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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, September 21, 2000

It pays to be the
squeaky wheel

RESTAURANT critic. Cop. Some people confuse these two occupations, calling on me to mediate or bust the managers when restaurants fail to please.

Lately, I've been hearing a lot of negative comments about a certain buffet restaurant in the Ala Moana Center-Kapiolani area promising shrimp, crab and lobster in its print advertisements, yet delivering none of the above.

Then, waiting for me Monday morning was a letter from "A Honolulu Resident" complaining about being served an 8-ounce T-bone steak instead of the 20-ounce porterhouse steak advertised for $13.95 at Sunset Grill.

Sunset Grill's general manager Stu Schroeder is so new that he may not have been with the company at the time The Incident took place, but he says they do serve a porterhouse that "covers the plate."

"If a customer is unhappy, we'll take the item off the check and offer something else," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense to shine it on because for every bad experience a guest has, they'll tell 30 people because they're so angry they want to talk about it. For every positive experience, they'll only tell one or two."

By the time complaints get to me, it's too late to reorder or get a free dessert for your trauma. So, my fellow eaters, I advise you to stand up for yourselves and just don't take it anymore.

Unfortunately, the No. 1 rule for us locals is, "No make A." That prevents us from sending food back to the kitchen and from public griping. We live in a state of non-complainers (whining in private doesn't really count) and some restaurants depend on us to keep quiet and accept what they dish out.

Imagine the fun you could create by standing up in the middle of the room and shouting: "You call this 20 OUNCES!!! How thick are your glasses??? Looks like 8 to me!

"You, over there in the corner! You got the steak, too? Yours is 7 ounces??"

That would be cool, if a tad over the top. But you understand. If you don't complain, nothing will ever change.

As a last resort, you can call upon the Better Business Bureau.

BBB President Anne Deschene said customers and businesses are urged to work out their problems to mutual satisfaction.

"Businesses usually don't like hearing from us, but it's better than hearing it from a lawyer. There's nothing to win from having an unhappy customer."

IF the problem is not resolved, consumers can file a formal complaint and the business is required to respond. The process can take as long as 30 days. If the problem is not resolved, the complaint can become a part of the business' record with the BBB.

Consumers can access such records 24 hours a day through any push-button phone system. Just call the BBB at 536-6956, listen to the instructions, punch in the phone number of the offending establishment and you'll find out how many complaints it has received. I checked out the buffet restaurant and found no record on it. Sunset Grill hasn't had a formal complaint in three years.

Deschene said restaurants receive no more complaints than other businesses, and generally they have to do with billing issues such as built-in service or gratuity charges.

She said the public can also help the BBB by reporting false advertisements, and no, it's not because they can go down there, chow down and bill it to the agency.

"That isn't how it works. Otherwise I would be chunk-o," she said."We just go out there and ask what's the story. We have an advertising review where we ask them to substantiate what they're saying.

"This is important because we go out there and eat, too."

See a listing of past restaurants reviewed in the
Do It Electric!

section online. Click the logo to go!

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to

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