Kitchen Nightmares at the Sunset Grill

Popular television show, Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, reveals the reality and struggles of running a restaurant. With Ramsey’s reputation on the line and tempers flaring, lazy chefs, incompetent managers and wait staff are ripped apart. Once a sinking ship, the restaurants are given new energy and are turned around.

Today, there are a countless number of restaurants that struggle to make ends meet. I wonder how many more are just hanging on a thread, waiting to close.

The Sunset Grill

The Sunset Grill is the city’s latest breakfast spot. Unlike the typical greasy spoon 24 hour diner the Sunset Grill offers a modern atmosphere and only operates from 7:00AM to 4:00PM seven days a week.

Founded in 1985, the restaurant has 18 locations both corporate and franchised owned. A morning that was thought to be relaxing with a complete breakfast, turned out to be one of my worst dining experiences that I will never forget.

11:30AM….

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a young cheerful woman who instructed us we could choose any table we like. The restaurant wasn’t full and there were plenty of seating. We ordered coffee while we scanned the menu options. The menu was a simple selection of your traditional breakfast items in addition to a couple of other lunch menu items which included burgers and sandwiches. I ordered the steak & eggs, medium rare and over easy while my wife had the sausage & eggs. Both orders came with potatoes and toast.

As we enjoyed our coffee, we couldn’t stop to notice a table that paid and left leaving behind almost an untouched meal. We didn’t want to speculate too much and concluded the customer may have ordered too much. Ten minutes later, we noticed the tables that were filled were staring at the open kitchen. Eyes were rolling in frustration, fingers tapping the table as a sign of losing patience and hands waving trying to grab the attention of a waiter. There was a clear problem. Not one table had their food. A sound of trouble was evident. Five more minutes passed and finally the first table of four was served, but unfortunately there was something wrong with their order that I couldn’t pick out. Seconds later, another table of four was served. You could see it in the waiter’s eyes, pressure and embarrassment was building. Two of the orders served were wrong, but in frustration, the customers accepted it.

12:00PM………no food yet!

The time was ticking and it was 12 noon and we never received our food. There were only two waiters and not one of them refilled our coffee let alone the other tables. We had a clear view of the kitchen and there no question about it that the cooks were trainees. A younger look man in his early 30’s was guiding each order. It was painstaking to see the food being cooked. You felt sympathetic to the guy up to point when he suddenly left the restaurant. For what reason, I do not know. The restaurant was officially in a melt down.

12:05PM, the food had arrived and to no surprise the steak was well over cook. I did not even cut into it yet, but from the look of the outside it was deeply browned. I finally cut into it only confirming what I knew already; dry, tough and tasteless. A waiter came over to check on the food and I told her the truth. I said I wouldn’t send it back because I knew it would take too long. She assured me my meal would be taken off the bill.

If you thought that was bad, you only had to see the potatoes. No competent chef would ever send out completely charred potatoes. If only Ramsey was in the kitchen, he would be slamming the pans and calling the cooks every name in the book. I was imagining it in my head what he would say in his strong British voice: “For God’s sake, C’mon you Fat Donkey, You can’t even cook some potatoes!!!

The eggs were barely edible and the best but sad part of the whole experience the toast was truly the only enjoyable item.

1 ½ Hours Later….

This was the longest breakfast I have ever had considering it was only steak and eggs. We went to settle the bill and sure enough my meal was comped. The total bill came to $5.30 including tax. However, I left a $5.00 tip to the waiter and told the waiter:

“In any other instance like this, I would not leave a tip, however I have left a generous $5.00 tip because the rate of how the restaurant is operating, you will need this!”

The waiter repeatedly apologized and informed us that there were two new trainees left alone unsupervised and that normally the service was better. I told her thank you, but we would not return.

I thought the service was so poorly run, I sent a letter by email to the Sunset Grill’s head office. I informed them of the situation and that service had to be improved. There was no excuse for not having anyone come to our table to inform us of a delay in the food. At the least, our coffee should have been refilled. Most importantly, I had informed them of the manager/owner walking out during service leaving not one qualified person in the kitchen and a number of orders yet to be completed. Any manager or owner who truly cares for the restaurant would not attempt to do this.

Five days later, I received an email from the Founder and President of the company:

“I would like to apologize for the bad experience you had at our store. I too would not be impressed and probably would not return. In their defense, I have never had a complaint on their store before. I guess we all have our bad days. I appreciate the time you have taken to inform me of your experience. It helps us get it right. I will definitely be following up on this with the owner of that store.”

Hello 9-1-1. Is this Gordon Ramsey?

The Sunset Grill may be the latest breakfast spot to open, but too bad it will be the latest victim to crash. A word of advice to the corporate headquarters, smarten up or the ship will sink. Success is built upon providing consistent service among each unit whether corporate or franchised owned. This was no Sunset at the Sunset Grill. The only thing setting was disaster. So Gordon, if you are out there, please, help save them!

Photograph by: Ben Scicluna

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