There’s no such thing as a free lunch

Or dinner, as the case may be.

Back in June, while visiting Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, I wrote a post about The Anvil Restaurant. It was not a good review as our experience wasn’t particularly good.

So it goes. Right?

Wrong. That particular post would have faded into obscurity (it had not been getting many hits) had it been left alone.

Yesterday someone stopped by and left this comment on that post. I’ll go ahead and insert it here via the magic of copy/paste, saving you the trouble of clicking on the link.

kay turner

I don’t quite understand the problems that you have mentioned. I have been going to The Anvil for over 20 years and the food and service is always good. As every place can have their problems from time to time, I have been there when they were unstaffed and still had reasonable service and always good food and plenty of it. It is family owned and operated and I take offense to anyone saying not to eat there! After 23 years in business, they must be doing something right!
It sounds like you want something for nothing and if you complain, it is free is the new thing! Bash someone and get it free!
Shame on you for bashing them after you got the meal for free!

I responded, perhaps not as nicely as I could have. I was offended by the implications, something I’ll get to in a bit. I feel no shame in having stated my opinion about our experience that night. I do wonder, however, if Kay really read the whole post or just skimmed through it. I also wonder why someone should refrain from giving a bad review just because a meal was comped. No explanations or apologies were offered at the time. We didn’t even know the meal was comped until after a long period of waiting for someone, anyone, to come back to the table. That someone turned out to be our waiter with the check. He offered no explanations or apologies, either, but I’m not sure he knew what was going on since we didn’t complain to him but asked to speak with a manager.

Then it occurred to me that this would make an excellent post for today as it fits right in with the NaBloPoMo food theme. Thinking about the post I would write, I decided to check the reviews on TripAdvisor. M and I had checked the reviews AFTER we had dinner at The Anvil. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone there for dinner that night.

Imagine my surprise when I found a response from the management on the first bad review and the name is “Kaybab the owner.”

Interesting coincidence, don’t you think? Two Kays in one day? With similar writing styles?

Anything is possible, I suppose.

I thought the Kay Turner who left a response on my blog might be a local who might know the owner or owners or some of the staff. It would stand to reason that a regular customer or someone who has a link to the owner or staff would have good experiences and more than likely get better treatment. That’s cool. That’s what friends are for. The differences in our food experiences can be accounted for by taste. That’s cool, too. We don’t all have the same tastes in food (or anything), and that’s a good thing.

But that doesn’t negate the experience M and I had.

The problem, as I see it, is that both Kays (if there are, in fact, two Kays) missed the point. In my case, the point was that the service was poor. I pointed out in that post, at least twice, that M and I were not looking for a free meal. We asked to speak with the manager thinking they might want to know that the dish was not as described, and that it might be possible the chef used the wrong broth. If it had been a case of our tastes not matching the chef’s dish, well, so be it. It happens. We don’t expect a free meal just because our tastes differ or because we tried something new and didn’t like it.

We were looking for good customer service, something that has been quickly declining over the past decade or so. We wanted some kind of acknowledgment of our experience, be it an explanation or an apology or both.

There’s a saying that the customer is always right. Having worked in the service industry, I know better. The customer is not always right. Good business practice says to suck it up anyhow so the customer won’t go off and complain to everyone they know. I don’t necessarily agree with this either, but can see why some businesses go this route.

I know there are people who complain just for the sake of complaining. It’s their thing or they’re only happy when they’re stirring up trouble. I know there are people who are less than scrupulous who complain not because they have a legitimate complaint but because they know they’re likely to be rewarded with something free.

Someone who is good at business, and has been at it for a while, should probably be able to read people well enough to tell the difference between a real complaint, and one that’s made for other reasons be it just for the sake of complaining or to try to get something for nothing other than being obnoxious.

I was offended at Kay Turner’s implication that M and are I either of those types, particularly the last. We rarely complain about meals at restaurants. When you eat at an unknown place, without benefit of reviews from people you trust or who have tastes similar to yours, then you take your chances. The same is true if you try something new. You may or may not like it.

I’ve had one other free meal from a restaurant. It was a high-end restaurant where the wait staff were courteous, friendly, and trained to be there when you need them. I had ordered a flat iron steak, not having had one before. I didn’t like it. There was nothing wrong with the steak. It was prepared beautifully, with a wonderful sauce, cooked as I had ordered it. But, as will happen, it turns out flat iron steak doesn’t suit my palate. The waitress noticed I wasn’t eating my steak. She came back with the owner/chef who asked if I was unhappy with it. I insisted that the steak was fine, but that it turned out to be something I just didn’t like. The owner/chef insisted on making me something else, even after I refused several times. He insisted, he said, because he wanted our experience in his restaurant to be a good one. A short while later I had a nicely cooked and seasoned salmon fillet, and we weren’t charged for the steak even though the chef boxed it up for us to take home so M could have it for breakfast the next morning.

THAT is good customer service. Well above and beyond my expectations, that’s for sure. I would go back to that restaurant, whereas I will never go back to The Anvil. Not willingly, at any rate.

Even the major corporations are trying to practice better customer relations. I recently saw a story on the news about how some of the big companies are monitoring Twitter for complaints so they can rectify the situation before too many people decide not to utilize a particular company because they’ve heard so many bad things about them. Twitter is good for spreading the news, good or bad, and big companies such as Kodak and Comcast are aware of that fact.

That’s the funny thing about my review. I wrote it here, at my little blog that barely gets more than about 50-60 hits a day. I could have written a review at TripAdvisor. I’m registered and have written reviews there in the past. Good reviews. I don’t really like writing bad reviews as I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt in most cases. But treat me badly, and I’ll write it.

So, yeah, Kay. I dared to complain even after getting the free meal, because it wasn’t about the meal. It wasn’t even about the staff. It was about the management, and the way we were treated. I’m glad I found that response from the management at TripAdvisor. It appears to make my point for me — that the management doesn’t care. But that’s just my view. Your view may vary.


Move 2008

(Maryland Heights trail. June 2008.)

I can’t believe we’ve finished Week 23 already! This year is going by much too fast. It must be all that moving I’m doing, making time zoom on past.

I had a good week last week. The hiking and tubing in Harpers Ferry were a nice treat. It reminded me that I ought to break up the monotony of the “usual” with a little “unusual.” I really should get outside more than I do. I have a million excuses as to why I exercise indoors, weather (too hot, too humid, or too cold), bugs (the mosquitoes and deer flies are plentiful this year), and country dogs number among them. Country dogs are probably the worst for me. Our country block is 5 miles around and it’s a lovely walk, but people let their dogs run lose out here in the boonies. I’ll be walking along enjoying the scenery and getting into the rhythm of walking when all of a sudden a dog is running at me full speed, barking his/her head off, baring his/her teeth as if he or she is going to bite my face off.

Scary stuff.

The cows and sheep are much less frightening.

My numbers for Week 23 (last week):

  • Mileage for the week: 21.01 miles
  • Total for 2008: 482.48 miles
  • Strength training: x 2
  • Yoga: x 4

This week should be a good one, too. I’ve started out well and intend to keep going. I have to hit 500 miles by the end of the month if I want to make my goal for the year.

There’s also the little matter of a full check-up to celebrate my 50 years on earth coming up in July.  Although my birthday isn’t until December, I figured I’d get the medical stuff out of the way during the summer when I’m eating better, exercising more, and feeling less stressed.  Well, most of the medical stuff.  I’d much prefer it if the doc would put off that first colonoscopy until next year, when I’m actually 50.


Tubing

Today was lots of fun. Hot and oppressively humid, but lots of fun.

We started our day with the auto tour of the Antietam Battlefield. There’s something (to me) a little spooky about these battlefields, especially if you’re out and about on a warm and foggy morning. 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after 12 hours of fighting there during the American Civil War. No wonder I found it a little spooky.

After a few hours of doing that, during which the day really warmed up, we ate a quick lunch and headed out to go tubing on the Shenandoah River. It was relaxing, peaceful, cooling, and fun. We were the only two out on the part of the river where we were tubing. It’s early in the season. We were told things might start picking up in a week or two.

I haven’t been tubing in a very long time, not since we lived in Atlanta, Georgia and went tubing on/in the Chattahoochee River.

Dinner last night at Shaharazade’s was fabulous. The food was fresh, nicely spiced, and very tasty. I highly recommend the place. We started with a hummus platter. Then we had a summer salad of mixed greens, (fresh, locally grown) strawberries, walnuts, apples, and a ginger dressing and a plate of chicken shish kebob which came with an eastern salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and pine nuts, and seasoned Basmati rice (it was sort of like a pilaf with almonds and raisins, the seasoning was saffron). We shared the entrees (the summer salad and chicken). We both had tea to drink. M had the lemon rooibus. I had the Provence rooibus (rooibus with lavender).  Shaharazade’s is, after all, a tea room.

The service was excellent, the surroundings were relaxing, and we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. It was a pleasant contrast to our dinner at The Anvil Inn in Harpers Ferry.

We’re going back to Shepherdstown for dinner tonight. We’ll probably go to the Blue Moon Cafe to enjoy some vegetarian food.

Tomorrow we head to Lancaster. I won’t have an internet connection there so I’ll write again after we return home on Sunday.


Maryland Heights

Today we hiked Maryland Heights to the Overlook Cliffs. It’s about 4.2 miles round trip, and took us 3 hours (which is the typical time given for this hike).

It’s hot (near 90) and extremely humid after yesterday’s storms. By the time we finished the hike we looked as though we’d spent the 3 hours in a steam bath.

It was worth it for the views.

Most of the hike goes through the woods so we didn’t have the sun beating down on us. The first half, as you might have guessed since it goes to the Overlook Cliffs, is all uphill. One part was described as “moderate, but pleasant.” Ha! Moderate ain’t the half of it. Even M found it somewhat strenuous. We’ll both probably have sore legs tomorrow from all the climbing.

I took lots of photos (and hope to post them when we get back, but you know how that goes… I’m still trying to finish posting photos from our San Diego trip!). The cool thing was being able to see, and shoot pictures, from the other side of Harpers Ferry. It’ll be fun to compare the views from our last trip with this trip.

We’re going to Sheperdstown for dinner tonight. We’re thinking of going to Shaharazade’s since we both enjoy Middle Eastern food, but a final decision has not been made yet. The Blue Moon Cafe is a possibility too (since it’s supposed to have a large selection of vegetarian fare).

I’ve been sick with tummy troubles since Monday. Healthy, vegetarian fare sounds like just the thing. Either one of those restaurants will meet my requirements without breaking the bank.

Tomorrow we’re going canoeing or tubing. Because it’s supposed to be in the 90’s and humid, tubing is the most likely activity. We drove around to check out the Shenandoah River today, to make sure canoeing would still be ok for novices after all the rain from yesterday’s storms. The river is muddy, a little fast, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Still and all, I’m voting for tubing. It’s gonna be a scorcher out there. Might as well take a leisurely float in the cool water. We both dipped our feet in the river first chance we got to make sure it wasn’t too cold. I thought it felt just right.

Some trivia for you:  The Shenandoah does something most North American rivers don’t do.  It flows to the north.


The Anvil Restaurant

Greetings from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, home of what appears to be the worst restaurant reviews in any town I’ve ever visited.

M and I arrived here around 6:00pm after driving through some of the storms that were training this way. The bad storms must have been ahead of us as it was mostly some rain here and there along the PA Turnpike (I-76) and I-70. We left I-70 around Hagerstown, Maryland to take a back road to Harpers Ferry. It was apparent that strong storms must have moved through earlier leaving quite a bit of damage (lots of downed tree branches, trees, and debris on the road). The worst of it seemed to be around Antietam (the town which is south of the Antietam National Battlefield).

After checking into our hotel we decided to eat somewhere in Harpers Ferry. You might recall that during our last trip here we had trouble finding a place to eat because everything seemed to be closed — on a Friday night! We ended up at the Hilltop Hotel that time. It was the only place open and it seemed everyone in town was there at the time. We already knew we wouldn’t be eating there this time around as the place is undergoing extensive renovations and is currently closed.

After a drive up and down Washington Street where some of the restaurants are located, we decided on The Anvil Restaurant. If you’re ever in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, don’t eat at The Anvil Restaurant. I wish I’d read some of the online reviews before we set out for dinner.

M and I made the mistake of ordering the same dish. I point this out to be fair. It’s possible it’s the only bad dish on the menu. We both ordered the Shrimp & Artichokes. Here is the menu description:

Shrimp & Artichokes – Jumbo shrimp w/ fresh tomato, scallions
& balsamic vinegar tossed w/ pasta 17.95

The salads were small, but good. The rolls were warm and not bad. The entree was not at all what we were expecting. Instead of being tossed with balsamic vinegar, the pasta, shrimp, etc., were served in what tasted like the white wine sauce in which the mussels were steamed. There was a slight off flavor to the tomatoes, that sour, vinegary taste they get when they’ve been in the fridge for too long just before the mold starts growing.

To make matters worse, when we talked with the manager about it she made almost no effort to appease us in any way. We weren’t looking for a free meal. We weren’t rude. We told her that the dish was not what we were expecting based on the menu description, hazarding a guess that perhaps the chef used the wrong sauce? The manager (if she was indeed the manager) looked at us for a minute, and then responded with something like “that’s how the dish is made.”

Well, ok. How about asking the chef about it or something? No, I didn’t say that. Neither did M. M did ask her if she was familiar with balsamic vinegar and pointed out that the color of the sauce was not the dark color usually associated with balsamic vinegar. She said she was very familiar with it because they use it in their house dressing.

She eventually took our plates and said she’d talk to the chef about it.

We sat there for a while, waiting for her to come back. Or for somebody to come back. Even our waiter (who was new to the job and messed up several times while serving us, something we were more than willing to excuse since he barely spoke English and had obviously not be working there very long) had disappeared. The “manager” showed up again at the bar, never bothering to come back and speak to us about our meals. She eventually did have our waiter bring the check where we noticed she’d comped one of the meals.

That was all well and good. The thing is, it would have been nice if she’d apologized or something at some point and offered to see what was wrong with the meal. As I said earlier, we weren’t looking for a free meal. If it turned out the dish was prepared as they normally prepared it and we didn’t like it, then fine. That’s the chance you take when ordering out. You might not like everything you order. I would never expect them to give it to us free if it was simply a matter of taste.

The fact that she avoided us and did comp the meal makes me wonder what was wrong with it.

We have not had much luck finding food, especially good food, in Harpers Ferry. Judging from the online reviews I’ve read of several of the restaurants here, we’re not the only people experiencing that problem.

Tomorrow we’re going to try Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Some of the reviewers of Harpers Ferry restaurants recommend going there. It’s not far and apparently has a number of lovely restaurants where they care about food and service.


Procrastination

I’ve been avoiding Life in the Bogs lately. Unfortunately, that means I’ve gotten behind in keeping up with my favorite bloggers as well.

The reason I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to my own blog is that I really haven’t felt like finishing up the trip from September. I mean, here it is the middle of October and I’m still back in September when it comes to being up to date with the blog.

Of course there’s no rule that says I have to finish posting about the trip. It’s my blog, after all. I can do what I want with it. But I do feel badly about not getting past our first two days of a week long trip.

So, I think what I’ll do is post some of my favorite photos from the trip. If I feel like adding a little prose to go with it, I’ll do so. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures.

(View from Jefferson’s Rock. Harpers Ferry, WV. Photo by Robin. September 2007)

I suppose I ought to say a little about Jefferson’s Rock. Or rather, let Thomas Jefferson say it. In 1783 Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry and declared it “was worth a voyage across the Atlantic — to survey these monuments of war between rivers and mountains which must have shaken the earth itself to its center.” He also called the site “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it is a stupendous scene.

Here’s the rock itself:

(Jefferson’s Rock. Harpers Ferry, WV. Photo by Robin. September 2007)

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The town of Harpers Ferry

(Historical marker. Photo by Robin. September 2007)

I feel so far behind these days that I may never catch up. I’m still trying to keep the blog up to date as part of our record of things we’ve done, but we keep so busy that I don’t have time to do the record keeping.

Let’s see how far I can get today.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before (and I’m too lazy to go back and look), the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is a National Historical Park. I don’t know how usual or unusual that is across the country, but it’s the first time I’ve visited a National Historical Park that encompassed an entire town.

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