Serving 101: If you're leaving, you might want to tell your guests

I dislike giving negative reviews and rarely do it. For Pasta Shoppe, however, I’ll make an exception. My experience there was so disappointing I feel it’s my responsibility to share.

My boyfriend and I stopped into the Oak Park cafe for a late lunch. We were hungry but we didn’t want anything too big since it was already 3:30 in the afternoon. Both of us love French Onion soup so we were excited to see that as on option. We each ordered a cup and then opted to share the caprese salad. There had been some in the deli case at the front of the restaurant with bright red cherry tomatoes that looked delicious. In place of an entree we ordered an appetizer combination dish to share.

The French Onion soup was lukewarm, and instead of the dark broth one expects it was more of a clear wimpy-looking liquid. That would have been OK, because as I’m sure you know, the reason to get French Onion soup is for the bubbly cheese that’s just a touch brown in places and is melting over the sides of the bowl. What we were served was a slice of provolone plopped on top like an afterthought. 

Then came the caprese salad. We didn’t get the vibrant tomatoes in the case; we were served pale slices of regular tomatoes. But, as I said to Jim, it’s pretty hard to mess up that type of salad if you’ve got decent mozzarella, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar. We were also impressed that our server split the salad for us, but that was balanced by the fact that she asked us if we wanted bread after delivering the soup and then failing to bring any butter or olive oil.

Our combination plate included mini-arancini, fried gnocchi, and fried ravioli, served with marinara sauce. Our reaction? Meh. They all tasted the same, except the arancini had a touch more flavor.

All of that would have been OK, I suppose. At $30 for an appetizer, a salad, and two cups of soup it was pricey for the quality, but it certainly wouldn’t have prompted me to write anything. After ten years in the industry myself I understand that everything can’t be perfect every time, and while almost everything had been off it wasn’t that off (except for the soup).

What did prompt me to write was this: we finished our lunch and waited. And waited. The busser was very attentive, making sure our water glasses were full, but we hadn’t seen our server since the salad was dropped off. I stood up to let somebody know we needed our check and one of the owners saw me and it was delivered shortly by another server. I knew they were the owners because when I’d asked for a wine list after seeing a Bellini offered on their daily specials, our server told me the owners were having a meeting to convert the deli case area into a bar. Which makes this even worse – when we wanted our check our server was gone. The shift had changed from lunch to dinner so I guess that meant she was outta there. She didn’t let us know and apparently the server who came on for the next shift didn’t know or care because he was nowhere to be seen either. And the owners were there.

I understand shift changes. While every restaurant I worked in required that I stay until my guests were gone, I’ve been to enough restaurants that move guests from one server to the next when it goes from lunch to dinner and most of the time that’s handled well. What got my goat about this one is that she just left, and we were sitting there like forgotten castaways, and nobody else seemed to give a hoot. If the owners hadn’t been present I probably wouldn’t be writing. But they were, and that indicates an issue with the culture of the restaurant.

Maybe the owners of the Pasta Shoppe were so caught up in planning for the remodeling and adding the new bar that they didn’t care about two people who stopped in for a late lunch. But if they do care, I hope that the next time someone comes in at 3:30 they’ll be treated like they matter.

Photo is of a spot in Minneapolis, MN; credit: Rob Nelson






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