Food Service Fail

By Melanie Coburnbad-customer-service

Good restaurants with private dining room options for lunch are hard to come by these days. Add the CADRE “roundtable” format, with the need for two private rooms and separate checks, and it becomes near impossible. In our ongoing quest for lunch venues, we have seen some incredible examples of customer service over the past two years. We’ve also been in some embarrassing situations.

As many of you know, a portion of our “connecting” within CADRE happens at our monthly lunches. I have researched, solicited referrals and visited numerous restaurants and facilities in the DC Metro area and much to my chagrin, have not had much luck finding quality restaurants with consistent, reliable service.

Granted, we have a relatively complex request. But in exchange we offer hosting restaurants incredible access to our members, all of whom are decision makers from remarkable companies throughout the area. Each lunch hosts 20-30 members, providing a great opportunity for the restaurant to market itself. I can personally attest to the fact that our members are nearly as eager to find great restaurants as I am. After all, I’ve requested referrals from them. Aside from one referral to Lebanese Taverna, which has accommodated us mostly with excellent (though not perfect) service, they’re at a loss.

It’s astonishing to me that among such an incredibly well-connected community, no one can recommend a restaurant that fits the bill. I suspect that this speaks much more to the restaurants’ inability to provide a remarkable, referral-worthy experience than to the connectedness or willingness of CADRE members to help.

The situation calls to mind Scott Stratten’s latest, The Book of Business Awesome. Here are a few of our lunch experiences, both Awesome and in Stratten-speak, “UnAwesome”:


The Capital Grille Tysons Corner. I’d like to start with what I consider the quintessential CADRE lunch location. This restaurant goes above and beyond with reliable, consistent service EVERY time. They “get it” and always deliver impeccable service with a smile. The always-delicious menu and seasonal $18 lunch plates are icing on the cake.

The Perfect Pita. For our “seminar” lunches in member offices, we like to bring in outside catering, and have found this local hotspot a perfect fit. Not only do they deliver fresh, tasty pitas and hummus, they consistently do it on time and on budget. They also offer healthy and gluten-free options. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for in-office lunch delivery.

The Source. Derek recently hosted a Washington Financial Group Wine Tasting at this Wolfgang Puck restaurant and from start to finish, the event was flawless. We’ve gone back to the restaurant with some friends since the event, and were delighted by the service and personal attention from the sommelier we worked with there. We did not plan this visit in advance, yet he surprised us with a variety of his favorite dishes and the perfect pairings for them – all within a reasonable price point! Fantastic!

Now to the UnAwesome:

Morton’s Washington, DC. Fail. Fail. Fail! Our top priority at lunch is getting our members out the door by 1:45, considering how busy they are. We tried this restaurant on three separate occasions. I thought the third time would be the charm, especially after several phone calls and emails to “clear things up” including a timeline for the flow of the lunch. We were guaranteed excellence…but no. For the third time running, our attendees were at least 20 minutes late departing. Checks weren’t ready. Desserts weren’t delivered. I had to ask for everyone’s “to-go” and got attitude from the general manager (who actually ran into the kitchen to avoid the situation). Seriously. Needless to say, never again, and going forward I will warn anyone thinking of hosting an event there.

Wildfire Tysons Corner. This is another high-end chain restaurant, like Morton’s, complete with a holier-than-thou attitude from the time we made the reservation. I should have known, but our go-to Capital Grille location was booked so I decided to give Wildfire a shot. Our meals were served over an hour after we sat down, and things went down from there. They even tried to overcharge us for a bottle of wine to round out our minimum! Here’s a more detailed account from one of our disappointed colleagues.

Is there a pattern in here? Do you need the word “The” in your restaurant name to be successful? I seriously doubt that’s the winning factor. There are actually several other bad examples I could list, but I’d like to be optimistic and focus on the positives. Should I remain hopeful?  I’m open to suggestions, and would be incredibly thankful for ideas for our next lunch venue! Do you know of any DC-based restaurants that provide incredible service, who would also benefit from having 30 CEO’s and business owners dining at their establishment on a monthly basis? If it’s really good, you might just be rewarded with your own lunch for two on us for your winning suggestion. 😉



  1. by Ian Altman on March 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    What a fantastic post from Melanie! What’s amazing is that the restaurants that fail tend to think that they are doing YOU a favor. A place like The Source (one of our favorites) is a hard reservation to get, but always bends over backwards once you get there. Gordon Leigh at the Capital Grille in Tyson’s Corner is fantastic. We have never been disappointed there.

  2. by Melanie on March 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you Ian! It’s incredible the difference in perspective from the “awesome” and “unawesome” restaurants. Erica (The Source) & Gordon (Capital Grille Tysons) have NEVER let us down, which is why we keep going back. Makes sense! Thanks for chiming in and for your great post re: Wildfire. 🙂

  3. by Sherrie Borden on March 6, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for the information and insight, Melanie. I continue to be amazed that businesses stay in business even with such poor service—or recognition/acknowledgement of their poor service. I try to have a “coaching moment” when I am in these situations, but frequently there is a deaf ear. A friend recently accepted a managment position for a restaurant of note, and quit the first day. Needless to say, I do not frequent that restaurant now. Ok… was Chef Geoff’s.

  4. by Melanie on March 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks for the feedback Sherrie! I agree about our complaints (that are really suggestions for improvement!) falling on deaf ears. It is disappointing. Hope all is well with you!

  5. by Kathy Kitts on March 6, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    My husband & I used to be in the high-end hotel & restaurant biz. He recommends The Palm Tyson’s or DC. His co (Lexus) has done large party dinners there with great satisfaction, although The Capital Grille has a nicer ambience.

    I would suggest arranging a prix fixe menu with 2 or 3 choices, if you don’t already do this.

    If you want to check out a new place (opened last summer) try Vino Volo on Woodmont Ave in Bethesda. They offer delicious wines with great food pairings. Maybe they’re close the restaurant for your lunch. I’ve tried dinner several times. Service is friendly and timely. Ask for Shaina, Tristan, Cory–they are the managers. Tell them I recommended you to call. Parking Garage across the street.

  6. by Melanie on March 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    We do work with some restaurants on prix fixe options, but will certainly look in to your recommendations as well. Thank you!!

  7. by Sylvia Henderson on March 6, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Does the restaurant have to be “near DC”? GrillMarx in Olney Town Center is a repeat for us; great service; strong wine & beer list; private section. I’d put it at a mid-end restaurant with lunch in the $15-to-$20 range.

  8. by Melanie on March 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks Sylvia! It sounds perfect, but is probably harder to reach for most members. I’m from MoCo and know it can be difficult. We prefer restaurants closer to the beltway and/or major highways for convenience. 🙂

  9. by Hector Velez on March 7, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Melanie, thank you so much for doing this. About time someone took Morton’s down a peg!

  10. by Melanie on March 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    You’re welcome Hector! Thanks for the comment. Hopefully they get the message…

  11. by Becca Willcox on March 7, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Melanie,
    My new boss just forwarded me this article in an email and it made me smile. So glad you all are still hosting CADRE lunches at The Capital Grille! I left in July but I am still greatful for the great review. I forwarded it on to Gordon and Team Tysons. We should catch up sometime! -Becca Willcox

  12. by Melanie on March 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Awesome!!! You were a big part of The Capital Grille’s A++ service Becca! Thank you for the comment and definitely hope to catch up soon!

  13. by Frankly on April 28, 2013 at 1:42 am

    How about Maggianos?

  14. by Melanie on April 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you for that suggestion! Love the multiple locations as well. Cheers!

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