What Happens When the PRs Leave

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I do a lot of press events where I am part of a larger group going somewhere to try something new, attend a launch, try a new restaurant, and the like. The evenings are carefully scripted and designed to work smoothly and usually everyone has a great time. The critics and bloggers go on to write up their wonderful experience, but what happens when the PR hasn’t arranged the meal and someone walks in off the street?

The shocking truth, I discovered, is that after the PRs leave there is crappy service, burned food, poorly executed meals, prolonged waiting times and worse. Whether it is being left at a well-known steak chain for 42 minutes with nothing but a glass of (bad) wine, or being left without even a menu for 40 minutes at a popular brunch chain, my experiences after the PRs leave has, at times, been disastrous.  What I won’t mention are the PRs who fail to notice I’ve already reviewed the very thing they’re asking me to review – feeling the love there!

For example my visit to a popular steak chain with my husband as my treat for his birthday. It isn’t the best steakhouse in the world but I expected a certain level of service and quality I had experienced before. I didn’t expect to be ignored by staff and be left for 42min with nothing but a glass of wine. Ah, I hear you cry, but what about the bread basket? Surely you had bread to nibble on? Sadly the bread was brought at the 40 minute point, only to have steak following mere minutes later. Then to finish the meal I had fingerprints all over my dessert. it was an absolutely disgraceful display of poor standards in the kitchen and on the floor. When I complained, I was told the manager was off that evening and they were sorry. Yes, they made me pay for the fingerprinted dessert. No I’ve never been back and no I’ve never forgiven them and yes in person I do tell people which chain.

Or perhaps my experience of a burger chain where one of the kitchen staff over-handled food, grabbing handfuls of chips and ramming them in a take-away box, or on a plate. I watched him wipe his hands on his hips/rear and touch about everything possible in his station. Sadly he never washed his hands once while he seemingly deliberately handled everything. I know there is an amount of handling of food in the kitchen but this was excessive and stomach-churning. I, and others, have never been back.

After a delightful PR experience at a popular brunch chain I returned with a friend to the exact same location only we came as regular paying customers and waited 40 minutes just to get a menu. We then had to ask twice to order drinks, which was surprising. Those drinks, thankfully, arrived promptly but the salad I ordered, and the mussels my friend ordered, took over 20 minutes to be steamed and tossed. During our wait for the menu (which we did ask for repeatedly), we saw two women arrive and then depart 15 minutes later, fed up with waiting to be noticed. There were plenty of staff around the venue and no apologies or explanations were given. I complained and have been offered a return visit but organised by the PR. Hardly a fair assessment of improvements in service when they know to expect me.

At another burger joint, this one not really a chain though it is part of a number of themed venues, I was trying to have a quick meal before heading across London for an event. My burger arrived with a burnt bun and a beef patty that was either overworked or worse it was so tough. This is a venue people seem to go crazy for on Twitter and yet it was quite poor for food. I did complain about the burger and I was offered a free drink if I ever returned.

If you read my Mostly About Chocolate blog, you will know I’m quite a fan of chocolate and I will happily enjoy a wide range of chocolate including Dairy Milk and Amadei, but what I don’t like is ‘skin’. ‘Skin’ is what happens when you heat a non-pure chocolate mixture, usually containing dairy, and the surface cools to form a thick, congealed ‘skin’. I found this ‘skin’ in my chocolate dipping sauce for my churros at one venue and when I sent it back and asked for one without the globulous mass of ‘skin’, they fished it out and sent the now cooling, congealed mess back. When I complained I was offered a return visit but sadly my work schedule and residence outside London did not enable me to reassess the venue so my opinion is still one of kitchen staff who don’t care.

I have been to so many nice press events over the last few years and had such great experiences that to only have those experiences ruined on subsequent visits has made me wonder – is it fair to review a restaurant on a launch event or is it better to sneak back as a paying customer and then really judge? As any good restaurant critic will probably assert, it is imperative to assess the venue as a paying patron and not as the guest of a PR, to accurately judge service levels and food quality.

Will I be giving these venues a second or third chance? As a time-poor commuter with many other events and venues vying for my attention we’ll see…

About Judith Lewis

Editor and chief blogger at Mostly About Chocolate. Expert SEO. judge at various chocolate awards, wine awards, and all the Search Awards. Judith is passionate about food, wine, and travel.

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