Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Restaurant Reviews

Recently, Donna and I took a mini-vacation to Williamsburg, VA. While there, we stayed at an "inn" at the Williamsburg Winery. It was a nice experience. We toured the winery and had a really nice dinner at Café Provençal, the inn's on-sit, gourmet restaurant.

We'd scheduled our trip a bit oddly: Sunday arrival with Tuesday departure. We'd done this mostly to try to avoid weekend crowds. Unfortunately, it also meant that a lot of things that would be open during a summer stay were closed.

While we would have gladly eaten a second time at Café Provençal, that wasn't an option. They were closed on Mondays. So, Monday night, we drove into Williamsburg to "forage".

We came to a restaurant named Opus 9. It was a higher-end chop house, probably designed to compete with places like Ruth's Chris. They had decent food and decent wine selection. And, they were priced in a similar bracket to Ruth's Chris (two people with meal, desert, cocktails and wine came to a little over $200 before tip).

In general, I don't so much care how much a given dining experience costs. That said, I do judge a place on value for the money spent. To whit, I've been to places where a $600 meal for two was a bargain and places where a $20 bill for two was an absolute rip-off.

Opus 9 was competent, but not a superlative value - particularly not when compared to what I get at home or what I'd had, the night prior, at Café Provençal. 

A few days after we got back, I got an email from US Air's "Rewards Dining" program. Turns out the Opus 9 was a program participant, thus I'd earned miles from having eaten there. So, "bonus." To get the extra points for the dine, I submitted a review. Overall, I gave Opus 9 a positive review. However, I'd noted in the comments section of the review:

The food wasn't awful, it was simply unremarkable. I don't have a problem with expensive restaurants, but I do expect to receive a good value for money spent (whether my tab comes to $20 or $200). The experience and food while "ok" simply weren't worth the extreme premium (especially for the overall area's cost of living) prices."

In retrospect, that comment probably seemed more negative than intended. It wasn't meant as a "don't go here" type of review, and I wasn't trying to trash the place. I was just expressing that, while what I got was good, I felt it was overpriced for what was delivered.

Today, I got an email back from the restaurant regarding my review. It was a nice, polite response, basically asking what could be done to improve the experience so as to raise the value proposition. So, I replied back:

The review may have been received as more negative than it was intended. I'm not saying that the meal or the experience were bad. Indeed, the menu had a good selection, the ordered food was competently prepared, the restaurant's facilities were rather nice, and the service was good - particularly given our server's experience level. That said, given the food quality/preparation, I would have expected a bill that was 65% of our total.

Overall, you probably suffered from two things: 1) my wife and I are probably overly particular about our food - when eating at home, we eat (almost exclusively) locally-sourced, seasonal foods and my wife is an a rather good cook; and, 2) we'd eaten at another, similarly-priced restaurant, the night before that had both better quality food and more-personalized preparation. So, we may have not been coming from a "fair" starting point. That said, once a two-person meal gets into the $200+ range, that kind of comparison is inevitable.

My overall suggestion for improvement of the food might be to make your menu selections more seasonal and, even if you can't alter your menu to be fully-local, create some selections that emphasize local food. Williamsburg is local to some really great food sources (there's really local produce and meat sources within a 100mi radius). It would be awesome if those local products could be played up and showcased.

In reading it, it felt kinda snotty. Unfortunately, I didn't really know how to give a critique of my experience without coming off that way.

It's episodes like this that really makes me question what I've become. I mean, it's not like I'm the offspring of monied parents. I wasn't one of the preppie kids, growing up. Hell, at one point in my life, I sorta lumped myself in the category that my punkier friends were in. Yet, somehow, as an adult, I've become a yuppy - and the whole exchange made me feel like a yuppy-tool.

At the same time, looking back, most of those tendencies have always been there. In general, I've preferred to do without rather than do with less than I wanted. I've always been a bit of an elitist - which, I might even be able to justify to myself, if I had some basis from which to be elitist. But, in reality, I don't. I owe a great deal of where I am to a fortunate set of circumstances and a willingness to exploit the opportunities that presented themselves. So, "what am I," and "how did I get this way" (and, yeah, you can set that to the tune of Once in a Lifetime).

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