty card today?"

"No, thank you."

"Do you know about our loyalty card program?"

"Yes, it has been mentioned to me before."

"I mean, if you sign up, the next time you buy these, it will be X dollars off from that purchase."


I visited seven stores of varying kinds today. Of these, in five stores I was either offered some kind of a customer loyalty card or some kind of a special credit card specifically for that store. Of the remaining two, I already possessed a credit card for the store in one case, and the other does not offer either loyalty cards or credit cards of any kind.

When I select my items and get up to the register, I don't appreciate being detained for an extra two minutes while I am offered all kinds of cards and coupons or while I am being solicited for personal information like my e-mail address, home zip code, or phone number. In an attempt to capture customers and keep them coming back, companies are sending some of their more loyal customers running into the nearest alternative. I return to many of the same stores already without loyalty cards upon which I can rack up points. I go there because they have a product I like, for example, which is really what it is all about. However, I am more than willing to find a similar product I like just about as much--maybe even significantly less--in another store where I know for sure that I can cash out quickly and reliably. If Walgreens is closest to me, I'm going to go to Walgreens. I'm not going to take a detour miles away to a CVS simply because of a point-gathering piece of plastic.

So, for heaven's sake, leave me alone. If you do, I may be inclined to return to your store.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Fliers? Not the Problem

We've all been there--the security line at the airport. I'd be willing to venture that NO line is more dreaded than this one. The lines to get on rides at large amusement parks, like Six Flags or Disney World, are infinitely longer than the airport security line, but I'm not sure any of us ever remember the line--we remember the ride. It is quite the opposite at the airport. At least in my case, I have a much more difficult time remembering the details of the ride--a ride I paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of traveling on--than I do recalling the security process and the line that process ultimately creates.

I've done far less traveling in recent years, but I've seen the progression of ever-more-ridiculous steps in the security system to where we are today. I remember when we had to start taking our shoes off because of ONE GUY, who never should have been allowed to fly in the first place. I remember when those massively controversial body scanners appeared in airports for the first time because of....gasp...ONE GUY WHO NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED ON A PLANE. Honestly, if our American tax dollars are disappearing in large quantities to fund Intelligence, the least that department can do is keep high risk people off of airplanes. Thus far, their "Do Not Fly" list has only prevented Ted Kennedy from getting from one destination to another.

My heart goes out to this woman because obviously her recent experience with security personnel in an airport caused her a great deal of stress. As annoyed as I am with the screening process as it currently stands, what drives me crazy about this situation isn't the fact that they pat down her hair. There's a big part of me that feels that is pretty ridiculous, but not necessarily a personal violation. The issue is how the security team addressed her:

'Hey you, hey you, ma'am, stop. Stop -- the lady with the hair, you,"

The "lady with the hair?" Seriously? What would you say to anyone else who ever addressed you anywhere like that? Imagine this happened in...a restaurant, a coffee place and a sales associate, who wanted to get your attention, addressed you like that. What would you say?

I'd be absolutely pissed off. And, I think we should be more pissed off about the attitude than the regulation. None of us, at this point, can argue directly with the people who are telling TSA what to screen and how to screen. However, all of us can take issue with how someone is treated, when it is entirely unwarranted, by these so-called security professionals. A lot of people who work on all ends of the airline industry tend to "boo-hoo" it about how customers treat them. I don't know about you, but I've been in customer service for a long time in various ways, and I don't have it any better. What I can say is that as long as I try and treat a customer well, no one can reproach me, and often, a bad customer attitude is gradually muted in the exchange. When I act like a jackass, and we all have our days, that's when I offend a customer and really raise their ire.

If TSA were more customer-service oriented, as opposed to acting like a sector of former-DMV bullies, parents who had their six-year-olds patted down may not have gone to the press and medical patients who pointed out various necessities wouldn't have been embarrassed.

The TSA could probably reduce their appearance in the news by 50% or more if they taught their employees how to behave like human beings working with human beings. I'm not holding out hope for my next trip to the airport.