by Sharon Hudson
I've been a resident of the Grant Park community for seven years now. I've seen several businesses at Bar One's location come and go, and I was hoping, that as a minority-owned business, it would have staying power.
Unfortunately when you shun customers on their first evening in your establishment, I no longer have the expectation you will be a viable business in our community. A little back-story follows which hopefully will explain the context of my angst and disappointment.
My (younger) cousin chose Bar One in which to celebrate his 38th birthday. I wouldn't normally list an age, but this is to show that we are people of maturity and means. He called prior to confirming with his guests to see what was required to reserve a table and was told that we must be in the door by 9:30 to get a table. He was told that there were no reservations taken/filled for tables after 10 p.m. He further inquired if there were any other stipulations or guidelines that he and his guests should be aware of prior to coming. He was not informed of any additional requirements.
The type of person that I am, I called to find out for myself the next day and was told the same thing and again, I wasn't even asked for an e-mail address. I didn't feel at that time it was necessary for me to document to whom I had spoken, considering the information was consistent from call to call.
He and his guest arrived on time and were seated. I arrived a few minutes later and located him and was seated. Other guests — around 15 people total — filed in and our enjoyable night began. Justin was our server throughout. Guests ordered their own individual food and drink items, and several of us had multiple drinks. People also ordered drinks specifically for my cousin in honor of his birthday. My cousin ordered food, drink, a bottle of wine and a round of Patron shots for his guests.
I say all this to say that individual tabs weren't for insignificant amounts, they averaged $50-plus. Imagine my shock when Justin came over and started handing out individual checks. I took this as an affront, specifically asking Justin if we were being asked to leave for some reason. It was then he said that we were only allowed to stay for 2 hours and we had been there in excess of that time. I asked him if we were allowed to order more food and drink if we could stay, and he again reiterated the 2-hour time limit. It was at this point I asked to speak with a manager.
Other guests were asking questions, my cousin was asking questions, but I've always been the type to "handle things" so I told everyone to continue to enjoy their evening. Justin came back to us and said that the manager said that was policy and that if we wanted to stay we had to buy a bottle of liquor. I inquired as to the cost and was told it was $275. I told him that I would appreciate the manager coming to talk to me personally, but whatever it took for the evening to not be further disrupted, I would accommodate. All of the guests paid their individual bills at that time, including myself. We weren't ready for the evening to end. Again it should be noted that we were not disruptive, ill behaved, rude or displaying any other behavior that would be considered inappropriate or worthy of removal from the establishment.
The manager finally came to me (I thought it odd she was escorted by what I can only assume to be security. I asked her why we were being asked to leave and to explain the policy she wanted Justin to explain. She told me that in order to accommodate all of the guests of the establishment, even those who walked in and didn't make reservations, the tables had a 2-hour limit unless we agreed to purchase a bottle of liquor. I asked her why that wasn't explained to me when I called and why it wasn't explained to my cousin when he called. The only choice I had was to purchase a bottle of liquor so that is what I did. From that point on, my evening was ruined, but I didn't want it to be for the other people, especially the man celebrating his birthday. At this point the evening could have quickly turned to 15 disgruntled people rather than just one.
I explained to the manager before she left the table that the decision to buy a bottle wasn't a good business decision. Mathematically speaking at the 2-hour mark, 15 people with an average bill of $50 per person would bring in $750. Left to our own devices, we would have continued to drink and eat out of our own pockets and could have doubled that average price. For sake of this example, lets not double it, but add $25 to the average bill. (That is roughly 2 more drinks at 10.00 a piece). So $75.00 per person would bring in a total of $1,125.
A $50 bottle of liquor marked up 450 percent to $275 is a psychological decision, not one based on mathematical principles. I understand that some people might feel consuming a bottle in public, split amongst a party is an "elevation in status," but in actuality, it stops people from running a bar tab where the greater profit lies. People then drink from the bottle at the table, and when it's gone the night is done. If the people in our party were allowed to continue drinking on their own, Bar One would have made far more money from us, and kept me as a satisfied and returning customer.
Not to mention I was deeply disturbed that a gratuity was added on to the purchase of the bottle, for $49.50 bringing the combined total for one bottle of liquor to the exorbitant price of $324.50. Certainly none of this was Justin's fault, I suppose he was just following policy. I pride myself in being a tipper - I reward good service wherever it is presented and I've always tipped at least the requisite 15 percent.
Because I am a "number's cruncher," I don't need the assistance of my tip being added to my bill prior to payment. I do feel however that in this case, the tip was unwarranted, especially when the receipt itself indicated 1 seat. To me, this is further proof Bar One isn't encouraging of my return, or any of my friends and family. You don't feel as if we are intelligent enough to make wise decisions with our money and with our time and effort. Or maybe you assumed that we would be too inebriated to be concerned with expense.
Make no mistake; I only complied with the policy to make my cousin's night enjoyable. His guests didn't know of this conversation or of my feelings of great disappointment. None of us raised our voice, became argumentative, or otherwise ill behaved. Upselling something at 450 percent might be a deterrent to some — Bar One clearly wanted us to vacate the table. But it's important to know that when you've been blessed financially — as I have been as the owner of a successful business — sometimes money doesn't matter. It's probably important to note that my cousin is also a business owner.
The manager should be empowered to make executive decisions when needed, for the sake of future business. The decisions she makes at times, affects the viability of the company as a whole.
I'm only writing this to fully inform why I will never return and why I will encourage as many people as I can to join me in spending their money at establishments where we are treated as an integral part of the business plan.
Ms. Hudson is a Grant Park resident and businesswoman.