12 November 2008

Fairway's Sad Cafe


Time for a nice, cleansing rant. And what more deserving subject than the cafe at the Red Hook Fairway supermarket?

Is there a more colossal, abysmal failure in all the New York food service industry than this lackluster, indifferent, actively frustrating cafe? The fare on offer is unappealing and unappetizing, and the help so disinterested and inefficient, one suspects it is run by a city agency, like the MTA or the DMV. How could it be possible that a corporation as successful, and as talented at image-crafting, as Fairway could allow the cafe inside its showcase Brooklyn outlet come off like a concession at one of the mangier terminals in LaGuardia?

The menu is a predictable array of sandwiches, pizza and the ubiquitous panini—all unexciting in their choice of ingredients. The items are allow to sit around on display and get stale, until someone actually orders food and the crew is given the opportunity to overcook it.

But worse than the cardboard food—much worse, INFINITELY worse, worse than Duane Reade cashiers—are the people who man this cafe. Sullen, unsmiling, slow, unresponsive, incompetent, uncommitted clockwatchers all. They do not know the food that they are serving, and they do not know how to prepare it in a way that would make it edible. They lack basic communication skills and any comprehension of the concept of customer service. For instance, a person standing at the counter eyeing the food with a look of ready anticipation on their face is not, to the Fairway Cafe worker's mind, a potential customer with an order to place. That person is perhaps a loiterer, or someone who is lost.

I have been to this cafe about a dozen or so times. (Why I return, I do not know. Probably because the view of New York harbor from the dining patio is so breathtaking.) I have never once been greeted with a "May I help you?" or any sort of entreaty. I have always had to get someone's attention, and that with difficulty. On average, I have waited 10 to 15 minutes for simple orders like pizza or a hot dog. At least three times a worker has completely forgotten my order and I've had to place it again. (No apology has ever been tendered when this has happened.) I have watched workers take my order of a hot dog and wait a full five minutes before placing a frankfurter on the grill—all the time in between doing nothing in particular.

I have never met a Fairway patron who has a good opinion of this cafe. I'm sure the market is far from realizing the traffic it could on the restaurant due to the cafe's mismanagement. Why does the market allow it to continue in such a fashion? Hard to know. Maybe they don't care. Maybe the cafe is a loss leader, there to draw customers to the cash cow that is the market itself. But do people really come to Fairway to go to the cafe and then think, "Hey, maybe I'll do some shopping while I'm here"?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I have never met a Fairway patron who has a good opinion of this cafe. "

well now you have

Brooks of Sheffield said...

No, I haven't. You commented as "Anonymous." For all I know, you're one of the sullen workers.

Peter said...

Contrast Fairway to how IKEA runs its cafes. IKEA cafes serve interesting items, especially the Swedish meat balls, and as far as I can tell the staff members are pleasant and helpful. I'll bet anything that IKEA cafes are a dandy profit center.

kozel said...

Same at Plainview, sad to say.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Very good point. IKEA is a great example of how to do it right.

Carol Gardens said...

But they DO have a cheap lobster roll and that great view in the warmer months. (I agree about the people who work there, though.)

bigmissfrenchie said...

What makes it really odd is that generally the people who work in the store are pretty good, especially some of the cashiers and they guys in the coffee department. I wonder what makes the cafe people so sullen?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Good point, Frenchie. That is odd. I wonder if they farm out the management of the cafe.

catbird said...

i 100% agree. BUT, where else in new york, on a beautiful day (even on the weekends!) can you sit outside with that amount of space and that view, with no crowds? it keeps me coming. maybe the bad service is for the best, so it doesn't get totally overrun. shhh!

Anonymous said...

>>But do people really come to Fairway to go to the cafe and then think, "Hey, maybe I'll do some shopping while I'm here"?<<

Actually yes. Its my favorite spot for lunch in Brooklyn, at least in the summer months when you can sit outside. The lobster roll is great, as is the bagel and lox platter. Yeah the other stuff is unexciting, and you are so right about the sullen staff, but I'll keep going back.

mhorine1 said...

the staff is horrible, but the breakfasts are awesome, the view is amazing and it's cheap. I've often wondered why they don't do more with it...seems like an easy way to make money w/ a little effort.

Malina said...

who cares? I don't go to a grocery store to sit there and eat. i go there to buy groceries.

Eat It Brooklyn said...

I've actually had some positive & pleasant experiences with staff behind the counter and have thoroughly enjoyed the food I ordered. It is a "cafe" inside a grocery store after all, my expectations are lowered. And the view makes up for the sometimes sullen cashier lady. I've written about my experiences twice on my blog: www.eatbrooklynfood.blogspot.com, complete with photos. Judge for yourself!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Well, it's settled guys. Next time I go there, it's the lobster roll for me.

Theodore said...

Agrew. It is a dump.

Best Bet: Grab a quarter pound of meat from deli or soup from the hotbar. Grab a roll and tell one of the dunces in the cafe to toast it for you.

Anonymous said...

yeah i'm one of the "sullen" workers..i care so much about your opinion that i take time to respond to your rant. it an elaborate PR stunt

what a bunch of whiners, no wonder you get treated "poorly"

thats ok, fewer people for me to deal with when i go enjoy the good food and good service

Theodore said...

Its not so much the staff is sullen...it's just a minimum wage Mac J-O-B. I mean this isn't Bouley, people.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Theodore: I agree. Minimum wage is hardly an inspiring force. But, as someone else pointed out, IKEA does a far better job with their cafe. And I'm sure those folks get minimum wage, too. Also, I'd argue that minimum wage warrants at least minimum effort upon the part of the employees. The Fairway crew is not even trying.

Cubbie said...

To the OP: Fairway is a pretty smart organization.

You are obviously extremely irritated after many unsatisfactory visits.

Did you ask for a manager? Did you write a comment card? Did you write to Fairway and express your concerns? Did you call?

Sometimes, I think it's unfair when people go from saying nothing to balls out attack on a blog. When did Fairway have a chance to correct the problems?

I don't think your communication skills are much better than the employees of the cafe.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Cubbie: You make a very strong point, my friend. I never did complain to a manager, though I did to the staff, when they screwed up my order. But let me ask you this: which do you think is more likely to have an impact on the way the cafe is run? The complaint of one person to manager, or this blog post, which was picked up by several other sites and has now been read by hundreds? Contrary to what you might think, I don't blog to simply let off some steam. I hope my posts might lead to some things in this city being changed for the better. It may be a long shot, but it's why I do it. And if Fairway gets some heat because of this post and is forced to whip its cafe into shape, so much the better for us. And so much the better for Fairway, when it comes down to it.

Lisa said...

Brooks -

I could not agree more with your post. The Fairway cafe drives me NUTS!!! The service is horrible, the food is horrible, they don't give a hoot. I've complained to the manager before. He apologized. Nothing changes. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise because it keeps people away from the beautiful patio and view, but it is obnoxious to say the least.

Lisa

little homie said...

I had a good experience there actually, the one time I went... staffers seemed tired, but were nice when I was nice to them first.

Anonymous said...

I love the cafe.....I've had mainly competent and even friendly service. My only negative experience was a guy who was competent but totally unfriendly. I love the lobster roll, I love how cheap it is and agree with catbird about the space. Sitting out there even in the pouring rain is amazing (although of course you're sheltered).