Mitchell’s Fish House officially opened today, June 14, at Winter Park Village, but some diners have already been left with a bad taste in their mouths.
The seafood restaurant, which is owned by the Ruth’s Chris corporation, conducted a couple of nights of VIP invitation-only dinners over the weekend. That’s a standard practice, especially among corporate brands of higher quality restaurants. The guest list for the Friday and Saturday evening dinners included many of the area’s political and social leaders (which is probably why I wasn’t invited!).
I got an earful from one of them today. And it should be noted that the people who were invited to Mitchell’s opening are seasoned veterans of these dinners. That makes sense: if you’re a new restaurant in town, these are the people you want to impress from the get-go. You want them telling their other influential friends what a great time they had. You want them to come back – often – and bring business associates to entertain. Standard procedure for these dinners, which are also used as practice sessions — dress rehearsals, if you will — for the kitchen and serving crews, is to comp the meals. The VIPs get a free meal and the restaurant gets free publicity via word of mouth. Most of the people attending these dinners know that they are expected to leave a gratuity for the servers.
But my source, who asked that I not use her name, tells me she doesn’t know of any party of four that got out for under $100.
Here’s what happened.
The invitation from Mitchell’s told prospective guests that the dinner would be a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity and a $10 donation would be charged. nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s a nice goodwill sort of thing for a restaurant new to a community to do. What apparently wasn’t made clear to some of the guests was that it was $10 per person, not per table. So a four-top was already at $40.
Then guests were told they would have to pay for drinks. That really isn’t too unusual for these “practice” dinners. I spoke to Mitchell’s general manager Rob Schelle who told me that it would have been illegal to discount alcohol. I can’t attest to that, but I have personally participated in happy hours all over the area and I would hate to think I was a party to a criminal act.
So, add the cost of wine or cocktails.
Then, guests were told that although each could order an entree, only two appetizers and two desserts would be allowed per table. Some guests who forgot that rule when dessert came around — and weren’t reminded by the server — had extra desserts tacked on to the bill.
There was no charge for the food, but it had a retail value. Retail values are taxed at full price. Add that on.
Finally, the gratuity that most of these people would have left anyway was automatically added to the bill, again based on the full undiscounted price of the meal. (And by the way, any time you are tipping on a discounted meal, you should calculate what the gratuity would have been if you had paid full price; that’s only right.) Twenty percent was tacked on for the servers, even those who didn’t warn people off the extra desserts.
But other than that, Mrs, Lincoln, how did you like the play?
I’m not hearing any raves about the food. In fact, my source said her entree was over-seasoned and mushy. A lobster was too salty; a steak Oscar was missing the Oscar, and when the crabmeat was finally brought to the table it was drenched in hollandaise. She says she won’t go back. She says none of the people she spoke to said they would ever go back. Manager Schelle said he figured there were only five unhappy tables all weekend. That’s too many, especially when the purpose of the dinners is to generate good buzz.
Not an auspicious beginning.
Has anyone else been? Were you there for the VIP dinners? Send me a note and let me know what you think.