Saturday, March 1, 2014

My review of Outback Steakhouse...

No, I didn't like it…  and in fact, I haven't been back in the four years since I posted this review.  I am rehashing it because it was an entertaining review that sparked funny comments.  Wish I could import the comments here, but maybe someone will come along and contribute new ones.

Outback Steakhouse... why an Australian themed restaurant makes me passionately miss Europe #1200

 Jan 19, 2010 (Updated Feb 2, 2010)
Review by   
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating:Very Good

  • Food and Presentation: 
  • Ambiance and Decor: 
  • Quality of Service: 

Pros:Good food. Serving size was fine.

Cons:Obvious rushing through the meal coupled with constant upselling.

The Bottom Line:Although the food was good, the service was mediocre.  Way too much pressure to eat and run.

My husband Bill and I just had a very disappointing meal at Outback Steakhouse. We are on the road this week, so I expect to be writing a slew of restaurant reviews. There happens to be an Outback Steakhouse in the depressing sea of parking lots and strip malls behind our hotel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bill and I decided to swing by tonight for dinner.

This was not our first trip to Outback. Bill and I visited a location in northern Virginia a couple of times and found the place crowded, but basically okay. The food was always good, anyway. And the food tonight was basically good, too. So why was I missing Germany all the more after we were finished? Because our experience at Outback Steakhouse was yet another reminder of just how plastique and rushed the experience of dining out in America can be, especially at chain restaurants.

On your mark...

We arrived for dinner at about 6:15pm. The Outback was jumping, with most tables occupied by ordinary folks out for a steak or a bloomin' onion. The dining room was brightly lit and I could hear music over the din of the crowd. A hostess led Bill and me to a booth near the kitchen. We had barely been seated a minute when our server approached us and asked us what we wanted to drink. She chirped about the drink specials, let us know that happy hour was going on, and suggested her favorite drink-- a Mai Tai-- though she added that it would be charged at full price. I was in the mood for a beer and so was Bill. I got a Yuengling on draft, while Bill opted for a Foster's Lager on draft.


Get set...

Our waitress was back in a flash with our drinks. She was pitching appetizers, but having dined at Outback before, we knew we'd never be able to eat an appetizer and an entree. I decided on a ribeye steak while Bill opted for a 9 ounce sirloin. Our meals came with two sides. I had a baked potato and a Caesar salad while Bill had garlic mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Our waitress brought us one of Outback's trademark little pumpernickel loaves with whipped butter. Before I'd finished the first tiny slice of bread, a food runner was dropping off my Caesar salad, which had the distinct appearance of having been pre-made and chilled.

Go!

After I'd had a bite or two of my salad, our waitress came back and asked how the salad tasted. While still chewing on a leaf, I said it was fine.  We hadn't finished half of the loaf of bread when the server dropped off another one for us, which we didn't have the chance to touch. I managed to finish most of the salad just in the nick of time, for another food runner was back with our meals. Once again, our waitress asked how the food was when I was mid bite. A couple of bites later, the manager stopped by for an obligatory visit, asking us how everything was and letting us know we could call on her if we needed her. Thanks, boss.

Now... Outback meals, like so many other meals at American casual dining restaurants, are quite large. It takes time to eat them and not get indigestion. But apparently, nobody informed our waitress of that fact, since we were halfway through our dinner when she asked us about dessert! Bill and I knew we'd never be able to eat dessert, but even if I had been inclined to partake of a sweet ending, the waitress's insistence on rushing us certainly killed the urge. She seemed to be in a big hurry to get rid of us, though she somehow managed to smile the whole time. She even smiled as she cleared Bill's plate while I was still chewing and had about a third of my steak left. If that wasn't a clue for me to hurry the hell up, I don't know what was.

Lasting impression...

Our tab came to just under $45.  Our waitress had decorated it with a smiley face and a cutesy "Thank You" with the total circled. As she set the check down on the table, she mentioned a survey that Outback Steakhouse had going on. All we had to do was go online and fill out the survey and we'd get a free bloomin' onion on our next visit. Now, although I've tried and enjoyed bloomin' onions before, I've come to realize that they're basically nothing but balls of fat, so I never order them. But I did want to fill out that survey, because I definitely had something to say.

The survey

Less than an hour after Bill and I had sat down to dinner, I was back in my hotel room booting up the computer.  I took Outback's survey and suddenly saw the root of all the turnin' and burnin' that was going on at that restaurant tonight. The survey had questions like whether or not the server had suggested an alcoholic drink to go with our meals (what if we were teetotalers?), whether or not the manager had stopped by (what if we'd rather talk to each other than have a forced convo with the manager?), and if our server had suggested dessert (oh yeah, she definitely did... at an inopportune time). I left a detailed comment, acknowledging that I had once been a waitress myself and understood the concept of turning tables. I know that restaurants make a lot of money on alcohol. I understand that somehow corporate America thinks it's important for the manager to stop by every table for an obligatory and forced greeting. But when I go out to dinner, I'd like to be able to taste my food and enjoy my meal without having to satisfy the corporate powers that be. Having another ten or fifteen minutes to enjoy my meal would have made a big difference in my overall experience. Moreover, I didn't understand the need to rush. The restaurant wasn't even full.

Why casual American chain restaurants make me miss Europe

One of the wonderful things about European dining is that servers get paid a living wage. So there's no need to turn n' burn and no pressure to GTFO as soon as the last bite is swallowed. Some folks might be sitting there reading this review, thinking we asked for it by going to a chain restaurant like Outback. Chain restaurants do exist in Europe, but servers there seem to understand that dining out is a luxury and people are paying for the pleasure of being able to have a nice meal without being rushed. And turning and burning goes on in nice American restaurants too. I know this because I worked in a fine dining establishment and was encouraged to get people in and out ASAP.

Another thing that turns me off of American chain restaurants-- hell perhaps even a lot of Americans in general-- is that there's a lot of fake niceness. People asking how your meal is... people asking if they can do anything for you... all the while smiling and talking in a sing songy voice with an undercurrent of passive aggression. And it smacks of insincerity.  At least in Europe, most folks are honest about how they really feel, even if they sometimes come off as uncaring or even blatantly rude.  I would rather deal with someone who's real about their feelings than someone who tries to snow me with BS.

Come on, corporate businesspeople, I know most of the servers/salespeople/managers don't give a flying fig about how I'm really doing. They want to get me in and out; sell me a product and get me to part with my money; and hope I don't return anything. Most of the time, I try to oblige them because I try to be a nice person and, having worked in retail and food service myself, I understand where they're coming from. But tonight's experience really pushed the limits of my tolerance.

It's not just Outback

I had lunch at the Olive Garden today, yet another popular American chain restaurant. Actually, even though it was lunch time and I was dining alone, I had a much nicer experience there, though there was still a lot of fakeness. The food was good; I was visited by the manager but I wasn't nearly as rushed and nobody tried to ply me with liquor. But it still smacked of corporate American malarkey...

Please forgive the rant from an American...

I guess my two years in Germany really spoiled me. Four months back in the States has me plotting to go back to Europe, if only for the excellent food and wine and the ability to actually taste my food before I shovel it down my gullet, even if I'm not in a fine dining establishment. No wonder there are so many heavy people in the US (myself included). We don't even get the chance to digest anything before we're being hustled out the door. Thankfully, I brought antacids with me for when the heartburn invariably kicks in.

To sum up...

I thought the food at Outback was fine, but the service and attitude of the staff needs some work. When I go out to eat, I don't like to be herded in and out of the restaurant like cattle. I'm a person, dammit, spending precious disposable income on what amounts to a luxury.  Of course, having taken Outback's online survey, I can see that just like sh!t, bad attitudes roll downhill and, unfortunately, ultimately rub off on the customer.

For more information: www.outback.com

Recommend this product? No

Kid Friendliness: Yes
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Notes, Tips or Menu Recommendations Steak
Best Suited For: Large Group

Here are the comments from that review.

Here are the comments from Epinions.  One comes from an Italian native who got a kick out of my rant.

Re: Re: Re: from an OB waitress
by tennis_player
Jenny,

"Good on you" for becoming truly sophisticated enough to enjoy the ways of Europe and fine dining in a leisurely manner!

I, too, waited tables as well as tended bar, janitored, hosted, cashiered and even cooked for about 15 years in my early life so I can well appreciate this whole thing about not being rushed from the customer's side and the table turns from the management side - but there is no question that the European way is so much better.

There, everybody wins! And waiting tables is a noble profession!

Jim Feb 2, 2010
10:35 pm PST
Re: THAT was an excellent lunch!
by vicfar
Yes Bill, European life can begin to redeem even the worst sociopaths...look at me, I am on my way to redemption after only three years in Belgium. And it's not the Campari with soda on the side. I think it's the Westmalle beer and the divine chocolate.....Hell, I even stopped harassing the waitresses!

Vic
Feb 2, 2010
10:53 am PST
THAT was an excellent lunch!
by cuculuain
And, Jung be praised, it was blessed Synchronicity to see those fresh-faced, albeit ignorant, "Sons of Helamin" walking amongst us heathens! That was a fine bottle of wine from the Languedoc...a region well known to all us self-respecting Gnostics!

I did, of course, skip the "liver, fava beans and big Amarone!". Not much of a sociopath I'm afraid... Feb 2, 2010
10:06 am PST
Re: Re: from an OB waitress (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Vic,

We did visit France a few times... and... believe it or not, Bill liked it even more than I did. The sociopathic American soldier is a Francophile! Imagine that! I think it was the wine that did him in, coupled with foods that he loves and I don't so much.

I think you would have gotten a kick out of watching him at a Parisian restaurant we found for lunch one day. I started with a glass of champagne and a smoked salmon appetizer. He ordered a bottle of lovely red wine from southern France to go with his chicken and mushroom dish. And while we were eating a couple of harried Mormon missionaries walked past our tableside window. Bill had to laugh because he was once a Mormon, though he was never a missionary... and he knew those poor young lads in France would never be able to enjoy a meal like the one we were having that day.

I think when we finished, I had a chocolate dessert, while he had some outstanding coffee and a plate of French cheeses...

Yeah, I'd say we sort of became European snobs! Feb 2, 2010
5:20 am PST
Re: from an OB waitress (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Yep, that's what I figured! I used to wait tables too, so I do understand the concept of getting people in and out. And now that I know for sure that's Outback's philosophy, I'll be sure not to go there if I want to enjoy dinner. If I need to eat fast, then I might consider it... the way I'd consider any fast food restaurant. Or I'll order takeout. Feb 2, 2010
5:13 am PST
Re: from an OB waitress
by vicfar
If I can intrude...honey, you are doing great. Most Americans are quite happy to fill their oversized belly in 45 minutes and get the hell out. They lead busy lives. Jenny has become a decadent European snob: after all those months in Germany (can you imagine if she'd been to France??), she is beginning to sound just like me :-)

Vic Feb 2, 2010
3:21 am PST
from an OB waitress
by cmhsr
Hello! I am a waitress at an Outback Steakhouse and from the looks of it, your server was everything the company trained her to be! Haha. We are told to ALWAYS suggest an alcoholic beverage, recommend upsells (horseradish crumb topping? Like to add stuffed shrimp?), and to ask about dessert halfway through the meal.

Yes, halfway. I too thought that was ridiculous when they emphasized that during training. In fact, I still don't ask about dessert until I see my tables are finished eating or close to it. I have learned through experience that, though it may slow my rotations, I get better tips if I allow people to eat at their own pace. And it also makes my job that much less frantic. But I digress.

About your waitress hovering, we are told to always check back immediately after each course goes out. The time frame is 2 bites to 2 minutes. So she definitely was on top of that! In fact, you'd be amazed at how precisely the dining experience at Outback is laid out. We have target times from everything from greeting customers to turning tables, and trust me, we are pressured from managers to always speed it up. Right now the average goal is 45 minutes. Feb 1, 2010
10:16 am PST
Re: Re: Re: This was a riot.... (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
;D is a smilie. My name is Jenny. ;-) Jan 25, 2010
7:19 am PST
Re: Re: This was a riot....
by vicfar
D(?),

if you had waited on me, you would have taken the Campari back to the bar with a smile, and then told the bartender about an as*hole European who's going to get a Campari in his face if he does not cut it out!

My mission in the US was to teach American bartenders how to serve a Campari, and I must say I have failed after 25 years of efforts.

My mission in Belgium is to teach people how to be nice (and even smile). This isn't any easier....

Cheers V. Jan 25, 2010
3:34 am PST
Re: I agree! (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
On the flip side, Bill and I have run into some European servers in America who were awesome... and very interesting. Not surprisingly, they worked in fine dining establishments. Jan 21, 2010
2:53 pm PST
I agree!
by tennis_player
You said it right and hit most of the right buttons!

One issue that I really appreciate about dining in Europe is - THE CUSTOMER/DINER IS THE ONE THAT DETERMINES WHEN THE MEAL IF FINISHED - NOT THE WAIT STAFF OR MANAGEMENT.

I hate the feeling of being rushed in order to get their table turns!

I have a slightly different take on the European wait staff. He is right about being able to joke around with American wait staff but I think the difference is the more casual aura in the U.S., where it is more formal in Europe so the kidding and having fun may be frowned upoon as being unprofessional.

I found that if we dined at an off hour and could engage the wait staff in fairly lengthy dialogue, they, too, could be quite interesting and less formal. We learned a lot about the local culture this way as they are quite proud and pleased to share information about their town, their family and local traditions.

Jim Jan 20, 2010
11:34 pm PST
Re: This was a riot.... (Delete your comment)
by knotheadusc
Vic, somehow I knew I'd hear from you on this issue. Don't get me wrong. There are some wonderful restaurants in America, complete with excellent food AND free parking. But these damn chain corporate restaurants where everything is done on an assembly line are for the birds.

LOL... If I had waited on you in the USA, I may not have told you to stuff it in words, but you would have surely seen it in the expression on my face. I'm not very good at faking it in ANY situation... one of the many things my husband loves about me.

;D Jan 20, 2010
12:21 pm PST
This was a riot....
by vicfar
you do sound like a snobbish Schicke Deutsche Frau. Indeed, you sound like my German girlfriend when we eat in the US, except she does not possess your colorful vocabulary (not even in German)!

I agree with you, but see, with American waitresses you can have fun: you can correct the spelling on the menu, correct their pronunciation of the (foreign) dishes, which they always butcher, or send back your Campari three times because it's not correctly prepared. They are good sports, and mostly afraid to argue with you, whereas Europeans tell you to stuff it. I know I am bad, and these people are only doing their job the way their stupid boss tells them to, but that's me. At least I am having fun...

Indeed the experience where I miss the US the least is...DINING!

Where I miss the US the most is: PARKING!

I wish you plenty of happy parking experiences in Atlanta....:-)

Cheers

Vic 

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