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Cape Region dining might take some patience - but it’s worth it!

May 14, 2021

I wrote a few years ago about people who complain to me about bad restaurant experiences - but never say a word about it to the restaurant’s management. The point of that article was to bring home the fact that the true test is in how the operator handles those mistakes. Little did I know that, a few years later, we’d be facing a major crisis finding restaurant help to keep our eateries running smoothly. In fact, many local restaurants, especially the smaller ones,  are cutting back their hours simply because they can’t find enough help to cover one - not to mention two - shifts.

Help-wanted signs are everywhere. At the same time, everyone’s complaining that they can’t find a job. How can that be? One of the main reasons is the topsy-turvy unemployment situation where potential employees are still being paid more to stay home than they would make by going back to work. Even in spite of the ongoing (if not maddeningly incremental) relaxation of restrictions placed on restaurants, public money continues to flow to people who are desperately needed in our local workforce.

So if anything, complaints about long ticket times and service issues have increased. Don’t misunderstand: I appreciate that people send me news about their dining experiences, but right, wrong or indifferent, I’m at a loss as to what they expect me to do. Publish them in Cape Gazette? Beach Paper? On RehobothFoodie.com? Talk about them on my radio show … based only on their word? I think not. After more than 15 years following our local eating scene, I’ve learned that hidden agendas can sometimes masquerade as “opinion.”

That notwithstanding, I’ll sometimes take the bait and ask if they informed the restaurant owner or manager of their issue. The answer is almost always “No.” If the issue actually seems justified, then I’ll ask why he or she didn’t bring the mistake to the attention of somebody in charge. The response is either “…I didn’t want to hurt their feelings…,” or they simply don’t respond. Both tell me the same thing: Their actions are more about a fear of confrontation or not being “liked” than they are about hurting someone’s feelings. But then, my experience has shown that these same people have no problem going into painful detail with me - or worse yet, Yelp! or TripAdvisor - regarding those real or imagined transgressions. Rather than give the restaurant a chance to make things right, the complainers (I like to call them “laptop warriors”) scamper to the safety of their computers to pummel the restaurant with invective for thousands to see. So much for not wanting to hurt feelings. I’ve lost count of the “reviews” on Yelp! posted by those who clearly and obviously never visited that particular establishment.

Restaurants are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Rather than close their doors, owners are running delivery. Dining room managers are working in the kitchen. Executive chefs are waiting tables. Servers and bar staff are pulling multiple shifts. All the while, these same restaurants are holding job fairs (some with food and entertainment, yet!) and putting out repeated requests for applicants. Sadly, in many cases, to no avail.

The overwhelming majority of restaurateurs want you to enjoy your visit. And if you don’t, most are willing - even anxious - to step up and make it right. And therein lies the boundary between giving the restaurant a chance to correct a mistake, or typing out anonymous complaints on the internet. Of course, if your complaint is indeed justified (that’s a big “if”), and you did (politely) confront the owner/manager, and they became rude or dismissive, then all bets are off. Fire up that computer and type away.

A complaint is not justified if it’s about having to wait for a table. In spite of the obvious capacity restrictions foisted upon our eateries, many patrons actually see this as a personal attack. This is where I press DELETE. Other complaints that get vaporized are about prices. As restaurants are forced into wage wars (and trust me, that’s going on right now!), this could become even more of an issue. As costs increase, so can the menu prices. If they don’t, then that “for lease” sign begins to loom even larger in their future.

If a restaurant is too pricy, then simply don’t go. We have lots of very good, mid-priced restaurants here at the beach. Unless the laptop warriors have access to the company’s rent, food and labor costs, their complaints about price are meaningless. If a restaurant does actually price itself out of the market without delivering on the promises mentioned above, it will not survive anyway. The right price is nothing more than what the local market - and the fixed costs – will permit. Period.

When I write or talk about a restaurant, I start with the assumption that they actually want to provide a good product. So I use one simple premise: Did they provide what they promised to provide, given their price point? I award the same high rating to a perfectly prepared and politely served ten-buck burger at Five Guys as I do for an expertly cooked and served rack of lamb for $45 at 99 Sea Level. Both delivered on their promise, given their price point and today’s ongoing complications.

It’s clear that people love eating in restaurants. In spite of the lingering fear that a few still feel, many of our beach eateries are busy as the weather warms and the season approaches. Parking lots are full. Some restaurants, like 1776 Steakhouse, for example, are completely booked with weekend reservations by midweek. It might be a shifted paradigm that includes carryout, curbside and delivery, but many are adapting - and even expanding. Prices might shift upward, but it’s either that or the aforementioned “for lease” sign. But if my email boxes and the record number of visits to RehobothFoodie.com are any indication, more and more patrons are returning to their favorite haunts. And that’s certainly a good thing!

Businessman Danny Meyer is quoted as saying, “A great restaurant doesn't distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes, but by how well it handles those mistakes.” Given the unprecedented obstacles that our restaurants have struggled to surmount, I wholeheartedly agree.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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