Well, fellow Wichitans, I rarely say “best” or “worst,” but tonight, I believe I had the worst experience at a bar I’ve had in a long time, maybe forever. It was awful. And strangely, it was a fairly popular (albeit new) location. I guess the dueling piano bars idea is unique enough in Wichita patrons are tolerant. Generally when I don’t like a place on the first taste, I’ll hold my tongue. But in this case, I was so annoyed I had to keep myself from stringing together an excessively creative, expletive-laden sentence. I will not be bullied. And that, my friends, is why I’m writing.
How do I dislike Ernie Biggs? Let me count the ways:
1. They dictated when I had to be where. We made reservations, and were told the entire party had to be there by eight or we’d lose our reservations. Eight. As in before it’s even dark out. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get they don’t want to hold the table open all night. But 8:00 is pretty early. What are we? 85? And where do they think we are? Vegas. It just seemed a little pretentious in Wichita.
2. I don’t mind paying a cover for live music. I know cover charges allow bars to pay the band. But in this case, we, the customers, are also paying the “band” on a per-song basis, $5 minimum per song (many people dropping $20 a pop). And all things aside, had it gone better inside the bar, the cover would not have bothered me. But the doorman was a douchebag. The couple in front of me asked, “Five dollars for each of us?” And he says something sarcastic about “each person.” Hey, jerkface, many bars in Wichita only have covers for men. So back the hell off!
I would have walked away at this point had it not been my out-of-town friend’s birthday.
3. The tables are soclosetogether. I’m not kidding. I think their target market is ninety-eight pound hipsters. All night I was getting ass and crotch rubbed by strangers. Fun! (No, not really.) And when I’d scoot my chair in so someone could get by behind me, my knees would knock with my friend across the table. Either get wider tables, or give more space between tables. The bar’s theme requires taking requests on paper. So I should not be constantly getting rubbed by a stranger, scooting in, banging someone in the knees, scooting out. I get a business’s purpose is profit, but you have to walk the line between profit and service. And at this point, I’m giving a lot more than I’m getting.
4. My friend ordered a something-and-diet. When it comes she tells the server the pop tastes weird. The server says, “Yeah, our pop isn’t good. I can’t drink it.” And walks away. Just walks away. Doesn’t offer to take the drink back. Doesn’t offer to replace the drink. Acknowledges it sucks. And walks away. What?!?! REALLY? So, you know the pop sucks, and have no consideration for your customers, serve the crappy pop anyway, then walk away when you’re called on it? Excellent customer service! Between this and the door man, I don’t know who I’d be luckier to be friends with! Whee!
5. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom. And the toilets were disgusting. At the beginning of the night. I went to the bathroom at 8:43, so it wasn’t like it was 1:43. Or, hell, even 10:43. This is so early in the night, I wonder if this place has post-closing or pre-opening duties. The mirror at the front of the bar (where they write “messages”) was a mess, too. Some of these things should be closing or opening duties, and are basic customer service. I worked at Pizza Hut, and we were more conscious of the first impression of customers. And that’s saying something. Plus, I am comparing the level of dirty/lack of stocking to places like Heroes and Jerry’s. If Heroes and Jerry’s can keep toilet paper in their stalls all night, you can have toilet paper in the stalls to start the night. And bathrooms at bars need to be cleaned at least once a day. At least. These looked like they hadn’t een cleaned for a week. The bathroom didn’t smell terrible, but the inside of the bowl looked like. Well, you don’t deserve the images. I so focused on not contracting anything from the toilet that I forgot to check for toilet paper. Rookie mistake. But still, no one should be forced to drip-dry at 8:43. Classy.
6. And the kicker, folks. The reason I decided I was writing this review. We had to give our card to start a tab. Perfectly fine. No mention of any bar minimums when we handed over the cards. I drank two beers. I was driving. Two beers is a reasonable amount of beer to drink for someone driving. (I also ordered two waters, never got them.) So I ask for my tab. Also no mention of a minimum. Then I get my tab. My card has been run. And the server says, “You have to tip at least three dollars. There’s a ten dollar minimum.” Wait. What the fuck? Seriously. So, you know there’s a minimum, you never mention it. You don’t have the courtesy to come say, “Hey, you’ve only spent $7. To run a card, you have to spend $10. Do you want to pay cash? Maybe order another beer?” No, you run the card and think you’re going to bully me into a 43% tip!?! You really think this is going to happen? No, this is not going to happen. The beers are already full price. And I’ve paid a cover charge. And I’ve scooted my chair in and out all night. You really think I’m going allow you to bully me into a tip? No, I will not be told what I’m going to tip. I didn’t tip the $3. And if it comes through as $10, I’ll dispute the charge and charge it back.
Oh, and my friend with the flat drink she didnt’ drink? Yeah, she got charged for that, too.
The greediest display of “service” I’ve ever witnessed. Never again. NEVER. AGAIN.
Update #1 (7/17/2012): Those thieves did indeed take more than the receipt was signed for. Pretty sure that’s illegal. Do not trust this greedy establishment.
Update #2 (7/18/2012): Spoke to the card department for my debit card. It is, in fact, illegal to do what they did. First, not disclosing the minimum until the card is run. And second, running a transaction through for more than is signed for on the card. Third, there’s the ethical dilemma of forcing someone to drink more than they’re comfortable to meet a price minimum. Excellent point. Now, I’ll be contacting the manager (via email). So there will be a third update, even if it’s to say there was no response. Stay tuned, friends.
Update #3 (9/6/12): Sorry for the delay on this. I sent an email to the contact name on the Ernie Biggs website. I got two responses. One from a manager named Jeremy. He said he was attending a funeral but would get back to me the next day. He never did. The second was from a “Principal Owner” named Daniel. His initial response seemed very engaging. But beyond that was kind of short/distant. I realize I don’t need to be coddled, but it’s also frustrating that they’ve done something illegal as a business and I feel like an inconvenience. Not sure if everyone would like to see the conversation as it happened, as it’s a bit lengthy. But here’s what I said, and here are the responses:
I addressed the “minimum required purchase” – why what they’re doing is illegal, and how inappropriately it was handled. Specifically, I said you can’t force a person to charge any dollar amount on their card without first warning about the amount. And you definitely can’t force tipping. I was never offered the option to pay cash. Response from Daniel:
- “I agree all information should be provided to the customer before any action is taken. It is disappointing to hear one our servers did not properly convey the necessary information.”
- “What we do have and what is standard practice in many bars and restaurants is a minimum to run a credit card. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, credit card processing fees are expensive and secondly, it takes time to run the card. So you are correct in your assessment that higher-volume establishments attempt to discourage people from using cards for small purchases.” My response to this: 1. I NEVER said higher-volume establishments do this. In fact, NO large establishment I know of has a minimum required purchase. Rather, I’ve heard of smaller companies implementing this to keep costs down – some not even offering debit cards. I can tell from the setup of the bar that profits are more important than service or experience. So that’s perfectly fine with me. Run your establishment the way you want. But don’t pretend you’re a hole in the wall bar. You have locations nationally.
- He goes on to say, “While I hope this sheds some light on why we would have such a policy I do not want you to feel that we, in any way, agree with what happened in your case. Again, you are correct that any policy or general rule should be spelled out in advance of your order. You are also obviously correct that the card should never be run for more than it has been authorized… My feeling is that your server should have been more flexible on the rule and that she compounded the problem by over zealouly seeking a tip.” Clearly the tip is all the server was thinking about. And she wasn’t SEEKING a tip. She TOOK a tip. Stole it. I wrote on the signed credit card slip one amount. She changed it and ran it as another. This is stealing. This stuff only slips through the cracks if it’s allowed. Hell, I worked at Pizza Hut, and an employee was caught pocketing $1 of another server’s tips and was fired on the spot. I have friends who work in restaurants, and any server who is caught altering a credit card slip is fired immediately.
- “Thanks again for the feedback; we have already spoken to the staff.” This is where I’m re-pissed off. Whatever, dude. Yes, talk to them. That’ll do it. He also had these tidbits of non-illegal behavior-related information:
- “I wanted to let you know we have installed an ATM for instances such as the one you just described.” And here? I’m LIVID. Listen, asshat, I HAD CASH IN MY WALLET! You are not comprehending what has happened. One of your server STOLE money. I had cash. I was never given the option to use it. I don’t need an ATM that charges me $5 per transaction (which Ernie Biggs probably also profits off of.) And this:
- “Note: We only use real Coca-Cola products and will check our systems to make sure they are mixing correctly. Please do not ever pay for a sub-par drink at Ernie’s.” Maybe you should have a conversation with your servers about not charging for a crappy drink a patron complains about. Once again, the customer wasn’t given the option. Rather, she was charged for a crappy drink, even when she didn’t drink it and sent it back. In essence, this could also be seen as stealing. Just a thought.
So, clearly, that statement about the ATM is what set me off. The first response was fine, and I appreciated the details. But the shitty back-handed detail about the ATM. Listen, ass, I had cash. That’s the problem with greedy people. But whatever. I don’t intend to go back. No offense intended to the new GM. But if that’s the owner’s response, “talking to” a server who steals and installing an ATM, then our values are out of alignment. I work at a financial institution. If I stole even a quarter, I’d be fired. Someone who so flippantly bullies a customer into tipping her has ethical issues that aren’t going to go away with a “talking to.” Let’s be honest: She knew it was wrong, and did it because she didn’t think I’d turn her in.
Bottom line: This company is only concerned about profits. There are plenty of places for me to have drinks in Wichita. And I’d prefer to sit in one where I don’t feel like my card will be compromised, the chairs aren’t jammed together uncomfortably, and the “principal owner” doesn’t placate me with bullshit like, “we have installed an ATM for instances such as the one you just described.” Yes, an ATM will stop stealing and other unethical practices. Great. That’s why banks never get robbed. ATMs will protect you from robbery!