Thursday, 17 May 2012

Well, I'm not going to bore you.

Or maybe I am. You see, a few weeks ago, I received an approach to do a review and I accepted. I accepted because it was for a brand with which I have had a chequered history over time. I assumed that because they were approaching bloggers to do a review that they had got their act together.

After I had said yes, I realised that when they said they had approached bloggers, they had asked just about everyone in the parent blogging community. Review after review started to appear and I'm sure that readers who read a lot of parent blogs got very bored. Not only that, my fears were founded as many had dreadful experiences there and the best seemed to have had an OK experience, but nothing terribly great. Actually, excuse me, I think I read one completely positive review.

I had committed to doing this review so I feel I should write it. However, I'm not really sure what I can add to what's already been said but here goes.

The brand that offered me the opportunity was Frankie & Benny's, and as I said, we have a chequered history. We have had extremely slow service at times and instances of substandard food that the staff have tried to conceal, but at other times, they have been great. Our last visit had been disastrous, but nothing to do with them because Monkey was sick in the toilets shortly after we arrived. The staff were troopers and even arranged for our breakfasts to arrive at different times so one of us could sit outside with an improving by the minute 7 year old.

We chose to return to the same branch to do our review, not because we liked it so much but because it was at the Trafford Centre and we chose to meet husband there after he'd finished his marathon. The area was rammed that day because of the appalling weather, but Frankie & Benny's itself wasn't too busy. The main purpose of our review was to try out one of the four new menus. As it was a Sunday afternoon, we couldn't try the lunch or the breakfast menu so we tried the specials menu.

The kids are always well catered for with activity packs full of things that they really want to do. They love the kids menu which is £3.95 for main, dessert and a refillable drink - and it is not stingy at all. Missy Woo had the pizza because she knew that it's big - in fact, you'd expect it to be 3.95 by itself.

The specials menu was 2 courses for £10.95. Looking at the menu, it was struck by how unbalanced it was for vegetarians. All but one of the starters was vegetarian, but only one of the main courses was. This seemed strange as there were 10 choices for the mains. I was also a bit disappointed at the range of choices. - 4 pizza type dishes, 4 chicken dishes doesn't leave a lot of room for variety. We chose dough sticks and chicken wings to share with the children to start, then a New Yorker and a chicken burger for mains. When the starters arrived, I discovered how hot the wings were - there is no way the children would touch them; my lips were still tingling 10 minutes later. The children enjoyed the doughsticks before their mains arrived.

What of our mains? Well, they were OK. They weren't fantastic burgers and I felt the portion sizes were a tad small. Still, husband was still full of running gels and water so didn't finish his main but his chips got plundered by the children and me. We moved onto puddings - well, I had some crumble and the children had ice cream. Again, nothing exceptional.

The service was as good as before. The staff were generally friendly and helpful and the children loved the waiter who did tricks with drink napkins when he brought your drinks. What they loved was the staff treated them like grown ups and chatted easily to them. What I found annoying was the birthday routine. If someone has a birthday, they turn the music right up, bring out a pudding, play happy birthday (presumably singing it) then Congratulations comes on over the speakers. It's annoying enough when you're having a quietish meal and want to talk to your family but this happened SIX times in one hour, two of them back to back. I mean, seriously? I know a birthday is special  but does the whole restaurant have to be subjected to it? I sat there dreading the volume knob increasing and if I'd heard Cliff one more time, I swear I couldn't be held responsible for my actions. The only other thing that grated was that after I handed over the voucher to pay, the waiter didn't say thank you and didn't come back to explain that they weren't going to give me the balance in vouchers. In fact, the waiter barely said thank you.

Would I go again? Possibly. I would go to eat from a different menu; the lunch menu is too restrictive when you consider the price. The children love it but I yearn for something a bit different and the food really was a bit samey on the specials menu. I'm happy enough to go for breakfast but that's it. I prefer to go elsewhere for family meals although we do go occasionally because the children do get well fed.

However, I know that we were lucky that had a decent experience, and that's my problem with this. Frankie & Benny's have a reputation for providing inconsistent service that is often slow for no apparent reason and that often translates itself to the food. When I was approached, I assumed that they had put some considerable effort into offering a more consistent standard of service across the board. How wrong I was. You won't have to look far to find reviews that are far from flattering. Which begs the question - why run this campaign? Why give a large number of bloggers the chance to review your brand when you know that in some branches, they may not have a good time? People are going to be searching the internet and finding some awful reviews which people will take note of as they are written by bloggers. And I don't get why they approached so many people to do this - there is such a thing as brand fatigue if it gets written about too much but it seems that they didn't think about this when planning their campaign.

I'm sorry if you're fed up with yet another review for this brand. I shall be more careful next time - I don't like doing something that everyone else is doing because well, it's boring really. What this campaign has proved to me is that quality is definitely better than quantity and that brands really need to be sure of their product before they offer it to bloggers to try.

(I was sent a £50 voucher to use on a meal to try out one of the four new menus. The branch didn't know we were coming, nor that we were paying by voucher until we had been given the bill. I have not been told what to write and all words and opinions are my own.) 

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