When the day after Valentine’s Day came, Karen and I were excited. The grandparents were taking Jasper for a few hours, leaving us time to go out for brunch and then some much needed alone time at the house. Being fans of Millie’s, we decided on Lulu’s, the sister restaurant to Richmond’s brunch mecca (and we’d never been in before). (**I want to spoil it and tell you that our meal was bad times and they waved the whole bill, so this isn’t one of those irresponsible blogger beefs. It’s just a wash. Sometimes a restaurant’s most loyal customers are people who’ve been burnt, then complained, and were taken care of, and kept coming back. That might be us, if we’re ever able to go out for meals regularly again**)
The whole thing started badly because Karen and I were kinda butting heads over the scheduling of our tiny allotment of time (my fault for being really wound up about my grad school paper deadlines). Even after finding a great parking spot by the
On the menu, I didn’t see any sides to order ahead to snack on (like you’d find at Can Can), but everything came with potatoes (like you WON’T find at Can Can), so we were both starting to get happy although really hungry. Karen ordered the petite fillet with poached eggs and asparagus and hollandaise and I got the… what else? Huevos rancheros (none of the frittatas were veggie, so I couldn’t compare Lulu’s with
After some awkward moments, we made small talk about Jasper (he’d captivated us at dinner the previous night when he laughed, which made us laugh, which made him laugh, and he worked a call and response routine for almost 10 minutes to everyone’s delight). Then we launched into an unexpected discussion about our dream kitchen renovation: a reworking of our entire livingroom/diningroom/kitchen first floor. The result would be more like a “great room” for cooking and hanging out with the old kitchen space serving as the pantry of our dreams and a corner booth dining nook. We got so excited about the fantasy, I took notes down about every detail in my phone for future reference. Does anyone know a cheap home makeover pro? Oh, and we’re also gonna need about $20k. I promise I’ll blog about the whole process if you all paypal me that money ;0)
When we came out of the exciting conversation, we realized it had been about 45minutes since we’d ordered and the place was really thinning out. I made eye contact with our server enough times that she came over and apologized, saying she’d bring us some toast to hold us over (um… coulda used that 30 minutes ago – stomach complaining to brain complaining to whichever organ makes one cranky). The table next to us said their food took over an hour.
By this point, the server just hung out at the spot where the food is supposed to come out of the kitchen, throwing stressed out glances our way. Karen and I were trying our best not to think about the fact that our precious little “alone time” (on Valentine’s day, you get the drift) was being traded in for this waiting game. We checked in with each other and felt helpless that our briefly sunny dispositions were hiding behind the clouds again. The server, a really nice woman, actually, kept popping by to apologize.
Eventually Karen’s steak and eggs came out. It was stacked: meat, eggs, sauce, and two tiny asparagus spears laying across the top. Those green twigs were more of a garnish than a side. The steak was less than a half inch thick. I guess when I thought of petite, I figured it would be smaller cut of fillet mignon, but still thick. She’d ordered it medium, but it was well done – cooked all the way through (probably because it was so thin to begin with). Karen ate with little enthusiasm and I just had to sit there and watch. It was another 10-15 minutes before my dish came out and we were both getting exponentially surly. Can you see this leading to good alone time, if there would be any time at all?
When my huevos finally came out, the server apologized again saying she’d buy us desert (we declined because we had some pastries at home that we were looking forward to). Then I kinda cut her off and pointed out the steak and asparagus issues and she wanted to make it up to us and I think I said that we kinda wish we hadn’t come there to eat, sounding likewise apologetic and defeated. The server, Karen, and me all frowning and crestfallen. It was a sorry sight. I tore into the beany eggs and we both ate in silence.
Time out for the upside. The potatoes rocked. They wore the tastiest grease I’ve had at brunch in long time. My huevos had a delicious pico de gallo and every fresh tomotoey bite popped with acid and cilantro. I tried to heap praise and elevate the mood at the table, but we were kinda in a rut by then. Karen hates conflict, so I’m always the one to assert myself in these situations. If I sound like a jerk, well don’t worry. I felt like one, even though Karen agreed with my speaking up about our dissatisfaction. But, we both agreed that the coffee was nice and strong. Trying to focus on the positive now.
As we finished eating, I was going over in my head how to approach the bill. I was treating, but I didn’t feel like we should be paying for one of the entrees. I mean, I couldn’t take it out of the tip. It wasn’t likely our server’s fault and withholding the gratuity on $25 wouldn’t really be much of a trade-off. When the server came by I started to ask her how to handle it, preparing to negotiate some kind of compromise. To my surprise, she said she was not going to charge us for the meal. I was astounded, Karen breathed a sigh of relief (no Jason tantrum in the restaurant during our supposed romantic dining out). I thanked the nice lady and that was that.
Minutes later, Karen is still nibbling her potatoes cuz they’re really freakin’ good. I looked in my wallet and I have no money. I’d intended to pay with a card. How do I tip with my credit card if there’s no bill to pay? Damn. With Karen’s permission, I run out of the Lulu’s to the ATM on
Back in the restaurant, there are only a few tables left. Karen is still pecking at her plate. People, she eats like she tweets (140 bites per meal – plug for Karen’s Corner over there on the right). I put a bulging plastic bag down on the table, turning a few heads. It seemed awkward to walk out without paying, but it’s also weird to spend almost two hours having brunch. I leave $5 on the table, which probably confirms most of my readers’ suspicions that I’m not just frugal, but inappropriately cheap (whatever, I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for not leaving double that since the server advocated for us and we ended up not paying). The stars just alligned in a way that made me extra-miserly.
In the end, I figure that bad tippers and burnt customers is the cost of doing a booming business for Lulu’s and for our server. They made a shitload of money that brunch service. When quantity goes up, quality goes down. When demand is high, supply can dry up and people get pissed off. On this day, we drew both of those unlucky cards from the dining-out deck. But, I don’t have any bad feelings. Lulu’s is successful for good reason. I’ll probably go back one day, but considering our limited opportunities, less popular places just got bumped up in my queue.