Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Harvey's Hamburger by Committee

Harvey's on UrbanspoonVisited Harvey's (1339 Bank Street, Ottawa) across Bank Street from the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre on Friday for lunch.

I entered at 11:30 A.M. to be second in line behind a gentleman just finishing up ordering.  Two more customers came immediately after me and a minute after them three more.  Seems like I lucked out in getting there when I did as this Harvey's was about to get busy.

I waited patiently with my Original Hamburger Combo meal for $4.99 coupon in hand.  I looked around at the quiet restaurant with only about a group of six people sitting at one table while the others were unoccupied.

I was next and handed my coupon to the cashier wearing a drive thru headset before ordering.

The Order: 1 Original Hamburger with fries and a Coke.

I was then shuffled off to left to wait my burger.  I looked at the waiting area where the food from the grill area normally resides ready to be topped or added to orders.  No burgers there and the gentleman ahead of me was still waiting for his.  In the kitchen area were two workers working on fries and one on the grill madly grilling burger paddies. They both looked up with a spacey like look on their faces to the heavens which I guess is where the order screen is.

The first burger came up and an Asian employee picked it up and inquired with the gentleman ahead of me what he would like on it.

Another employee arrived out of the back with bowls of toppings.  That would be the fifth employee with three at the front and two working the kitchen.  The employee schlepping the toppings headed back to the back again.

The next burger came up which I supposed to be for me.  Would I sit there until the Asian employee had finished with the gentleman before me?  Nope, the first employee with the headset came over, washed her hands, put on a pair of gloves, grabbed my burger and inquired what I would like on it.

"Everything but hot peppers" came my reply.

Midway through topping my burger someone at the drive thru wanted to order.  The employee stopped topping my burger and clicked a button to activate her headset to say she would be right with them. She was interrupted one more time from the drive thru thus preventing her from finishing topping the sandwich.   Fortunately one of the workers at the grill, took over the drive thru by saying there was a delivery truck in the way and the drive thru was closed but they would be more than willing to serve them if they came in the restaurant.

My burger was topped, added to my tray, fries retrieved and I was off to find a:

a) Napkins

b) Straw

c) Ketchup.

Scratch c) Ketchup as just before heading to the condiment stand, the lady with the funky headset asked if I wanted ketchup with my fries?  Right, apparently Harvey is a little stingy on the ketchup just like Mr. A&W.

After visiting the reasonably clean condiment station was a search for the table.  The restaurant opened at 10:30 a.m. so why, at 11:40ish did every table have a random selection of napkins and other gunk on them except for the one I chose?   Random question I know, but it shouldn't be at a properly run fast food place barely over an hour after opening.

The burger was the typical Harvey's Original burger you would expect.  Heavy and gooey on the toppings while tasting great.

The fries were the right temperature and I lucked out at not getting the bottom of the potato barrel with the little overcooked bits.

Halfway through eating my fries I noticed no customers were left to order or have their meal prepared.  With five employees behind the counter you would figure at least one of them would take notice of the dining area with random crap on the table and maybe even bust out a mop to neaten up the floor. Sadly this was not the case as all five employees stayed behind the counter rearanging the tomatoes, pickles and french fries.

Overall, the "Harvey's Restaurant by Comitee" format surprisingly worked.  No employees in the preparation of my meal stood around looking useless. They all pulled it together as several customers, including myself, arrived at the same time as they all pitched in.  However, a little cleaning around the edges when not busy would make the restaurant experience a little more improved.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally an Uneventful McDonald's Visit

McDonald's on UrbanspoonLast Wednesday I grabbed a coupon for a free McDonald's extra value meal and headed out to Innes Road in Gloucester to have lunch and buy a box of computer paper from Costco.

First stop though, McDonald's (1890 Innes Road, Ottawa) for a free meal due to one of my previous visits to the McDonald's location at Ottawa Train Yards.

I visited the Innes Road McDonald's shortly after noon to find a calm suburban modernly renovated corporate standard interior.  I visited the counter and waited for a customer in front of me to be finished ordering.

I ventured forth after the previous customer ordered and was met by a smiling female employee.  What a difference, she asked how she could help and I handed her the coupon and ordered.

The Order: 1 Big Mac Extra Value meal (with Medium fries and Medium Coke)

I paid and stepped to the left to wonder what was next.  Would I stand there waiting for my order to hit my tray in aggravation?  Aggravation that I would be able to see the packaged Big Mac slide down from the kitchen ready but nobody would be there to retrieve it?  The smell of fries emanated from behind the counter, they were ready, but would someone be there to grab it?   Would I have to vault the counter John Pinette, work the fries, get things moving and be employee of the month for January even though I didn't work there?  

Before I could I finish thinking of the above, the manager came over wearing the drive thru headset on, grabbeed the Big Mac, Fries and put them on my tray.  He quickly followed up with a medium drink glass and I was off to the soft drink fountain to pour my Coke, grab some napkins and a straw.

Over at the fountain pop station along with the condiment station, the place was clean.  Not a strewn napkin to be seen or splash of Coke or ketchup to be found.  

Next, the table.  I found a large booth table and sat down.  It too was clean and so was the one behind me that the previous customer sat down with his wife at.

How was this McDonald's able to do so well cleanliness wise?

Before I could open the Big Mac container or taste a french fry, the answer was right in front of me.  A manager who had broken his arm, picked up a small stack of trays and was returning it to the front counter.  He was doing what he could with a broken arm to keep the place going.  Cleaning up the seating area and running orders outside to those who had the unfortunate luck of ordering something that wasn't quite ready.  The manager had a smile on his face moving as fast as he could with one arm doing the moving and the other in a sling.

The Big Mac and Fries were perfect.  Made to corporate standards without anything missing on the burger and both were the perfect temperature.

McDonald's on Innes Road

Overall, after visiting this McDonald's passing by to visit the nearby Rona, Home Depot, Costco or other places, I've enjoyed good service and decent McDonald's products.  The McDonald's is a modern inside with electric fireplaces and comfortable atmosphere.  A showplace of the way a McDonald's franchise should be run, clean, courteous service with corporate acceptable food served.  A refreshing change to the past couple of visits I've experienced at McDonald's

Sunday, January 19, 2014

False Advertising Ripoff at McDonald's: The Saga Continues

McDonald's on Urbanspoon
After a bad visit to McDonald's (450 Terminal Avenue, Ottawa) at Wal-Mart in the Ottawa Train Yards I completed the "Tell Us How We Did Today" online survey about my previous visit.  I also made sure to include the link to my previous post in the comments and requested an e-mail response for a follow up.

An e-mail came back on December 31st from a "Mike" an Assistant Manager of "McDonald's Restaurants of Canada".  The e-mail address noted it was franchise # 10609 which didn't seem to match the Franchise # of Train Yards found on the receipt I had (Franchise # 40213).  I Googled Mike's phone number of 613-739-3458 was listed as being associated with a McDonald's on Riverside Drive near the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre. But, I will give Mike credit for his e-mail though as he actually seemed to care about what my customer experience at the McDonald's Train Yards location was like. The proof this was not a canned response:

a) He noted in his e-mail that he was disappointed that I received service and atmosphere below standards on multiple occasions.

b) Noted he is personally investigating the discrepancy in price difference across the computer systems in the market to see what is causing it.    

As well, Mike offered to mail some coupons to me if I provided an address.  I followed up on this e-mail that day with my address an contact information.

I waited until January 11th for either an e-mail response from the Assistant Manager or coupons to arrive in the mail.  Nothing arrived from the Assistant Manager in the mail or via e-mail.

Curiously though as I waited for Mike to come through with the promised coupons, I received an e-mail on January 6th from a "Jeff" with a "@altemar.ca" e-mail address.  I Googled "altemar.ca" and came up empty as a web address or anything related to McDonald's.

Jeff's e-mail though was standard corporate apology baffle gab stating "it was with deep regret that I received your complaint..."  All in one noticeably copied and pasted paragraph signing off with the store's franchise # of 40213). But interestingly enough, on this same e-mail, Jeff CC's the 40213 McDonald's franchise e-mail address.

So the question comes down to who is "Jeff" a local area privately contracted management type by McDonald's with a "atlemar.ca" web address?  Why is CCing the franchise "40213" address?  If Jeff believes McDonald's takes "tremendous pride in serving our customers the highest level of Customer Service each and every visit" then how come it took his franchise team almost a week to respond to the customer response? Sure I did receive a response from an Assistant Manager, but Mike doesn't appear to be from franchise 40213 associated with McDonald's at Wal-Mart Train Yards.

To make matters worse "Jeff" also CC'd another franchise, 2818 and a "Holly".  I Googled Holly's full name and came up with a media report of her handing out an Employee Scholarship to a Brockville McDonald's employee last summer.  At least a local corporate type, "Holly" was now aware of the service and cleanliness issues at McDonald's Train Yards location.

I replied back to "Jeff" and company also on January 6th pointing out I had received an e-mail from "Mike" and was awaiting the promised coupons and would be willing to return to the McDonald's Train Yards location once they were received.

Back to Mike now on January 11th.  I e-mailed Mike again, while CCing the franchise 2218, 40213, "Holly" and "Jeff" inquiring if Mike had received my previous e-mail with the address to mail the coupons to or what the status of the coupons was.    I also including mentioning CCing the others as I had received an e-mail from them as well apologizing for my experience and to keep them in the communications loop.

Mike replied quickly the next day saying they had run our stamps and could not be purchased on New Years day, January 1st. He did note that they had been mailed and I should receive them soon.

I received the coupons and a letter from Mike on January 14th. Curiously though Canada Post's post mark was dated January 13th.  Apparently it takes McDonald's a while to purchase stamps and get things in the mail.  Sure you cannot purchase stamps on January 1st as Canada Post and most stores are closed. Buy January 2nd and onwards post offices, Costco and other stamp retailers are open.

Also of note on the envelope, the return address of 2269 Riverside Drive was not the McDonald's I visited.  That is the address of the McDonald's I Googled Mike's number from.  But at least he came through with promised coupons.

The coupons I received included 1 free large sandwich value meal (i.e. a Big Mac, Medium Fries and Medium Soft drink) and a 10% off coupon for a visit to the 2269 Riverside Drive McDonald's.

The letter was also interesting, it was not addressed to me.  It started with "Dear Shayla...." Um, who is Shayla?  Probably another customer who filled out the online survey with a bad experience at some McDonald's in the Ottawa area.   I guess whoever got the task of inserting the letters into envelopes and handwriting the addresses does not have the attention to detail to ensure the right letter goes to the right place.

I filed the coupons away for use later that week with hopes of using the coupon to see if Mike and Jeff's promises of improvements at Wal-Mart Train Yards would turn out to be true.

On January 15th I received two more envelopes in the mail from McDonald's.  Both envelopes had a return address of 1795 St. Laurent Boulevard, which is the same address as a McDonald's Restaurant.

In one envelope was a letter from a "Josephine", Restaurant Manager, with a colour letterhead from the McDonald's at Wal-Mart location I visited with my name and address in a professional formatted business letter.  But a form letter apologizing for any inconvenience and thanking me for filling out their online survey. Josephine included in this envelope coupons for 2 free breakfast meal coupons (i.e. an egg mcmuffin, hashbrown and small coffee), 2 free McCafe Beverages and 2 Large sandwich value meals (i.e. Big Mac Meals).   Interestingly, the letter was not hand signed like Mike's was.

In the second envelope a letter from a "Josephine" was a generic "Dear Sir/Madam" photocopied apology letter from the 1795 St. Laurent Boulevard McDonald's location.  Josephine's same last name and "Restaurant Manager" was on the bottom of that letter as well without a signature.  In this envelope was 2 free meals (i.e. big mac meals) with an expiration date of December 2014 on them.

McDonald's in Ottawa in terms of Customer Service has it about half right.

After receiving the above e-mails and written correspondence from McDonald's representatives, here is what I believe should have happened. By all means send an e-mail in a timely manner referencing directly referencing the customer's experience and apologizing for it as well as offering to make amends by sending coupons.  The letters should be on professional McDonald's letterhead in business format and hand signed by the manager.

But make sure that e-mail comes from the management at the franchise location or McDonald's area or district supervisor and not an "Assistant Manager" from what optically looks like another McDonald's franchise.  Also, do not send an additional apology e-mail from someone else (i.e. "Jeff") or an additional letter (nevermind 2 envelopes) with form letters.  Last but not least, make sure the correct letter gets into the correct envelope, especially if you are going to hand write the address on the front of the envelope.

McDonald's in Wal-Mart at Ottawa Train Yards

With an avalanche of McDonald's coupons in hand, my wife and I decided Wednesday for dinner we would try McDonald's at Wal-mart in the Ottawa Train Yards should be put to the test to see if Mike, Jeff & Josephine's beliefs that, as Josephine notes in one of her letters,  "McDonald's does its best to maintain high standards of quality, service and cleanliness and value to guarantee that each visit you make to our restaurant is a pleasant one.

We arrived around 5 P.M. to the McDonald's location and only had to wait for one customer in front of us to order. There were two cash registers open with one regular employee and one supervisor taking orders. The supervisor disappeared to fill a couple of orders and the employee switched registers to take our order. We handed our coupons to the employee and attempted to order. The employee looked up, after reviewing the coupons,looked at us strangely with the look of "how in the hell do I ring this in?" and asked her supervisor. I do not fault the employee for not knowing these coupons as they are not the normal everyday coupons received in the mail.

The supervisor  came over and took the coupons, read them and asked what we would like to order:

The Order:  1 McChicken Meal and 1 Big Mac Meal (both come with medium fries and medium fountain).

The supervisor rang in the order and looked at me and said, "that will be $16.50".

Before I could say anything she did a double take and said, sorry, that wouldn't be it, took the coupons off and got my free meal.

We collected our tray and headed over to the relatively clean seating area.  It appeared to be a slow night at the Wal-Mart McDonald's as there were only two other tables occupied.  One McDonald's employee was mopping the floors and the tables looked at least to have had a wipe within the past couple of hours instead of that day.
Our food was decent temperature and tasted like it was made to McDonald's corporate specifications. Things appeared to be looking up for this McDonald's.  Josephine, Mike and Jeff's possibly may have intervened to review staffing, cleanliness and quality.  Value? $16.50 for two McDonald's meals at regular price is a little atrocious.  $14 and change perhaps, but quite frankly much above $14 is pushing it considering the portion sizes. 

I returned on Friday for lunch with another coupon for a free meal in hand.  

I arrived to be third in line with two cash registers open. After ordering with the same employee I had on Wednesday evening, things started to get interesting.  

The Order: 1 Big Mac Meal (Big Mac Sandwich, Medium Fries and Medium Drink). 

The employee, who was not wearing a name tag, tried her best to promo the items.  I tried showing her my receipt from Wednesday's visit to see if it would help.  No go, it was not working for her.  
She called her supervisor, Roni, over who was filling orders.  He rang it in and left to fill orders again. 
The employee got out a tray and paper tray liner and put it on the counter.  I slid over to stand in front and let the next order be taken from an older francophone gentlemen.  I did note the absence of a receipt on my tray but didn't think much of it.

The gentlemen behind me slid the other side and waited for his items.   Roni started placing things on the tray in front of me.  A Big Mac, drink cup, 1 large coffee, 1 small coffee, 2 cheeseburgers and more.  I stepped back wondering where my order was.  It looked like the francophone gentleman's order but his receipt and tray were on the other side of the cash.  Roni eventually called out the order again and nobody moved.  There were only two of us waiting for our orders with zero customers in line. 

I looked at Roni and said neither of our orders is here.  The Francophone gentlemen nodded and repeated his order and I followed with  my order. 

Fortunately, the employee who had taken the orders had disappeared from view leaving poor Roni there to figure everything out. Roni went through the cash register screen to see what happened.  Roni looked flabergasted and shook his head. 

I pointed out again that I used the coupon for a free meal and pointed it out on the counter.  Roni didn't even flinch and gave me a Big Mac Sandwich, Large fries and medium drink.  I was off to the races. 

Roni then handed the other customer his order which somehow included an extra large coffee.
 
I looked for a clean table.  The place was busy.  But at least the full shopping carts were near the front of the location.   The table I chose had some ketchup on it but I artfully arranged my meal so I could avoid it.  

I did notice a tall thin lady wearing McDonald's supervisor attire cleaning the condiment and drink section by hand. She had earlier been helping behind the counter as well. Not sure who she was as there was no name tag on her either.  

The food though was made to corporate standards in terms of taste and was at least moderately warm. 

Overall, management for McDonald's at Ottawa Train Yards location can promise in writing both in e-mail and form letters that "McDonald's does its best to maintain high standards of quality, service, cleanliness and value to guarantee that each visit you make to our restaurant is a pleasant one" all it wants.  But in actuality it is just feel good corporate statements bordering on false advertising.  Sure I had one dinner at their Train Yards restaurant that was satisfactory.  But that was when they had three employees covering a slow night.  Thus, it should be expected decent to good service would be received.  But when the restaurant gets busy the wheels seem to fall off.  I will give them this, at least these last two visits had enough staffing on hand to ensure the wait in line wasn't that long.  But at least ensure the orders are correct and have someone on clean up of the restaurant tables on full time so customers don't have to pay $8.00 and change for a Big Mac Meal and then have to artfully dodge previous customer's grime on the tables that a simple wipe down would resolve. 

In the end, at least I have additional coupons to use for meals and drinks at McDonald's.  Once these run out, I will probably consider looking at the nearby Wendy's Train Yards location as the Train Yards McDonald's doesn't seem to care for "high standards" yet. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Quality Clocktower Mixed with a Little Priceyness

Clocktower Brew Pub on UrbanspoonFriday evening I wanted to try finding a new pub place in the Byward Market area that we could visit.  I had decent food at another Clocktower Brew Pub with a coworker in the New Edinburgh area of Ottawa previously.

We arrived at 4:30 P.M. after meeting my wife after work.  There was a couple of people enjoying some after work drinks at the bar.  We stood at the front entrance looking lost.  Eventually one of the servers, who turned out to possibly be the manager, said we could sit anywhere we wanted.  So my wife selected one of the tables along the wall near the front window.  The manager stopped by and dropped off menus before disappearing.

We perused the rather limited menu selection.  Sure the menus are limited, but Clocktower concentrates it's attention on providing a selection of their brewed beer instead of providing a wide ranging amount of pub food.

A waitress stopped by, took our drink order and left towards the bar area.

Five minutes later the manager who brought our menus over at the beginning came by and inquired what we would like to drink?

Really? What was the point of the other waitress stopping by then?  For kicks?

We pointed out we had let the waitress that was just here know.

The manager responded that she will have the drinks in two seconds but was with another customer and left.

In this odd situation, the manager could have easily explained the situation that the waitress was being held up by another customer and said he would personally get our drink order and be right back.  But instead of explaining the situation (i.e. the waitress was occupied) he asked for the drink order, we explained that we had given it to the waitress, he explains the waitress is occupied and then leaves empty handed.  As customers, we wanted to avoid a service screw up where we end up with two sets of drinks and be billed for it.  Instead, we ended up with nothing on the manager's attempt to be helpful.

The waitress eventually returned with our drinks and we indicated we were ready to order.

The Order: 1 Clocktower Club (Grilled Chicken breast, peameal bacon, mayo, lettuce & tomato served on a ciabatta bun) with fries and a Pepsi and 1 Ale Fish & Chips (Beer-battered haddock, fresh-cut fries, cole slaw, tarter & lemon) with a glass of water.

The waitress was off to hopefully drop off our food order.

A respectable fifteen minutes later a gentlemen returned with our food.  This was interesting considering first we started with the manager who sat us, a waitress who took our drink and food orders and now a waiter who was bringing us our food?  It seems they have many hands at this Clocktower to serve their customers, especially as we were now the second table to be occupied as another group started arriving that didn't sit to far from us.

The Clocktower Club sandwich plate was the same appearance in quantity as last time.  A sandwich on a plate served with a bowl full of french fries.  I am still questioning the need to put the fries in a bowl upon a plate. Is this for presentation or to try and increase the number of french fries?  I still can not comprehend the need for the bowl.

Taste wise the club sandwich was of perfection.  A still warm tasting piece of chicken with fresh tasting toppings accompanied by a different tasting ciabatta bun instead of the traditional white or brown bread.

The fries were also a decent offering in terms of taste and temperature.  The hot fries were a nice golden shade on the outside but still soft on the inside.  They tasted fresh but I'm doubt with Clocktower Brew Pub being a four location chain, that the fries are made on site.

The Ale Fish & Chips were excellent.  A nice large crispy on the outside piece of fish with a soft but cooked inside accompanied with the same well prepared style of french fries as the club sandwich above.  The coleslaw, I didn't get a chance to eat as my wife devoured it.  So I estimate the slaw was at the very least satisfactory.

After finishing our meal we wanted to see what would happen next.  Who would be around to clear the plates, try and entice us into coffee or tea or offer the bill?  Would it be the manager, waitress or waiter?  Who would win this game of restaurant roulette?  

The waiter returned, picked up each and every plate to clear them away.  While he was doing the traditional waiter clearing the table juggling act he asked if we wanted some coffee or tea or anything else.  Just the bill please came the reply from us.  And the waiter returned two minutes later with the bill.

Overall, Clocktower Brew Pub does well food taste wise.  Price and service need a little assistance.  The Club Sandwich rang in at $13.50 before taxes which I believe is a dollar more than other traditional club sandwiches at pubs.  Add to this the sandwich is more of a grilled chicken sandwich with club sandwich toppings and not three pieces of bread with bacon lettuce and tomato etc. cut in quarters and served with a skewer to hold it together with fries is another issue.  The portion of fries is a little suspect as they come in a bowl instead of on the plate with the sandwich so it is hard to tell.  The Fish and Chips rang in at $14.50 before taxes which is also a little high in price as well.  Add to his the traditional customer at a Brew Pub would have a beer instead of a soft drink and the price for an average meal probably is pushed over $20.00 easily per person.  Service wise we ended up with a cornucopia of people serving us.  Perhaps better service could be provided if one waiter/waitress serve a table at a time.  At least the bill was correct at the end though.  We left Clocktower feeling that sure the food was well prepared but the price at close to $40 after taxes for two people without alcoholic drinks was a little steep.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Still a Happy Holidays at Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons on UrbanspoonI've visited this Tim Hortons (269 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa) a couple of times since moving to Ottawa.  Located downtown near the intersection of Bank Street and Laurier Avenue, this Tim Hortons location is convenient to stop off at to meet someone after work during the week.  During the week? Yes, this location is oddly closed on weekends as it mostly caters to the local government office worker clientele who vacate the downtown on weekends.

Recently I visited on Friday afternoon to find about three tables occupied by government employees chatting over coffee.  I joined the sparse customer line with only one person in front of me waiting.  I've waited in this line on previous occasions to find myself fifth in line and not going fast.  Thus, it really depends on when this location is busy or if you speed through the line or end up languishing waiting for service.

The main issue with this Tim Hortons location is the lack of bakery orders which means there is not a dedicated person to make the bakery items like sandwiches, chili and bagels for those at the front.  This means individual front counter employees end up making the bakery items or a manager has to be found to make the items.  Otherwise it could be a lack of staffing for the busier times at this location.  Perhaps better study and management of personnel to increase during busier times might be in order to tweak this issue.

This time I was lucky and was served right away.  Once being attended to by the Tim Hortons employees at this location everything usually goes well.  They are attentive and fast to retrieve what you need if it is available.  Yes, later in the days the front display case of donuts and other sweet treats can be sparse.  But with a closing time of 5:30 P.M. weekdays and closed on the weekends this is expected.

I ordered, handed my change over and looked for a seat along the long counter overlooking the window to watch the passing pedestrians.

The Order: 1 Medium black coffee.

I was surprised to see my coffee to poured into and handed to me in a Tim Hortons printed Holiday cup.  Most other locations in the Ottawa area had run out and moved onto the regular boring run of the mill paper cups or onto the new Tim Hortons 50th anniversary cups.

Tim Hortons Medium Size Holiday Cup
I sat down, looked out the window and sipped my coffee quietly.  Just the great taste of a regular Tim Hortons coffee made to spec.  No screw ups by adding sugar or making it too strong, just coffee made to Tim Hortons expectations.

Overall, this Tim Hortons location needs a little tweaking.  Sometimes during busier times, service is slow and inconsistent.  During slower times service is decently apportioned.  Perhaps Tim Hortons management could gauge high and low customer demand times and reapportion staffing hours accordingly.  Otherwise this Tim Hortons works to serve the local government employee clientele.  Weekends though? Try elsewhere as this one is closed.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A New/Old Wendy's on Innes

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on UrbanspoonIt must be a slow burger month in January.  This past week I received some Wendy's coupons in my mailbox.  On top of these, in the previous three weeks I've received Burger King, Harvey's and McDonald's.  Seems they are hard up to sell their burgers and fries.  The end of the Christmas season has probably lead these big burger boosters to see a traditional decline in sales in January.  Not one to argue, I will gladly take the coupons and set out to see what I can find.

I needed to visit RONA for some home improvement items after a recent furnace inspection and the technician recommended a few venting options that would make our system run better.

Before visiting RONA, I decided I would investigate the nearby Wendy's (1511 Innes Road, Ottawa) for some lunch.  This Wendy's  is situated off of Innes but is accessible via the Home Depot and Homesense parking lot from Cyrville Road.    I entered via the Innes Road across from the nearby Travelodge.

Wendy's on Innes Road

I had been to this Wendy's before and found it to be a mediocre run of the mill Wendy's that corporate would be proud of.  The same usual carpeting with tables with decent food and service up to standard.  So I wasn't expecting much as I opened the front door after returning more than a month after my previous visit.

Upon entering, I was met with by a whole new wood floor themed look.  There was even two fancy fake fireplaces gracing a partition in the middle of the seating area. Look like the same tables and chairs as before but carpeting and a few other features were improved.  As well a new drink and condiment station had been installed meaning this was my first Wendy's where customers could actually be trusted to pour their own beverage of choice and obtain free refills!

I went through the line quickly as there was only one other customer ahead of me, dumped my coupon on the counter and ordered.

The Order: 1 Single Cheeseburger Combo with fries and Coke.

The cashier first rang in the order at the regular price resulting in a price of $7.89.  But before I could say anything realized the mistake and said "let me try this again."  She first got the coupon correct ($4.99 before tax with the coupon) and then totalled it correctly with tax for a grand total of $5.64.

Next we waited for the food to be ready.  It took a little while and the behind the counter organization looked a little disorganized.  One lady was working the burger area with a drive thru headset on.  She was busy scurrying about making burgers, cooking fries and ensuring the drive thru was taken care of.  But what about the front counter where I was standing?

The cashier moved onto the next customers as I waited.  The kitchen was empty for about 15 seconds before kitchen lady returned, made my burger and left it for pickup.  The cashier finished ringing in the next customer's order and retrieved my burger and put it on my tray along with cup for the Coke. She then disappeared out of site in the direction of the fries.   But she came back empty handed.  She avoided my gaze and looked for the next customer.

Just before I was about to say something, the kitchen lady appeared, dropped off my fries and I left for the soft drink machine and the table.

I sat down and gazed at my order.

Single Cheeseburger Combo including small fries and drink.
Memories of going to Wendy's in Aurora during my teens flooded back.  Sure the prices were cheaper back then.  Now without the coupon, I would have paid $7.89 including tax for this.  In my teenage years and not to long ago this combo would have been different.  This same combo would be a regular burger without cheese, a medium fries and a medium drink.  Both the fries and drink have been cut back in size to today's small sizes.  The burger has been changed by adding a piece of cheese.  Not sure why Wendy's corporate decided to go with adding cheese when the original option of upgrading a regular burger to add cheese was always an option.

Taste wise the burger was delicious slightly moist with decent toppings.  It was a regular size and not noticeably shrunk like has been occurring somewhat at other fast food places.

The fries sure may been shrunk in quantity in combo size, but were just as I remembered them as a teen.  Chewy on the inside and outside but not soggy gross.  

The Coke was even satisfactory as well for a fountain drink.  I only mention this as it was a nice touch of Wendy's to allow free refills.  But I guess the move by McDonald's to institute the idea of moving the soft drink machines from behind the counter might of pushed Wendy's into doing this.

Overall, this Wendy's has improved over my last visit.  The redesign was totally worth while to present a modern dining approach while still maintaining the fast food burger experience.  Added plus was the cashier adding another sheet of coupons to each tray in hopes of enticing customers to return in the future.  This is the first time I have seen in a while where a fast food place actually puts out coupons at the store to entice people to return.  Will I return? Most definitely if the coupons are still valid for my next visit. Otherwise, at $7.89 including taxes for a single cheeseburger, small fries and small drink, probably not.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Don't Presse for too Much at this Cafe

Presse Cafe on UrbanspoonWas at the Ottawa Public Library returning a book and decided to try out a nearby coffee shop to see if it was any good.  I visited Presse Cafe (140 O'Connor Street, Ottawa)  shortly after 12:30 P.M. to find the modern looking Parisian deli style cafe full of federal government office workers enjoying their lunch.

I decided to line up to obtain my coffee.  I started by walking past the deli part of the service area.  Along one wall was a a deli with different meats, vegetables and salads with two workers behind it filling orders. Next was the cash counter where I stopped to wait for the two customers ahead of me to pay and leave.

First customer cooperated and was out the door in 30 seconds.  The second, no such luck.  She took her sweet time extracting her wallet out of her purse, finding the change and handing it to the cashier before trying to reorganize her wallet into her life story holder called "the purse".   This delay meant one of the customers who was getting his order together at the deli was now breathing down the back of my neck to pay for his while I stood their empty handed.  

I pivoted and went back to the deli and inquired with one of the deli employees if I could get a coffee.  Sure came the reply and I ordered

The Order: 1 Medium Black French Vanilla Coffee.

My coffee cup was filled and brought to the cash counter where I got behind the gentlemen in line who was finishing up paying for his lunch.  He was much more organized and was out the door.  I paid $2.35 for the coffee (taxes included) and left.

$2.35 was a little expensive for a Medium coffee in the Ottawa area.  Even worse, it is more expensive of "Ministry of Coffee" ($2.10) which, as an average coffee drinker, would be more of an authority on coffee than Presse Cafe.  But was Presse's coffee worth the extra coinage?

The French Vanilla Coffee was pretty good.  A little creamier than a Second Cup French Vanilla offering but excellent offering.  It tasted like Cafe Presse added real cream instead of probably the fake or less than enough cream offered by their competitors.

Size wise, the coffee filled an equivalent cup to that of a Tim Horton's Medium.  So quantity wise Presse Cafe doesn't skimp.

Overall, the coffee was a little pricey for an average cup of coffee. But quantity and quality wise it either meets or beats it's rivals.  Prices seem to be a little higher as well for lunches ranging around $7.00 for a sandwich.  But at least the ingredients look fresh and each lunch is hand made to perfection.  Presse Cafe seems to be taken the restaurant plan of quality as well as quantity which means the prices are going to be slightly higher.  Thus, Press Cafe is not necessarily your everyday cafe but a place to go if you are looking to celebrate a small milestone like finishing the work week or a tough work project.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Harvey's Makes Your Hamburger an Innes Road Thing

Harvey's on UrbanspoonRecently received some coupons for Harvey's in my mailbox.  With an Original combo for $4.99 I thought I would venture out to Gloucester to try the Harvey's (1899 Cyrville Road, Ottawa) there.

I visited at 12:30 P.M. right in the middle of the Friday afternoon lunch rush.  The Harvey's is a newish modernly built restaurant with tile flooring and modern furniture as opposed the old school fast food style other locations posses.

I ventured up the counter and only had to wait for one customer to finish ordering before cashier could take my order.  I handed her my coupon and ordered.

The Order: 1 Original Hamburger Combo with Regular Fries and 20 Oz Pepsi.

My receipt was printed and the cashier inquired if I would like my order "for here" or "to go".  "For here" was the answer.

I was then shuffled off to the area where the burgers and drinks are prepared.  The cashier quickly poured the drink from the soft drink dispenser and added it and a handful of napkins to my tray.  

Next I wait in the traditional "Harvey's Pergatory".  After placing your order your receipt waits in front of the topping stations with your tray or "to go" paper bag for someone to fill your orders.  Some days it can seem like hours pass by you to finally win the Harvey's lottery, get your burger topped, fries given and out the door to go.  To add to fun in "Harvey's Pergatory" sometimes someone comes by, shuffles your tray down and leaves or moves you down to another station where you sit three deep waiting for the guy behind the counter to finish the two customers ahead of you he's dutifully been assigned.  But at least at this Harvey's you don't get that.

Sure you get set up for the "Harvey's Pergatory" and all things were set to point for a long wait.  The supervisor was seen scurrying around near the cash and moving trays up to the topping area. I really didn't understand what she was doing but running around looking like a chicken with her head cut off.  My tray must have been shuffled down two times before reaching the "I'm next" phase.  

Things were looking pretty dire as there was only one employee topping burgers and she had three to go before my tray.  I was settling in for at least five minutes of waiting for her to fetch the burgers, top them, figure out how many fries were needed and then getting to me.   Just as she left to get the burgers a mirage happenned.

Could it be?

Another employee came by, scooped up my tray and called out my order.  I caught his attention and we were off to another station.  He reviewed the receipt, put on a pair of gloves, grabbed my burger and asked what I wanted on it.  Soon I was off with an original burger topped with everything but hot peppers to find a seat.

I found a round table near the front windows to watch the busy parking lot of Innes Road Plaza and, in the distance the passing suburban traffic of Innes Road.  Great parking lot view!

The Original burger was perfectly topped Harvey's style.  Slightly sloppy but not tastefully good with somewhat fresh toppings.  "Somewhat fresh?" Yes, Harvey's centrally distributes all the toppings instead of having them delivered fresh unlike what might happen at the more mom and pop burger places.  But were the toppings overly bad? No sir, they were just average Harvey's toppings not fresh but not rotting turn your stomach either.

The fries were a little disappointing.  Harvey's fries always seem to be little pieces of deep fried potatoes with a few slightly longer ones that make it worthwhile.  Today's batch seemed to be all the little pieces no bigger than the finger nail of my thumb.  The odd thing is at this Harvey's I could see in the background of the kitchen a guy wearing a plastic apron feeding potatoes through the slicer.  I guess the fruits of his toiling were not for the average french fries of Harvey's but for some other higher priced newly invented Harvey's delacacy.  The weird part of this potato slicing was this was the first time I've seen anyone in a Harvey's working a slicer with potatoes.

Overall, this Harvey's is a modern looking Harvey's with the same quality of corporate rule following food you would find at an average Harvey's throughout southern Ontario.  Nothing special but also nothing outlandishly off.  Sure the fries may have been smaller than normal, but the fries tasted just the same as always.

A World of Tea in Maple Valley

Maple Valley Tea World on UrbanspoonWas downtown yesterday to visit my wife after work.  I had some time and was a little cold. How to quell the bone chilling cold?  A tea would be excellent!  I ventured over to the Byward Market Square building to visit Maple Valley Tea World (55 Byward Market Square, Ottawa).

I visited this little tea shop artfully arranged with a couple of tables surrounded by shelves of nothing but large jars of loose leaf tea and tea pots.  

This spot is quite popular during the summer months as the store opens the side windows to give a pseudo outdoor seating affect and to let those that wish to people watch the nearby busy sidewalk.

There was only one table taken by  a couple enjoying their afternoon tea.

Thus, the person behind the counter was available immediately to take my order.

The Order:  1 Regular Peppermint Tea.

A quick wait for the server to visit one of the shelves, grab the peppermint loose leaf tea, pour hot water and hand me my cup and I was off for the -24 degree Celsius trudge to pick up my wife from work.

The peppermint tea cup size, for a regular, was significant.  It was similar to the size of a Tim Hortons Medium.  For $2.50 it may seem steep, but for loose leaf tea specially prepared it is worth it and tastes better than local coffee shops offerings.

Overall, if you love tea and happen to be in the Byward Market, check out Maple Valley Tea World. You will be glad you did as they provide an assortment of tea coupled with friendly advice to answer your tea related questions. Pretty cool idea to tour the market with a nice hot cup of tea in your hand.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!


Last night my wife and I headed over to Ottawa City Hall to check out the 2nd annual Hogmanay celebration presented by the The Scottish Society of Ottawa.  After hearing about and seeing the results of last year's Hogmanay celebrations at Ottawa City Hall, we thought we would actually go and take a peak.

We got off the bus at the Mackenzie King Bridge station behind the Rideau Centre and ventured toward Ottawa City Hall.  From the Mackenzie King Bridge Ottawa City Hall was colourfully lit up for the Christmas Season. 

Ottawa City Hall lit up for Christmas Season

There was some to do at City Hall.  First, in front of city hall was the usual slap your skates on and enjoy the Rink of Dreams ice with fully lit up neon lit boards.  

Rink of Dreams

Still outside of City Hall, near the Rink of Dreams, was an outdoor stage to be used after 9 P.M. for an outdoor concert until shortly before midnight followed by fireworks lit from the roof of City Hall. It being one of the coldest nights in Ottawa in 2013, we decided to skip this part, so no fireworks for us that night.

Inside were six foot long tables lining each side of the hallway of City Hall with things for kids to do. Also, on these tables were displays of Scottish heritage information explaining what exactly a Hogmanay is.

At 6 P.M. the events inside were to start at the indoor stage set up in Jean Pigott place.  First up of course was a short introduction followed by the Glengarry Pipe Band.   The pipers and drummers lined up outside the council chamber to receive instructions and march in. 

Glengarry Pipe Band receiving instructions.

The unfortunate part of the evening was the phone I was taking pictures with died as the Glengarry Pipe Band was marching into Jean Pigott Place to play.  But at least I caught some of the video. 


We left City Hall looking to check out what was happening on Sparks Street.  Tried first entering Sparks Street from Elgin Street only to be faced with high blue metal fencing and what appeared to be the back of a stage area.  This was understandably a back entrance for performers and others.  So we walked around to Wellington Street and Metcalfe, admired the Christmas lights on Parliament Hill, and reattempted.  Nope, more high blue fencing accompanied by large yellow burly looking security guards.  

One last crack at it by going down to O'Connor and Sparks Street via Wellington Street.  At Wellington and O'Connor we were met by a bubbily female security guard who was guarding a traffic barrier and only letting in authorized vehicles.  We explained our plight of trying to get to Sparks Street after noticing more blue fencing further down on O'Connor.  She replied we could go in via O'Connor and the blue fencing we saw as on the south side of Sparks Street.  We walked along there to Sparks Street.  

At the intersection of Sparks Street and O'Connor was a large crane with maple leaf light box attached to it.  Looked like a pretty lame attempt to recreate the ball drop of New York City's Time Square.  But word is that a permanent structure will be built somewhere on the street hopefully to make it look better.  We continued to walk eastward along Sparks towards Metcalfe where there didn't seem to be a whole lot going on yet.  Being cold, we decided to skip the return to City Hall for the 7 P.M. New Years Eve countdown for Scotland's new year and headed home and enjoyed the movie This is 40 along with popcorn and warm cup of tea.

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