Is The Playground Overdoing the No-Modifications Thing? Maybe. Does It Matter? Probably Not.

jason-quinn-cover.jpg
Usually, the letters our mero-mero editero receives accuse us of everything from low IQ to being in league with the devil for any of a whole litany of sins. Our music critics are accused pretty much weekly of being tone-deaf, and anything we write about politics guarantees angry letters from the sort of people who have saliva stains down the fronts of their shirts (did you know I'm a "hate-filled neocon"?). We're used to this kind of letters.

We don't normally get sane people writing us to complain about restaurants, though, like reader Louis did. It's worth replying to people who write us politely, and so I'll let him explain:

My friends and I recently visited The Playground restaurant in Santa Ana, California. I was met with resistance when I requested oranges with my drink. The manager explained they do not alter the menu in any way. I explained my intent was not to change the menu but to merely have an orange slice to accompany my drink. The manager said they would stand by their word and would not fulfill my request. He also said we could go to another restaurant if we liked. We decided to stay, and ordered some appetizers. A short time later, our table was approached by a gentleman wearing a chef's uniform. The gentleman angrily slammed his hands on the table and stated "I'm the owner and I want you to leave". He then walked away from the table with no explanation. I have never experienced this type of unprofessionalism from a business owner nor would I expect this type of behavior in this situation. While I can respect their perspective on food, I cannot respect their approach to customer service.

Dave responds:

Thanks for your letter, Louis. I'm glad you took the time to write, and thank you for not being rabidly angry, creepy, or demented. You touch on a subject we've discussed before: this isn't the first time this has happened, and you're not the first to report being thrown out by Quinn & Co.

Let's start with the beer: Jarred Dooley, the cicerone, does not put fruit in beer he serves. He's the official beer boffin, and Jason Quinn, the chef and owner, lets him decide how to serve beer. They don't give habaneros with habanero ales, they don't give lemons with hefeweizen, and they don't give oranges with stout. There are oranges, lemons and grapefruits behind the bar for use in sangria and other wine punches. Should they have lied and said they didn't have any?

According to Quinn--the man in the chef's coat who came to your table--you told your server you were going to write a negative Yelp review; that's most of what got you booted out. If you had already made up your mind to do so, why waste the time trying to change a mind that's already made up? Quinn views it as throwing good money after bad.

I'm not sure how much clearer The Playground could be about its policies. They're written on the menu; they're written on the blackboard that serves as the south wall of the dining room; they're communicated by the servers--ALL of the servers--when an attempt is made to customize the menu. The same goes for their 3% service charge to the kitchen; it's well-known and well advertised. Whether you can abide by the "house rules" is for you to decide.

I personally think Quinn could tread a slightly less dogmatic line about the policy without damaging his culinary integrity. It doesn't matter what I think, though: it isn't my restaurant. It isn't your restaurant, either, Louis, and that can be a bitter pill to swallow. Americans have taken wholeheartedly to the Burger King model, wherein diners can design their own food using a list of ingredients available in the kitchen. Don't like St.-Agur cheese? Substitute cheddar instead! Does mayonnaise make you turn green around the gills? Ask for ketchup instead of aïoli! When a restaurant refuses to allow customization, it's tempting to view it as egotism by the chef.

Is it, though?

Here is how ordering food works in other countries: you ask what is available, they tell you, and you pick the thing that pleases you most. There are no long and comprehensive lists of ingredients, no allergy warnings, and no optional tweaks. What you order is what they cook, and how they cook it is how you get it. If you don't like it, you are free to say so; The Playground is a lot more gracious about food sent back than, say, the Chinese restaurant in Irvine where I ended up telling the chef he had obviously taken knifework lessons from toddlers.

Since more people read this blog than The Playground's menu or wall, I'll do the restaurant a public service and tell would-be diners that the official restaurant policy is this: customers do not get to make additions, subtractions, customizations or rearrangements of the menu items. Dishes come as is. So do the beers. So, too, will the cocktails, once the full liquor license is complete and the cocktail program designed. Arguing is useless and will just lead to an escalation of emotions that will get you pitched out, hungry, thirsty and angry, on your ear.

If you cannot deal with a firm policy like that, it's probably best for both sides that you were sent away before you had spent any money. The policy will have one of two effects: either people will stop ordering modifications, or they will vote with their feet and the restaurant will close. Getting your blood pressure up about it isn't worth the effort.

Incidentally, I notice you didn't write a Yelp review--I hope you found someplace more to your liking for dinner.

Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of app here!



Location Info

The Playground

220 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA

Category: Music

My Voice Nation Help
42 comments
fluffatu
fluffatu

On one hand I understand the reasoning and respect that the restaurant gets to make their rules. Not a tough pill to swallow, honestly. On the other hand, I feel like The Playground is not doing itself any favors by conveying this arrogant attitude that I have heard/read about more than a few times. I have been wanting to go there, but I also feel by going that I would validating bratty tantrums. The "no apoligies" thing CAN work, but I feel like it's gone too far with Quinn and that childish, beyond arrogant style comes from the top and trickles down to all staff apparantly.

I know there are plenty of douchebags out there and badmouthing on yelp (even the threat of it) is just dumb, but The Playground could handle things differently. You can still out the person as a tool, but it seems like there is a temper controlled problem with the accountability of actions with just a shrugged "if you don't like it, don't come" attitude. Well....Quinn and staff have succeeded.

There are plenty of other places I could eat at in the area (e.g. The Crosby, Chapter One, Memphis) that offer fine food without feeling like I should feel honored to eat there. True, the food may not be as interesting, but I would rather dine with friends without the pretentiousness potential. I think I have heard too many stories now and the bad taste has been left in my mouth before eating anything at The Playground. Too bad for both of us, I guess.

Chuck U Farley
Chuck U Farley

Hey, OC Weekly - how about updating this article now that you have an actual quote from The Playground detailing WHY the customer was removed from the restaurant?

Bob Quinn
Bob Quinn

Lisa, this guest requested orange to go with a porter beer. We don't fruit beers because too often people try it and give it back to us saying they don't like it. We knew it would suck, but we gave them what they wanted and then they were unhappy. It's much clearer for us to serve what we know to be an excellent representation of what it claims to be and refuse modifications. What's not clear from the coverage of this story is that this guest become abusive to our staff and management and threatened us. No bullies allowed at the Playground. We'll throw anyone out who acts like that.

Lisa Gilmore
Lisa Gilmore

But it was a request for a slice of orange...what's the big deal? It's a slice of orange....maybe they don't like to drink water straight...they need a little something something....its just an orange...it has nothing to do with Jason's concept? I'm confused.

Joe McReynolds
Joe McReynolds

Okay, I guess there's something about this story that I just don't get. I've been to Sunday Supper quite a few times, with my dear sweet parents who think adding salt and pepper to a dish is "heavily spiced" -- not exactly a foodie crew. So as you might expect when dining out with your unadventurous parents, their first visit to the Playground, they asked for a couple modifications. They hadn't heard the rule. And you know what? Jason (who happened to be up front that night) said he couldn't do that, but he was incredibly nice about it, respectful, friendly, and was happy to talk about his vision for the place. In subsequent visits, he's just always struck me as a really enthusiastic, optimistic guy. So if someone were getting *kicked out* over an orange slice? I wasn't there, obviously, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that person became a dick when they didn't get what they wanted.

Cesar Jaime
Cesar Jaime

Chad...ur probably right and he didnt even go to school..they dont teach you to be a scumbag in school...lol dude was probably just a line cook at norms and he calls himself a "CHEF"...dude has no idea what a real chef is...the only reason he is still in business is thanx to all those hipsters that cant tell the difference between burger and a hot dog...

Eric Ridenour
Eric Ridenour

From a real chef and food critic I shared this with: If he's such hot shit, what's he doing in Santa Ana? Surely San Francisco is dying for his artistry.

Laurie Guss Nada
Laurie Guss Nada

this whole thing is a crack up! He does sound like an asshole. Customer service should always be foremost, at least not being an asshole! I made repeated calls to the Lime Truck BEFORE they won the tv show. I know one of the owners and they never returned my call. I was looking to book the truck for an event. I will never eat their food.

miller9
miller9

I've had food from the Lime Truck ; it was pretty good. I don't see myself going to The Playground. It does embody all the things I wouldn't like when going out to eat. I don't drink beer with or without fruit and peppers.

makesnoise
makesnoise

Also- I play music for a living and I don't take requests either. If you don't want me to play what I play, please don't hire me.

makesnoise
makesnoise

Let's make an analogy to music.  If you listen to a musician who is good, they are already playing what they like and want to share with you, and they will play that to the best of their ability. If you make a request, you are asking them to not play what they are artistically committed to, or may not like at all. Art is not a communal effort, be it cooking, music, painting or sculpting etc .I go to Playground to experience the many foods I may not have had before. I go for Iberrico De Bellotta, Canaray Island Octopus, Oxtail Marmalade to name a few that I had never been introduced to, but. I love these dishes now.To impose your desire on an artist is much like standing behind Picasso and telling him to use "more red". If you want only what you know and like, please stay home and make it for yourself, or learn to play that song you like. You may like or dislike what an artist does, but you don't get to change it. That is not art. Don't purchase art you don't like.

Emily Cox
Emily Cox

BAHAHAHAAAA What a joke! Lisa- fantastic POV! This guy doesn't realize being polite is always in fashion.

Chad Brown
Chad Brown

cesar, did he even go to culinary school? ...I don't think he did.

Lisa Gilmore
Lisa Gilmore

Chad...I agree with you completely. I hate the word "foodie".. The majority of chefs in OC have never treated me rudely or disrespectfully when I have asked for something extra or differently....and that is what makes a great chef...the ability and willingness to please the CUSTOMER at any length.

Chad Brown
Chad Brown

By the way, the Lime Truck sucks.

Chad Brown
Chad Brown

Lisa, I'm not even sure it's a matter of being a foodie-- that was the point of my previous point. The chefs of the world who most deserve to be snooty about food are not, but this guy is. I think it's COMICAL that a guy who knows less about food than I do would argue with me about what I want. And it's not that I feel entitled to feel that way because I'm special; I feel that way because any customer patronizing your business deserves SOME respect. I remember eating at Alain Ducasse's Michelin starred restaurant in Vegas, Mix, during NASCAR week there in town. While my wife and I were having the chef's prix fixe menu with the wine pairings. The table of eight next to us all ordered Bud Light. They got treated fine by the restaurant, and I bought 'em a round of beer.

Cesar Jaime
Cesar Jaime

Nothing lasts for ever scumbag...enjoy it while u can. ..

Lisa Gilmore
Lisa Gilmore

I am a fan of his food but ....don't bite the hand that feeds you. Not everyone is a foodie and you can't punish someone just because they want something a certain way...just like Jason wants something a certain way...why can't it go both ways. Not every Chef's vision is correct ...be careful....egos and pride is not a good mix. Just saying.

Michael Chavez
Michael Chavez

Mr. Quinn doesn't run your average place and it's his restaurant, not yours. Let him run it as he desires. If it's into the ground, that's his prerogative. I on the other hand, we continue to support his dedication to establishing a world class Gastropub. With or without garnishes.

Cesar Jaime
Cesar Jaime

Lol they go to culinary school and they come out with rober irvines ego and attitude....moron...doesnt that prick know who pays his bills?....he should first take care of his major health dept violations before he can be a nazi with his shitty menu...i been there and the food sucks...overpriced and medioclre just like the rest of the hipster infested restaurant in downtown chuntana....

cmac166
cmac166

I think the writer of this letter must have done something more than stated to get the boot.  I have eaten here several times and have interacted with Jason and most of the staff and have found them amazingly accommodating in every aspect, although I never ask for substitutions since I can read and it is written in huge letters on the wall. We have even let Jason know when we thought dishes missed the mark and he is always open to criticism and cool about it.  I think people just need to relax, but I guess you can't please everyone.

fullthrottle
fullthrottle

ive eaten lunch here (when it was offered) a couple times and loved it. we went in thinking bringing our 2 year old would get us the cold treatment, but quite the opposite. what drew us and our wallet there was we loved the dishes they had come up with, not because we thought we could improve what they were offering by making some alterations to what they had already come up with. call me a sheep, pushover, whatever you want, if i want something specific a true chef-driven restaurant isn't where i go to look for it

Chad Brown
Chad Brown

I served on a Forbes Magazine panel with Todd English, Mario Batali, Patricia Wells, Anthony Bourdain and others for two years. And I haven't ever heard of a a PERSON, let alone a chef, who is this conceited. Good stuff.

Joey T Faso
Joey T Faso

he's doing something right . look at yelp 4 1/2 stars with 698 reviews . he can be a asshole if he wants to be . and most "foodies " have no idea what good food is !!!!!

moonbandito
moonbandito

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode, 'Soup Nazi'.

Jay Lukes
Jay Lukes

Most people hate people who use the term "real foodies"

Eric Ridenour
Eric Ridenour

Dude, booting customers for requesting an orange slice for a drink is excessive. This is just the behavior of an arrogant, douchebag chef. For something like that, he is being a hot headed prick.

Corinne Newcombe
Corinne Newcombe

He's being a pretentious dick. I won't ever patronize places like that.

Joey T Faso
Joey T Faso

Good for him . I hate that any fool any time can leave a review on yelp . most of them know nothing about food . most real foodies dont rely on yelp .

skuterdude
skuterdude

I hope I am never asked to attend a dinner at the playground........Jason Quinn was an ass on that Truck race show and evidently it was not an act.........it sounds like he could use a 12 step anger management program......

Igotnothin
Igotnothin

Just curious to see how far they will take the No modifications policy with the cocktails.  Are you going to be limited to ordering solely what is on the cocktail menu?  Or could I get a bourbon neat, when the menu only lists a Manhattan?

devthekoala
devthekoala

Apparently there's also no cream or sugar with coffee, according to a Yelper. Kinda wonder if lemon slices are allowed with water? I'd be afraid to ask.


This article, mentioning Yelp, inspired me to toodle over to Yelp and read a review. One Yelper complained about a rude waiter, chef surcharge, and small portions. I've seen many of the Yelpers state that they were told that a plate would be shareable, when it was not as big as expected. I've seen many of the Yelpers state that their server was pretentious. But without explanation, this particular Yelp review was commented on by Jason Quinn, "We're better off without you. And anyone else who finds this review helpful." I could see being a bit surprised with the 3% surcharge and I would not be surprised someone would bring it up to a server... I cannot find mention of it at all on The Playground's website or online menu.

Couple this with his explicative-laden response to a review, in which Jason Quinn dropped the F-Bomb plenty of times and told the reviewer to "Burn in Hell," I am sad because I was eager to try The Playground, but now I'm a bit afraid of the chef's temper. I do like lemons in my ice water.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Chuck U Farley Given that we got Jason's side in the initial story, I'm not sure what else is there to update...

MrEFQ
MrEFQ

@Bob Quinn No bullies? So you fired Jason? Awesome.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Eric Ridenour You're selling OC short!

dubyadawg
dubyadawg topcommenter

@Eric Ridenour because Santa Ana boasts many amazing restaurants that serve great food creates by brilliant chefs! There are more restaurants coming to Santa Ana-we cannot wait! Downtown Santa Ana, come dine with us.

dubyadawg
dubyadawg topcommenter

The line of people outside The Playground tonight, like most every night, is long. People fill the tables inside. Hmm. Seems Jason is enjoying it while he can. He only gets better.

dubyadawg
dubyadawg topcommenter

860 reviews as of tonight with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5!

Dave_Lieberman
Dave_Lieberman

@devthekoala I can tell you with authority that the 3% surcharge is on the menu. And I'm sure it is brought up to a server plenty of times. (I personally would just hide the 3% in the menu price, but again, not my restaurant.)


Lemon with ice water? What are you, some kind of Communist? Everyone knows cucumber goes in water.

devthekoala
devthekoala

@Dave_Lieberman I'm sure it's on the actual menu. What I said was that it wasn't on the online menu. I'm equal opportunity: cucumbers are great too.

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...