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Talula Spice experience - Do restaurants shoot themselves in the foot?


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Talula Spice experience - Do restaurants shoot themselves in the foot?

YosemiteSam | | Sep 8, 2008 08:39 AM

First, a disclaimer. This was not a bad experience, plus I am not the kind of poster who would bash a place this well-regarded on the site based on a Miami Spice experience. I just wanted to share my experience and also pose a question for the group at large.

In my opinion, Miami Spice serves two purposes. Drive buisness during a slow period and hopefully encourage guests to re-visit for a full priced meal in the future. Our Talula experience, however, only encouraged the first part and has put the second part at risk. Let's share some details and then I'll discuss the long-term impact.

I listed Talula as my "can't believe I haven't gone there yet" thread entry that we all shared months ago. Based on the many fans on this board, I had high hopes, especially since the Spice menu was also well thought of on here. We pushed our group to go there over their more obvious preferences of Emeril's and China Grill. The food overall was OK - not bad but I would describe it as underwhelming. I had the crispy pork belly, the grilled hanger steak (this year's Spice equivalent of past ceviches/short ribs/salmon) and the chef's choice dessert of choccolate-banana bread pudding. All was fine, but since I thought this place earned its rep on the food, I was a little disappointed. Folks at the table who got other Spice options also shared similar thoughts. However, it was a Spice menu, so I'll cut it some slack.

The bigger issue was with the service/management. This is a higher priced place, so while I expected the usual South Beach lowering of expectations, I was at least hoping for good. First off, we had to specifically request the Spice menu - that's OK but nice when they offer it up. A pet peeve of mine is when restaurants are out of multiple items, especially on a weekend night early. Some folks at our table were not ordering off the Spice menu, so it was disappointing to hear they were out of 3 of their 5 offered steaks. OK, I thought, there's a hurricane and stuff happens. Then someone in our party tried to order their Spice cocktail, but that was not available either. No big deal, but right after the steaks it seemed troublesome. Finally, one person wanted beer, and they only had Miller Lite, because (this is classic) they "had a large group of men earlier in the week and they drank all their beer" - not that night - earlier in the week. Why not send someone to a liquor store and grab a few cases of Sam Adams or something to make sure you have something beyond beer-flavored water? Ugh. Finally, the waiter. He was polite, but shared no thoughts on the menu. Plus, he rarely checked on us despite our intention to order more cocktails and wine, and when he did emerge from the back to serve an individual table he kept his head down and avoided eye contact with other tables. The timing of the courses was extremely slow, so much so that the runner brought us our desserts and placed them at the table before we even got our entrees. No mention of our wait ever came.

So - bad nights happen, and maybe this was one of theirs. Plus I know it's off season and there was a hurricane approaching. However, this was a place I was prepared and anticipating to go and likely drop over $300 at in the near future based on the raves from this board, but now I am having second thoughts - I will probably go to Sardinia, Bourbon Steak, Palme d'Or, Restaurant at the Setai, and Cero before I try this again, and it would have been top of the list if I hadn't gone for this Spice experience. Plus, I will definitely hit MGFD, Michy's, Fratelli Lyon etc many more times before returning - it's just too risky based on my experience on Saturday.

So what I'm wondering is - if a place cannot deliver a Spice experience near the level of its full priced menu, is it better to forgo the incremental business to protect its rep for the future big spenders plus avoid bad reviews online? Or are those who would return too few and far between to offset the incremental business they earn. And finally, should I go back again once Spice is over?

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