Monday, September 01, 2014

Loblaws Logistics Issues Continue

O'Tasty dumplings advertisement from Loblaws Flyer.
In their weekly flyer starting starting Friday August 22nd, Loblaws advertised for sale O'Tasty Dumplings.  The advertised price of $2.98 on page 8 of their flyer seemed like decent deal.  My wife and I even planned to visit Alirang Restaurant on Nelson Street in Ottawa which happens to be just up from a Loblaws store at 363 Rideau Street (at Nelson Street).

Seemed pretty simple enough, enjoy Korean food at Alirang and then venture the nearby Loblaws for grocery shopping.  Everything went off without a hitch until we tried looking for O'Tasty Dumplings.  There was sign on the back bunker freezer showing the sale price but nothing below.   We even inquired with one of the frozen food workers who double checked.  Nothing, but the truck may have something come Monday if it was ordered, perhaps. No worries, we had other stores to visit over the weekend and we could perhaps pick them up.  Add in the fact that Loblaws' sister banner, Your Independent Grocer, had the same dumplings for $2.99 and all would be in order.

Saturday we were headed to Costco, but were able to stop off at Gloucester Shopping Centre to visit the Loblaws there (1980 Ogilvie Road).  Nothing, just a sign with no product just like the Rideau Street location.  We asked one of the ladies who worked in the frozen food section.  She said they had nothing and weren't expecting any in for the rest of the week.

Sunday rolls around and I make 3 more attempts.  The first is McDonah's Independent Grocer at Billings Bridge Mall (2277 Riverside Drive).  No space for the dumplings on the floor.  So I ask one of the guys working the floor.  He double checks with the head stockperson who double checks the back.  Just as they both thought, the store doesn't carry the product normally and doesn't order any.    I continue south on Bank Street to the Loblaws at South Keys Shopping Centre where things really get interesting.

First I start off in the frozen foods section checking all the bunkers as I had previously found the spots for the dumplings at the Loblaws Rideau and Gloucester Centre locations with nothing to show for it.  I asked one of he workers standing nearby inventorying batteries figuring she could help locating and possibly telling me if they have any in stock.  No way, she said I should consult with the deli area as they have tofu and other items.  I ventured over to the deli area and perused that area.  I ended up inquiring with one of the employees in that area who looked at me strangely and said it should be in the frozen food area.  I replied I had been there and was told to come here.  She suggested I try the meat department.  The three butchers working the meat department have no idea and start laughing when I told them my travails from frozen food to deli and back to them.  I head to customer service for one last attempt.

The Customer Service counter is understandably busy with customers doing returns and lottery tickets. I patiently wait until it's my turn and explain the gentleman of my issue.  He looks puzzled as he reviews the flyer. I politely ask if the store manager is available,  Mr. Hatoum is paged and arrives. I go through my story of trying to get the dumplings advertised at his and the other stores overseen by Loblaws Company's Limited. Mr. Hatoum explained he's always running into this issue with Loblaws advertising these products which his store doesn't carry.  He pointed out the Toronto area doesn't have an issue with this as there is a large enough population to go through the inventory.  He agrees to order a few boxes of the product and that I should ask customer service for a rain check.   Mr. Hatoum returns in the direction of his office and I receive a rain check.

Loblaws Rain Check
On the way out of the South Keys Loblaws store, I try calling Loblaws Customer Service using the number on the back of the flyer.  Not surprisingly, Loblaws Customer Service is only open Monday to Friday 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Later that evening, I make one last effort.  I visit Loblaws at 100 McArthur Road (Vanier Parkway & McArthur Road).  I do the usual walk around of the frozen food bunker with nothing to be found.  I find lady who works there and explain my situation.  She smiles and explains that this happens quite often at this store.  There is a promotion on dumplings or some other item the store doesn't carry.  A shipment comes in pretty well at the end of the flyer period.  The store is left with a bunch of product that they don't normally carry and have nothing to do with it as they can no longer sell it at the normal price.  I leave the store laughing at Loblaws continue issues with logistics. It was at least 5 years ago Loblaws Head Office was forced to cancel store conversions and expansions due to troubles with their logistical issues.  Apparently, the problems continued now with items on promotion in a major Canadian city over 5 locations and maybe more.

Later that day, I visit Loblaws on Facebook.  I notice lots of promotions celebrating their 95 birthday.  I leave a message about visiting 4 Loblaws Company Limited (LCL) stores and leave a message there explaining what I ran into.

Tuesday rolls around and Loblaws replies asking which store I normally shop at.  I reply the Rideau Street location.

August the 29th happens and Loblaws replies again stating the Rideau Street Store has successfully received three cases.  I inquire if Loblaws was willing to honour the pricing in the flyer.  Loblaws declined the price as the flyer dates had expired but if I "PM" them, they would take care of it.

In the Personal Message (PM), Loblaws offered a $5 gift card if I provided my address.  I replied that I would prefer a phone call on Tuesday from a Loblaws Head Office Manager to discuss the situation of the obvious false advertising for a product they never had adequate supply in the Ottawa area.  I, of course, posted my results to the Facebook page conversation to keep others notified of Loblaw's advertising practices.

On Saturday. I inquired about the supply at the Loblaws South Keys store in a message on Facebook.  Loblaws never replied.  So Saturday August 30th I called the Loblaws South Keys to check in on the status of the dumpling supply. I ended up in phone hell going around and round through the choice of options.  Firts and second times trying to go to Customer Service counter that only looped me back.  Third tried Management and that looped me back again.  Somehow, somewhere, someone took pity on my and the   the lady at customer service picked up and offered immediately to transfer me to the freezer section.  I protested not wanting to repeat my visit by being passed around incessantly by employees who thought it was someone else's department.  I eventually spoke to the Store's Assistant Manager as the Store Manager, Mr. Hatoum, was on a conference call.  The Assistant Store Manager put me on hold and, 2 minutes later, a "Dave" picked up.  I asked if they had found the dumplings, put on hold again.  The Assistant Store Manager picked up again and said they had some.  I inquired how many, they said about 4 cases and they would be in the main freezer and I should ask for the Grocery Manager named Riley.

That afternoon, I visited the store and went straight to Customer Service.  The lady behind the counter took my Rain Check and proceeded to ask if I had checked the back bunker before coming to customer service.  I replied that the Assistant Store Manager had asked me to come to straight to customer service and ask for Grocery Manager named Riley.  She paged the Grocery Manager and we waited.  Her cohort behind the counter did the same a 2nd and third time.  Eventually Riley returned the call and brought forth 4 cases of dumplings.  Finally, after a Loblaws head office and store runaround I had my dumplings.  I, of course, updated that Loblaws South Keys finally resolved the dumpling need. But an explanation was needed as to why this occurred.

Of amusement is the written promise on the Loblaws South Keys Rain Check:

Loblaws policy has always been to provide sufficient merchandise to cover advertised specials. This item was subject to a greater demand than we anticipated. Please accept this rain check with our apologies.

So Loblaws Head Office, as the policy would suggest, believed almost nobody at these particular stores would be looking for this advertised product?  Even worse, three out of the five stores don't even carry this product normally and yet had it in their flyer for their store.  Perhaps Loblaws Head Office management needs to review this apparently long standing policy to ensure that "sufficient merchandise| is available "to cover advertised specials" because I highly doubt there was "greater demand" than anticipated.  There was demand but it was for a product that was simply not available.

Now all there is left is a phone call from Loblaws Head Office Management on Tuesday to explain why their logistical department failed to deliver an advertised product. It will be interesting to find out how 2 grocery flyers, which are generally printed at least 6 weeks in advance, were distributed to homes with an advertised item knowingly not in stock.  I wait with amusement at what excuse I'll be told by management as to why either stores were not properly stocked before the flyer hit the door steps and why there wasn't a listing of stores that carried the product like I had witnessed before in the Toronto area.  It really should be amusing how Loblaws management stick-handles this logistical dumpling issue.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hazeldean Mall Stop on the Subway of Sandwiches

Subway on UrbanspoonThursday I found myself out for a meeting in Kanata near Hazeldean Mall (300 Eagleson Road, Kanata). With time to kill, I stopped off for lunch.  I perused the small food court of an A&W, Sushi Terayaki and Subway.  I chose the latter as A&W's line seemed to be taking forever, I didn't want Sushi and Subway's two employees seemed to be moving their line consistently.   I ventured forth, got in line, and ordered.

The Order: 1 Cold Cut Combo with Sun chips and fountain Coke.

The two ladies behind the counter were quick.  Moving steadily from grabbing the bread, topping the sandwich and getting me on my way.

The Hazeldean Mall food court area is pretty small compared to other larger malls.  Not too many people use it either on a weekday lunch.  So finding a seat is not an issue.

I sat down and opened my quick yet neatly prepared sandwich and dug in.  A traditional combination of mayonnaise, tomatoes, lettuce and onions.  Nothing overpowering in taste and, the best part of all, none of the toppings falling out the end.  But they didn't skimp on the veggies or other toppings either.  Just a smart put together sandwich.

The only weird part of the Subway experience?  The refills.  Sure the fountain pop machine is customer accessible to chose your own beverage instead of having the employee do it for you.  But usually these machines are not accompanied with a tiny sign slightly hidden away saying "No Refills, Refills $1.00".  Perhaps the addition of this sign was needed because the franchisee was too cheap to reorient the machine so it was no longer customer accessible.

Overall, this Subway is an average small mall fast food sandwich storefront. Employees efficiently work together to move the steady customer flow in an efficient manner.  Sandwiches are neatly put together and wrapped for clean eating. I'd return to this Subway stop for sandwich again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Half Price Quiznos Sub? Sure I'd Bank on That!

Quiznos on UrbanspoonThe previous week, I received a few Quiznos coupons in the mail.  So Friday for lunch I stopped off at Quiznos (139 Bank Street, Ottawa) in hopes of eating a nice sandwich.

I walked in at 11 A.M. to see one employee behind the counter who inquired what I would like to order.

After perusing the menu and reading the fine print on the coupon I was ready.

The Order: The Traditional Sandwich (Roast beef, Turkey Breast, Honey-Cured Ham, Cheddar, Tomato, Lettuce, Red Onion, Black Olive, Ranch Dressing) with a fountain Coke. 

The employee made the sandwich and zipped it through the conveyor belt oven and pulled it out on the other side ready for vegetable toppings.   After that I was off to attempt to retrieve my drink.  

At the drink machine I filled my glass with ice and tried the Coke dispenser.  Nothing, not even a drop.  I looked back at the employee and explained the situation.  

Quiznos Storefront

The employee said he forgot to turn the fountain machine on, I just needed to turn the machine on.  A turn to the right and the machine was on!  The Coke fountain worked and I was off.  Who knew you had to turn on the machine?  I guess this method is to ensure any unscrupulous overnight employees don't abscond with unpaid for or untracked fountain beverages of any type.  

I sat down in the front window and reviewed the sandwich.  Looked well put together with little extra toppings to slip out. The sandwich was delicious with a little melted cheesy taste to it.  Add in the the cooked meat and this sandwich could become one of my favorites.  

Overall, for a six dollar and change meal it wasn't too bad.  Minus the fountain drink fiasco, it was a pretty good lunch for the price paid. 

Nuclear Meltdown of Service at Atomic Rooster

Atomic Rooster on UrbanspoonFriday for dinner my wife and I headed over to Atomic Rooster (303 Bank Street, Ottawa).  We arrived at 4:15 P.M. to a place recommended more for a weekend breakfast spot by one of my former reliable coworkers.

We stood in the front door not knowing whether to seat ourselves or to wait for someone to show us to a table.  There seemed to be two waitresses chatting on the left side of the restaurant. Meanwhile a bar tender slinging drinks on the right to about 10 patrons at the bar.  Ironically it was the bartender who politely raised her voice and said to sit anywhere we want while the two waitresses continued to chat.

We chose a table in the front window and sat down.  We chatted for 10 minutes while periodically looking over to see if anyone noticed our existence.  The two waitresses eventually stopped chatting as one headed to the kitchen and disappeared.  The other started walking across to the bar to perhaps get menus?  Nope, no hope there as she just merely continued her gabbing with a new victim....THE BARTENDER!

We waited until 4:30 P.M. and left.  No one even acknowledged our existence except for the initial yell across the restaurant by the bartender.  The two waitresses were more interested in chatting to each other and their coworkers than serving customers.  The only person in the entire place with 20 patrons in attendance doing any resemblance of work was the bartender.

We left Atomic Rooster with a sense that the only thing "Atomic" in there was the nuclear meltdown of service.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Melt Down in Service at MLT DOWN

MLT DWN on UrbanspoonFriday for lunch I thought I would return to the new food court at the Rideau Centre.  This time I had my eyes locked on MLT DWN (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa)  an interesting looking grilled cheese sandwich shop new to Ottawa. This is the ownership's second store, with the other being in Kingston, Ontario, and so far seemed to be a success.  Such a success even the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has taken notice and agreed the food was delicious.
I joined the line at 12 noon as the Rideau Centre's lunch time rush was picking up steam. The line was long, but it let me peruse the menu.

MLT DWN Food Court Storefront
 The line moved slowly as one cashier gradually took orders. It was a very slow progression forward compared to MLT DWN's neighbour, Big Smoke Burger, which  was moving at a steady pace.  Sure there were two cash registers physically there and only one being used at MLT DWN, but this was not the issue.  After debating leaving the line after a 10 minute wait of barely moving through the first length of the storefront of the 3 storefront length customer que, I figured out the issue.

MLT DWN's main service issue is lack of trained staff and coordination in preparing the sandwiches.  Sure they had four staff members behind the counter in the kitchen area.  One was making sandwiches and another waffle fries. Another person puts the orders together at the front counter taking items from the sandwich maker and the fryer preparation area and handling the drink orders. The other staff member seems to be moving things in and out of the back.  Meanwhile, there are 8 total panini style sandwich makers for the restaurant with only maximum 4 in use at any one time. With a total wait of about 30 minutes to get from the back of the line to the cash and another 10 minutes to receive your order, this has already chewed up 40 minutes of a typical one hour lunch period for the average office worker. Hopefully this melt down in service speed will be improved in the coming weeks or otherwise customers may look elsewhere to lunch options due to the extreme amount of time it takes to even order!

Once my order was taken we moved down the line to watch the sandwich cook and the order put together.

The Order: 1 Herb Chicken Sandwich with Waffle Fries and a Raspberry Coke.

One of the last stops at MLT DWN's storefront counter is the condiment stand which is interesting.  There are three ketchups to choose from to pair up with your waffle fries.  A Pepper Ketchup, regular ketchup and another option which I can't remember at this time.

I took my newly assembled order and had a seat in the busy food court.

Herb Chicken sandwich with Waffle Fries and Raspberry Coke
The Herb Chicken Sandwich was incredible!  A solid but not overwhelming melted cheese with a decent piece of chicken.  The only observation was for seven dollars and change the sandwich looked small.  But unlike most food court locations, it's about quality over quantity at MLT DWN

The waffle fries were an interesting take on the regular fries.  MLT DWN's regular fries are waffle fries that appear to be a hybrid of a waffle and a traditional french fry or like an obese All Dressed Potato chip in stature.  Taste wise by itself or with a little pepper ketchup, it's a pretty solid offering for best french fries in the Rideau Centre Food Court.  Even putting to shame the newly revamped french fries from the nearby A&W.  

One of MLT DWN's interesting concept is the soft drinks offered.  Instead of the traditional Coke, Root Beer, Sprite and other soft drinks found at A&W or McDonald's, MLT DWN offers customers different flavour additives to spice up their drinks.  I chose a Raspberry Coke and was not dissapointed.  In fact, I almost had a third of it before I left the storefront counter.

Overall, MLT DWN serves delicious quality food.  But the 30 to 40 minute wait to order and receive the food is major draw back especially when it's obvious that store staff are only using half the cooking capacity of the kitchen.  Hopefully in the coming weeks more store staff can be hired and trained in order to move the line forward quicker. Otherwsie MLT DWN may have a few customer MELT DOWNs to handle.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Grand Opening Hiccups at Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger on UrbanspoonFriday August 1st at 11 A.M. saw the grand opening of Cadillac Fairview's Rideau Centre Food Court.  I arrived at 11:20 after letting the festivities die down and the grand unveiling by Cadillac Fairview and Rideau Centre Mall big wigs die down.  I really didn't need to see any more marketing pomp & circumstance considering I'd already been to a preview of the food court for just that purpose on Wednesday.

My first stop was Big Smoke Burger (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa), where I joined the decent of line of customers averaging about 12 at any one time.  Yes, it was a decent length of line but it moved pretty steadily with only a few hiccups here and there.  These hiccups will be a theme for the rest of the visit and hopefully will be fixed over the coming days.

The first step, after joining the line is ordering.  With two cash registers and one common line this process moves quickly and orderly.  The cashier asks what you would like to order and makes sure all items are correctly entered into the computer.  Similar to Starbucks, Big Smoke Burger takes your name so you know which order is yours that comes out the other end.

Big Smoke Burger Rideau Centre Food Court Storefront on opening day.
Next, customers move along watching as the team of over 12 employees move your order from grill, to topping to putting together your plate.  12 employees? Yes Big Smoke Burger was ready for the crush of prospective customers to be served.  Kudos on being prepared with more than enough manpower.

The last step is for the employee putting together the order to finish up and hand you your order with a smile. This is where another hiccup occurs on opening day at Big Smoke Burger.  Apparently, on the receipts the team uses to put together custom orders drink types were not included.  This is an issue considering the cash register where the order is taken is at the opposite end of your order unlike at many fast food locations like Wendy's or McDonald's where the cashier looks after the drinks.  A dumbfounded look on the query of "I ordered a Coke with the combo, is it coming soon?" was a little puzzling. This was until the manager, further up the production line indicated that the computer system needs to be adjusted and asked the cashiers to write the drink orders on the receipts before passing them on.  My drink arrived within 30 seconds and I was off.

Classic Burger Combo with Fries & Coke
 I sat down with my tray with plate, drink and other condiment holders.  The quick difference from a traditional food court was the real glass, china plate, bowl for fries and a condiment dish for the ketchup.  Not sure why the fries required it's own bowl as the burger did come on a plate.  The Rideau Centre is supposedly trying to reduce the vast amounts of trash from that emanates from food court operations.  One of the major ways to do this is by using dishes. Sure fries traditionally come in separate packaging within a food court, but not in a traditional restaurant setting on average. So perhaps a reduction in dishes requiring to be washed and in turn the amount of water used during the dish washing process.

The burger was my first target.  Optically it didn't look really good with the garnishes present.  The whole burger look slap-dashed together with the lettuce leaf hanging over the edge especially.  Add to this the first bight tasted like the burger had been on the grill a little too long.  Perhaps, again, this was an opening day hiccup but not a great introduction for a restaurant.

The fries were the popular put the entire potato through the slicer.  The fries were decently cooked with a nice golden brown with a soft texture. Accompanied with a dash of ketchup these fries were excellent.

I dropped my empty dishes and tray off at the nearest counter to a smiling Rideau Centre lady quickly and easily.

Overall, the Big Smoke Burger understandingly needs to iron out a few opening day issues such as overcooking food and fulfilling drink orders. Price wise at $12.45, including taxes, for a meal this size seems a little questionable. The quality attempt is probably there, after ironing out the overcooking of the burger issue. Sure this is a mall food court and prices typically are a little higher.  But for a supposed premium burger and quantity of fries Five Guys Burgers & Fries is probably a better deal. There is promise in quality at Big Smoke Burger, the systems just need a little refinement.

Finally, the new plate, cutlery and glass system the Rideau Centre has going on will be interesting to observe over the coming weeks and months.  Will these designer dishes gradually dissappear due to the theft and the mall return to trash?  Will prices increase to compensate for the manpower to collect and wash the dishes?  Will customers continue to take the trays to the counter to be processed and will these counters be properly staffed?  It will be interesting to see how the Rideau Centre answers these questions in time.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Rideau Centre Food Court: A Review

Rideau Centre Food Court opening August 1st

Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to preview the new Rideau Centre's Food Court which will be officially open Friday August 1st at 11 A.M.  The event started promptly at 5 P.M. with treated to cocktails and hors d'ouevres.  Nothing like a glass of Jackson Triggs Chardonnay to start off an evening.

I spent about an hour wandering around the limited area of the food court we were allowed to.  Attendees were limited at first to the area they could roam due to construction still being finished up on quite a few store fronts including the Green Rebel.

Green Rebel under construction

Obviously with a preview, finishing up construction and minor cleaning was to be expected.  But considering some of the storefronts were still saran wrapped in covered in construction dusts, I don't expect everything to be ready by Friday.    One reason for the possible unpreparedness by at least a day is the hydro outage that occurred on Monday that forced many stores to close and probably the food court construction to be halted.


However, there was at least one storefront ready and excited to open.  Purdy's Chocolates was open and ready for business with their Hedgehog Mascot available for pictures and an exuberant Master Choclatier making Raspberry Truffles.

Purdy's Chocolate

After finishing the wine and some snacks I took one last round of the food court area.  The food court was most definitely brighter, newer and shinier than old one located at the front of the mall whose last day was today (July 31st).  The newer food court is also much larger and more spacious than the older one that can be harder to find a table at.  As well, the new food court has many new restaurants from Montreal and the Toronto areas that I have yet to test out with a few food restaurants carrying over to their new locations. Finally the food court's ambiance is hopefully going to be improved with the new modern design, the introduction of international food offerings and the introduction of dishes.

Despite all the positivity  and A few nagging questions though do remain.  The new dishes and cutlery are to be introduced in hopes of reducing the amount of garbage the traditional food court.  But how is the new food court going to keep said dishes from walking out the door?   As well traditionally the older food court tended to be occupied by a lot of interesting characters at times who loitered there.  How will this issue be resolved especially with the introduction of metal knives now being used?  Finally, many of the prices at the old food court for simple fast food lunch heading towards the $10.00 mental barrier for an affordable lunch, will the new Rideau Centre Food Court going to entertain economical prices for it's customers?  These questions will be easily answered over the coming days and weeks as the reviews from the average diner come in and the amount of china decreases.

Overall, the new Rideau Centre Food Court has been correctly marketed as a grand new place to eat.  Although, there are lingering questions around pragmatic issues like dishes disappearing and increase the quality of clientele over the old status quo food court.  Will this component of the continuously hyped Rideau Centre renovation and expansion live up to its billing or will it be a gradual flop with the possible return of fast food containers and undesirables?  Only once the doors open August 1st at 11 A.M. and over the next couple of weeks will we be able to tell if this was marketing company genius' success or flop.

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