The Greatest Customer Complaint Response Ever

Meet Chef Jonathan Justus, your new restaurant hero

I had lunch today with my friends Emma and Senor Esparza.  They ate at Justus Drugstore last night.  Justus is on the outermost outskirts of what could be considered Kansas City.  In the few years that it has been open it has developed a reputation of being well worth the drive.  I personally have never dined there.  A little to pricey for my blood, but after reading what I am about to share you will see why I have never felt a restaurant owner was more deserving of my hard earned tips.

They were telling me about how incredible the food and wine was and how the chef joined them for a glass.  Then Emma full of glee interjected with a story.  She said she had read an incredibly negative review.  As we waited in line at Oklahoma Joe’s for America’s best meal served inside a gas station, she conveyed the details of this complaint.  After coming home and reading it, I can say she did not do it justice (HA! Get it a complaint about Justus Drugstore).  Enough of my puns, here is the review from Yelp!.

UNBELIEVEBLE.
Honestly, I’ve never EVER had a dining experiance like this – in a bad way.
1. When I first sat down, I smiled at a waittress as she was passing by, she gave me a dirty face and looked away.
2. I noticed other tables were getting bread before they even ordered(served by a different waitress), so I patiently waited 20 mins after ordering.  During that 20 mins, a few waitresses were looking around nothing to do clearly saw us having nothing on the table but waiting. OK I waited enough and asked for my bread just in case my entrees come out first.
3. Entrees were taking an usually long time, so instead of asking them to follow up, I simply asked for another basket of bread hoping that would remind them to check on our food and our waitress’s response was “our bread is made from scratch and we have a full house tonight (5 tables) so every table is limited to one basket of bread.”  My thought of….so you guys just made enough for 5 tables? and…it’s really not my concern you make your bread from scratch or not, you open your door for business, aren’t you?
4. Ok. We are still not gonna complain. The weird thing is, we overheard another waitress saying “would you like more bread?” to other tables. Now I’m getting pissed.
5. Dinner came, very small portion. I was thinking, maybe it tastes extraordinary…unfortunately…NOT. Which is fine. That’s not my point.
6. Dessert menu came, going thru the list, this is really not the type of desserts I expect from what this restaurant tries to claim itself to be…Peanut Butter & Jelly?? Forget it, let me have my ticket.
6. At the end, I wrote “apparently the 1 bread per table policy doesn’t apply to all tables.”

The restaurant called the next morning. I thought he was gonna apologize for not being fully prepared to serve his customers but no –  he said “our bread is very hard to make, shouldn’t be substituted for ordering salad/soup. You are not welcome back.” Ok, I see. They are mad because we didn’t order salad and soup…I’m never a salad/soup person, shouldn’t it be my choice not ordering something that I don’t enjoy??

Only try out this place if you are prepared to order EVERY COURSE even if you don’t care for the salad/soup(otherwise, the attitude would ruin your dinner). And – only if you want to put money in this money-hungry, order-every-course-or-I-will-treat-you-like-sh*t unprofessional owner.
It was our anniversary and they knew it from our reservation. Apparently, they care less that they ruined it since they let their anger of us not ordering soup/salad took over them.

Wow!  I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could make this point.  Relatively little bothers me about guest behavior anymore, but bread in lieu of food is a pet peeve.  I think what annoys me about it is that normally nice and decent people will tell you bold faced lies at this point.  The guest that replies to the offer of an appetizer by stating, “I am not really that hungry, but can I get some bread right away?” is lying.  The guest who needs bread immediately because their blood sugar is low, never orders the equally quick soup.

I have already mentioned in this post that I am fairly cheap when it comes to food.  I try to work at restaurants that I could not afford to eat at.  I have no problem with the diner that is trying to save a few bucks.  Just be honest about it.  I will give you the best possible meal on whatever budget you have.  I will bring you bread as an accompaniment  as per the rule created by someone in a corporate office somewhere.  If you want to have your bread earlier, ask politely.  Just don’t give some “dog ate my homework” excuse for why you need it or ask indignantly “Do we get some bread?”

Furthermore this guest ordered a second basket of bread.  Not an appetizer or a salad, but more bread.  One of the great murphy’s law proofs is that food will always cook slower when you are hungry.  Especially if you are at a nice restaurant.  These restaurants are designed to have more relaxed pace.  You should not show up having not ate all day and expecting the same ticket time as a microwaved meal at a chain restaurant.  The portions are also very small as she pointed out.  This is because they are designed to allow you to have an appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert without leaving feeling ill.

Leaving passive aggressive notes for the server is pretty ridiculous as well.  I think from the outcome of the story it is pretty obvious that the server did not make up a story about the bread policy.  Something tells me that the server was probably penalized on the tip line for obeying her boss just before the passive aggressive note was written.  Kudos to the boss for standing up for his employee and accepting responsibility for the policy.  He took it a step further and used the only recourse he had to punish the guest by asking them not to return.

I know most of us work for large corporations.  This means that when someone asks you for bread you smile and give it to them.  I don’t fault the corporations, they have too much to lose from complaints.  The corporations are the ones paying for all of the free bread being given away.  If they could do away with it, they would.  All of us from the guy who cuts the bread to the CEO who stares at the line on a financial report should be just a little jealous of Chef Jonathan Justus.  He gets to truly run his own restaurant.

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32 comments on “The Greatest Customer Complaint Response Ever

  1. Thank you for standing up for Justus (no pun intended – really). Justus & Co have brought civility & refinement back home to the birthplace of corporate chain dining – Gilbert & Robinson – KC’s gift to the world. For those cheap S.O.B.’s that don’t get it please go to The Olive Garden and let me on my anniversary take your table with humble & sincere appreciation for the culinary art on display.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      This comment just made my morning. There will never be another GR in Kansas City, but Kansas City owes a huge debt of gratitude to them. Without Mr Gilbert and Mr Robinson Kansas City would never have the dynamic restaurant scene it is blessed with. I grew up hearing about them from my Grandmother who had worked for them. When I tell people that at one time a single company ran the restaurants on the Plaza, the stadiums, and the airport they can’t even imagine. I only wish their history was better documented. Since their legacy was tainted by franchised burgers it has been tough to watch. I agree that it would be great to see Chef Justus pick up this mantle.

  2. nativenapkin on said:

    I was on an airplane once and struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to me. The conversation eventually turned to what we both did for work. I told her I managed a Michelin-Starred restaurant, and that opened the flood gate. She went on and on about one of the finer restaurants in our city of destination, how awful her meal was when she had eaten there, poor service, bad food. On and on. The place in question is one I had dined at several times, and was always spectacular; and I am not easily impressed, so I was puzzled. I asked her when it was she had dined because my meals had always been stellar. Eleven years ago! This woman had been telling this story to anyone who would listen to her for eleven years.

    It seems to me that Chef Justus could have bought a lot of good will for the price of 1 basket of bread.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      At the same time, you probably identified her within minutes as someone who takes too much joy from complaining. I know that we are constantly told that one dissatisfied customer will tell a million friends. What I think is left out is that too often those million friends know that person is a complainer and don’t listen. I doubt your opinion of the restaurant you enjoyed was damaged. When Jesus walked on water there were people complaining that he couldn’t swim. This guest would have complained about something else if she had gotten the bread.

  3. I have a pet peeve about passive aggressive shoppers of any sort. If you don’t like what’s happening, do something. Don’t ask for bread when what you want is your entree – ask if the entree normally takes this long if it’s taking a long time, for pete’s sake. This diner makes it sound like bread is the issue. It’s not.

    And just because a staff member doesn’t smile at you right away doesn’t mean she hates you. This guy is just someone reaching for all the tiny things the place did wrong to prove their point. I can say that I often have several orders on my mind and hear the printer spitting out more orders while I’m waiting for someone who’s particularly chatty to finish ordering their dinner, and when I’m busy, I have a look on my face of concentration. People have mistaken it for a frown, but it’s not (and don’t EVEN get me started on the people who say, “How come you never smile?” as if they’ve spent more than 3 minutes at my full bar and can make that absolute presumption).

    The barely literate review and the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude are pretty transparent. This is someone who went to a restaurant where they expected to be pampered and fawned over, and when it was busy, decided they somehow just weren’t “good enough” to warrant all the attention they wanted. The bread was just their little passive aggressive digging tool. They decided to sit and stew instead of making their issues known for fear they’d be, I don’t know, ridiculed? told to be quiet? thought of as rubes? – something. The civil thing to do is to let your server know that things aren’t right. One can do that in a polite manner and get the satisfaction of being attended to immediately. I should know; I’m the queen of the screwed up dinner. It’s weird – but I’m the one who often gets dinner comped because they messed it up somehow.

    I’m sorry they had a negative experience, and maybe they should consider, like Jenn said, the Olive Garden or Fazoli’s next time. I’ve never been to Justus Drugstore and now I want to go, BECAUSE of this review. I’ve only not returned to a place because of one negative experience EVER (REALLY bad food poisoning). I generally give places three chances to alienate me (one classic, old venue here that everyone raves about and that I truly wanted to love has done that).

    The fact that the owner called him the next day says a great deal about the establishment, including the fact that the server must have brought it to his attention. My guess is that the conversation went nothing like the heavily edited citation above. It takes a lot for an owner/chef to tell someone to never come back, so I’m guessing this guy was a jerk.

    And he got what he wanted: validation that they didn’t want him there.

  4. skippymom on said:

    I don’t get the sense of entitlement regarding free bread and here is why: Growing up we always had bread with our meal. Be it rolls, french, italian or plain white bread my Mom served it with our meal – but [and it is a big but] it is an accompaniment not a full course to sate part of your appetite. In our home you had best eat all your dinner before you reach for a second piece of bread Bub. 😀

    This “give me something for nothing” attitude is incredibly annoying and I applaud the owner for explaining the reasoning behind not serving another basket of bread. The guest acted like a petulant 3 year old whose sibling got a second lolly when he didn’t. How could he even enjoy his meal [and his spouse on their anniversary no less] whilst busy perusing other’s tables? Laughable actually.

    I have to agree – if he wants unlimited bread any of the Darden entities will gladly fulfill his yeasty neediness.

  5. Last year we celebrated our anniversary at Justus and we plan on making this a tradition. It’s not just the food – local, sustainable, etc – but the impeccable service that completes the dining experiecne at Justus. The server narrates the evening by letting you know that their food is slow food, and that you should order an appetizer and plan on having a 2 to 3 hour experience. The menu is clear about the no substitution policy. Yes, it’s a bit olde world and that is what makes it lovely. Trust the chef, trust the server, you are in their house eating their food.

    • And that makes me want to go there even more. I love a leisurely dinner. We sometimes go to dinner and ask the server to take her or his time between our courses so we can really savor the evening.

      I guess in November I may have to change my anniversary venue from bluestem to Justus. It’ll be hard – bluestem is my absolute favorite!

  6. Justus is definitely slow food, and it’s wonderful. It’s my favorite restaurant in the loosely defined KC metro. (Becky, if you love Bluestem I’m confident you’ll love Justus as well.)

    The expectation of free…well, anything beyond tap water is a bit presumptuous. If I recall, they provide a decent-sized basket of bread as it is.

    That said, dining is often about expectations. If they expected a bust-your-gut gorgefest and instead got sensibly-sized portions, I can see them being a little disappointed. Ditto if they had movie tickets for 90 minutes after they sat down.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is if their review was, “If you want a meal in less than 3 hours, and you don’t want to wait between courses, and you want to get absolutely stuffed, this might not be the place for you,” that would be acceptable.* It informs the reader as to their expectations going in, and Justus would simply say, “Yeah. Fair enough. That’s not who we are.” Instead, they moan about not getting enough free stuff. And that’s hella lame.

    *This does not excuse them from doing 5 minutes of cursory internet research or asking one of their friends who recommended the restaurant what it’s all about. It was their anniversary dinner, after all.

    • tipsfortips on said:

      I agree. I get guests frequently who try to split entrees or have an appetizer for their meal, only to find out that we didn’t follow the supersized meal trend. Huge meals actually often have higher profit margins because they are cheaper ingredients with a higher price tag.

  7. yellowcat on said:

    They were obviously out of their element and were better suited to a corporate restaurant. I’m glad he called them back and told them to stay away. If I owned a restaurant, I’d cut down on the freeloaders and the jerks.

  8. I loved this post because it is so amazing how many people think and expect some part of the meal (especially bread) to be complimentary. I work in a restaurant that charges for bread no matter what. Even if you just want a couple sticks with your salad or meal. The bread is homemade too which means its not an immediate give even if you order it. If a table sits and immediately demands bread I take so much joy in telling them we bake it to order and it’s not complimentary, and asking if they would like to buy one. It’s my little way of putting these cheap, entitled, and demanding assholes in their place. I’ve worked in restaurants before where they give free bread and it’s sick to see these cheap and greedy people abuse it.

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  10. Waiting on said:

    I’ve never worked anywhere with free bread. I can only imagine how annoying it is to watch people eat it instead of an appetizer or soup/salad. I have a soft spot for bread myself, so if I wanted more I would just pay for it. I don’t expect anyone to give me anything for free.

    When people ask me for free stuff excessively, I take it upon myself to implement a charge. So on the third time someone asks me for a large side of lemons/jalapenos, I tell them it’s $1. They usually decline. Keep in mind, I’ve already given them at least $1 worth for free.

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  24. Christi on said:

    I can probably count the number of times I’ve tipped less than 20% on one hand (and I’ve eaten out at least a thousand times), but I consider this horrible service. If a restaurant cannot afford to give out two loaves of free bred, then by all means, charge for it. But don’t tell a customer they cannot have a second loaf while you ask other customers if they would like a second one. And if you’re going to quote a policy, you should pay attention to whether this so-called-policy is being enforced in the tables around yours. I have, on occasion, asked for more bread at a restaurant…because I particularly liked the bread…imagine that! I hate the attitude that everyone is a free-loader. The person who wrote the review simply wanted polite equal service. I guess that was too much to ask.

    • David Hayden on said:

      In the time since this post was written, I have had occasion to meet with Chef Justus and speak with him at length about the incident. I assure you that there was much that this guest did not share about her treatment of the staff during the meal. To put it lightly, there were many more factors at play than her politely asking for more bread. I do believe that in all human interactions the best way to receive a polite outcome is a polite approach. Out of respect for the Chef and the privacy of the guest, that is all I will say on that particular point.

      I do think it also bears mentioning that the Chef does to some extent regret how he handled the situation. The restaurant industry is different than most because no type of degree allows you to start at the top. The Chef, like most every other great owner, worked their way up through the ranks to gain the experience needed to run a restaurant. In these less elevated positions we have all had the opportunity to say, “I would never let a guest treat my staff this way.” I think this is why the story resonates with so many people in the industry and why it personally resonates with me. After hearing the voicemail that was left for him, the response came from a good place of defending his staff. Again the tone of the voicemail also had a great deal to do with the reply.

      I respect the Chef more after talking to him about the incident than I did when I wrote the piece. I also respect the fact that he second guessed his response. That being said, I still refer as much business as I can to his restaurant. As an employee, he is the type of owner I would like to work for.

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