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DISASTROUS MIDNIGHT SNACK
SOMETHING’S ROTTEN IN DEN(NY’S)MARK
On Sunday, June 23, 1996, several friends drove a long way to hear my string quartet perform in Rancho Palos Verdes. Everyone was in a rush to get there, so we agreed to grab a bite to eat after the concert. By the time we were finished playing, it was 10:30 p.m., so we decided to meet at the Denny’s on Ventura Boulevard in Encino.
I know what you’re thinking. She goes to Denny’s and now she’s going to complain about it, or better yet, what did I expect? Close, but no cigar...well, maybe a cigarillo. (Does anyone smoke those anymore?) Trust me, I never bring up Denny’s as a place to eat, but one of our crowd likes to eat there because she can always find vegetarian food, even if isn’t exactly gourmet.
The freeways were practically empty at that hour on a Sunday night, so we made excellent time, arriving at our destination at 11:05. Better yet, there were only two other tables occupied when we got there, and one was just finishing up their meal. What did strike us as odd, though, was that when we walked in, we noticed four or five tables with dirty dishes.
My friends had gotten there a few minutes before us, and had made their selections from the menus. As I sat down, I placed my hand on the table to steady myself. It was gross. My hand stuck to the surface. I must have made a distasteful face because everyone laughed, nodding in agreement. Apparently, the whole table was sticky and otherwise filthy. At this point, I noticed that the only things on the table were the menus. No napkins or eating utensils. No water. No salt and pepper. Nothing.
A few minutes later, the waitress came over to take our orders, but before she could begin, we requested that she wipe the table for us. You could see the glimmer of recognition on her face, as if to say, "Oh yeah, I guess I forgot that." Did she wipe the table, you ask. No. She proceeded to take orders, and then quietly disappeared.
We assumed she had gone to get our drinks, or at least water, or to get something to clean the table. None of the above. In fact, she did not return for any reason for another 45 minutes. We noticed that our waitress was also the waitress for every table in the place. By now, the restaurant was getting crowded. Oh yes, Encino, that’s a happenin’ town.
After her long hiatus, she brought a tray of drinks. Would someone please tell me how anyone can screw up 2 waters, 3 diet Cokes, 1 regular Coke and 1 iced tea. Okay, you guessed it. She didn’t know the regulars from the diet sodas, she forgot the lemon for the iced tea, and she only brought one water.
As she started to serve the drinks, I stopped her and insisted she wipe off the table. We were getting fed up with the service by now, but we tried to keep a sense of humor. When she disappeared to get a rag for the table, we formed a betting pool to see how far she’d have to travel to retrieve one. Had anyone chosen San Francisco, he or she would have won. I can only say that I am very glad I only wanted water because when the ice melted, my drink wasn’t as diluted as the others.
Ten minutes later, the table was sort of clean and we had our drinks and promises that our meals would be out right away. "Oh, by the way, we’re out of french fries. All we can offer you is seasoned fries, mashed or baked potatoes." I was just as happy to have a baked potato, and Steve chose mashed to go with his club sandwich. Eileen, with a look of exasperation, ordered mashed, too.
We have now been there just shy of an hour, it’s very late and almost everyone has to be up extremely early the next morning. Do we cut our losses and leave or should we trust her that we’ll be eating in just a few minutes? We decided to stay.
True to her word, she brings a few things. Appetizers. Leah got her fried mozzarella sticks and salad; JB and Scott got their appetizer samplers (more about this later); Eileen got the barley soup she ordered, but the Parmesan which the waitress offered arrived ten minutes after the soup was gone; Steve got his salad. Jennifer had only ordered a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a roll, neither of which ever came. (Just how long does it take to open a can of soup, anyway?) Looking at the fare in front of everyone, I was glad I hadn’t ordered any of what they were eating.
I’m a pretty good cook, and my family eats very well. I like to think that they know good food from bad. Not being able to speak for Scott, I can tell you that JB is not really a fussy eater, and he’ll enjoy Denny’s food on occasion. (I maintain an attitude of satisfying hunger at places like this and expect no more.)
The appetizer samplers were awful. They even looked bad, and before anyone could say anything, JB offered an amusing thought: Not only were the onion rings burned, but they were cold. Normally, he would just eat them anyway, but even these were too awful for consumption. No one knew just how bad they were until a little while later; he spent several hours throughout the night returning his dinner, or what little he ate of it.
An hour and 20 minutes after we arrived at Denny’s, most of the rest of the food reached our table. Moments before, the waitress graced us with her appearance, which by now was becoming tedious and annoying. "Sorry, we’re all out of fries, baked -and- mashed potatoes. All we have is the seasoned fries." I wasn’t interested in any kind of fries, but at this point I just needed to eat something because my blood sugar was dipping dangerously low. In a few minutes, it wouldn’t matter. I just shrugged and was ready to accept anything if it got there before I lapsed into a coma.
As I said earlier, Jennifer’s soup and roll never came, but it only took a few minutes for everyone to realize how lucky she was.
My French dip sandwich sat, sadly looking at me from its place next to the pitiful, cold seasoned fries that I hadn’t planned to eat anyway. The meat was a combination of shoe leather and gristle and the whole thing was put together in such a way that I had to reassemble it before trying to eat it. It was salty, dripping with grease and barely warm, but it prevented a medical emergency.
Eileen’s burger looked all right, but the waitress disappeared to get her ketchup (and Jennifer’s food) and never returned. Deciding she wasn’t going to eat a cold hamburger anyway, Eileen set off to find the manager. Off she marched, right into the kitchen. She was told he would come to our table in a minute.
The rest of the food was similar in preparation and presentation, but while we were waiting for the manager, Leah started to butter her roll. "That’s odd, what’s this black spot in the butter?" She lifted the paper and disclosed a big section of black mold. Yuck! Disgusting!
That was the last straw. Anyone who was still eating stopped immediately. This was the worst situation most of us had ever experienced in a restaurant, and nobody had to verbalize the fact that none of us would ever return there.
When the manager showed up, he asked what the problem was. Sure, like a restaurant full of people, one waitress in the whole place, and nobody getting served wasn’t a tip-off. We rattled off a long list of problems, including the filth and the mold in the butter, the fact that the best food that night was the stuff that never arrived.
His response? "We’re a little shorthanded tonight?" He continued with one excuse after another. Not once did he imply that it might be possible that they were guilty of bad food service or, heaven forbid, health code violations. Worse, he implied that we were unreasonable customers.
While he was reading -us- the riot act, other patrons started coming up to him, hurling complaints right and left. One said they had been there for 45 minutes and had yet to get water or even menus. It was obvious that this guy didn’t know how to manage a restaurant. The crowd was starting to get ugly, so we decided to leave before the bloodshed.
As we departed, the din of complaining customers was getting louder. It occurred to me that within a few minutes, there would be few enough customers to wait on that the waitress could handle.
The next day, I called Denny’s corporate offices in South Carolina to register a complaint. The first woman I talked to was downright rude, and when I asked why she was taking this attitude with me, she suggested I might prefer to call back and speak to someone else. Sounded good to me, so I hung up on her and called back.
The second woman, at least, offered some of that good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality. She sounded sympathetic to our situation and recorded my entire story. When I finished, however, she revealed that, upon looking this particular restaurant up in their online database, it was actually a franchised outlet, not part of the corporate chain. This meant that there really wasn’t much that Denny’s could (or is that would?) do, but she promised that a report would be sent to the franchisee immediately and that we would hear from him.
It is now more than a year later. I haven’t heard a word. They obviously do not know who they’re dealing with. Apparently, they’ve never heard of Mimi’s Cyber Kitchen on the Internet. I maintain the largest food-related site on the World Wide Web, an area which has been visited by more than 100,000 people in the last 10 weeks.
I’m not saying that all Denny’s restaurants are like this; certainly, they are not. I am also aware that very few of the people who will read about our plight live anywhere near the Encino Denny’s. If you are, however, a patron of his particular restaurant, consider yourself warned.
I believe that more than a few people will think twice before ever going there (again). Denny’s may not want to confront me directly, but there is nothing they can do about my presentation of the truth. If you are in any way offended by way we were treated, you might want to drop them a note at:
Or you may call them at (800) 7DENNYS.
A footnote. The next time our unwholesome seven goes
out for a bite to eat, you can be sure we’ll end up at Jerry’s Famous Deli
just across the street from this den of culinary horrors.
Note: The incident which is the subject of this article occurred in
1996. I wrote this within a few days of my "chat" with Denny's corporate
offices and shared it with some friends who have been encouraging me to
include it on my website ever since. This article in no way is intended
to smear or tarnish the reputation of other Denny's restaurants, especially
those which are franchised by decent, honest people; draw your own conclusions
about Denny's, Inc., however.
All data, logos, text contained on any portion of Mimi's Cyber Kitchen copyright 1995 through 2001 Mimi Hiller, JB Hiller, Jennifer Hiller. No portions of this website may be used without express written permission of the authors.