Hello strangers. Did you miss me? I have missed you.
I've had a crisis of enthusiasm lately. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of unemployment dragging on for a while: motivation. I promise to do better.
Today I have a dilemma I'd love some feedback on.
Fortunately the household has some income. None from me, sadly... unless you're counting the dwindling amount the State of Gawd's Country has so generously provided each week.
Now, we aren't on food stamps. Wait, that's not P.C. -- they're not called food stamps any more, they are the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." Oh, SNAP! So we still get to do restaurant food from time to time. We've seriously cut back on the pricey options, but still avoid "fast" food for the most part so we try and make smart choices.
As big fans of the chicken wing, this is a decent option for those on a budget, like us. But being somewhat picky, we have given the places around here a try over the years, then stuck with what we like best. A quick review of the leading locals, in alphabetical order:
* Buffalo Wild Wings: B-dubs has a big fan base, but so do piles of poop. You can just taste the processing every time. Not a big fan.
* Foghorn's: A local favorite but I've found the wings too soggy. I like 'em crispy. Soggy wings gross me out. I suppose I could request them crispy if we go back here. We've been several times and my experience has always been the same.
* Hooters: OK, I understand the argument against this place. As a guy, I'm willing to overlook the chief objections. And actually, I have always liked the wings here. But saying that tends to put you in the class of those dudes who say they "read" Playboy for the articles. Plus, they overcharge for stuff. Sodas are $2.79, and they refill you as much as you want but that's not exactly healthy. And still, $2.79? I know they aren't putting that profit into the uniform budget.
* Wingstop: My favorite. Crispy, consistent, great fries. And not super-expensive.
* Zaxby's: Always clean and the wings are pretty good. However, in this household, positive feelings about Zaxby's are not unanimous.
The wings at JJ's were recommended. We've tried them and they were pretty good, actually. In fact, for bar food, JJ's pretty much nails it across the board. However, they have live bands every night and they're too overmodulated. You can't carry on a conversation without yelling. Plus, you have to tip. I've worked food service before and that's no easy job, so I tend to tip a minimum of 20 percent unless the service is just awful. On a budget, that means places where I have to tip get sidelined.
I've also heard the wings at Grub's are decent. I've never actually been there, but again... bar food. Drunken d-bags. Tips. Maybe some day, but now's not the time for experimentation.
That's the preamble. Now the problem. We're a Wingstop family. I've been going there for years. It's a Dallas-area company, and that's home. So I've been a fan a long time. They make them the way I like, and generally you can go into their stores and your expectations will be met. That's not unimportant.
There are two franchises here in NW Gawd's Country. One is too far away. The other is nearer, and convenient. We've been going there steadily since we got here.
How steadily? Too steadily, probably. I ran the numbers. Since starting to keep track of this stuff in mid-2007, we've gone to this Wingstop a minimum of 112 times. I don't track cash expenditures, just the ones using my bank card. We've averaged almost $19 on the dot every time we've walked into that store. More than $2,100. We're on a first-name basis with the owner and his top staffer. It's not uncommon to phone in an order and they're able to complete the order without asking.
We ordered last night. M went to pick it up, and while waiting there, she got thirsty and asked for a cup of water.
A new kid was there. M reports he was not unpleasant or rude in any way, but told her that there would be a charge for a cup of water. She was stunned. She didn't get the water. But she did get irritated.
I called the owner this morning and said "Is this true? You charge for water?" He reported that he did. 50 cents. The water is served in beer cups that he said costs him $45 a week to keep stocked. He said a lot of the college kids come in and order waters with their meals, apparently so many that it was starting to cut into his bottom line.
He also said that had the new kid known we were steady customers, he probably would have provided the water gratis.
The owner has a background working for the world's largest retailer. So being cheap is kind of a way of life for those folks. We've never gotten a single freebie from this guy. I have obviously been able to live with that, although I think when you have a loyal following, it's OK to throw in a damn order of fries once a year or two! Never happened, though. And we've kept coming back because he's generally a nice guy, the store is clean and friendly, and we think the food is good and the price is reasonable.
Except for a cup of water.
Now, I'm a proponent of voting with your wallet. If you don't like the way you're treated someplace, you don't have to go. This is the essence of the free market! If you seek a service and you like that service, you are willing to pay for it. If not, you don't. There have been a number of places here where we've given them a chance to win our business, and when they fail repeatedly, we get the message: Not for us. And we just don't go.
Ti Amo's, we went once, great experience. Second time, even though it wasn't crowded, 10 minutes, 12 minutes, no server after initially getting drink orders. Amazingly we stayed that long. Then we gave up. They charged us $5 for two teas. Kind of irritating, but whatevs. We didn't get a chance to make a third visit as the business failed.
Powerhouse, rave reviews. We've been three times and every time something was awful about it. Once mostly the food. Once mostly the service. Once the place was sickeningly overheated. Every time we left feeling overcharged and underserved. Out.
So what do we do about the Wingstop problem? I'm leaning toward never going back. Or perhaps going back once with my data and asking, "Was 50 cents for a damn cup of water worth losing a steady revenue source?"