Thursday, December 27, 2018

Botulism Beats Benihana

Botulism Beats Benihana
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 27, 2018

Before dining at the Indianapolis Benihana on Keystone Crossing Road, I strongly recommend committing hara-kiri. From start to finish, with little exception in between, calling this an unpleasant experience is an understatement.

Having a 9:30 PM reservation, and arriving on time, I fully expect to be seated no later than 9:35. Judging by the absolutely filthy appearance of the floors in both the main dining room and bar, as well as the report given me by my daughter about the ladies room, leaving would have been the right move. Foolishly, we waited. 

At 9:45 I asked to speak with the manager. Without an apology for our wait, he proceeded to regale me with excuses - a staff member got sick (probably ate what my wife ate), the restaurant got slammed with walk-ins, and because it was Christmas. We were told our wait would be just a few more minutes. The correct answer would have been to offer us seats in the bar with a round of drinks/appetizers on the house. Or comping us one of our three meals, yet no such offer was forthcoming.

Finally ushered to our seats at 10 PM, still no apology from the same manager. The hibachi table, at which we were seated, was not nearly as clean as it could have been, in spite of the fact that the table would reach 500 degrees in order to cook our food.

The apron worn by Matt, the cook, was filthy. Does Benihana not provide their cooks with clean aprons throughout their shifts? And his must have been a very long shift, as Matt complained while preparing the meals as to how many hours he worked in the previous several days, how many days in a row he had been working, while going through his shtick flipping shrimp tails into the top of his even more filthy chef’s hat. The inside of the top of that grungy hat also included old eggshells.

The food was fair, at best, for most of us, except for my wife who spent the remainder of the evening making repeat visits to the bathroom upon returning home.

Because we had been seated so late, by the time the cook was done cooking each course and serving us, the time was pushing 11:30 and the waitress who served us soup, salad, and refilled our water glasses, brought us the bill and demanded we pay at once even while we were still eating. I commented that we clearly, were still eating. Jonesha said they wanted to cash out, and thus the rush to collect as we continued eating.

During that visit to the table, Jonesha took it upon herself, with no prompting from anyone at the table, neither the three of us nor the five people in the other party, to offer an opinion on her animus of President Donald Trump and the border wall. Completely inappropriate. If I want political commentary I’ll either read it in the newspaper or watch it on television; or better still, write it myself ( This monologue lasted about two minutes.

Upon returning, when just the three of us in our party remained, Jonesha once again took to her soapbox, this time telling us former President George W. Bush was personally responsible for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 - something she claimed she learned in school from her fifth grade teacher. She added that Bush was personally “buddy-buddy” with Osama bin Laden, and this diatribe lasted a painfully long four to five minutes before I slammed my hands on the table declaring that this was just wrong. My wife mentioned that we lost friends on 9/11 in the Twin Towers, and Jonesha excused herself from the table. I held my tongue the entire time, yet remained livid throughout this entire Twilight Zone experience. Those who know me, know that was the Christmas miracle of all miracles.

Not only did we lose friends on that fateful date, I grew up in North Jersey, in the shadow of the towers, and was a working journalist in Northern Virginia, just 10 minutes from the Pentagon on September 11. While that is my personal story, it is actually irrelevant because the opinion of a restaurant worker, or any employee involving customer service is uncalled for. If my wife, daughter, or I mouthed off on a job like that we would have been fired, and rightfully so. (Truth be told, even had the server extolled the virtues of Trump, the wall, Bush, etc., it still would have been inappropriate while working representing the restaurant.)

In relating this story to the manager, and noting I planned to share the entire evening’s experience with Benihana corporate, he told me that corporate would merely “bounce this back” to him to handle. While he agreed Jonesha was wrong and he would review restaurant policies with her, we left the restaurant completely unsatisfied, with no plans to return again.

By the way, in addition to the miserable experience, and waste of time and money, Benihana has failed to live up to their advertised “Chef’s Table” promotion found on their website. Registering with the restaurant is supposed to net patrons a $30 certificate during the month of one’s birthday. In my five years of membership, I have yet to receive even one email providing me the appropriate birthday certificate.

Customer service, etiquette, and cleanliness are just as important as the food itself in ensuring the entire restaurant experience start to finish are worth of a return visit. Benihana in Indianapolis failed on all counts and for my money we will go elsewhere - anywhere else. (This column has been shared with Benihana Corporate, as well as posted to Yelp.)

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Greed Killed the Bowls

Greed Killed the Bowls
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 14, 2018

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” quipped Michael Douglass’s Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street.

Yeah, not so much, where the college football bowl games are concerned.

In “Missing From Bowls: Top Players,” a column penned by Brian Costa in the Wednesday, December 12 Wall Street Journal, coincidentally, at least a dozen NFL probables reported they would not take a knee, but instead, they would take a seat - declining to participate in their teams’ grand finale. The paramount reason for opting not to play is to avoid the risk of injury and potentially damage their chance at a big payday suiting up at the next level.

As for the team’s grand finale, they’re just not that grand anymore. There are 40 bowl games plus a national championship, meaning 80 schools are participating in this cavalcade of high priced advertising, high priced sponsorships, and high priced tickets. When 80 schools “earn” postseason berths, this year 10 of which enter their game with break even records of six wins and six losses, there is most certainly a diminished importance to these games. Most of the 80 teams will play in front of thousands of empty seats masquerading as fans not willing to travel or shell out a small fortune when they can enjoy numerous games at one time with remote in hand on a comfy couch adorned with less expensive, warmer, and tastier snacks.

As mentioned above, 10 teams enter their bowl at .500 and a chance to end their season with a losing record. Drop half the bowls to make them relevant again. Add four more teams to the championship playoff - akin to the Elite Eight of March Madness. Raise to seven wins, the requirement for earning bowl eligibility. Six wins worked when the regular season consisted of 11 games - 6-5 is still a winning record. If a team can’t do better than breaking even, they should be home watching the bowls instead of playing in one.

And as for the players themselves, skipping the bowl seems a double-edged sword. By not playing, they are protecting themselves and their future. After all, it is their lives, and as many point out, the universities are making millions of dollars over the span of the collegiate player’s career on campus, while the student-athlete does not see a penny. Make no mistake, I have never endorsed paying student-athletes.

Quite frankly, if these student-athletes were truly concerned about their economic future and well being, they would focus more on the “student” aspect of student-athlete and take full advantage of their academic scholarship. Barely two percent will play football on Sundays, and 98 percent will need to find employment that does not require donning a football uniform.

The scholarship is a form of payment along with its concomitant perks. When players choose to leave school early, they should be required to pay back that scholarship. That is money that could serve an economically disadvantaged, yet academically deserving student.

On the other hand, by accepting a scholarship, players are agreeing to provide a service to the school - playing football. In effect, the scholarship is a payday - tuition, room, board, insurance, and myriad other expenses that the player is not paying out of pocket. Players sitting out of bowl games are diminishing their team’s chance of success on the gridiron, and losing could affect future recruitment to the school.

Don’t forget, without the schools, these players wouldn’t have a venue in which to showcase their talent - and it’s still a team sport where the quarterback needs the guards and the running back needs the blockers - many of whom are unsung.

Then there is the issue of loyalty. What happens when the collegiate player who heretofore bailed on the bowl game decides not to play in a seemingly meaningless end of season NFL game for his 2-13 team, for fear of sustaining an injury? Will his team garnish his wages? Suspend him without pay? Trade him for being a malcontent? And if attempting a trade, perhaps no other team will take a chance on such a player who lacks loyalty and the desire to be a team player. Even in a seemingly meaningless bowl game, there are still life lessons to be learned. Hopefully these players will learn those lessons before they adversely impact their future.

Perhaps without the greed of an overly aggressive 40 game bowl schedule, if there were but 20 such games, players would work harder and strive to qualify for one of those 20 games which would be more meaningful. Perhaps requiring seven wins would also make the achievement of postseason more meaningful and the gratitude of such an accomplishment the impetus of potential NFL players finishing what they started at the collegiate level. There used to be a time when a limited number of bowl games sparked a level of competition that drove players and teams to reach beyond their potential and not settle for break even. Perhaps driving the level of competition back to those days would instill a greater desire to not only succeed on the gridiron, but in life after football. It used to be the American way, and perhaps it can be once again.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN. His Maryland Terrapins finished out of postseason with a 5-7 record.