Note: This was originally written for the Usenet Newsgroup rec.roller-coaster and appeared there in plain-text form on September 9, 1996 under the somewhat unimaginative title, "Miserable North Coast experience (VENT!)".
Gulliver's Grill, Cedar Point
Breakfast at Gulliver's
(or: Dave tries for a late breakfast in Sandusky, Ohio)
I just got back from yet another trip to Cedar Point. Before I go any further, let me point out that it was one of the best Cedar Point experiences I have had this season, and Cedar Point is therefore mostly exempted from this commentary.
The itinerary was fairly simple, and in most parts of the country, it would work fairly well: on Saturday evening, I made the 2-hour drive to Oberlin, OH to attend a Moxy Früvous concert; after the show, I drive to Sandusky and check into a motel. The next morning, I go to Cedar Point, at at the end of the day, I go home. Should work just fine, right? Well, that's what I thought.
What I discovered is that most of the complaints I hear about Cedar Point regarding customer service: slow or indifferent food service, policies which are inflexible to the point that they are aggravating, and a cavalier indifference to the needs, opinions, knowledge, or experience of the customer...are not limited to Cedar Point. Okay, we knew that much. But not only are those traits not limited to CP; when you go into Sandusky, they become PERVASIVE. In fact, as annoying as CP can be at times, even at its WORST, CP is FAR BETTER than anything I encountered this weekend in dealing with North Coast businesses. You think 30 minutes for a hot dog is bad when the park food service operation is drastically understaffed and overworked to begin with? What about this:
Because the concert I attended (which, by the way, was FANTASTIC Footnote 1) did not end until almost Midnight; and since it is an hour's drive from Oberlin to Sandusky, I didn't check into my motel until nearly 1:00am. At that point, I asked the desk clerk for a suggestion of where to get something to eat. He promptly suggested what is probably the only 24-hour restaurant in Sandusky Footnote 2. I won't name it here, particularly since it now seems so typical of North Coast establishments, but it's right in front of the Sandusky Mall. So I walked in. The place was fairly busy, with employees scurrying about. I have no idea what they were doing, but they were plentiful. Some were merely standing about, rather than looking busy. Even so, I waited for no less than ten minutes before my presence was even acknowledged. Do I need to send up flares to get their attention? Once a waitress finally condescended to note my existence, I was promptly deposited at a table, where I immediately ordered my drink and began perusing the menu. Within a minute, I had made up my mind (well, the late-night menu is limited). All I wanted to do was order, eat, and go to bed. But for some reason, ordering food requires a 20-minute wait, followed by another 30-minutes for the meal to arrive. A meal which, by the way, was not very filling for the price I paid. It was also a little irritating to be charged more for my drink than the menu claimed, particularly when I did not get that refill I was entitled to. To cut this short (after all, there is a point to all this...), it took me about 90 minutes to get a "quick" meal. Yeesh! If ever a city needed a Waffle House, it is Sandusky! Footnote 3
Okay, so that was one restaurant. Perhaps they were just trying to emulate Denny's (motto: "Lousy service to EVERYONE, regardless of race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation." Footnote 4) and doing a remarkably good job of it. I just wouldn't go there for breakfast.
Okay, so I slept in the next morning. It's a Sunday morning, for crying out loud, and besides, Cedar Point doesn't even open the gate until 11:00. And I was up late the night before trying to get dinner, or I would have awakened earlier. So I cruised down US-250 and found a Burger King that serves breakfast until 10:30. I look at my watch: 10:20. Just enough time, I suppose. I enter the establishment.
Unfortunately, it is busy. Or at least, it appears to be busy. Many of us have complained about the slowness of Cedar Point's food service people? HA! This place makes CP look like express take-out. Finally, the person ahead of me orders...and gets...his breakfast. It is now 10:31, and I attempt to place my breakfast order.
"Sorry, Sir. We are no longer serving breakfast."
So I have stood in line for ten minutes only to find out that I can't get breakfast just because it has taken too long to serve the people ahead of me? I am now expected to forgo my long-awaited breakfast sandwich because some bureaucrat in a paper cap won't sell it to me?! I know it isn't that they don't have the stuff. And there are others behind me who also want breakfast.
I exit the store, still hungry, and fuming. Across the street is a restaurant advertising a "Breakfast Buffet" until 11:00. It is 10:40 when I arrive. Inside there is a sign which clearly states that the breakfast buffet is taken down promptly at 11:00, "no akseptions" but that last-minute breakfast customers may partake in the dinner bar. "No problem," I think; it is 10:40, and I really only need one trip to solve my problem...there is plenty of time before the 11:00 cutoff.
Or at least there would be if I could get someone to acknowledge my presence. I am beginning to sense a pattern here, everywhere I go: Indifferent, unhelpful, non-existent customer service, involving unbelievably strict adherence to arbitrary guidelines. Perhaps I should have just grabbed a plate and helped myself. It is getting late, so I walk out, realizing that by the time anyone bothers with me, breakfast will be over once again. Fortunately, there is a doughnut shop across the street. I can just get a doughnut, and I'll be okay until lunch.
Or so I thought. The doughnut shop is busy, but I go over to check out the product. It appears that the only doughnuts left are the oddball special flavors that my neighbor's cat wouldn't touch. "Well what do you expect; we close at 2pm..." is the reply when I ask about the limited selection. Yeah. It's 11:50...what do they plan to sell for the next 2:10? I've got to think that coconut-covered strawberry-iced vanilla custard doughnuts have a pretty limited appeal...what a way to bring in the customers when that's all you've got. Sure, a doughnut shop near me sometimes has only one type of doughnut available in any quantity, but at least that's a good glazed...
I finally gave up on breakfast, and headed for Cedar Point. My breakfast turned out to be a chili dog and a cold drink served from Gulliver's Grill in front of the Magnum XL-200 loading platform. It took me all of five seconds to place my order, and another fifteen to receive product...and the guy who gave it to me even smiled. Suddenly, a lot of the crap I've had to contend with over the years at CP becomes a lot easier to understand. And now I know it could be a lot worse.
I don't know. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I generally expect that a business should have some regard for the customer as more than an interruption, annoyance, and source of revenue. I'm talking about fully-staffed establishments here, with the ability to provide for my needs with very little trouble. And yet it seems to be a matter of policy...not at a particular establishment, but throughout the North Coast...to treat customers (or worse yet, potential customers who are willing to walk out and go elsewhere if necessary) as secondary; as insignificant. Maybe I am just spoiled by living in a city where there are enough choices that businesses MUST be responsive, or before long there will be no customers at all. Or maybe North Coasters have put up with this for so long that they think it is appropriate. I just expect a little better, particularly in a region which is so dependent on seasonal visitors and the monies they bring into the local economy.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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Footnote 1: Long-time Früheads may remember this as the Oberlin College "tinderbox" show with about 300 fans crammed into an extremely hot room with a capacity of about 75. This is the show where Jian changed shirts onstage; you can read a review of the show from the archive at Früvous Dot Com.
Footnote 2: Another 24-hour restaurant, this one a part of a fast-growing national chain, has since opened in Sandusky along US-250. I've gotten slow service there as well, but not nearly as bad as oulined in this story. Furthermore, now that Sandusky's Country Kitchen appears to be out of business, I can identify it by name.
Footnote 3: As noted in Footnote 2, Sandusky does now have another all-night restaurant. But they still do not have a Waffle House.
Footnote 4: When this was written, a Denny's restaurant somewhere was facing a racial discrimination lawsuit. Having received less-than-stellar service at those restaurants myself, I suggested that perhaps the obvious defense (that it wasn't a case of racial discrimination...everybody gets crummy service there) had been overlooked. In all fairness to Denny's, though, when I have gotten poor or slow service there it has usually been due to understaffing...and in reality, most Denny's restaurants are no worse than any other restaurants most of the time.