Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Poor Customer Service Taints Experience at Anju Restaurant

Tea Cup from Starbucks - chipped and worse for ware
Friday night dinner was the one meal we had had trouble deciding where to dine. With so many great restaurants in Calgary, narrowing it down to a single choice seemed almost impossible. However, we wound up choosing Anju after seeing and hearing so much about them from our Twitter friends who were either from Calgary or had dined there while they happened to be in town. Touted as a Korean fusion restaurant, opened by Edmontonian, Roy Oh, we were curious to see if it was as good as everyone else who had been said it was.

I’ll preface this post by saying until I visited Anju, I’d never eaten Korean food before. So it probably wasn’t the best idea for Korean fusion to be my first taste of the very different flavors that Korean cuisine employs such as kimchi.

Located on the edge of downtown on a quiet street, in what looks like a converted house, Anju has two floors or dining. The atmosphere was far from what I imagined it would be, expecting a restaurant atmosphere and winding up dining in what felt like a bar instead. Perhaps what gave us that impression was that all the seating except for one area was bar height tables and stools, with a bar situated on one end of the room with the Calgary Flames game playing on the flat screen tv that hung above, as well as being the only table of two that we could see, surrounded by large, loud, rambunctious groups of young diners.

Gochujang Korean Fried Chicken
Our table was far from ideal as we wound up being shoved into a corner on the second floor, with an open railing on one side. When I peeked over, I found myself looking down the lovely cleavage of several diners seated below. If nothing else, I at least had a good view that evening.

Unfortunately, the service throughout our whole dining experience that night was lacking, making our already drooping expectations continue to nose dive. Although someone came over almost immediately to light our candle, we were left with ample time to pour over the menu, too much time. Our candle lighter returned as our server and took our drink and order at the same time. It has been pointed out to us that we should have skipped the entrees and stuck to the small plates as that is what Anju does well, and that the server should have explained that to us. However, no explanation was offered or provided, so we wound up ordering the gochujang Korean fried chicken, crispy tofu, kimchi fried rice with pork belly and the stone rice bowl with chicken.

The gochujang KFC was delivered shortly, and we quickly realized that no plates, utensils, or most importantly, napkins had been bestowed upon our table. Napkins are a necessity when eating chicken wings! Being stuck in a corner behind two tables filled with large groups, our server didn’t appear too keen on coming to check on us. After trying to flag her down for five minutes, watching her occasionally glance at our direction over the group tables – obviously she wasn’t looking too hard if she couldn’t see my humans trying to wave her down – we managed to get her attention and ask her to bring us the necessities.

Kimchi Fried Rice with Pork Belly
The gochujang KFC had a super crispy exterior with a moist, juicy, and succulent interior. Although the sauce was hot, it was not overwhelming to the point that my taste buds were shot, and was probably one of the best hot wings I’ve ever tasted. However, being hot wings, water is still desirable and through our hour and a half meal at Anju, the only liquid we had was our one glass of cold water and one pot of hot water for tea. Never once did our server or anyone else offer or simply come by to fill our water glass, warm up our tea pot, or anything of the sort. On the rare occasion someone came over, they just dropped off plates of food and occasionally, removed empty plates.

After the hot wings, we waited probably another twenty minutes, wondering where our crispy tofu appetizer was. Our server finally appeared and told us the crispy tofu would be delayed but that our entrees would be up soon. Shortly after, my kimchi fried rice appeared and the server quickly left, and we were left wondering where our other entrĂ©e was. Although the pork belly was quite tender, I wasn’t sure what to make of the taste of kimchi. I neither liked nor disliked it as it was a foreign flavor to me.

Stone Rice Bowl with Chicken
After I’d been eating for about ten minutes, a different server dropped off the stone rice bowl with chicken. The male human who has had Korean food before said it was OK, nothing spectacular. Whether our taste buds were being clouded by the rest of our dining experience or not, it’s hard to say. Shortly after, the crispy tofu was finally brought out. We were so lacking in room on the table for a third dish we wound up having to put it on top of our tea cups. I found the tofu itself to be bland, with only the fried breading having any seasoning. Despite what Avenue Magazine said about the tofu, it definitely tasted like tofu. 

When we finally gave up on our meals, it took another effort of waving someone down to have our table cleared and another ten minute wait to get the bill, by which time we couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Overall, although the gochujunk KFC was absolutely fantastic, the rest of the food wasn’t really to my taste. The fact that we had to yell to hear each other over the noise of other diners, and the lack of service we got all night made it one of the most unpleasant dining experiences we have had in a long time. I think it was the servers' apparent lack of willingness to even come over that really killed this experience for us. Least to say, for us poor service + mediocre food = we won’t be back.

UPDATE, April 4, 2012: Roy Oh, owner and chef of Anju Restaurant emailed to apologize and offer a free meal on our next trip to Calgary. Although I appreciate the gesture and his personal reply, I am not sure if we would take him up on it on our next visit to Calgary. Although I understand his view point, I don't whole heartedly agree with some of his comments in his email.

Firstly, I wasn't expecting perfection or 100% satisfaction at his restaurant, nor is it realistic to expect that of any restaurant for that matter. Secondly, restaurants make mistakes, but they are by no means "inevitable", as he puts it. Restaurants that are well prepared for the volume of business they are expecting, and who have staff who are well trained, will not inevitably make mistakes. Inevitable means that you are "certain to make mistakes". Yes, mistakes do happen, and I can forgive mistakes, but some things are not mistakes. A mistake, for example, was the crispy tofu taking longer than expected because the server didn't put in the ticket right away.

What was not a mistake, however, was how evident it was that our server had no desire to come over to our table. Am I speculating? Yes, you can certainly argue that. However, watching her glance over at our table repeatedly, but ignore my initial attempts to get her attention by making direct eye contact, then having my humans wave their arms at her, and still not manage to get her to come over....  well, you would think one of the two other servers we saw would notice and tell her...

What also would be considered, not an inevitable mistake, but rather negligence is how our water glasses were not filled. We ordered gochujang wings, which by are hot. Generally when you serve spicy food, diners find that water is desirable. You might forget to fill someone's water glass once, maybe twice, but when you make four separate trips to a table to deliver food and never once ask/offer/fill... Had the server noticed at some point they hadn't been attentive enough by providing us water or other beverages and apologized, I would've classified that as a mistake or an oversight, but no recognition on her part was made. She was blissfully unaware that she wasn't fulfilling what I would consider a basic duty of a server.

Thirdly, does an 80% "like" rate on Urbanspoon or 4.5 stars on Yelp actually mean that it's a testament that a restaurant is good? We have dined at restaurants with similar ratings on Urbanspoon and Yelp and have received equally poor service. The rating is only a reflection of how diners who had the desire or were willing to spend the time to log onto Urbanspoon or Yelp to click a "like" button, or submit a review felt. Although I was advised by a friend on Twitter to speak with Roy Oh prior to leaving, I'm sure that like me, many diners are so frustrated by the end of a bad dining experience that they just want to get out and move on with their evening.

The long and short of it is I really have no issue with the food, my issue lies mainly with the lack of customer experience provided by the server that evening. I don't want to sound ungrateful for his apology, because I'm not, I'm very grateful he took the time to recognize and try to rectify an unsatisfied diner. However, it's not the first time this type of experience has happened to Moo. My advice is that it's often better if restaurants simply apologize to the diner without trying to justify how or why a mistake might have occurred and how good they really are.

Anju Restaurant
507 10 Street SW
Calgary, AB
Twitter: @AnjuRestaurant

Anju Restaurant & Eecha Lounge on Urbanspoon


  1. there's nothing worse than crappy service! I can't imagine having just the 1 glass of water when I'm eating spicy wings for appetizers and then 2-3 other things. Sucks. If I try it out, I'll make sure to do so on a weekday.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. An "apology" laden with reasons why things went a certain way is not an apology, it's essentially an excuse.

    Poor customer service can ruin any meal experience, anywhere. Whether they've garnered 5 stars on Urban Spoon, or prestigious Michelin Stars. Simple.

  3. Hey Moo - you'd sent me the update and I commented last night but computer froze... sorry if this is a duplicate comment.

    Sorry to hear you had a poor experience at Anju. Especially because it's one of my fav spots in Calgary having had consistently great food and service. I agree their gochujang wings are amazing. Those along with the truffled oxtail tortellini are my go-to dishes (and I love the black sesame creme brulee).

    Agree with you that poor service can taint a whole experience and unfortunately think the server could have done a better job explaining Anju's concept and being more attentive. Perhaps she was intimidated by the sight of a cow (albeit a cute cow) enjoying and critiquing eats?

    I will say, more often than not, I find restauranteurs don't respond to reviews and/or feedback, especially through social media. Based on that, I'm glad to see that Roy makes the effort to read customer feedback, respond, and attempt to provide a resolution.

    1. Hey FoodKarma - I've actually gotten a surprising number of responses from restaurants via email, Twitter, etc who are responding to a negative review of their establishment on my blog.

      I think restaurants are getting more savvy about this, particularly with tools out there like OpenTable, Urbanspoon and Yelp, it makes it much easier for them to connect with customers, particularly those that are dissatisfied and have indicated it on these sites. Which is great, if you have the chance to rectify the situation, even if it's just an apology, or recognition that something did go wrong with that persons dining experience, it certainly looks better for the restaurant to do it as opposed to ignoring it.

      As for the server being intimidated by me... I sure hope not! I'm pretty cute and innocent looking... or I'd like to think so. =p

    2. Maybe she thought you were creepy cause you were looking down people's shirts! Just kidding.

      Bad service is bad service. For a restaurant that consistently receives such great reviews, slip ups like this shouldn't happen. I'm glad Roy at least attempted to rectify the situation - I've had some pretty bad experiences at some of the restaurants here in Edmonton, and I even went out of my way to notify the management about the experience. I got no response and was simply ignored. Kind of goes to show where the problem stems from.

      I do still want to try out Anju, but I'll be sure to try them out on a weekday to try to avoid a situation like this!

    3. I've seen a few people comment about trying Anju on a weekday instead of a weekend.

      Although I understand restaurants tend to be busier Fridays and Saturdays, which could lead to more mistakes, these are also the days that restaurants should ensure they have more servers and perhaps, more trained servers on hand to ensure they can handle the higher volume of customers.

      A new restaurant perhaps wouldn't have figured that out yet, but from what I can tell from Urbanspoon, Anju has been open since January 2009, so should have worked this kink out.

      Just luck of the draw that I wound up getting a bad server.

    4. That's too bad that your server sucked! Especially that they failed to tell you how to order at Anju (sticking to lots 'o small plates). It is one of my favorite Calgary places and on the first date I had with my boyfriend we had the best service ever (that we still talk about).


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