The bill came out to $133 for a total of 7 people. The minimum requirement was $6 per person, but apparently we still didn’t meet the restaurants requirements. Hang on a sec, let me rewind and back it up a bit…. it doesn’t make sense, does it?
A meal in San Gabriel usually never goes wrong, unless you’re the timid kind that isn’t used to waiters yelling orders across the room, or throwing down plates that clink noisily. Ben & Amy, friends of mine, have been making their rounds in Los Angeles after having Matt & I visit them in Hong Kong for 2 weeks. Needless to say, it was a delight to join them for dinner at their favorite restaurant in San Gabriel, and of course, to see their faces again. I love spending time with friends where I feel comfortable – no more corporate talk, gossiping about which coworker did what, which boss screwed over their employees or who’s sleeping with whom. Sure, it was fun waaaay back in the days, but there’s sincerely more to life than gossip!
We arrived at a restaurant named Jazz Cat Cafe for dinner. Usually a 30 minute wait is well worth it due to the fact that most Chinese restaurants serves up their dishes very quickly. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for our party of 7! Sixty minutes into our wait, we were still waiting, cold, hungry and really very ready to eat.
Hot pot is very popular in Asian cities, especially during the cold winters. In most places, you’ll get your own mini-hot pot of boiling broth and a variety of meats and vegetables to cook yourself. They have broths ranging from mild to spicy, yum!
As we were finally seated, the waiter nervously clenched the menus to his stomach and proceeded to tell us that there was a $6 minimum per person. We nodded to each other and said we certainly wouldn’t have a problem ordering since each ‘hot pot’ is over $13.95. I have to mention, and rarely do I do this, but their menu was the most disorganized piece of plastic I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. With rows and rows of soup bases, it does not explain to you what is in a ‘hot pot’, what it consists of or how it works. Note to self, perhaps they should write some instructions?
We placed our order, each one of us ordering something slightly different from the other, while the waiter casually mentioned again that there was a $6 minimum per person and warned us that we needed to order at least $6 each. Duly noted, we agreed and were ready to nosh on our long awaited food. We also ordered a bottle of Japanese sake, recommended by the waiter to be white and creamy. It has a slight sour flavor which to me, resembled bad milk. Being Chinese, it is rude and disrespectful to let alcohol sit untouched while my friends continue to add more to my cup. But boy, it was hard to swallow. It tasted like sour milk!
When the food arrived, we were excited by the choices of cabbage, bok choy, tofu, fish balls, fresh slices of beef and the fresh soup that we would be boiling our vegetables in. For those who aren’t familiar with hot pot, you basically get a ‘hot pot’ infront of you and you cook your own food in a flavored broth. Variations include sharing a hot pot a la family style, or each getting your own pot for a customized flavor. Jazz Cat Cafe caters to the later, also offering different flavors such as Thai Spicy, Creamy Misto, Mongolian Spicy Herbal Soup and so on and so forth. The food was great, yet intensely filling. The others in the group wanted to order yet another bottle of the nasty sake, but opted for wine instead. “Great! You can’t go bad with wine”, I thought to myself.
The waiter brought out a bottle of Fat Cat Chardonnay and my logic kicked in to say, “It will be good! Fresh white wine with warm food will go down wonderfully”. I put my nose to the glass and couldn’t believe what I was holding. The chilled glass of wine was laced with a strong perfume smell of vanilla. Not only did it linger on the nose, but also on the after taste. Have you ever accidentally added too much vanilla syrup to your coffee? It tasted worse than that. God, I wish I could throw this over my shoulder so nobody will witness me drinking this. Again, being Chinese and polite, I sipped it a few times and quietly whispered to Ben, “If only I could dump this in my soup, nobody would know!” to which he prompted responded with a toast to everyone – “Bottoms up!”.
I really enjoyed spending time with my friends, learning about Amy’s version of He-Man in Spanish, or Smurfs in Chinese. I volunteered the fact that having grown up Chinese, I do not understand the 80’s at all. Of course, Amy quickly added that she also missed the 80’s, but she was fortunate to have experienced the 80’s and the 90’s in Argentina when it finally came around. How funny! I was genuinely having a good conversation until a new waitress approached our table, again nervously clutching the menu to her stomach to say, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but we have a $6 minimum at our restaurant”. My blood started to boil given this was the 3rd warning we’d received. Were they trying to scare us? Were they afraid that we’d rip off the restaurant despite ordering 2 bottles of god-awful alcohol, 5 hot pots, 6 bowls of rice and 2 side dishes between 7 people? Seriously? Yes, she was. Apparently our bill was still $6 short since the minimum does not include alcohol or the 5 hot pots we’d ordered. That being the case, how come this wasn’t clarified with us to begin with? The bill came out to be $133.29, which equals $22 per person. I still don’t get it, how did we not meet your $6 minimum?
I usually don’t like to write bad reviews, but I have an awful feeling that we were being ripped off of a flavorful meal and a good time with friends. Good customer service is almost always taken for granted, but then again, I must let you know that a good waiter with wonderful manners goes a long way, even if the food is mediocre. In this day and age, we spend our money wisely and want to know that it’s going towards a good cause in our stomachs. Who would in any sound mind want to pay for horrible service? How embarrassing to be constantly nagged about $6 minimums, let alone a long wait, bad alcohol and sporadic service.
Whether you’re in the food or beverage industry, hospitality, web design or IT, being polite goes a long way. That’s what we’re here to do – set the record straight and let everyone know that it’s not too difficult to be polite. It doesn’t even cost you a penny! That being said, I certainly will not be going back to Jazz Cat Cafe despite the General Managers’ attempt to rectify the situation by allowing it to “slide” just this once. Apparently 5 teenagers ordered 2 hot pots amongst themselves and made a big mess. Gee thanks, I’m sorry you feel you must punish all your customers by nagging about a $6 minimum.
PS: Dear waiter, you can keep the 10% discount card for I will not be returning.