Red Robin: The Power of One Bad Experience

Caveat Lector:
I am beside myself today as I type this entry so forgive any disconnections, ravings, flourishes, or lobbing of verbal putridity. 

My wife and I have been loyal Red Robin fans (NASD: RRGB) for over 10 years.  In fact my wife was an Assistant Manager at a many Red Robin restaurants back in CA before we had kids.  We went to the approximately 3 month old Red Robin in West Des Moines, Iowa last night to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday with a grilled cheese and ice cream Sundae.  We continue to patronize Red Robin, even though since opening, the folks there have been unable to get a simple order correct.  After sitting down and waiting for 10 minutes without a server approaching us…someone came over and apologized.  Things were looking up.  We gave him our "free burger coupon" and he took our drink orders.  About 3 minutes later, he came back and said, "I need to get you drink orders" (pointing to my wife and I)…which we’d just given. Uh oh. 

Over the past few months, we’ve given them 6 chances to execute the following:

California Chicken Burger, with Pepper Jack Cheese (vs. the swiss it comes with), cut in half, and on a plate (versus the baskets typically used for burgers/chicken sandwiches).  Does this sound like an intense request that strains the very core of the "chefs" in the back room?  Incomprehensible for a server to execute?  It gets worse.

To date, it has never arrived on a plate.  Never.  6 times the sandwich has arrived in a basket.  Sometimes cut in half, sometimes split into two baskets, sometimes with the proper cheese.  The last time I was there with the family…I commented to the manager what has happened…just casually.  I was told that "Yes, there is a button the screen for "ON A PLATE" but that somehow I guess the waiters just weren’t entering this properly.  For our trouble (and we didn’t expect this)..the manager comped something on our ticket.  This was a generous move and we handled this with the casual "We want you to be better approach" and expected nothing for it.  Nice move.

Fast forward to last night, my wife’s order arrived ON A PLATE (huge victory)…but the sandwich was plain…all of the vegetable condiments were on the side…and there were no sauces on the sandwich at all.  Where did the server get this instruction?  We have no clue.  The waiter in NO WAY offered to take the sandwich back, accept responsibility, etc.  He waited there as my wife asked how this could have happened.  He took a laissez faire attitude and after much protest and specific instructions from my wife that she get another correct order, he took the plate away.  Mind you he never said he wasn’t going to take it back, never made any kind of suggestions at all…rather he seemed to be waiting until my wife stopped talking to see if he’d have to do anything. 

Please, if a discussion is had around this letter, don’t resort to "That was the customer’s perception of what was happening,"  approach.  It was the perception of what was happening by two reasonable, educated, caring, parents that have had plenty of experience in service and sales.

We ordered fruit for the kids instead of fries.  The fries arrived…the fruit didn’t.  We ordered another round of fruit since my daughter dropped a piece…it NEVER arrived.  We told the waiter specifically that it was my daughter’s birthday and he acknowledged that he’d bring her the little sundae and come sing.  That NEVER happened.  Our bill arrived, no coupon used.  There was nothing comped, no additional sorries, no managers coming by, no attempt to assuage our passionate desire to come back again if someone would just take the time to understand that we have a serious problem with their behavior and performance.  We were effectively begging you to keep us as customers at this point…but no one listened.

My wife confronted the waiter and had obviously reached her breaking point with this inability to get things right.  I sat back and listened to her and watched the waiter’s response.  He barely acknowledged that there was a problem…before he launched his counter attacks (wrong move in the customer service business folks).  He started interrupting about how busy it was, how he had typed it in correctly but that he didn’t know, "What those guys in the kitchen are doing and why they can’t seem to understand something so clear." When my wife (knowing the basic Red Robin ordering/cooking/delivery process) said, "I know that at least 5 people probably see this order and could check it for accuracy before it arrives to the customer wrong." He said, "You know…I’ve got two managers in the back cooking right now…and they can’t even get things right."  During one of the sessions of venting these frustrations..the waiter interrupted and stated, "You know I have to get these kids milk over here," and walked away.   Attempting to blame, redirect, and otherwise push off issues to your management (who you’re implying are incompetent) is not a good approach. 

When we left, we asked the two young girls and a server who were chatting and filling balloons for the manager’s name the store’s phone number, they had to look in a cell phone for the number and could only provide the manager’s first name.  They seemed a bit annoyed with the request and though no one was entering the restaurant, they continued to man the front post instead of assist with the damage on the restaurant floor.  Maybe that’s all they can do.  Maybe that’s all they’re allowed to do…but to the somewhat educated observer…it appears that whomever was doing or not doing the managing wasn’t deploying labor properly. 

There were at least 2 tables around us that were expressing  non-verbal anger cues about wait times, getting up to get their own ketchup bottles, etc.  I’m guessing that a cook or two called in sick but at the end of the day, this was the WORST experience I’ve had at a restaurant as far back as I can remember.  As a business traveler and frequent restaurant eater, this situation was beyond the pale of acceptable customer service behaviors. 

I’ll borrow the Red Robin Core Values to contrast my post mortem analysis (literally because my relationship with them is 99.9% dead at this point) and that which should be driving every behavior and decision each partner/manager/waiter/host makes.

Our Core Values

HONOR ­ Unbridled caring for the Team, Guest and Company.

Besmirching your managers and treating us poorly provides no honor.  The company’s honor is now tainted.

INTEGRITY ­ Doing the right thing!

There were at least 10 key moments when someone could have done the right thing.  I saw what looked to be a few managers in the kitchen…but not on the floor addressing this issue.

SEEKING KNOWLEDGE ­ Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

In all of our "pre-relationship damaging" visits…no one sought out the knowledge or cared to educated others as to how orders can be made to show up on plates.  We sought to understand why it was a problem and whether it was servers not listening, the "system" not having the ability to indicate "on a plate", the kitchen not reading what the servers order said.


HAVING FUN ­ Make the ordinary extraordinary and the mundane fun. 

The only thing extraordinary was the distress we felt from this visit.

I’m going to send this blog post to the Red Robin comment email address at the corporate level, the local store via regular mail (I’m sure they’ll get the e-copy forwarded quickly), and to the CEO of Red Robin via regular mail in case there’s a buffer between the corporate email and the executive office.

Instead of an unbridled act last night…the Red Robin horse bucked us right out of the door.  It wouldn’t have taken much to turn this tale of woe into a tale of excellence.  Are you familiar with blogs Red Robin?  You probably are now.



2 thoughts on “Red Robin: The Power of One Bad Experience”

  1. Which companies do mystery shoppingfor Red Robin? I am going to Phoenix soon and would like to do a shop. I am signed up with over 100 site. I just can not remember which one sent me an email. As I live in SC now .

  2. A writeup that I’m sending to corporate Red Robin, not my first problem with this restaurant getting it wrong either.:
    One of my worst restaurant experiences happened two weeks ago. My husband and I got an evening alone and decided to go to our local Red Robin. It was a Friday night and the restaurant was quite busy. We were told there would be a 20 minute wait, which was not a problem. About 10 minutes later we were called and seated at a ‘high top’ type table. The table was crowded into the aisle area and I was continually bumped or ‘swished’ as servers and customers walked past. The hostess dropped off our menu when we were seated. Our server finally arrived at the table more than 10 minutes after we were seated. Donnie, our server asked if we had been there before, we hadn’t, so he explained very clearly and enthusiastically the menu and ‘concept’ of the restaurant. The wait for the server to arrive at the table was entirely too long, but Donnie’s enthusiasm was refreshing.
    We ordered, my husband ordered the Red Robin Gourmet Cheeseburger, hold the mayo. I ordered the ‘Shroom Burger. After 20 minutes our burgers finally arrived. (Meanwhile Donnie supplied us with fries.) The fries were nothing special, obviously frozen steak fries, mealy and tasteless if it weren’t for the ‘Red Robin Seasoning’ they would be what I consider on the verge of inedible. Our first bites of our burgers revealed that our ’medium-well’ burgers were rare. The cheese was not melted which SHOULD have been a giveaway to the kitchen staff that the burgers were not at the proper temperature! Donnie did a table check and we showed him the burgers. He quickly checked his notes (he was obviously distressed, but it seemed more like he was concerned that he had made a mistake rather than being concerned that our order wasn’t right) and said “But I put it in for medium-well!” He recovered and told us he’d put the order back in and would bring us more fries. Another 5 minutes passed and a manager, who didn’t identify herself as one, or give her name, (she was approximately 5’5” tall, chin length blond hair, thin, early 30’s?, no glasses) stopped by our table and explained they were having a problem with the ‘machine’ that cooks the burgers and several other tables experienced the same problem. She assured us that our burgers would be prepared again and brought out quickly. A few minutes later someone came by with fries. Talking between the two of us we questioned the idea of a ‘machine’ rather than a grill cook cooking our burgers…
    Another 20 minutes passed (it takes a machine 20 minutes to cook a burger? Come on!) and someone from the kitchen attempted to deliver some sort of burger, no mayo and extra mushrooms. We denied knowledge of such an order, the burger went back to the kitchen and another 10 minutes passed. The manager again came to the table and apologized for a mix up. Apparently someone had entered our order (classic no mayo and shroom burger) on the same paper, and the kitchen ended up combining them. She explained this and vaguely added something about ‘training them on this’, and said our order had been, once again, re-entered and would be brought out quickly and that the burgers would be on the house. More insipid fries were delivered.
    Let me touch of the atmosphere, cleanliness and comfort levels of the restaurant. The tables were crowded too close for my liking. The music was too loud to allow for conversation. We were freezing where we were seated (approximately 25 feet from the inner entrance door) and when we complained about the temperature to our server he said “I’ll see what I can do, but the tables in the back are roasting, we’ve had a problem balancing the temperature in here.” (keep in mind this restaurant is NEW and was built new, not a remodel) I had to wear my coat and was still shivering. The decorations were fun, I wasn’t too crazy about the televisions as they tend to be distracting and don’t fit in with my idea of a ’family’ restaurant. The servers seemed friendly and seemed to really enjoy being there. The restaurant was clean. A television set mounted in the floor under glass near the entrance door was not on or not functioning.
    Finally, over one and a half hours after we placed our order, our food arrived. Of course at this point we were too full on ‘steak fries’ and our drinks (water) to really appreciate them. They were cooked properly and were served hot. The burgers were quite tasty, but after everything that had happened, and waiting that long to get them, we really didn’t enjoy our meal. Another server came by and mentioned he was taking over for Donnie who was leaving and asked us if we wanted anything else. Again, with no appetite and no desire to go through any more mess ups, we didn’t order dessert. We left taking most of our burgers home to be eaten reheated. (Not a particularly good way to eat a burger.)

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