This food story was written while we were in the middle of a mini-family reunion in Orlando, FL. That’s because, when one is on the road with a lot of people, dining out trumps cooking in.
And, we have had the pleasure (and displeasure) of experiencing four different restaurant venues this week. For one of these, we used Open Table, a web site (and an iPhone application) that is fast becoming our favorite dining guide. For two others, we took our chances at Universal’s theme park. For one, we relied on a recommendation from one of our family members.
The bottom line to this tale is that “three out of four ain’t bad” (a slight takeoff on the Meatloaf hit of the 1980’s).
The family member’s recommendation, a chain called Bahama Breeze, turned out to be a real winner.
Our Friday evening wait for 8 people, originally slated at 45 minutes, ended at 15. We were then seated, our waitress immediately started taking orders and the food quickly followed. Everything we ordered, from ribs to fish, was cooked to specifications, properly warm and all delivered at the same time. Even better than the excellent meal, was the waitress’ interactivity. She exuded fun, bantered easily and otherwise made our dinner a real “experience.”
With 22 sites nationwide (from Seattle to southeast Florida), her demeanor and actions said volumes about the restaurant’s mission and its management team.
Some of our party even went back to the restaurant for lunch, providing additional testimony to what we perceived as value, quality and service.
Celebration Town Tavern
We used Open Table to locate a restaurant in nearby Celebration for another evening meal.
Celebration is a model, planned community that mixes various residential modes, commercial and community amenities. Its goal was to create a self-contained “city.”
Open Table directed us to the http://www.thecelebrationtowntavern.com, located in the downtown area, across from a large lake. There was both indoor and outdoor seating. Ample free parking was available on nearby streets and a parking lot across the street.
Open Table immediately alerts the restaurant when a reservation is made. So, even though we made the reservation only 45 minutes earlier, the restaurant was ready for us. We were immediately seated and served.
To say that the menu was extensive is an understatement. And many of the items are vintage Boston, including the fresh fish that are imported daily.
Portions were as huge as the menu was large. Half of us could not finish our meals (and two of us only ordered an array of appetizers). Take home packaging was quickly provided.
For desert, the six of us managed to share a single Boston Crème Pie. It, too, came as a pretty large serving.
The wine list was more than ample, but the menu of 99 bottles of beer (actually 99 varieties) provided a focus for conversation. One member of our party, a seasoned beer drinker, tasted two types of brews that evening.
Of course, at the time, we didn’t know about the 99 bottles of beer blog that provides first-hand information about the beers.
We visited Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffet’s signature restaurant chain for a late lunch on another day. The restaurant is located just outside the entrance gate at Universal’ theme park. Although they would not accept a reservations, the restauarnt did offer fast on-call seating. So, we told them we’d be by around 3pm.
Upon arriving (at 245pm), we were immediately seated (but could have been so even without pre-planning). Buffett’s theme of “chilling” in Paradise, permeated the dining environment (as it does in all his restaurants). This included paintings, signs and other paraphrenalia sprinkled about judiciously. There was even a wall decoration in the men’s restroom stating, “Weather is here, wish you were beautiful.”
We were serenaded to musical videos featuring Buffett and other country-western singers for the duration of our stay. Margaritaville (blame it on 3 women, not just one) was the keynote video.
The burgers, fries, and onion rings were sinfully delicious. Service was top-notch, as well. Our AAA card netted us a 10 percent discount on our bill, a nice touch.
Buffett’s store is next to the restaurant. Since we had already bought the “lost shaker of salt” during a visit to his Key West site, we didn’t feel compelled to spend this time.
Following a long day at the Universal Studios theme park, we opted not to return to Margaritaville, but instead tried out Pastamore, another restaurant choice just outside the exit of the park. This was not a good decision!
We didn’t have the evaluations provided at Yelp and Tripadvisor at the time (but now realize that we should have capitalized on our iPhones to find these). Had we known that those who preceded us only gave the restaurant 2.5 stars (on a scale of 1 to 5), we would have gone elsewhere. A 2.5 is even below a solid C on any classic grading system. Further, of 22 reviews at TripAdvisor.com, 13 rated the restaurant either poor or terrible.
We now wonder if there’s a rating we can assign that below terrible!
Entering, we were pleased with the seating, the menu choices and the initial interaction with our waiter. After these, however, everything went downhill.
Our bread (nicely warmed) arrived with olive oil, but the butter didn’t arrive for many minutes later.
Then our order was seriously delayed. In fact, it was so late in arriving that the table next to ours was seated, served and left before our food arrived.
Our waiter knew there were problems and at least advised us. Yet, when he brought the food, several dishes had clearly been left sitting under heat lamps for an extended period. One main dish and a side of pathetic-looking broccoli had to be returned for reprocessing.
When the manager came over (after we asked for her to visit), she advised us that the delay was tied to what we ordered – that different foods have different preparation times. That’s true. Yet, the kitchen staff is supposed to factor this into their timetable. Chef Ramsey (link) would have thrown all the food back into the kitchen and told the staff to redo the entire meal.
Further, at least one person at the table mentioned earlier ordered the same dish that supposedly delayed our order.
Although the manager was pleasant enough, after she spoke with us and brought over water and made sure that new food was going to be delivered to us, she vanished. We never saw her again for the duration of our dining “experience.”
She did, at least, comp us for a main dish and the side of broccoli.
To end our evening, our waiter took an excessive amount of time to deliver our check and then to process our credit card payment.
Based on the table next to us, we should have been in and out in 40 minutes or less. Yet, it took us almost double the time.
The best way to describe our experience was that it resembled the lines at the theme park. The only thing missing was the signage that told how long a wait there would be for each ride.
Afterwards, the four of us discussed our “experience” and concluded that the management, wait staff and kitchen team really lacked a customer service perspective. Perhaps it’s because they have a more or less captive theme park audience. Perhaps it’s because…
Overall, three out of four really isn’t bad. For the future, however, we’ll be working on a perfect score. So, we’ll be checking more on Open Table and relying more on reviews posted at various web sites (using our iPhones apps).
When you visit Orlando (and the theme parks there), we think you’ll be well-served to do similar prescreening of dining establishments. Given the information that is now available at our fingertips, there’s no reason to have a bad dining experience.