Friday, July 8, 2016

Let's keep a firm grip on reality

Pretty much every industry I know has “high end” and “low end” version of itself.
For years I worked in hospitality industry, so I will illustrate with an example from that.

Las Vegas is famous for it’s “all-you-can-eat” buffets. But they are not all the same.
Some are priced as low as $3.99, others could be as high as $95. And then, of course, there is everything in between.
Every one of those places advertise and try to attract your attention with glossy photos of mouth-watering food. They also make various claims, such as “best in town”, “unlimited”, “bottomless”, “fresh ingredients”, “juicy steaks”, etc, most of which are very hard (if not impossible) to prove or disprove.
ALL of these places are naturally subject to industry’s rules and regulations (health and safety standards being just one of those).
At $3.99/pop place you are likely to find that food on the ad photos has little or no relevance to what’s actually on offer. 
That “juicy steak” is actually something called “chicken fried steak” in US (it’s neither chicken’ nor steak, BTW). 
That meat is actually an un-identifiable “meat product”.
That “fresh ingredients” is mostly referring to the lettuce (which is wilting rapidly) and pasta freshly taken out of the box.
However, the contents of this buffet are definitely “food”, so those who look to fill their stomach on the cheap (and don't mind stale pasta mixed in with 5-days old expired chopped sausage) are lining up.

It is also worth nothing that ambiance of these places is pretty much non-existent: threadbare carpet, old plastic/formica (and often mismatched) furniture, chipped (and often not well washed) china and glassware.
As a matter of course they violate a whole lot of health and safety requirements. One may often find yesterday’s “chicken fried steak” chopped up and added to the pasta with heavy sauce to create a “new” dish (and to mask the odor/taste of the meat going bad).
Yes, in theory, all that shouldn’t be the case: they are a member of the industry and should uphold that industry’s highest standards. But reality is they charge damn little and in order to do so they need to keep the overheads low and to cut corners. This is a fact of life-I neither support nor decry it-just state it.

The reason these places continue to exist is because there are plenty of people who continue going there. They just capitalize on what’s out there: desire to get something for nothing or as little as possible, if nothing is not an option. 
Reality is, these places often have lines of customers wanting to partake. Which is one of the reasons they can’t care less about the customer service. If someone doesn’t like it, tough shit-there is always another client waiting to get in.
If no one (or hardly anyone) patronized those places, they would go out of business or would be forced to spend more money to lift their game. But, of course, it would mean raising their prices.

Yes, a consumer could (and has every right) to complain: on review boards or even to the Health Board and the restaurant association. But at the best the result would be a health inspection.
Even if a place is shut down, they would re-open a few days later and continue in the same vein. Or start at another location with a different name/re-brand (but within the same parameters/framework) due to the reason stated above- ongoing consumer demand.

Then there are places like Sterling Brunch Buffet at Bally’s.

It’s $95/pp, but they offer unlimited lobster tail (as in actual lobster, NOT lobster product or “crab sticks” which contain NO crab), sturgeon caviar, free-flowing Perrier-Jouet champagne just to name a few treats.
Glossy photos in the ads portray exactly the food on offer, ambiance and service are amazing and everything is done to a highest standards.
There are also places that charge somewhere between $25 and $45 for their buffets and they are very good as well: one definitely gets the value for one’s money.

No one is infallible, however. Occasionally even a high-end place slips up. But they do care about their clientele, so they are more likely (in fact, pretty much guaranteed) to try and make it up to the customer: commonly with an offer of a discounted (or in some cases free) next visit.

We are all adults and know what’s what. While it’s perfectly fine to hope for a 5-star quality while paying $3.99, one has to retain a firm grip on reality. And reality is such hopes are unrealistic.
Yes, once in a blue moon it is possible to find a really good steak in one of those low-end buffets. But it usually has to do with the fact that a big casino had a function cancelled and was having a “fire sale” on these steaks, trying to salvage at least the fraction of the cost. And the owner of the  el-cheapo buffet just happened to know a guy in the office there. And voila: a couple of phone calls and a kick-back later the steaks are laid out in the $3.99 place (and many photos are taken for future advertisement purposes).
But how often does this happen? And what are the chances you are going to be in that place during that time? Yeah, exactly.

It is important to know that places who truly care about their business do keep the finger on the pulse of the industry, so to speak. They actively network, participate in open tables and seminars. They also keep a watchful eye on industry’s review sites and online forums.

While a lot of people think that they remain anonymous posting online, it really is no longer true. For various reasons. Terrorist acts of the past years being one. Another has to do with the fact that if someone continually “bags” the industry and it’s participants, the industry gets curious as to whom that person really is-mostly to avoid trouble.
So if someone constantly moans and complains and then publishes a guide for a “new diners” ostensibly to help them improve their experience, where he offers suggestions on how to get “your own back” from the buffets by sneaking in hidden bags to take the food home and wear clothes with hidden lined pockets (to the same end). Or to demand to “sample” the food before paying. Or to blackmail the place with a bad review on DineOut to get a free meal out of them, the industry takes notice.
Especially if said person indiscriminately labels the entire  industry as “deceitful” and “out to fleece a poor consumer”.
No matter how hard this person tries to hide his/her identity, it will be eventually known to restaurateurs. And he/she might find himself blackballed from the nicer (and even not so nice) places. Simply because nobody wants to be taken advantage of and/or have to deal with a difficult person. Or being blackmailed with a bad review.
In fact, once lower end places figure out that someone is trying to “outsmart” them, they will probably come up with more creative ways to get around that-and rip customers off even more.

In conclusion, I want to stress that I most definitely do not condone shoddy practices, deceit or bad customer service. In ideal world every single place will uphold the highest standards. And there would be a range of high-standards places in every price range.
However, we do not live in ideal world. All I am suggesting is to work with reality as we find it, not how we wish it was.
While there are always exceptions, the rule is, you get more if you pay more. You also have a lot more room to complain if you didn’t get it and a lot more likely to get satisfaction.
It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

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