Saturday, 5 May 2012

Review of Frankie & Benny's Menu & Watford Restaurant



Recently we were invited along to Frankie and Benny's to sample their new restaurant menu. 

The Brand
Frankie and Benny's combines American food with traditional Italian dishes. An American style diner, Frankie and Benny's is theoretically the kind of place that I typically love. I love the American Diner feel and the 50's musc playing in the background does make the ambience. The restaurant as a brand is also family friendly with colouring and balloons aplenty to keep the children happy and so it is the kind of restaurant that I would typically visit with the kids, or for a casual evening out.

The Menu
Frankie and Benny's have seven new menu's available - Breakfast, Lunch, Specials and a Main menu, Lighter options, Kids and a Dessert menu. The breakfast menu includes lots of vegetarian options including a full vegetarian breakfast, eggs benedict, omelette, and berry pancakes. The lunch menu offers one, two and three course options at a reasonable price. There is a variety of choice for vegetarians on the lunch menu including pizza, pasta, wraps and burger options. The specials menu contains a host of vegetarian starters but only a goats cheese and red onion pizza for main course for vegetarians so unless you wanted to order this you would be unable to order off of the specials menu. On the main menu there are quite a few vegetarian options including pizzas, pastas, wraps, calzone and a veggie burger. An observation I would make is that some of the menu's do not mark the vegetarian dishes clearly and as the menu is so vast you have to really study it to decipher whether a dish is truly vegetarian or not.

The Experience
I took hubby and the two kids along to sample the new menu at Frankie and Benny's. Having worked in the restaurant industry, I always found that the start of the week is typically a quieter time for restaurants which should assume better service and food and so we chose a Tuesday evening to go for our meal. When we arrived we were greeted very warmly by the manager and the kids were given their own colouring set. The children settled down at the table happily colouring whilst hubby and I perused the menu - so far so good! After twenty minutes of waiting to be greeted by our waiter, we still hadn't been acknowledged and the kids were starting to ask for drinks and food. After another five minutes our waiter eventually arrived to take our order. Personally, I prefer to have a drinks order taken soon after we are seated and then for a food order to be taken. We ordered our drinks, starters and mains together. Our drinks took a further ten minutes to arrive by which time the kids were begging for liquid - expecting kids or indeed anyone to wait over thirty minutes for a drink in a restaurant is a tad unrealistic.   
                                          
                                        

For starters, Hubby ordered the Crispy Bacon and Cheddar "Amazing Skins" and  I ordered the Cheese and Spring Onion version. We ordered the kid the Neapolitan bread sticks to share. 

                                         

                                         

Our starters took around 25 mins to arrive after ordering - again quite a long time to me - so we eventually started eating over an hour after we arrived. With tired kids this is a long time. The kids tucked into their breadsticks & neopolitan sauce and really enjoyed them. I took one bite of my "Amazing" potato skins and found that they were stone cold and so I sent them straight back. Hubby's starter did not arrive with the the others as the kitchen had mistakenly made the wrong thing. Ten minutes later his starter arrived and was not very warm but he ate it anyway. After a further 15 minutes, the kids and hubby had finished their starters and mine had still not arrived so I asked the waiter to cancel it and bring the kids their dinner. Unfortunately the waiter could not grasp what I was asking and so instead of doing this, after 10 minutes he bought my starter and despite asking him to bring the main courses for the children asap, they did not arrive. My starter did taste nice and was quite fresh once it had arrived, if not slightly burnt but I was so annoyed at the lack of service that it was hard to enjoy it. I finished my starter and we waited twenty more minutes whilst the waiter went off and presented a birthday cake or two, and went outside for a cigarette (from the smell of his clothes). All the while our food was sitting in full view on the hot plate in the kitchen. Our main courses eventually arrived  at 9:15pm - one hour and fifty five minutes after we had arrived in the restaurant - by which time the children were absolutely exhausted.


The kids had ordered from the kids menu which is good value - a main course, dessert and refillable soft drinks for £3.95. Eldest had Spaghetti Bolognese which came served with a tomato and cucumber garnish and broccoli and carrot vegetables. She said that her Bolognese was really delicious and she enjoyed eating it.





Youngest had Sausage, Mash and Beans which she ate with gusto and enjoyed. I didn't think that the presentation of this dish was particularly amazing but then I guess there is not much you can do with sausage mash and beans!

Sausage and Mash
Hubby opted for the Chicago Grinder Calzone. He enjoyed it but felt that there was an overuse of the BBQ sauce on the dish. Additionally, the dough on the Calzone was undercooked inside and so this let down the dish from his point of view.



When Hubby's food arrived, his side salad was also wilted and starting to go brown and slimy. To me, this would indicate that the kitchen staff aren't too hot on making sure they are serving fresh food and are not too bothered about the standard of food they are sending out.


For main course I had the Meditarranean Veggie Burger served with House fries and a tomato chilli dip. The food looked quite appetising but the chips were slightly undercooked and instead of the veggie burger have a nice crunchy exterior with a soft texture inside, it had a distinctly "rubbery" feel and so I didn't really eat very much of it as it was not enjoyable. Perhaps if I had ordered something off of the menu that may have been potentially cooked from fresh such as the pizza or wrap, my food experience would have been better.
After we had finished our meals, our waiter still hadn't grasped the art of quick service, even though the restaurant was starting to empty out. We waited a long while after we had finished for our mains to be cleared. Having dirty dishes in front of me when everyone has finished is one of my pet hates. When we cleared the dishes, he returned with dessert menus and we ordered dessert. The kids dessert was included in with their meal and was vanilla ice cream with sauce, buttons and wafer. Needless to say both kids enjoyed their dessert as they are ice cream fiends!


Hubby ordered the cookies and cream explosion sundae and I ordered the banoffee sundae. Both ice creams were enjoyable, although they were slightly frozen inside - which would indicate to me that they had been pre-made and kept in the fridge or freezer rather than being made completely from scratch when we ordered them. The only thing I would have liked to have seen would have been some kind of sauce or decoration on top of the cream rather than having the majority of it at the bottom of the dish once the ice cream has been eaten and it then becomes quite sickly to eat on it's own.


Altogether our trip to Frankie and Benny's was not a huge success. The service was extremely slow and unsatisfactory, and our server was not hugely friendly. The menus were all sticky and hadn't been cleaned - to the point where one side was physically stuck to the other, and there was also no loo roll in the ladies toilet and the sinks were filthy, which just added to our bad experience and indicated that keeping on top of cleanliness is not one of their strengths at this particular outlet. The food was mediocre and a little over priced compared to other retailers in the same market. I think that the quality and the freshness of the food needs to be greatly improved. The line from Frankie and Benny's when I asked them to clarify whether their food is freshly prepared was "Frankie and Benny’s prepare all dishes in the restaurant kitchens and dishes such as pasta, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers and wraps are made fresh and to order. As can be expected, some items/ingredients are bought into the restaurants before being prepared". A search on internet forums suggested that most food is bought in frozen - even the pizza dough and then defrosted and cooked. For the prices Frankie and Benny's are charging, I would expect the dishes to be completely cooked from scratch - even the dough. There are quite a few local independent italian restaurants who are priced competitively to Frankie and Benny's where the food is prepared completely from scratch and so personally, I would rather pay and receive freshly prepared food than food that has been prepared elsewhere and heated in the restaurant.

I suspect that some of the issues we encountered during our meal may not be entirely the fault of the restaurant we visited. It seemed to me that there were far to few staff on shift, front and back of house to manage the amount of customers coming in. Perhaps if the the individual outlet had more budget to spend on maintaining effective staffing levels, then the restaurant would be able to offer a better quality of customer service. Perhaps were there also more of a budget for food, then the quality and freshness of the food would also be increased. Another point I would make is that from a marketing point of view, creating seven different menus does seem like a good idea as there is a huge amount of dishes for customers to choose from and it makes it seem that Frankie and Benny's is meeting the needs of their customers and offering something for everyone. However, it would seem that "on the ground" having such a wide variety of menus and dishes is something of a logistical nightmare. 

For the staff who are actually preparing the food and taking the food orders, it must be an incredible task to try and remember how all of the dishes are cooked, served and what garnish/side/extra goes with each dish, especially when (in the case of the venue I visited), english is not the first language of many of the staff working there. This presents an extra challenge when trying to get to grips with the level of food and service which should be being offered. It is no wonder that the food and service being provided at Frankie and Benny's is lacking when there are well over one hundred dishes on the different menus for the staff to learn how to cook and prepare. In my opinion there is too much choice on the new menus as the staffing, knowledge, food quality and service levels are just not there to back up the food the menus are claiming to serve. I think that Frankie and Benny's would be better to reduce the number of menus and dishes being served. I would also suggest that they increase their staff training schedules and increase their staffing levels front and back of house in order for the restaurants to offer their customers a better standard of food and service.

I am actually quite sorry that my review was not more positive as I would love to return to Frankie and Benny's and have a fantastic experience. However, my MIL visited recently, sent her food back as it was cold and reported similar issues with service to us and so I suspect that our experience was not an isolated one.

Scores:

Price: The kids menu and the daytime menu is competitively priced, but the rest of the menu is a little overpriced for the type of establishment. 6/10.

Ambience: Lovely ambience, love the green and red theme and the music. I like the low lighting but could feel a little dark for some. Colouring is great for the kids 9/10.

Service - Whilst the manager was extremely polite and welcoming, the two waiters who served us mumbled and made it hard for us to understand them. They were also not overly friendly and the amount of time they left us waiting at the table the whole way through the meal was exceptionally bad. Plus, I hate to be served by people smelling of fresh smoke. This indicates to me that they had been smoking during my visit instead of serving me and I think its unacceptable to serve someone food whilst smelling of smoke. 3/10.

Food - Not amazing, not hugely fresh, not worth the money if paying full price 5/10.

Overall: 23 Points = 5.5 out of 10.

Disclosure: Voucher to eat at this restaurant offered in consideration of review. All views are my own.






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