Restaurant Chain's Prez Mails Handwritten Apology For Botched Wedding Dinner

Consumerist reader MunkyBoi had a terrible experience at Tahoe Joe’s, where he and his fiancee held their wedding dinner. He tried to follow up with the manager of the restaurant, both to explain what went wrong and to commend the one waitress who saved the day, but the manager kept brushing him off. Finally he wrote a letter to corporate, and was surprised to receive a very personal response—along with a $250 gift certificate—a few days later. We’d love to know if that $250 came out of the manager’s profits.

Here’s MunkyBoi’s story:

My (now) wife and I decided earlier this year that it was time to get married. We live in the San Francisco bay area. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for our small gathering to get together, and wound up having a beautiful outdoor ceremony… and followed it with “lunch” at Tahoe Joe’s.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, it’s a casual dining steakhouse with a Lake Tahoe theme and atmosphere – lots of wood-carved bears, and the food has always been to our liking – never a bad meal. My wife worked with the restaurant manager a few months in advance to get everything prepared for our group of about 50 guests.

For having so much advance notice, they were very poorly prepared. The manager wound up being on vacation for the entire week, and I can’t fault him for that, but he should have made sure that someone capable would pick up the slack.

I’ll summarize the meal – one waitress (nice, but seemingly somewhat inexperienced), and a couple “helpers” to assist in bringing things out. We had specific instructions on what appetizers we needed, and where to serve them, so that everyone could have a little of everything. Once they came out, it kind of turned into a family-style “pass the food around” sort of deal, and I’d estimate that a third of the guests barely got any.

The drinks went a little smoother, but she didn’t know “who had what”, so there was lots of beverage passing as well.

The food started coming out, and sure enough, waitress “a” didn’t know where any of the dishes were going, so most guests wound up having to pass the food around the table until they got what seemed like their own dish.

I came to find out afterwards, no one got any of the “extras” that they had ordered, and a number of guests simply settled for the plate that they were given as to not make a scene.

Shortly after everyone had already ordered their food, another waitress (she definitely knew what she was doing) showed up, and promptly started tending to us. Waitress “b” handled dessert, and it was handled without a single problem. If she hadn’t shown up, I can pretty much guarantee that the meal would have been a complete disaster.

We’re pretty easy-going people by nature, but we felt that the manager should be aware of just how poorly most everything was handled that day, and that he should also recognize waitress “b” for the exceptional job she did in pulling their collective butts out of the fire. He apologized profusely, stated that he would speak with his staff to find out what happened, and get back to us in a few days.

This was during the last week of June (08). Two weeks go by, and we haven’t heard from him, so we call – he’s gone for the day, but if we call back earlier on any other day, we should be able to catch him – we leave a simple message that we called. Another week or so goes by, and we call earlier, and after checking, we’re told that he’s unavailable. We leave him yet another message to call us back at his earliest convenience. No word.

All I wanted was for him to let us know what happened. We’re “over it” at this point, and it has pretty much become a memory, but I still felt that I needed some closure – I wanted to know why everything went so poorly. After one last attempt to make phone contact with him, I decided to contact their corporate offices in Fresno, CA. I wrote a two-page letter, that detailed pretty much everything above, and sent it off in the mail mid-August.

Within a few days, we receive a next-day air envelope from Tahoe Joe’s corporate. My letter had been sent to a “district manager” kind of guy as far as I could tell, and he had forwarded it to the president of the company. The president hand-wrote a letter of apology, indicating that he had not yet contacted the manager of the restaurant to find out why things had gone so terribly, but that he knew that he needed to address the matter immediately, and that he would let me know what came of it. He also included a $250 gift card for the chain as a token of apology.

I appreciated the token – we spent a significant amount of money for the meal, and we still enjoy their food very much. I certainly appreciate action from an executive on a personal level – it shows me that he really does value what customers have to say, though I doubt many people mail in that many complaints about the place. I am a little disappointed that I haven’t heard from him since. I’ll likely get back in touch with him soon, just to satiate my own curiosity.

In short, I’ll applaud the executives at Tahoe Joe’s for seemingly taking action. We’ve already returned to the restaurant for dinner since then, and we’ll be back again sometime.

PS: The hand-written letter does make a huge difference.

Correction: the handwritten letter accompanied by a $250 gift certificate makes a huge difference.

Comments

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  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    nicely done, though, in my opinion, a botched WEDDING dinner is priceless, as it can’t really be replaced. $250 does help, though.

    • Ron Draper says:

      @zigziggityzoo: I don’t think that it’s healthy to sit around and enshrine wedding days as inviolable. It sounds like they were laid back enough to realize that shit’s going to happen, even on your wedding day, and all you can do is laugh about it, complain to management, and recoup some of the cost.

  2. EsteVitulus says:

    The fact that he handwrote a letter does say alot for the fact that he cares for his company.

    Or should I say, his secretary handwrote a letter and he signed for it.

  3. samurailynn says:

    Wow… I worked at a crappy chain restaurant quite a few years ago and we never would have left a party of 50 to only one server – most likely 3 servers would have been assigned to the party.

    Restaurant managers aren’t really the most intelligent people around. They know how to keep their workers working in the conditions that are normal for their restaurant. I’m sure the manager thought, yeah, we can handle a wedding lunch, but he probably didn’t think too much past that. If it’s a large restaurant, their schedule of which servers are working probably changes frequently, so they most likely would not have had a specific server assigned to the party and briefed beforehand about what to do. It’s sad, but that’s why full service catering is completely different than getting a meal at a restaurant. It is good to see that the president did something to keep some good customers though.

  4. NightSteel says:

    MunkyBoi is lucky. At least his wedding dinner wasn’t a complete disaster, and he obviously picked a chain where at least someone cares about the customer. I’d be willing to bet the store manager thought he would just go away if he never answered the phone.

    Glad you got something for your trouble, MB.

  5. Roclawzi says:

    Fifty people can be tough, and for as much as this falls on the manager’s head, I think waitress A should have been ready and able to get/accept real help if she couldn’t deal with the big table.

    Still, handwritten apologies go a long way. I wonder who wrote it before the president signed it?

    • RvLeshrac says:

      @Roclawzi:

      A waitress doesn’t get to decide who gets to come in and work on the clock. That’s up to the management.

      All poor decisions fall on the management *first*, *then* on the employees. If an employee fails, it is because the management did not see that they were trained properly, did not provide them with the tools necessary, etc.

      • Roclawzi says:

        @RvLeshrac: Yeah, I’m a former server, bartender AND restaurant manager, I know where the blame falls. It falls like this : Manager for assigning someone who couldn’t handle it, then Manager not training the person who couldn’t handle it well enough, then Manager for not seeing that this large party was going poorly and fixing it, and THEN server for not telling the manager she was over her head and needed help, and then the manager again if he doesn’t listen.

        I think the majority of the blame goes to the manager, and depending on the environment they work in (this is a complex issue involving team building and tip sharing and many other little things) all of the blame could go to the manager if the server was in a situation where she would lose a lot of money or get yelled at for needing help.

  6. coren says:

    Correction: The hand written letter makes the difference. IF the OP was beyond it like they said, they weren’t looking for anything but acknowledgment. It’s not always about compensation.

    • mrjimbo19 says:

      @coren:

      Absolutely agree with this, find it sad that the first reaction is to assume that the OP left out the monetary compensation “by mistake”. Sometimes all it takes is a little TLC from someone on a higher level.

      Perhaps the manager at this restaurant should look at this as a one time training opportunity to pull his head out of his ass and actually respond when people ask for follow up.

  7. agnamus says:

    Who has their wedding dinner at a casual dining restaurant? Couldn’t get a reservation at the sizzler?

    • dorianh49 says:

      @agnamus: I’ve been to a similary restaurant near where I live. Casual dining, sure, but still leaps and bounds better than Sizzler (ech), at which I haven’t eaten for over 12 years now.

    • @agnamus: Condescending jackass…party of one? Your table is ready.

      They obviously like the atmosphere and they said they’ve never had a bad meal there. Keeping it simple isn’t a bad thing.

    • Nofsdad says:

      @agnamus: Dumb question but I’ve got to assume you’re serious, otherwise why show your ass in public that way.

      The answer? Well… lots of people who can’t afford something fancier… at least around my neck of the woods. I was an ordinary working stiff who married off six daughters to other ordinary working stiffs and that’s the way we did it every time.

      You really need to get off that high horse of yours and realize that not everyone has the same opportunities or options that you do.

    • mmmsoap says:

      @agnamus: The best wedding I ever went to had the bride and groom in jeans and T-shirts, at the foot of Mt. Monadnok (in NH). Awesomely casual, super fun, totally fit the couple and their style. Food was a picnic (and not a fancy picnic either…barbecue and mac’n’cheese, etc) but for a while the backup plan was a local steakhouse (until they were able to secure the tent that made the wedding rain-proof.)

      Seriously, don’t judge.

    • XTC46 says:

      @agnamus: Not sure where you are from, but most wedding around here have receptions at outdoor areas (im in hawaii) My sister got married and we had her reception at a great Irish Pub. The food was great, the atmosphere was wonderful, the live bad was amazing (they are there every week) etc. Ive been to weddings that have the receptions in nice higher end places, and they arent nearly as much fun. people are less comfortable with being loud and having a good time then in more open and fun places.

      • erratapage says:

        @agnamus: We had a very quick, casual wedding five years ago and had our wedding meal at Outback. Not everyone has to have a big, complicated wedding.

        For that matter, I know plenty of brides around here who had a backyard reception catered by Famous Daves.

        What gives with the rampant consumerism that surrounds weddings, anyway? I think wedding debt is a bad start to a marriage.

        • @erratapage: I agree with all of you that calling someone out for going to a chain restaurant is stupid, but when it comes to the price, at least where I live going to Outback is actually more expensive than any number of local restaurants that are much nicer.

          I guess that’s not the case where you guys are?

    • DWalk says:

      @agnamus: Wow – open your mouth and prove yourself a fool.

    • crackers says:

      @agnamus: Rude and unnecessary comment.

      I love how people get jumped on for having lavish, expensive weddings AND for attempting to do something low-key and reasonably priced. What’s the answer, Consumerist commenters? Sheesh

    • Cavinicus says:

      @agnamus: I would note that if one removes the “g,” an “a,” and the “m” from your name, the remaining letters spell “anus.” How appropriate.

  8. Ein2015 says:

    Happy endings are always nice. Looks like this is one smart president. :)

  9. Rachacha says:

    When I got married, we did something similar for our rehersal dinner with about 30 people. We worked with the restaurant management and created a customized menu to limit the coices from the 50 or so items that were on the menu to about 6 or 7 which greatly simplified the ordering process. Anytime you go to a restaurant that does not usually handle large parties, it is best to limit the menu to make things easier for the cooking staff. It is easier to cook 12 steaks, 8 fish dinners, and 3 chicken dishes than 30 different dishes.

    • CupcakeKarate says:

      @Rachacha: We had our rehearsal dinner at Lucille’s (casual bbq joint) and it worked beautifully. They have several family platters on the menu. We ordered two of those puppies and fed all 20 of us for under $250. Also, as a side benefit, because there weren’t 20 separate orders, the food all came out at once.

    • kerry says:

      @Rachacha: I have a friend who did this for her rehearsal dinner, too. We did it at Cheesecake Factory and they gave us a private room and a limited menu, there were about 30 of us. It worked beautifully and she didn’t have to micromanage anything, which is a huge help since she had so much other wedding stuff to worry about.

    • _NARC_ says:

      @Rachacha: My wife and I did the exact same thing. It worked out beautifully .

  10. ratattak says:

    (just my two cents, as I have been working in restaraunts for about 11 years.)

    seriously now, you shouldn’t hate on the waitress. Both the manager on duty and the Host assuming they have one) is at fault for not being prepared. Usually waitresses have NO SAY WHATSOEVER in what tables they get, and who (if any) helps them. And if only that one waitress was working your table wit no help, OF COURSE she will not remember where 50 separate drinks/plates go. I assume the people would say, “I have x” and help her out. I’d also assume the waitress would ask…

    and the sad part is, even if it was not the Waitress’ fault AT all (for lack of planning, help, etc), she is the one that will be persecuted by corporate or the GM. The blame is always pushed on waitstaff, because they are the bottom of the food chain and very very easily replaceable.

    • samurailynn says:

      @ratattak: I don’t think the waitress is really at fault either, since she probably had no idea about this ahead of time, and is probably used to dealing with tables of 2-8 people.

      However, it’s not too hard to write down entrees and drinks in order on a piece of paper. Then all you have to remember is where you started. I have worked parties of 50 before, although with the help of at least one other server. It’s pretty typical to write things down in order so that you don’t have to ask what goes where. Many people do not remember what they ordered by the time their food comes out.

      • stre says:

        @samurailynn: i’m going to have to put most of the blame on the manager. it is absolutely the manager’s job to ensure that special accomodations are made in situations like this. all of the managers i worked with (and a couple were pretty lacking in the common sense department) knew who could handle large parties and would seat the parties accordingly. also, letting one waitress handle the whole thing seems quite ridiculous, even with 2 “helpers”. i’d take 25 or 30, but that was pushing it.

        that being said, a waitress thrown into this setting should not be afraid to ask for help, as well.

        SIDE NOTE: i notice more and more servers asking the patrons who got what when they show up with the food. suggestion for all of you servers: picture your little tablet as a diagram of the table. if the person ordering is sitting at the 9 o’clock position of the table based on where you usually look at it, write down their order in the 9 o’clock position. easy peasy and you look far more competent and deserving of a good tip. and don’t complain about handwriting being too large. use abbreviations and if you’re not a high school girl, don’t write in large bubbly letters like one.

  11. Julia789 says:

    We had our wedding ceremony at church and then lunch for 20 at Bertucci’s afterward. They had a private room for parties, and it was beautiful. The waitresses were so excited to have our little wedding party that they doted on our guests and lavished attention on us. They were wonderful. The manager came in and shook our hands and congratulated us. The guests were thrilled to order off the menu instead of choosing from chicken or steak like most weddings. It was just what I wanted for our tiny budget (we married 10 years ago at age 23). We used the money we saved on the wedding as a large down payment for our condo.

  12. katylostherart says:

    um, yeah no real excuse for not having the extra staff on hand with that much warning. this manager blew it. say 8 waitstaff people for a party of 50 and another couple in bar/kitchen just for the duration of the party. it’s not like the waiters would really mind being in on the split tips of a 50 person wedding party. i’m not getting the “curiosity” part. i mean he either screwed it up through incompetence or just by accident. same result either way.

    i guess for future note, pass around a menu and put your food orders in a couple weeks ahead. probably would’ve helped the confusion. i wonder how many people a $250 gift certificate gets meals for.

    • smackswell says:

      @katylostherart: Given the time it takes to accommodate a party of that size, eight servers is overkill. nobody would make any money. Two to three experienced servers would be sufficient. Limited advance menu also important. throwing that kind of mess at a kitchen is just plain mean.

  13. sprocket79 says:

    I *love* Tahoe Joes. Their cheesecake is so awesome. There isn’t one near where I live, but I always make it a point to go when I visit a friend of mine in Fresno or my aunt near Sacramento.

    That is really great about the letter. I got a letter with a giftcard (only $15, but hey that’s cool) from Red Robin. I sent in an email about a terrible waitress we had, but also commended their host who was awesome. The manager called in less than 24 hours of receiving the email and sent the letter the next day. AWESOME company, just like Tahoe Joes, apparently.

    • renilyn says:

      @sprocket79: Consider yourself lucky on the Red Robin deal. My husband and I ordered what appeared to be two HUGE sandwiches (They were $12.95 each) and got served what amounted to a grilled cheese and a few bits of meat. The waitress said that complaint happens all the time-but that is how “corporate” dictates that they are served.

      I wrote an actual letter to RR and their response was “Thank you for your opinion” on a small post card. That’s it…I would have been happier with a “we dont give a crap about your opinion” letter.

      • sprocket79 says:

        @renilyn: How long ago was that? This happened last week. Maybe they’ve improved their customer service since then?

        I was at a different Red Robin through a weird set of events and I actually mentioned to the manager of that restaurant what rotten service we got at the other location (while complimenting her staff). She’s the one who suggested writing the email and said something would be done. If she hadn’t, I probably never would have done it because I would have thought they wouldn’t care.

    • RStewie says:

      @sprocket79: My sisters and I ate at Red Robin, and the whole thing just went bad. Wait to be seated, then hair in the food, then frozen chicken on a salad, and a mixed up order. They were very professional, gave us all a $20 gift card (amounted to $120 total–there are 5 of us) and we went home happy.

      It makes all the difference when they acknowledge the mistake, instead of ignoring it.

  14. Meathamper says:

    That’s a nice touch, but it would be better if none of that even happened.

  15. JustZisGuy says:

    I’ve been very fortunate visiting their Fresno locations (Cedar & Herndon is my favorite). The Joe’s steak dinners for two are excellent (that cheesecake is awesome). The one time my steak wasn’t quite up to snuff, they replaced it and had it taken off my tab. Can’t wait to return.

    • Whinemaker says:

      @SubhagyaAmymone: I’m fortunate to live in Clovis, right next to Fresno, where Tahoe Joe’s originated. Really good food, atmosphere, and value. Yeah, even tho’ Fresno has come up in the world with a new Ruth’s Chris, and a Flemings, as well as several other *high end* establishments, ubby and I would more than likely choose TJ’s over the others.

      After reading some of the Consumerist horror stories about consumers taking it up the behind by unscrupulous, or just plain unethical businesses, I’m kinda proud that our little hometown favorite went the extra mile. They’ve definitely got loyal customers in us. … And now I’ll take some Railroad Camp Shrimp, Joe’s Ribeye medium rare, with a Big Baked Potato & Blue Lake Green Beans, and Ski Jump Chocolate Cake for dessert!

  16. I understand that sometimes things just do not work out correctly and feel that the way organisations deal with those problems says a lot about them. This was just very well handled to me. Even if I can see where someone could be a bit upset that it happened in the first place, the CEO handled this in a top-notch manner.

  17. erytheis says:

    I spent several years as a waitress starting when I was 15. A good waitress CAN keep track of who ordered what, as the couple was shown with waitress B. Where I worked all of the wait wanted to have the large parties because you knew that you would get tipped because you put gratuity on the ticket – it was not an excuse for poor service. At one point our manager tried to “make it fair” by giving a large party to someone who couldn’t stay organized – after the reaming we gave her for not being able to take an order properly she never tried to take a large table again. (The server would split the gratuity with those who helped – it wasn’t real common to tip out there like it is at a lot of places now.)

  18. emich27 says:

    IMO, the OP got off pretty lucky. One server primarily tending to a 50 guest party is a recipe for disaster, no matter how good or bad the server is. “Pass the Dish” is certainly not good, but I wouldn’t say it equates to a “terrible experience.” Plus, if food runners or fellow servers are helping distribute the food, it’s possible “server A” did know where things went, and her co-workers did not.

    As far as making sure “that someone capable would pick up the slack,” somebody had to tell Server B to jump in and help, so it’s not like management was totally asleep at the wheel.

    The restaurant should have staffed better. At least 4 servers to tend to a party that size. That certainly deserves a letter. However, my guess is the OP has never waited tables, or else he wouldn’t have thrown “server A” under the bus in his letter. It sounds like “Server A” did a hell of a job under the circumstances. A $250 gift certificate is crazy – way too much for “pass the dish.”

  19. catskyfire says:

    Not that I would condone a terrible dinner, with disaster afloat, but on the positive side: You now have a story to laugh about for years. Marriages with something going wrong (and dealing well with it) seem to do better.

  20. TPS Reporter says:

    If we go out with all my wifes family for a special dinner with the nieces and nephews it is like 20 people. And we usually get 2 people waiting on us. Actually I wish we had thought to do something like that as the catered food always seems generic. Even if he doesn’t hear back from the guy, the handwritten note and gift card says alot.

  21. Ninja Tree says:

    the handwritten letter is what makes it for me not the $250 gift card.

  22. vorpal_hamster says:

    I had the opportunity to gorge at Tahoe Joe’s a few years ago on a business trip. I am insanely jealous of those who have regular access to one. How on earth they make fluffy cheesecake, I have no idea. I got several pieces to go and stuffed them in my carryon.

    As far as casual weddings go: Mine was t-shirts and jeans on a Christmas tree farm. The reception was at a local bar. We paid $150 tops for the whole affair. Considering the marriage lasted 4 years, it was a better investment than the ex’s first marriage. It cost over $10,000 and they only made it 5 years. Some people just don’t feel the need for the pomp and circumstance of a formal wedding.

  23. NYYSI says:

    For anyone who didn’t already know not to have your wedding dinner at a place called “Tahoe Joe’s” now you now.

  24. econobiker says:

    Sometimes the apology gets it right for the issue.

    My ex-wife, #1 son, her sister w/ #1&2 nieces plus ex-mother-in-law went to a casual dining place (starting with an A) for lunch one day. Very few people for the lunch crowd and the children were kept to their seats- not the insane,run-around-type children who waitstaff hate- so you would think they would have been well attended to. The waitstaff was abismal with the women having to ask for the drinks via some waiter not assigned to their table, no decent attention, only 1 order wrong but the waitress never came back after correcting it until the end of the meal. Finally the check was left at their table and never picked up with payment- they could have walked out of the restaurant (which is what I would have done). They took the check to the hostess person who finally flagged down a different server. The ex complained about it to me and I told her that 1. they shouldn’t have left any tip (they left around 10% cash on the table), and 2. to email the company. The email got a district manager person who called her back and apologized profusely (said store management was being changed) and sent gift certificates to the chain for the amount of the meal. We ended up using them in a different location though…

  25. chilled says:

    Wish we had tahoe joe around here…Outback is good though..they got a $9.99 steak special going now,for us cheapskates!

  26. johnnya2 says:

    I think in anything it is not the mistake that makes somebody angry, it is how it handled after the fact. mistakes happen in life, BUT how the restaurant handles it goes a long way in making people return. When i worked in the restaurant industry, something as simple as a round of drinks, or a dessert could cure a lot of ills. Though my worst experience in dealing with an irate guest was when I had a similar party. The tables were obviously reserved and I had a walk in party come in and complain that they saw empty tables and said I as the manager refused to seat them there. This letter went to a corporate officer who sent the guy a gift certificate.

  27. RvLeshrac says:

    @emich27:

    50 people x appetizers, dinner, and desert.

    Wagering $20/head, at least, so that’s $1k. $250 is, from the restaurant’s viewpoint, reasonable.

    Keep in mind, however, that this was a *wedding* dinner. You can’t just replace that with another meal if it goes poorly.

    • emich27 says:

      @RvLeshrac: Don’t get me wrong. Kudos to Tahoe Joes for going above and beyond. I just think the OP is over-reacting a bit. I am sure that the staff at Tahoe Joe’s is not accustomed to handling 50-guest wedding dinners (I don’t mean that as an insult as far as the choice of restaurant for the wedding, just a statement of fact). The worst that happened was some “pass the dish.” To call that a terrible experience is a bit extreme, don’t you think?

  28. mariospants says:

    Can I just say that… I’m not sure these joints are even DESIGNED to handle 50 people at one sitting. That being said, the manager should be fired for incompetence. With all of the recent restaurant chain closures going on, what kind of manager would fuck up a chance for guaranteed profit?

    • SybilDisobedience says:

      @mariospants: It’s not the customer’s fault if the restaurant isn’t equipped to handle that capacity. They shouldn’t book parties they can’t handle – but you know they see dollar signs when they see groups that large, and it’s just too tempting to turn them away to a restaurant more competent to handle that size party.

  29. BMRFILE says:

    Glad to hear there are responsible companies that geniunely feel remorseful when they don’t live up to expectations. Tahoe Joe’s is a small chain that exist in Northern California. The food is top-notch for the money, and they give you huge portions. A wise thing to do is to eat half and take the other half home.

    Like the author of the letter, my wife and I never had a bad meal there. Always good service and great food. This further proves they care about their products and image.