There's not much that perplexes me...

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3 February 2006

…but Americans do.

What is it that’s so perplexing? First, they don’t seem to understand that they should hire the President. But that’s an old issue and one I don’t have the energy to write about now. The second perplexing thing is that they continue to support the Cheesecake Factory. I’ll explain myself, but first I need to explain a few other things.

My rule about restaurants

I have a rule about restaurants: I always give them a second chance. I never try a restaurant just once; there are too many variables that might make an evening go wrong, and I might miss out on a great restaurant just because something went wrong the one time I went in. So I tried to give the Cheesecake Factory a second chance tonight, and didn’t even make it to the table.

Some background

I’ve been to the Cheescake Factory once before, in Cleveland (at Legacy mall). And that was when I discovered that the wait is long, the seats for waiting in are few, the greeters don’t care about you, the waiters are slow and also don’t care about you, the prices are high, there is paid-for advertising on every other page of the menu, and the food is only so-so.

Yes, that’s right, there’s full-page ads for outside stores, services, and items on every single left-hand page of the menu. If you’ve never been there before you probably won’t believe me. But it’s true. The restaurant doesn’t try to hide the fact that they don’t care about your dining experience as much as they care about extracting every last cent they can get out of your visit.

Tonight’s adventure

Tonight, my wife and I had plans to go to California Pizza Kitchen, but when we arrived there was a strange odor in the air and we decided to try somewhere else. We knew that the Cheesecake Factory was nearby and I was willing to give it a second chance, so we went there. After three rounds, we were out:

Round one

When we arrived, it was busy, crowded, and noisy. We gave our name to the hostess she gave us a little pager, and told us the wait would be “15 to 30 minutes.” That seemed like a fairly useless estimate (“it will either be X minutes, or 2X minutes…”). I was easily willing to forgive that. But then the pager had advertising sticking out of it. I didn’t bother to read it. Finally, though, the hostess told us that the pager was only “guaranteed to work inside the building“. In other words, “you have to stay right here or it’s your own damn fault if we don’t bother to come looking for you when your table is ready.” Now I was feeling like they were living up to their usual high standards.

Round two

We went to a nearby store to window-shop for ten minutes, away from the crowds. When we returned, I went inside to check on our place in line. When I asked that same hostess how long the remaining wait was, she gave me an annoyed look and said “your name has been in for 10 minutes, and we told you it would be 15 to 30 minutes, so you’ll be called sometime in the next 20.” Hopefully I don’t have to explain why that was ridiculous, given that later that night we got into another place 30 minutes ahead of our originally estimated time.

Round three

At this point, I was pissed off, and we decided to leave. My wife went inside to return the pager, and it went off. She called me in and asked if I wanted to stay anyway, which I agreed to. But then she told me that the hostess had taken the pager and instructed us to wait for our name to be called. In other words, they weren’t actually ready to take us to our table when they paged us. They were perfectly willing to make us think that our table was ready, when it wasn’t, just so they wouldn’t waste their time waiting for us to make our way through the crowd.

So we left.

Just to be clear, this was the Cheesecake Factory in Easton Mall, in Columbus, Ohio. If you’re ever near it, I highly recommend the nearby Brio Tuscan Grille instead.

All that was hopefully interesting, but it’s not the real point of this post. The real point is this: I don’t understand why that restaurant was so busy. How can a store continue to survive when it so consistently and obviously treats its customers like dirt? Why do people continue to eat there? I can’t really blame that problem on the store – they don’t force anyone to eat there. So it must be the customers. Americans, mostly. Who seem to not mind that they’re eating at an establishment that blatantly demonstrates that it has no respect for them. That is not healthy behavior. It has very fundamentally disturbed me that so many of my “peers” can be this complacent about their own abuse. And I just don’t have an explanation for it. I don’t understand how or why this situation came about. I just don’t get it.

I was hoping that writing this would make me feel better. But that hope was misplaced; ranting about the Cheesecake Factory did feel good, but in the end my core problem is still there. My countrymen (and women!) don’t have any spine, and that’s not something that I’m able to understand. Something about this country is broken, and my guess is that it’s going to hurt a lot before it gets fixed. And the fixing is probably also going to hurt a lot.

P.S. – As of this minute, the Cheesecake Factory site is advertising “Complimentary ribbon added to any Valentine’s cake.” Do they really think that’s a value-add?

  1. Christopher says:

    I have to agree with you an all the strikes about the Cheesecake Factory. I’ve been twice, like you, once in Cambridge, MA and more recently in Burlingtion, MA. I will probably never return.

    I have to disagree with your singling out Americans as spineless for frequenting this particular restaurant. Some people may actually like it. Others may find it not that expensive, and most probably don’t give a rat’s @ss about the advertising. There are much greater things to be concerned about. Blow it off, don’t return, and enjoy your time elsewhere.

    Stay safe

  2. Nathan Arthur says:

    You’re probably right – my rant is really against people who don’t see the world the same way I do, and there’s always going to be a lot of them. But my disturbed-ness remains – the issue with Cheescake Factory is a symptom of a larger issue, and that larger issue affects my life. If I don’t fight against it, it will get worse.

    With that said, I was recently in Hawaii with my wife, who is a vegetarian. One of the only places around that had a good vegetarian selection was Cheescake Factory. I have to give them a point for that.

  3. Charles says:

    Well, maybe I am biased because of my employment there..but I know for a fact that the Cheesecake Factory at Easton cares about each and every guest that comes through the doors. And, even though the prices are a little higher than the median-restaurant $, the value your dollar brings is unparalleled. In a world were things don’t always work out the way we want, I have found that having great food, a wonderful staff that goes the extra mile to please, and great guests makes for a winning formula. Come check us out anytime and let us know what we can do to make your dining experience better!

  4. Nathan Arthur says:

    It’s the actions that count more than the words, and your words sound a lot like advertising. I almost removed them, but I decided that people should be able to judge for themselves which words actually describe actions, so I left them there.

    With that said, I have to admit that I’ve been back to the Cheesecake Factory a few times since then (yes, that same one). My wife is vegetarian and has discovered that they have a number of good vegetarian options. I went back again because it’s so hard to find places that can actually offer her variety, so I was willing to give it yet a third try. Since then, it has been somewhat less bad. We still have to wait for a person to take us to our table even after the pager goes off, and the portions are still 3-4 times the size they should be, but we’ve learned to live with the former and just order one meal between the two of us, for the latter. I feel a little queasy thinking that I’m supporting something that I argued so vehemently against, but I sometimes do things like that for my wife :) Either way, I figure my meager audience should know that they’ve managed to redeem themselves somewhat.

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