Here goes a very interesting tasting experience that I had last week.
Disclaimer: This is a reflection of my visit to Old School and all opinions are my own. This is all an attempt to document the experience that I had from my perspective.
Old School, a retro-style diner serving American classics like BBQ and breakfast food located in Toronto, e-mailed me about two weeks ago offering me a discount to dine in at the restaurant in exchange for a blog post about them. Now as you know, I have been invited to quite a number of restaurants and events for complimentary tastings over the years. Thus, I decided that if this restaurant was going to ask for a blog post from me, I wanted to see if they were willing to comp my meal as this was now the norm when promoting restaurants in exchange for a social media post. If they rejected my offer, I would have completely respected their decision. But I figured I would ask anyway — no harm in doing so.
Heather, the General Manager at Old School, who I was communicating with via e-mail, gladly accepted my request and informed me that excluding alcohol beverages, they would be happy to accommodate me and a guest for a meal in order to try out their restaurant. Thus, we booked a day and time in which I could make it to the restaurant. Helen informed me that the staff would be aware of my arrival and my reservation was confirmed. I even received a confirmation e-mail via the Yelp app.
I was really excited to try out this restaurant that served classic American dishes and breakfast items. Before arriving at the restaurant, I browsed their full menu on their website to consider the selections.
Daphne and I arrived at Old School (800 Dundas Street West) before 6 p.m. on a Thursday for the tasting dinner. When we stepped into the restaurant, there was a male staff and a female staff both standing near the entrance of the restaurant. We walked in and the male server, upon seeing that we were a party of two, asked us right away if we wanted a table for two.
I responded by saying that I was here for a tasting and asked for Heather. The male server informed me that Heather wasn’t there that evening but that the female staff next to him was the manager on duty that day. I informed her that I was there for a tasting because Heather had invited me. She looked confused and asked me to wait there. She then walked to the back of the restaurant — looking like she was checking something in the back. During this time, the male server poured some water into two glasses and welcomed me and Daphne to take a seat at the bar while we waited. This was a nice gesture.
At this moment, I took a look at the restaurant and appreciated the chic retro vibe that the decor offered. There was a huge wall with what looked like a blackboard with drawings in white. It was a very sightly and hipster atmosphere.
Anyway, after a few minutes, the female manager on duty returned back to where we were. She shook my hand and she introduced herself. (Unfortunately, in the flurry of things, I didn’t take her name into memory….)
She led us to a table. The male server then came over with our water glasses from the bar and also explained the menu a little bit to us. Old School had an after 5 p.m. Sun Down menu where they served various dishes including some of their well-known brunch items. He also informed us that their chicken & waffles were the most commonly ordered item.
During this time while we were looking at the menu, I had the e-mail from Heather out on my phone. I was showing Daphne the e-mail since it was quite obvious that the staff weren’t expecting our arrival. I felt uneasy already and opening up the e-mail just seemed to reassure that I was in the right place and that I had been invited there.
When the male server passed our table, I also took this chance to show him the e-mail on my phone in order to inform him of what the pre-agreed conditions were. I wanted it to be clear that we were invited there and that our meal would be comped. He acknowledged it and he didn’t have any questions or comments regarding it.
Daphne and I browsed the menu and decided on what we wanted to try and order. Usually, when I’m at tastings, I prefer for my guest and I to order two different items so that we can try out more of the restaurant’s food, but since we both wanted the infamous General Chicken & Waffles that day, we each ordered one dish of that. We also ordered one side dish each to go with our dish as well as a milkshake each. The male server was the one who took our order.
In between this, the manager on duty came up to our table and directly asked me what company I was from and if I had a business card to give her. I was taken aback because I thought when she led us to sit down at the table, she had already been assured that we were there “legitimately”. It seemed that she was still unsure why we were there and it seemed that she was questioning my credentials… I was taken aback also because I had never been asked for a business card or from what “company I work for” when I’m invited to a tasting. Usually, the staff are well aware of why I’m there and don’t request for identification or details at all, and especially not in an analytical manner… I informed her that I don’t have a business card. I also didn’t work for any company because I was a self-represented blogger. I told her the name of my blog. She repeated the blog name but didn’t seem convinced. At the time, the brief conversation made me feel very defensive. I felt so uncomfortable… as if I was giving the impression that I had snuck into their restaurant to eat for free by pretending to be media when the fact was that the General Manager had invited me there. 😦
Anyway, since she was asking me these questions and I had my phone still in my hand with the e-mail from Heather open, I showed it to her as well. She read it and seemed to acknowledge it. However, the awkwardness was still hanging in the air. I felt very uncomfortable having to prove myself and the reason of my visit a second time.
Our food arrived in a reasonable amount of time. Our milkshakes arrived first. Their milkshake was something I wanted to try because Heather had recommended their milkshakes and organic sodas to me. I ordered the Vanilla one while Daphne ordered the Maple one. I was really, really impressed with how delicious it was! The milkshakes came in adorable glass milk bottles as well. The Vanilla one didn’t taste too sweet at all while the Maple one was definitely sweeter. Daphne was really impressed with it too.
The General Chicken & Waffles arrived. These were golden waffles with general fried chicken on top, tabasco-pepper honey to go with it, and vanilla butter. It looked amazing with the fried chicken on top of the thick waffles. I could see the vanilla butter melting from the heat of the fried chicken. While I have had chicken & waffles that are more moist and tender, this General Chicken & Waffles from Old School was still very tasty and solid. The waffles were really thick and easily filled us up!
We ordered two sides: the Mac & Cheese Cobbler and the Smoked Sausage. The Mac & Cheese Cobbler, as a side dish, was huge! It could have been a dish by itself due to its sheer size. It was “ooey gooey elbows & cheese”, crispen, and buttermilk biscuit crumble. It was very good macaroni and cheese and very, very cheesy. I was glad that we were sharing it because there was no way that I could have finished the portion of chicken & waffles plus the Mac & Cheese Cobbler side.
Their Smoked Sausages are smoked daily. I enjoyed it. It was a good texture and very meaty.
During our meal and when we were enjoying our food, since our table was close to the walkway of the restaurant (there was a space between us and the wall where the staff would walk to and from the kitchen), I felt like there were constant eyes on us. I definitely didn’t feel at ease eating there. … I actually remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to finish eating and get out of there because the entire experience thus far had been so awkward and very uncomfortable.
It was getting dark outside. The manager on duty came over to light a candle that was on our table. I said “thank you” to her as she lit the candle and she gave me a smile that looked really forced. It was another gesture that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. (Obviously this is a subjective reaction but that’s what I felt at the time.)
The portions of the food were massive and in the end, we couldn’t finish everything. Thus, I asked for the server for a box in order to bring the remains home. I dislike wasting food and I have brought leftovers from a tasting event home before.
The male server had no problem bringing me an excess of boxes for us to be able to comfortably fit our leftovers to take home. Once I was done packing up the leftovers, we gathered our belongings and started to leave. At this time, as the server was nearby our table, we also thanked him for the meal. He asked us how everything was and we said it was fine.
The manager on duty was standing from afar and realized we were leaving. She came over to us and asked me to wait because she wanted to print out the bill for me to sign. Um… okay. That was a first. I have never been asked to sign the bill or receipt of the meal upon leaving a tasting…. but in my mind, I had no reason to object to it because I was invited there fair and square. We waited while she printed off the bill and returned to our table with it. We were already standing up with our jackets on at this time. She asked the server for a pen since she didn’t have one. She asked me to sign the bill and said something along the lines of, “Here is the bill. This is the total amount of the bill that you ate.” I remember thinking, “Did she want me to pay for the bill??”
She had printed off two separate bills. One with the total amount of the food that we had eaten and another bill that seemed to show each item with a deducted price. I didn’t look at either one too closely. She asked me to sign the back of the bill with my name and my information. I did so (again, I had no reason to hide anything). I wrote down my full name and my website URL. She again asked for my business card. I took this moment to inform her that I had never in any tastings been asked for a business card. (Social media influencers these days don’t need to carry cards… all you have to do is just go online and visit their instagram/Facebook accounts to find them…)
I handed the bill right back to her after I had signed it. She looked at the website URL that I had written on the bill and asked me what magazine that was from. I told her (again) that it wasn’t a magazine. It was a food and lifestyle blog. She tried to repeat it again since she hadn’t remembered how to pronounce it the first time I told her. She said it was cool and that she would have to check it out. She did sound genuine about that comment.
Then, Daphne and I exited the restaurant. You can bet that we had a lot of things to talk about on the way to the bus stop…
In my opinion, the exchange that happened at the end of the night was the bit that made everything even more awkward and tense. Why was I asked to sign the bill in that manner? Was it to purposely show us that we had “spent” a lot? Why was I again asked for a business card and for my details?
All in all, while the food at Old School was very good and was very solid breakfast food (I especially enjoyed the milkshake), the service was completely unacceptable and rude. I was offended that I was asked about my “company” multiple times throughout the night as if the manager on duty didn’t believe that I was there authentically. Every little exchange that was out of place added up to an incredibly awkward dining experience that overshadowed the good food. A good restaurant combines both good food and a good experience that leaves the customer wanting more. In this case, I definitely wanted to leave the establishment as soon as I could because I felt so uncomfortable and attacked.
Once I got home, I e-mailed Heather to thank her for the invitation to the restaurant and that while the food was great, the experience and service were disappointing as the staff didn’t seem to be expecting me at all. She responded very promptly and inquired about the staff who served me. I briefly told her about the exchanges. She was surprised; she informed me that the manager on duty was well aware of my arrival that night and that it was not protocol for me to have to provide any details or signature at all. She was completely professional about the ordeal and even offered to extend her apologies to me in person the next time I was in that area. Her sincerity in the e-mail really helped to recover the negative feelings that I had from the night. It seemed that it wasn’t the restaurant’s problem but a single staff member’s oversight. I was able to forgive the manager on duty for acting that way towards us, but the first impression of Old School had already been vividly impressed upon my mind.
I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t go to Old School to dine in, but that this was my unique experience of dining there as a guest.
Thanks for reading!
FTC Disclaimer: Although Old School reached out and invited me to a complimentary tasting to review their restaurant, the opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the restaurant.