A somewhat scattered collection of notes, thoughts and ideas

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Reviews and Recommendations: Chiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill

As promised, here is my post review about our dinner at Chiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill last Tuesday,14th June. I have had a bit of feedback that my last review was a bit longwinded so I will keep that in mind with this one.

First impressions
As I always do for our Meetup dinners, I booked a table for us; this time through the online website. The procedure was simple enough and within minutes I had a confirmation of my reservation for 5 people at 8pm. We had chosen to go to the Chiquito in Hemel Hempstead. It's a reasonably new branch as it is one of the restaurants that were added onto the Jarman Park complex when it was hollowed out, refurbished and made new again.  Like with Ed's this wasn't the first time I'd been to this restaurant or branch, so I will also make some comparisons to previous visits like I did with Ed's.

Arriving at the Restaurant
As with all Chiquito restaurants, the one in Hemel Hempstead has a beautifully decked-out interior, with more than one unique feature that draws the eye even beyond the first visit.

When we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted and immediately taken to our table. The restaurant wasn't overly busy and our server attended to us immediately, taking our drinks orders. When we go for dinner as a group, there are often new members or members that we haven't seen for a while, so the first thing we tend to do is chat, and more often than not we delay placing our order with the server because of our distraction from the menu. This time was no exception, though thankfully we did already have some idea of what we wanted by the time the waiter came to us the second time. He demonstrated patience and understanding and interacted with us in a friendly way; coming to check if we needed anything throughout the meal.

Over the years that I have been to Chiquitos, the menu has changed in noticeable ways, not only the food choices expanding, but also the look of the menu. I am a very visual person so I love looking through menus with pictures, often searching for the image that represents what I am looking at ordering for my meal. From memory and experience, I would make the assumption that the menu changes somewhere between once every 6 months and one to two years, likely depending on consumer demand. The menu changes here have proven to be a positive thing as although some items may have also been taken off the menu, many have stayed the same and also been added, for example under the Fajita options, there are now more options than there used to be, thus catering for more tastes.

The meal, as expected, was delicious, and as far as I could tell I wasn't the only one who thought so. Having been there recently with one of the other girls, we commented how much more relaxed we'd been than the last time - when we had been rushing to eat before going to the cinema (granted the restaurant had been a little busier, but not full then either). Our conclusion was that the last time must have simply been a fluke as the staff on that visit had seemed more stressed than this time too, so there must have been a reason for that.

Time to leave
At the end of the meal, our server came to see if we wanted desserts, but before he could ask, we requested the bill. We weren't on a schedule this time, and the meal had been lovely, but we were too full to eat anything else. Unlike in some restaurants I have been to in the past, we didn't have to wait long and when he brought it over, he took the time to point out the [ongoing] incentive on the bill - leave a review and have the chance to win the latest iPad (unfortunately - something I noticed later on- he hadn't filled out part of the information we would need to complete the survey online). within a few minutes of handing over the bill, our server came to see who would need a card machine; it seemed we all had cash. Splitting the bill evenly between us, we decided to leave a tip and all added another £1 to the total. We left satisfied and full and eager to go again.

Recommendations for Chiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill

1. Our experience this time was great, the server was friendly and the food was fantastic. Encourage your staff to realise the importance of customer service no matter how busy the restaurant is and what stresses they have; it only takes one bad impression to put people off coming back.

2. If you want customers to fill out the feedback survey, tell your staff to make sure they fill out all the information needed for customers to do so.

Menu suggestions
For anyone considering a visit Chiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill, I would recommend trying some of the following from the menu:

My personal favourites are the Mexican Garlic Bread (with cheese), and the JalapeƱo Poppers (formerly on the menu as Chilli Poppers), but the Baked Potato Skins are yummy too.

I used to only ever go for the Classic Chicken Fajitas, which are lovely, but since they have added the Street Food  menu option I find myself often choosing this as you can get 3 for £12.95 and they are good if you don't want something too heavy, if you are looking for something to share, or if you simply can't decide on just one.

Once again, I hope this has been helpful and please do leave me a comment with feedback.

The next Review & Recommendations post will be about Tortilla which is where we will be eating this evening. This is a restaurant I haven't actually eaten in before, so I am excited to see what it's like and review it for you, so keep an eye out for this one.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Reviews and Recommendations: Ed's Easy Diner


This week I will be reviewing Ed's Easy Diner, in Watford, where we went for dinner last Thursday evening, 9th June.

First impressions
Let me start with my first impression, which I got when calling to book a table. The person answering spoke clearly and was easy to understand, which you may or may not think is important, but believe me, it can be rare.

Upon my asking if I can book a table, I was informed that they do not take reservations - this is fair enough, as many restaurants have a first come first served arrangement, however it would be useful for groups and larger parties, for special occasions for example, to have that small guarantee of a table.

Having been told that I cannot book a table, I asked whether a table for 4 people would typically be available for the time we were looking to book - at 7:45/ 8pm. The reply again was clear, but having interrupted before I had finished speaking, the person answered my question regarding 7.30pm instead - which was too early for my needs.

I thanked him for the information, and then repeated that I was looking to arrive closer to 8pm. Upon this, he said that around that time should be fine, and that it can be busier closer to 8.30pm, as they start to close up around 8.40pm, because the shopping centre shuts at 9pm. Following a few additional questions, I also discovered that the last food orders are taken at 8.40pm.

Arriving at the Restaurant
When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted by a server and seated immediately. Left alone with our menus, we noticed a significant difference since the last time we had been there - there was less choice and the prices appeared to have gone up; not the best combination. It took us a while to decide from the menu, which is not a good sign when the choices have decreased in number, but we eventually settled and the server came to take our order. I opted for the Ed's plate but asked if I could change one thing, as I don't like coleslaw. Without listening to my full question, the server interrupted me to inform me that they don't do swaps. I explained my reason for the question - I don't like coleslaw, he repeated the same information.

When our food arrived, I was surprised to find I had still been given coleslaw, despite making it clear that I don't like it - I had expected them to not give me any so as not to waste food. Luckily, my friend does like coleslaw so I gave mine to her.

One of the things I had liked about Ed's in the past, and continued to be a selling point for me is their mini jukeboxes - 20p per song and the money goes to charity - so I was disappointed to find that our jukebox had a coin stuck in it and meant we were unable to play anything from it. This triggered a conversation about the last time we had been there and sat at another table to find that that jukebox was also not available to use, due to a stuck coin. When I mentioned to the server about our jukebox, he offered no apology for the disappointment, but merely responded "yeah that happens sometimes as people put 10p's in them, plus they're not the best quality". I would have thought that if this was something that happened often, Ed's would have either invested in better machines, or instructed their staff to check the machines each evening before closing, and each morning before opening in order to avoid disappointing their clientele. Alternatively, if people were putting in the wrong coins, the staff who seat customers could draw attention to the jukeboxes, as a selling point, and mention that the machines only take 20p's, to avoid the wrong coins being used. Finally, it is never good for staff of a restaurant to insult or draw attention to something negative about their place of work - at least not while in uniform and to potential customers.

Time to leave
Meal finished, we asked for the bill and discussed between us how we found the food - the overall consensus was that the food was alright, but perhaps not worth the money. The server came to give us the bill and asked how many of us were paying on card - only one person. She informed the server that she knew the amount, to which he jokingly replied "oh phew, saves me trying to do the mental maths". I appreciate that staff may be encouraged to keep the interaction with customers lighthearted and friendly, but that particular comment did not paint our server in a good light, and through such a comment it suggests that Ed's don't have a high standard they keep to when hiring staff.

To top it off, the other two of us who attended the meal, paid cash and were due to get change back from the server, yet after 10 minutes sat waiting for him to reappear with this, it became apparent we were not going to get this back. Worried that we would get stuck in the car park because the shopping centre was shutting (we made it out just as they were locking up), we left, unanimous in our decision not to eat there again.

Recommendations for Ed's Easy Diner

1. First come first served is fine, but this could lose you the custom of larger groups and parties for special occasions as there is no guarantee of a table for them

2. Encourage your staff members to practise their listening skills - I was interrupted twice in this last experience and in one of the two incidences I was given irrelevant information because of this and had to repeat my question.

3. a) If you're going to offer potential selling points like the mini jukeboxes on the tables, make sure you tell your staff to check the machines are working before opening and after closing, and in between where possible, otherwise customers will be disappointed and it doesn't leave a good impression.

3. b) Following on from the above, if you have this selling point, draw attention to it when you seat your customers - not every table has one, so if the table you seat your customer at does, point it out and let them know how it works - they'll appreciate the information, and no doubt so will your partner charity.

4. Don't change the entire menu all at once, change one or two things to begin with, and then see the result and go from there. Also, if someone says they don't like something, even if you can't be flexible, don't give them it anyway, as it will most likely go to waste, and a restaurant known for wasting food is not a good thing.

5. Finally, make sure that staff know what is and isn't acceptable to say when interacting with customers - their words can and will reflect back on the company.

As I explained in my introductory post, these reviews are meant primarily as feedback for improvement for the restaurants and not as slander, therefore a link to this post will be sent to Ed's Easy Diner privately.

I hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to leave me a comment below. Also if you have any requests for reviews, please let me know.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next Review & Recommendations post which will be about Chiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill in Hemel Hempstead, following our visit there this evening.


Reviews and Recommendations: Introduction

Some of you, if you know me personally, will know that I run a Meetup.com group, where I organise local events and dinners for our group to attend. The dinners part of this is once a week.
Following our last dinner social, I have decided to write a weekly post called "Reviews and Recommendations: (INSERT RESTAURANT NAME)" in which I review the restaurant that we attended.

Occasionally, over the last 8 years I have worked as a Mystery Shopper, specifically regarding restaurants, where I have been given an assignment to go and visit a restaurant, have a meal there and then submit a questionnaire report (which was then sent to the restaurant contact person who originally requested this service). Having this experience means that I know what to look out for when writing these types of review. As these posts are to act primarily as feedback for improvement, I will be sending a link to the post privately to the relevant restaurant each time.

In the review I will cover the restaurant itself and its cleanliness, the menu, the service, the facilities and the attitude of the staff. The recommendations part will cover recommendations from the menu (if applicable), and suggestions for improvement for the restaurants. I am aware that some restaurants have a different menu, depending on location so based on this I will also always mention the location of the restaurant I am reviewing.

So keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, 3 June 2016

Sun, Sand and... Cork!

No, not Cork the place in Ireland. Cork, as in the material you find stuffed into the top of bottles of posh wine, sherry and champagne, put there to test your patience when you find you really *need* a small tipple (and to keep the liquid in) - that kind of cork. What has that got to do with sun and sand you ask? One word - Portugal.  Let me go back to the beginning..

Last week I ventured overseas to visit a friend of mine in Portugal. He lives in a little town called Moita, situated across the river from Lisbon. Aside from going to visit him, I went over because I wanted to experience some of the festivities which take place there twice yearly - in May and September. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my bank balance) it turned out the festivities at the end of May were only for one weekend, so I only got to enjoy them for a day. However, that was long enough for me to find and purchase one of my new found loves - a cork handbag. The detail on it is fantastic and it is so lovely that once I clapped eyes on it, I couldn't walk away from it. You may call that greed, I call it a sound investment.

As it turns out, Portugal has a thriving cork industry - it produces about half the world output of commercial cork. On this one day of the festivities, there was a local market with lots of trade stalls including a few different traders selling handmade cork products, and being handmade, they are usually unique and one of a kind items (which is another reason I couldn't walk away from the bag - I knew I would never find another like it). Aside from bags, they also sold cork jewellery, such as bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and even watches with cork straps, plus notebooks and stationery  - all of which make fantastic and affordable gifts for special occasions. I think it is fair to say that I am now fairly obsessed with cork products. As a plus, the bag is treated so that it is water resistant too, which means I don't need to worry about it getting wet in a non-sunny-most-of-the-year country *cough - the UK - cough* and because of the colours it goes fantastically well with jeans too!

Handmade cork handbag and my cork bracelet, which with the same colouring, matches perfectly
You can find bags similar (but not the same) as mine and other items by this lady here.

A closer look at the cork bracelet
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