Red Lobster, the large seafood restaurant chain from America, just opened it’s first doors in Southeast Asia recently. The chain was brought here by Secret Recipe F&B Group with rights for restaurants in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The franchise rights also includes bringing in other brands like Olive Garden (Italian) and Longhorn Steakhouse.
Red Lobster’s first branch was to be at the new Intermark on Jalan Tun Razak in KL. The same retail / office / hotel building at the interchange of Jalan Ampang and Jalan Tun Razak. Because Intermark is literally walking distance to where I stay, I have been watching the space very closely. Since the wooden walls were up at the lot months ago, with Red Lobster logo and scrumptious seafood pictures plastered all over shouting “Coming Soon”, I eagerly counted the months.
Then, it hit my Facebook news feed that the outlet will open its doors to the public on Monday, 29 September 2014.
I was giddy with excitement. I love seafood. I love lobster. Although I never got to try Red Lobster in my last US trip, what’s not to like about the concept of seafood fast food… errr…. you know, TGIF of seafood?! I even read the only local review I found online here to start dreaming about the lobster I was about to have.
Red Lobster is Now open at Intermark KL!! Grand Opening last night.. Yummy!! #redlobstermy #lobster #redlobster #seafood #foodisgood #foodie
The Red Lobster @ Intermark grand launch happened last week on Thursday, 2 Oct 2014, where a few of my celebrity and food blogger friends were in attendance. Which I assume when the media and all were invited for a Media Night. I remember watching the social media feeds of the event as it happen, while I was grabbing a quick KFC takeaway that night and spotted some activity and lights happening across the road.
Thing is – I’ve been craving lobster for almost 2 months now. I wanted a lobster thermidor very badly and didn’t mind eating crappy lobster just to satisfy the craving. Me and Hubby went to Monte’s at BSC one night and they happen to run out of lobster that night. Hubby refused to eat at Victoria Station because the food there generally sucks. I’m quite sure they servce lobster thermidor there, if I’m not mistaken. We did go back to Crab Factory a couple of times, but wasn’t about to order their lobster as it was rather pricey and it wasn’t served “thermidor style” with melted butter and cheese.
Truly, I was angry for not getting my lobster fix. And one of my pet peeve was hunger and cold food. The latter aside, I can be unpleasant when I’m hungry and you delay my meal. Very unpleasant.
Red Lobster – Attempt #1
So, on Saturday, 4 October 2014, me and Hubby and another friend walked over to Red Lobster to give the restaurant a try. This is our first attempt. It’s dinnertime, approximately 8.15 pm.
We walked in through the “back” entrance, which is surprisingly the one facing the main road. The actual entrance is actually accessible from inside the Intermark mall. At this main road entrance, there’s a small patio, outdoor, al fresco dining section. We noted there were a couple of tables free. We walked in to an empty door man’s podium, while at least 5 waiters walked around us, rushing to serve customers.
No one attended to us for awhile.
#RedLobsterFail No. 1 >> Front and Back entrances but only the one from the mall is manned.
Then, one of the staff came up to us and asked if he can help. When we stated we need a table for 3, he simply states that the restaurant is full and there’s 15 people on the waiting list. We pointed at several empty tables outside and a few more inside. Flustered, he channeled us over to the actual entrance and door man at the other entrance.
We walked across the restaurant and noted a few more empty tables. I even managed to snap some more pictures of the interior, in preparation of m blog review. Interior was nice enough, pretty much as you would expect from an American chain restaurant. I also noted a lot of families dining there.
Got to the front of the house. True enough, there’s a queue with red barrier ropes. It was about 5-10 minutes standing there watching a group huddling over the door man with the reservation / waiting list, staff walking and talking stressfully to said door man, and about 10 or so people standing in line to talk to this door man, and him looking flustered, glancing back into the restaurant as if looking for a senior manager to help and frowning at the handwritten waiting list in front of him.
#RedLobsterFail No. 2 >> Disorganised line with a flustered doorman
Hubby got to investigating, and told me it looks like a 30 minutes queue to get to the door man, just to get your name on the waiting list.
#RedLobsterFail No. 3 >> 30 minute line just to talk to the doorman?
I fought through the huddle to peek at the doorman’s waiting list and it’s indeed a ONE HOUR wait for a table!!! All in all, it would’ve been a 1 hour 30 minutes wait, until we can eventually sit down.
We were hungry by then. We were looking forward to a seafood dinner, but we didn’t expect a crappy American chain restaurant would be so packed. And we certainly wasn’t about to stand in line for a table. No way.
F*ck it! We walked over to have a no-wait dinner at Beast instead!
Note : I ordered the Lobster Linguini at Beast. The waiter came back after 5 minutes to tell me they ran out of lobster!
Just before we left Intermark that night, we walked over to Red Lobster again to get a card and phone number to make reservations in future. I asked the doorman for their reservations phone number and he said, “I’m sorry. We don’t accept reservations.”
#RedLobsterFail No. 4 >> Does not accept reservations
“Then, how do I book a table for the next time?” I asked, “I don’t wanna come here again to wait another hour for a table! That’s why I wanna reserve one ahead of time.”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps come around 6 pm – 6.30 pm when it’s less crowded and you’d get a table easier. It gets busy after 7 pm.”
What kind of answer is that? It’s like saying you won’t be caught in a busy restaurant if you don’t eat at dinnertime. WTF?
#RedLobsterFail No. 5 >> Inexperienced and poor service in managing customer expectations and proper response
After a bit of pestering and annoyance, he wrote down the manager’s mobile number on a piece of paper for me to call and plead with him instead.
#RedLobsterFail No. 6 >> Poor customer service, forwarding simple requests to deal with manager instead
The manager has left for the day and cannot attend to me then. It was a Saturday, likely the busiest day of the week. And first weekend of business. Why is the manager off so early?
#RedLobsterFail No. 7 >> No senior management or trainer present for troubleshooting, fire fighting and management
Red Lobster – Attempt #2
I wasn’t about to give up yet. I thought, it was a Saturday. They just opened officially a few days ago. The staff seems flustered, disorganised and inexperienced in managing a waiting list and seating. So, we decided to give it another try.
On Monday, 6 October 2014, it was Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday. Together with Hubby and my in-laws, we attempted Red Lobster one more time.
Once again, there’s a queue of about 6 people in line, but a group of about 6-10 people sitting next to the door man’s podium and/or huddling around him, consisting of adults and families (and kids). As a good decent citizen, I got to the back of what was supposed to be the line at the red rope and waited my turn.
Then I noticed the door man glancing between his handwritten waiting list papers, behind him into the restaurant, a couple of sentences to the man in front of him and repeating this a few times. There’s a family standing right in front of him, obviously waiting to get on the waiting list, but neither the customer nor the doorman was talking to each other at times.
There’s a couple of ladies standing in front of me chatting. I wasn’t about to cut the queue if the ladies are also waiting to get their name on the waiting list. So I stood in “line” and waited, keeping my eyes locked on the doorman.
About 5 minutes passed, nothing seems to be happening. I caught the doorman’s eye and gestured, “What’s happening?” with my hands up and shoulder shrug. I said to him, “What’s happening? Is this a queue to get my name on the waiting list? Or a queue to get seated?” He looks apologetic and flustered and walked over to me with his clipboard.
(Again) #RedLobsterFail No. 2 >> Disorganised line with a flustered doorman
It seems, there’s a ONE HOUR WAIT for a table again, for my party of 4. I pointed out (just like I saw the other day) that there were empty tables at the patio outside, and even within eyesight from the entrance I noted a few empty table.
He said, “The kitchen is having some problems, we have closed some sections and not seating any new customers.” and added, “It’s a one hour wait, even for a small table for 4. There’s other customers waiting an hour for even 2 pax.”
#RedLobsterFail No. 8 >> Poor management of waiting line. No prompt and courteous information and updates to customers in line
(Again) #RedLobsterFail No. 5 >> Inexperienced and poor service in managing customer expectations and proper response
Annoyed, I relented. I left him my name and no. of pax. I thought I can perhaps go for a coffee or drink nearby for an hour. When I got to reciting my phone number, he stopped me and said, “I don’t need your phone number.”
I said, “Then how are you going to inform me when there’s a table available?”
He looks lost, gestured around at the unruly group of people hanging around the entrance and line. So, customers can’t leave the area, they basically just stand around until their name is called with an available table!
#RedLobsterFail No. 9 >> Poor waiting list and seating management. No separation for customers on waiting list (waiting area) and those just walking in (red rope queue)
(Again) #RedLobsterFail No. 5 >> Inexperienced and poor service in managing customer expectations and proper response
I look at the man in disbelief and confirmed what he was telling me, “Am I supposed to stand around here for an hour or more?” Recognising my frustration, he said OK to take down my phone number.
I walked away, straight to Juan Valdez Coffee next door. Furious!
I didn’t wait.
Hubby came 10 minutes later with the family and picked me up to go somewhere else for dinner. It’s about 8 pm by then, I’m hungry and angry. I was snapping at everyone, sulking, tweeting those angry words above, and simply fuming.
We went to Pavilion for Tony Roma’s dinner instead. By the time I started to eat, I’ve calmed down a lot. I told ya I can get really unpleasant when I’m hungry and pissed.
Much later, we all got home, I glanced at my watch and it’s almost 11.30 pm.
RED LOBSTER DIDN’T CALL ME BACK ON MY TABLE!
#RedLobsterFail No. 10 >> Poor management of customer expectations and no follow through
Did they just look at my name on the waiting list and decided, “Ahhh, f*ck it. I don’t feel like seating this person.”
Or did they call my name among those huddling at the entrance, noticed there’s no response and gave the table to someone else physically there?
What if I was having a drink somewhere else and kept waiting the whole night?
What if, out of spite, I walked back there at 11.30 pm, asked for the manager and complained that I left my number on the waiting list and never got called?
Or, be more passive aggressive, go back in a week, asked for the manager, and tell him I’m still on the waiting list waiting for my table!
What kind of management and service level is this?
Secret Recipe F&B Group – You really didn’t manage the launch of this supposedly first “flagship” Red Lobster launch in Southeast Asia at all. Truly disappointing.
As I tweeted, I understand that you just opened and there might be some hiccups that you need to manage (faulty kitchen) or capacity issues (understaffed) and all, but you really need a better and more senior customer service manager at the front of the door managing the queue, table seating and delays in table seating. Overall fire fighting, troubleshooting, crisis management and generally there to train and assist your staff in the early days.
BAD. BAD. BAD.
….. Not only did you lose a customer, you also created a hater in me. From now on, I won’t be able to say anything nice about your restaurant and brand name again.
You’re in the food business – NEVER, EVER mess with a customer and his/her food.
[UPDATE] Found the Red Lobster Malaysia Facebook Page
Red Lobster Malaysia Facebook Page >> https://www.facebook.com/redlobstermalaysia
Definitely gonna share this post there. See, never piss off a hungry customer!
Also came across these very negative reviews and posts to the Red Lobster Page on the management, service level, chaos and bad food quality.
Red Lobster @ Intermark