A Terrible & Trendy New Concept

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The Roar Before the 24 will be taking place this weekend, with a lot of drivers form the NTT IndyCar Series shaking off some winter rust. For those unfamiliar, this is the practice and qualifying weekend before next weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. There is also some IndyCar news, as Sting Ray Robb was confirmed in the last open seat for the regular season – the second car at Dale Coyne Racing. We also learned on Thursday, that Benjamin Pedersen will drive a Coyote Orange car for AJ Foyt with the Number 88, to signify that AJ is now 88 years-old. That sort of begs the question why they didn’t run No. 87 last season when he was 87, but I guess that’s a conversation for another day.

Those and other items can be discussed here next week. For today, I want to devote this post to something very slightly related to racing, but stay with me. That’s the beauty of the offseason.

Many of you read my post a week or so ago regarding the possible upcoming demise of the Mug-n-Bun Drive-in, in the Town of Speedway. Most regular readers here know how much I enjoy going to Dawson’s on Main, located on Main Street (ironically) in Speedway – just a block or two from Turn One at IMS.

Well, this is not going to be a love-fest for Dawson’s, although I do love it there. No, this is a rant about what I fear is the latest trend in dining establishments. Some of you will say this is nothing but the ramblings of a tired old man. Others will agree wholeheartedly with me.

Last Friday night, Susan and I went to dinner with some friends of ours. We rarely eat out these days, and we have found ourselves totally out of the loop on the latest restaurants in Nashville – and there are a lot of them. The other couple picked the place – HoneyFire Barbeque Company, which was very close to our house. As it turns out, that was the best part of the entire evening.

The website made it look decent enough. Their menu appeared to be a bit pricey for just BBQ, but it sounded tasty – slow-cooked smoked meats with a honey-based sauce. Looking back, I should have been tipped off by the phrase “artisan sides”. Anytime I hear the word artisan, the term “pretentious millennial” comes to mind.

Our friends arrived before we did. I saw a line when we walked in, but saw our friends already sitting at a table, so I figured we were in good shape. Come to find out, they had never been there either. I wish I had known that. I was going on the assumption they were regulars. I don’t really like trying new restaurants without the recommendation from someone I trust.

As we sat down, I asked where the menus were. My friend shoved a dreaded QR code at me, telling me that I had to view it on my phone. Yes, I do have a few friends and family members who still use flip-phones. They would be out of luck at this place.

It gets worse. Instead of telling a server what we wanted, we had to go join the line I noticed as we walked in. After standing there for what seemed like 20-minutes, I gave my order to a humorless young girl with a very distracting nose-ring. She seemed annoyed with every question I had, and I had a few since I had never been there before. When I included a Budweiser in my order, she informed me that I could get Susan’s Coke at the drink station with the cup she handed me; but for alcohol, I had to go around the corner and get in a different line at the bar.

She turned the iPad looking device around to show me the total, and it had choices for 15%, 20% and 25% tip. It also had the button for “No Tip”. With me doing all of the work so far, I wondered why I needed to leave a tip. But since I had not gotten my food yet; I figured if I hit “No Tip” or 15%, I would end up with a booger in my food, so I begrudgingly hit 20%. She handed me my order-number placard for our table, without a thank you, a smile, a smirk or anything. She just stared at me with her lifeless eyes, waiting for me to move over for the next guest.

I filled up Susan’s Coke and took it over to the table to her, before heading clear across the restaurant to the bar tucked away in the corner. There I was greeted by a semi-effeminate man, which is probably considered a very offensive term these days. He sported a man-bun, which is always a favorite of mine, along with what I think was meant to be a beard – but it was really just random strands of hair desperately clinging to the side of his face.

I asked for a Budweiser, so he reached into the cooler and grabbed a Bud Light. I noticed just before he opened it, and I yelled “No! Regular Budweiser, with the red label”. That prompted a series of nervous and inappropriate giggles, that sounded like a little girl jumping rope on the playground. He then blurted out “Oh…no one ever orders that”, followed by more giggles. Grrrrrr!!!!!

It didn’t take too long before the food got there. What I did not know at the time, was that would be the only sighting of any form of wait staff. Admittedly, the food was good. I had no complaints, but eventually the honey-based sauce permeated the whole plate and everything sort of ended up tasting the same.

As we talked and ate, my beer disappeared fairly quickly – as did my friend’s. While I was looking around for a server to order another one, Susan quickly figured out that there were no actual servers. If I wanted another beer, I had to go back and stand in line at the bar. I reluctantly went back and got another one. We were still having a good time visiting with our friends, when it dawned on me that I might want one more as we wrapped up. I glanced back at the bar and saw the line was longer than ever. I decided to forget it.

By this time I was already getting irritated with all of this self-serve dining. But as we got up from our table to leave, our friends noticed that other guests were carrying their plates up to a big tub and scraping them off before stacking them in the dirty-dish trough – much like the high school cafeteria.

That did it! To me, this was the cherry on top, to put an exclamation point on a terrible dining experience. Am I old-fashioned to want to sit at a table with our friends and ask a server to bring me something? Is it wrong to expect to be able to get up at the end of the meal and leave, without doing clean-up crew duty? If this was explained on the website to warn us that this was a way of keeping prices down, that would be one thing – but we paid the same as we would at a traditional sit-down restaurant, as you can see by their menu here.

This week at work, I complained about this do-it-yourself restaurant concept to anyone that would listen. Those under forty laughed at me and said all the new places are doing this now. Seriously?

To sort of tie this back to racing, this is the sort of service that I expect at the concession stands at the track. They’ll provide the food and the condiments, along with a place to sit down; but for anything else, you’re pretty much on your own. The food is appropriately priced – at least for a sporting event.

As I said earlier, there are few better days in life, than a day spent at IMS and then enjoying a relaxing meal at Dawson’s on Main afterward. Whether you get the Prime Rib, the Steak Susan, the breaded pork-tenderloin sandwich, their pizza, one of their nightly specials or a cup of their famous French Onion soup – all of their food is good, and affordably priced.

If you’ve never been to Dawson’s, give it a try sometime. Not only do they have a wait staff, they are all knowledgeable, friendly and many have been there for a long time. We’ve seen a lot of servers there that have been there for several years. Until last weekend, I didn’t know what a luxury that was. If the day ever comes where Dawson’s turns to a do-it-yourself dining concept, that is the day that I stop going. Change is Bad!

George Phillips

19 Responses to “A Terrible & Trendy New Concept”

  1. Ken Riehl Says:

    Could not agree with you more, on all counts George …
    There are plenty of good barbecue restaurants here in my neighborhood. That would be the first and last time for that dump.

  2. Great rant and restaurant review , hopefully you have posted this on yelp and or TripAdvisor.

  3. Jack in Virginia Says:

    I agree completely, George. We went on a cruise on Carnival Cruise Lines over Christmas and found no menus in the Dining Room – instead a QR code on the table to be scanned with your phone. Millennials may love this (they seem to love their phones anyway) but I prefer a real menu, and ordering from a real person (preferably without a bunch of hardware hanging on their face). I won’t go on another Carnival Cruise.

  4. HF’s food is good, BUT the self-serv systems now popping up everywhere, (McD’s, grocery stores, H Depot, etc….) do make you question why you even went there to spend your money. Best options are to eat at the bar seating or ONLY go to a “full service” restaurants. Good BBQ is everywhere and good full serve restaurants are still everywhere. Tipping 20% for nothing is an insult. If I’m seated at the bar, ordering & getting our food from the bartender, absolutely. This trend will provide full service restaurants an opportunity for diners that wish to enjoy a no hassles meal minus these annoying self-serve expectations. Ya just need to walk 50’ across the street from HF for full service.

  5. First off, that experience sounds awful. No way I could deal with it.

    Secondly, you got me fired up on this auto-tipping. Whenever we order carryout anymore, I typically order and pay for it in advance online. That way, I can simply walk in, grab the food, and go. It’s great. The issue however….is the online tip. Like you said, if I click “no tip”, or “15%”, I fear they’ll spit in my pizza. But what’s the 20% tip for? No one is serving it to me at a table. No one is driving it to my home. No one even wrote down my order. They’re simply making the food, (which is the job) and I’m literally picking it up.

    If nothing else, just adjust the food price to include this obligatory tip and even though I’ll still be paying the same price, I’ll feel like I’m getting less screwed over.

  6. I went into a frozen yogurt shop that recently opened down the street. I found a cup, operated the lever to fill it with frozen yogurt, went to the other counter where I put toppings on the yogurt, picked up a spoon and napkin then put cup on the scales. The girl pushed a button and then flipped around the screen for a tip. I thought, wait, I just did all the work, who am I tipping? Most recently, I ordered a food product to be shipped to my brother for his birthday, so the charges were steep to begin with. After I entered my debit card number to pay for it a screen popped up that asked how much I wanted to tip. Again, who am I tipping and what for? It’s almost blackmail–leave a tip or we might mess with your food.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    I didn’t get the best grades in foreign language classes when I was in school, but I did learn that “artisan” is Latin for “expensive”.

    Nevertheless, I was lookin into getting some artisan tickets to Iowa, but I have to go to a birthday party that weekend…

  8. Maurice Kessler Says:

    You didn’t mention Dawson’s crab cakes or their lettuce wedge. Great meal. Matter of fact, I have never had a bad meal or bad service there.

  9. “a semi-effeminate man” That is so funny!! 🤣

  10. Davis Brewer Says:

    I would have taken a duce on the bathroom floor before I left, First, make them earn that tip, and second show them who the real boss is in Nashville. Scrapping your own plates is like the military or prison.

  11. I almost never comment but had to say that I have no issue whatsoever with an occasional non-racing post like this. I’m 29 years old and firmly agree with everything!!

  12. Frm my distinctively European perspective, I totally understand why you feel this was a weird restaurant experience. Sounds indeed more like street food than a restaurant.

    I haven’t seen a restaurant with no servers nor any menues here. It’s only places that are mostly in the food takeaway business and have a seating area on the side where you stand in line. And even they have servers that come to your table to ask you for your order if you just sit down. The requirement to tip before eating is super weird but makes “perfect” business sense. Also, the wait in a separate line for drinks. Doesn’t that render impossible getting a free refill?

    As a non-native speaker, I’m unaware of what “artisan sides” is supposed to mean.

    You make it seem like the young people who work there don’t know what they are missing because this is not a real restaurant, but maybe they do, and that’s why they were obviously so bored by it all: not leaving your post without hours on end instead of moving around to the tables several times and being friendly and forthcoming to guests to improve a future tip.
    It probably all makes perfect business sense to let the client wait everytime. It’s outsourcing the waiter towards the customer.

    Yet, you might have been a bit too hard on the young people because they may not even know it a lot better. The latter is kind of weird in itself.

  13. Agree and disagree, I don’t think I would mind the structure, but I wouldn’t be tipping anyone for that type of service other than a buck to the bartender maybe.

  14. idididone Says:

    Could not agree more. During the height of the COVID scare, I believe a lot of us were suckered into tipping for no service to support the friends in the service industry, most of whom were negatively affected by closings, seating restrictions, short hours, and such.

    Of course shortly after, they discovered they could sit on their asses at home and collect government $$$ (spell that OUR tax $$$) so I personally stopped tipping for “to go” orders. Yet, when everything opened back up, no restaurant could find any help. What you described is the result of that.

    Makes me want to enjoy a lunch at Dawson’s, or dinner at St. Elmo.

  15. Thanks for blogging. I’d give to you a gratuity.

  16. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – How about this ploy?

    Next time when all self-service and you are paying when the tip response appears, just ask the person behind the counter if the “tip” is a reduction in your bill since you did all the footwork to serve yourself…………….

  17. they saw you coming.

  18. Friday night and this is all i’ve got:

    Hear about the new restaurant called Karma? …..There’s no menu; you get what you deserve.

  19. Great rant George! I’ve never been to Dawsons because I always figured it would be too busy during race week. Guess I need to get in line and give it a try.

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