Tuesday, March 13, 2007

QUESTIONS FOR THE BUBBA GUMP CORPORATION

My dinner at Bubba Gump on Saturday raised some important questions. To wit: Who created your corporate policy on the amount of beverage you will put in a glass without ice? And how much money does this save your corporation per fiscal year?

First some background. On Saturday Alicia and I and some friends went to Universal CityWalk, an overpriced faux-downtown teeming with tourists that I would usually avoid like Ann Coulter infected with the bubonic plague, especially on a weekend. But I wanted to see "300" on an Imax and that was the only theater nearby playing it, so there we were.

Parking and lines are of course a nightmare so I wanted to get there early, which meant we had to have dinner there. Dining options at CityWalk are a range of overpriced chains with kitschy themes and hour-long waits.

We ended up at Bubba Gump, the restaurant based on the heart-warming movie "Forrest Gump," because seafood sounded OK and it wasn’t quite as ethically disturbing as an $18 hamburger at the Hard Rock CafĂ©.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Bubba Gump is a seafood chain that in the lobby has real-honest-to-goodness memorabilia from "Forrest Gump," like a genuine call sheet with Tom Hanks' name. Man was that exciting to see up close behind glass.

There’s not enough genuine call sheets from the movie to put around the tables, so instead they just have random pictures and pennants and shit on the walls, a la "Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag."

So we’re at the table, all is fine, and I decide to order something called a mango spritzer to drink. Hey, I'm gay that way. It’s a mix of mango and pineapple and orange juice and they charge $3.95. It probably costs them about 30 cents to make. But once you’re eating at Bubba Gump, you’ve given up questioning things like that. Or so I thought.

I ordered it without ice because I don’t like my drinks to get water-y.

Lo and behold, they bring it with ice. But that happens a lot. No problem. I just politely ask the busboy to bring it back without ice and he says OK.

Five minutes later, our waitress returns. The drink doesn’t have ice. But it's literally half full. That's correct. They took out the ice but didn’t full up the glass. And there was so much ice that I now have about half a glass of juice. For $3.95.

I asked where the rest of the juice was and she said they only left in as much as there would be with ice. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say and she left. This was now an intense topic of conversation at our table. Did the waitress hate me? Was this some insane directive from Bubba Gump headquarters? Whatever it was, it feels actively hostile for a waitress to bring you a drink you ordered half full and tell you that’s all you're getting.

So when she came back, I told her, as politely as I could, that I wasn't going to pay $3.95 for half a glass of juice. She then informed that she wished she could fill it up, but it’s against their policy to give more than there would be with ice. First she said it was because the liquor costs so much. We told her there is no liquor in a mango spritzer, but she refused to budge. Eventually, she agreed to take the drink away and take it off my bill, because on principle I'm just not paying $4 for half a fucking glass of juice.

But the insanity’s not over. Oh no. Then she brings our food, as I'm happily drinking water. And she says "What can I bring you to drink to set things right?"

Before I could think about how insane this was, I blurted out "Can I have the drink I ordered?" But I could see on her face that this was a no-go. She’d rather bring me another drink… FOR FREE… then give me the drink I ordered… FOR $4. Rather than discuss this insanity, I ordered lemonade and moved on with my life.

(Yes, the lemonade had ice, but the idea of bringing that up to the waitress almost made my head explode.)

I'm left very confused and even frightened by this incident. And there are several questions that I would love to ask senior executives at the Bubba Gump corporation that I simply cannot get out of my head. They are:

-Who exactly developed your policy on not filling up drinks when the customer asks for no ice? Was there a committee or was it just one person? Did you conduct any market research before adopting this policy? If so, are you aware that I have NEVER SEEN A SINGLE RESTAURANT THAT DOESN’T FILL UP THEIR GLASSES and I haven been ordering my drinks without ice since I was like 12.

-How much money does this policy save you? Have you ever measured it against the cost of your customers interpreting it as a near-hostile act when a waitress brings a half full glass? Or do you see this as akin to negotiating with terrorists: "If we give in once, everybody will start ordering their drinks without ice and our profit-per-drink will plummet!"

-How do your bartenders and servers measure the appropriate amount beverage to go into a glass when there's no ice? Is there a small line on the glass that I didn’t notice? Do you have measuring cups at the bar? Do you have a machine pour the drinks with the exact right amount of beverage and then have wait staff fill up the rest with ice?

-How much money do you lose when a customer returns a half full glass because they expect a full glass of mango spritzer for their $4? Is this really less than the cost of just filling up the glass all the way? Or, again, is this a matter of principle that can't be measured in dollars and cents?

-When a customer is angry about this policy, why do you then offer to give them a different free drink? You have now borne the expense of one and a half drinks (or, to be precise, one drink and half a glass of ice), as well as the cost and labor to serve two drinks and wash two glasses. I am not a CPA, but I am confident that this is less expensive than just giving me a full glass of mango spritzer, without ice, in the first place. I would ask if it's a matter of principle, but I also can't discern the principle. Unless the principle is: "Customers who won't take their half a glass and like it don't deserve their first choice drink."

On the plus side, as our relationship with our waitress soured following the mango spritzer incident, she stopped asking us obscure trivia questions about "Forrest Gump."

But still, the mystery about Bubba Gump corporate beverage policy remains…

13 comments:

matt said...

I linked to your blog here, I hope you don't mind.

I've been in the service industry for years, and to piss someone off over a few ounces of cheap liquid just isn't worth it. It's time for someone at the corporate office to update their policies, giving authority to the serves to make a judgement call.

We're not talking about alcohol here.

I'm VERY interested in hearing the outcome.

Good luck!

BD said...

I wonder if this is a real policy or is a "policy" that this server created out of boredom/meanness/mental illness/etc. It almost appears like a "prank" that she started and then when she realized that her tip for your table was shrinking significantly she decided to try to pull out by offering you another beverage. I think I would have asked to speak with her supervisor and called her bluff. Why lose customers over juice?!?

Killian said...

I was really beginning to feel that I was the lone soul in the world that has such things in the world happen to him. So now that someone got the bright idea to short change you on drinks, what's next? Will we need to leave a deposit for the silverware and salt and pepper shakers? Will restaurants start instituting a minimum dollar amount to be ordered before they will allow you to be served?

If I were you, I would be writing a very carefully constructed letter to the Gump people. I would amazed if they sanctioned such treatment in their establishments. My girlfriend and I eat out often so we have had more than our share of experiences like that. We used to keep quiet about it but not any more. Needless to say, we've gotten a lot of free meals out of it and these are usually the pricier establishments. It wasn't free meals we were after - all we wanted was some decent service which is becoming a vanishing commodity. I've actually considered starting a blog to collect stories like these but I suspect there are many others who already do a great job as it is.

Yvo said...

(Wow, we used to require a $4 deposit for our crab crackers... people kept walking off with them...)
But seriously, dude, that is so wrong. I can't fathom where the logic is. It stopped making sense when there's no alcohol involved and went even more awry when she offered you another drink free! WTF?

bee said...

Followed a link from "The Consummerist."

The whole thing is insane. I'm the general manager for a small chain of restaurants and their policy is absurd. I hope you get answers from the Bubba Gump Company.

nicoleatsea said...

Next time you are forced into going to City Walk, Saddle Ranch is better by extreams. The food is great, albiet a little pricey...at least they know how to take care of people there!

Trust me, they dont mess around there. :) and you can ride the bull!

PocaRoja said...

Someone sent me the link to this blog and I read it laughing hysterically. I once upon a time worked at the Times Square BGSC and I am ashamed to admit that I've been that server before. Luckily, the TimesSq branch got smart and started using different glasses for the "no ice" requests.
The BGSC corporation is insane... their policies are completely absurd... For most of the specialty drinks they "automatically" come with the glassware which adds $4-6 to a drink that is packed with ice TWICE while it's made. (Mind you the strongest drink from their "bar" is the Blue Hawaiian with less than an ounce and a half of alcohol)
Before every shift we would have "5 minute meetings" where a manager would review company policys or changes. For a good two months they would remind us that the tumblers were to be FILLED with ice before we filled them with soda or tea. Not only did this piss off the customers, but it would create more work for the servers (you know -- having to fill the drinks every five minutes, and having the fill the ice bins much more frequently).
Now all of this sounds absurd (and it is) but the only reason the servers continue to do it is because it's company policy and weekly they have 'secret shoppers" that come in and test the server on all of this corporate bullshit.
I guess any server also knows that people will complain about anything and everything to get something for free. I've had people complain about their food and finish their entire meal before they paid their discounted check -- but what servers have to deal with is an entirely different issue.
I personally apologize to you for your bad experience at this restaurant... but they're all the same and it's not at all the server's fault. Down With the Shrimp!

p.s. the memorabilia in the restaurants isn't the real stuff from the film (are you kidding? they would never let a restaurant that serves their food on a tray with a newspaper have the real stuff)

Kimberley said...

actually, you have to count the glass they first brought you and had to take back as it had ice in it. i'm assuming they didn't pick each piece of ice out one by one. or maybe they did and that's why you ended up with half a glass....

what's the difference in throwing that one out and giving you one free?

Quinne said...

Okay, I must say, it's pretty retarded for them to just not fill it up and give you a hard time about it--since you're the exception and not the rule.

But it's also retarded that you got so hostile about it to the point of blogging about it. I mean, it's a fruit drink at a shitty tourist-trap restaurant, not a glass of wine at a fancy and intimate Italian restaurant. What did you expect?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that fountain beverages (coke, 7up, lemonade, iced tea, etc.) come in these big bags of syrup, and they're passed through a machine with a CO2 tank (for the carbonated beverages), mixed with water, and served out a spigot into your glass (usually chock full of ice). Yes, these drinks are CHEAP, and that's why they'll usually happily provide you with free refills.
HOWEVER, if you've ever been to the grocery store, I think you'd notice that fruit juices cost a pretty penny. And the more tropical they get (as in anything other than grape or apple juice), the more expensive they get. Mix three juices that are not the cheap kind, and add some sparkling water--and you have 4 different beverages in one glass. So YES. It actually WOULD kill their profit to serve twice as much as they normally do. They probably aren't making much on that drink in the first place.

So lighten up, Francis, and use your noggin.

That being said, they should've done the same thing.

lg said...

this blog cracked me up. And i didnt take this as you being "so hostile to blog about juice" i think its a really good point. Ive never had anything like this happen to me (I get ice in my drinks), but these corporate policy makers are nuts!!!! i think if they are worried about the 10 cents extra on a cup of juice with no ice, hide the 10 cents in the cost of the shrimp, most people wouldnt even notice that, but its hard not to notice it in a drink. I do hope someone from Bubba Gumps reads your blog.
Just wanted to add, i was at Bubba Gumps in San Francisco and it was a rather pleasing experience, but of course in SF bubba Gumps was cheaper than every other resturant so i felt like i was getting quite a deal on my meal.... and my company was paying for it, so that helps :)

Nova said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nova said...

you're such a brat.

did you ever stop to think that you are getting TWICE the amount of product because YOU DONT HAVE ICE? oh and any mango product is SOOO cheap, i know.. especially when it's not in season. if you ordered a plate of fried chicken and didn't want the mashed potatoes, should you get DOUBLE FRIED CHICKEN? this is a ridiculous rant and you obviously have had no background in business to understand that these things cost money. the bartender that made that drink? gets paid hourly to make that drink. and then you have bar costs, overhead, managers etc.. and i'm sure there are tons of restaurants who can't stand it when people like you are just SO offended that you can't believe you're getting ripped off. if you can't afford it, stay at home and make your own drinks. simple as that.

Anya Rychkova said...

Sad story. You need to cheer up. looks like everything in this wonderful world makes you angry. That's sad.
I can feel your anger. You need to let it go, it burns you inside out. Smile and be grateful for a half full glass. Tomorrow never promised.