This is a post I’ve been sitting on since last week Thursday — the night of our Gluten-Free Get Together at Rustico Pizzeria in Milwaukee.
I debated just letting this go, hoping things would just die down and I could just not return to their restaurant or never recommend it again. I thought maybe I was over reacting to the manager’s extremely poor (and insensitive) customer service skills and defensive responses in emails.
But then people got sick from their gluten-free food at that get together dinner… and I knew I had to write this. Because as much as I love to share with you the success stories and the restaurants in Milwaukee who ARE feeding us safely, I feel responsible to tell you this story — as much as it kills me to have to talk negatively about a local business, I thought you should know.
I always check out the restaurants before we dine at them with our group — the mistake I made this time was just picking up a pizza to-go, instead of dining in and spending some time there.
I should have known when I emailed Dan the manager, letting him know that the crust was mushy and gave the suggestion to crisp it up for Thursday, and his response was pretty defensive — never once apologizing for it, but instead saying I should have had it at the restaurant rather than to-go… I should have known there were going to be issues.
But in the end of his email he said, “We understand the growing number of individuals affected with this condition and are ever vigilant in providing the best experience possible, every time. We look forward to serving you and your group on Thursday.”
That sounds pretty reassuring doesn’t it?
I arrived early on Thursday to grab a glass of wine (it was a horrible) and met the manager at the bar — he introduced himself and then (after eyeing up my platter of rice krispie treats) said, “you aren’t planning on serving those tonight, are you?”
I said that was the plan, to which he responded, “well you can’t… Wisconsin state law doesn’t allow it… and even if they were pre-packaged, I’d have to charge you $2 per person for a “plating” charge.”
At this point, things started to go downhill. I explained that we do that at every single event, and that we’ve never had a problem — especially when the restaurant doesn’t have a dessert option for us. He disagreed saying that they had gelato that we could have, then started in on statistics about how many millions of people in Italy consider it a great dessert. (I’m a huge gelato fan, but we are also sent treats or supplies to make treats that we have been enjoying for 2+ years) He also compared me bringing in treats to bringing in a flask of vodka to a bar and then ordering a cranberry juice and pouring the vodka in. What the what?
He did eventually say he would “allow it to slide” just this once — why not just say that at the beginning?
I tried to stay cool — but his tone was defensive and condescending, not at all welcoming. Not one bit. If we wouldn’t have had 12 other people about to show up at any minute, I would have already left, (and gone to Transfer) but thought it would have been too much of a hassle to move everyone. (I thought wrong, totally should have.) And I told him that straight out, explaining that his tone — as it was in the emails — was defensive and lacking any kind of customer care.
Our conversation ended with him saying he had “bent over backwards” for our group by bringing in New Grist. (the day AFTER we were there) And then he left. (but not before he went over and talked about me with the bartender — as I was sitting there)
Luckily we had a great server (the servers’ manager, who split our bills up with a smile and was quick on his feet all night) And Brittany — their social media person — was awesome. She is a great example of GOOD customer service, welcoming us and apologizing for the bad first impression. (we didn’t get into details with her, to avoid putting her in the middle)
Half of the pizzas came out under cooked. Two people got the wrong pizzas. And at least THREE people got sick from eating there.
Not how I wanted the night to go. At all.
I felt responsible for all of it — like I let the group down. I have been hosting these events every month since February 2010 and haven’t ever had people get sick.
It makes me sick to even think about it.
Yes, we may require a few extra steps to be fed safely — but we just want to eat out, like everyone else, and support our local restaurants. We are a strong, supportive little community. And we stick together.
I for one will not be going back to Rustico. Ever.
I’m sorry I got us into that mess — and I hope you’ll join me next month at Pizzeria Piccola in Wauwatosa, home of our very first GF Get Together. With our very special guest, Elizabeth Barbone — author of TWO of the best GF cookbooks and blogger friend I’ve been dying to meet in real life.
There will be GOOD pizza and GREAT bread knots!
And pretty, pretty please — if I suggest a restaurant that you’ve gotten sick at, or even had poor customer service at, let me know — there are plenty of other places in Milwaukee to check out — places that will provide us with the best experience… every time.