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.

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