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 Café.
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…