Good service rare in Bloomington

Bloomington is, without a doubt, one of the nicest cities in the state of Indiana, in most categories. But there is one place where Bloomington has managed to be more miserable and God-awful than Indianapolis: restaurant service.

There is a great deal of potential in Bloomington, very little of it even remotely fulfilled; the restaurants usually make a reasonable effort at food quality, but then when it comes to the wait staff, Bloomington restaurants fall flat on their faces.

One recent example comes to mind, a restaurant that I enjoyed in the past, but has now been struck from my list of places worth visiting: Sangamar.

After returning early from my spring vacation, I met up with Jay, one of my friends here in Bloomington, at Sangamar, 110 N. Walnut St. We selected the restaurant over the Malibu Grill because I had enjoyed meals at the restaurant in the past, but little did we know the evening was going to be a disaster.

We entered the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Our food arrived on the table about three minutes before 8. It took them an hour to tell us our waiter had given us the lunch menu by mistake and the items we had ordered were not readily available and they were preparing our items especially for us.

A mistake that could have been corrected by informing us of the error when they saw what we had ordered was magnified into an agonizing hour and a half wait; and when we finally got our meals, we were informed that we would only have to pay the lunch price for the meal.

Very kind of them, but I told the woman who delivered this “good news” that I wasn’t sure if she had given me a reason to return for another meal yet, and she told me other people would come to eat at the restaurant, even if I did not return.

Certainly this example is a bit on the extreme side; service is rarely so bad in this town that I won’t ever return to the restaurant because if I vowed never to return to restaurants that gave me bad service in this town, my dining experiences would be limited to Laughing Planet, Soma and Nick’s English Hut, the three hangouts within my normal budget range.

I have had a number of mediocre experiences in this town when it comes to wait staff. For example, waiters at the Malibu Grill have taken longer than necessary to bring me food and drinks and the staff at Denny’s ignored me standing at the door waiting to be seated. (I never went back. I go to the Waffle House instead).

All of this leaves me in a quandary. Every once in a while, I want to have a really good dining experience: a meal where both the food and the service come together to make it all worthwhile.

Sad to say, I have to have those meals an hour north in Indianapolis, a city so dreadfully boring and pointless I actually prefer going to the dentist for a filling than taking the time to visit it.

It would be really nice if one day Bloomington could have a real sit-down restaurant that featured good food and a decent wait staff. Here are my suggestions for ways to try and change what is Bloomington’s biggest restaurant problem.

First, stop tipping the bad waiters — tipping bad service only encourages bad service. For example, Jay and I left no tip for our waiter at Sangamar.

Second, tell your friends about the really bad experiences you’ve had, suggesting they try alternatives to the worst spots in town.

Third, tell your friends about the good experiences you’ve had in town. I never would have known about the Limestone Grill (the one beacon of light in the up-scale Bloomington restaurant category) if friends had not told me about it.

Finally, for all the restaurant owners out there, most of you do a really great job with the food, so it wouldn’t hurt to focus a little bit of attention on service. Good food and good service will make your restaurant the hottest joint in town.

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