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.