Aussie Rules Foodhouse + Bar
1002-37th Street SW (Westbrook Mall) | Calgary, AB | 403-249-7933 | www.aussierules.ca
I recently returned from a couple weeks in the great city of Calgary, Alberta (I’ll spare you the Victoria-girl-whining-about-the-cold saga). While I was out there, I was constantly on the lookout for unique restaurants, coffee shops and cafes, basically any place that looked home-grown but tourist-friendly.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck finding anything that wasn’t a large chain, and although I kept my eyes open for those proverbial “holes in the wall” that can make or break a city’s underground foodie culture, I wasn’t successful in spotting any. Part of the problem could have been that I was stuck downtown and it was -36 degrees, so if the +15 didn’t take me there, I wasn’t about to venture outside to check it out. As a result, I only ended up with one experience to write about. The rest of the time I survived on Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Subway, Japanese Village and whatever I could carry home through 3 feet of snow from Safeway.
My big ‘restaurant outing’ occurred on American Thanksgiving. I was in Calgary for a wedding (along with some American family and friends), and the bride and groom had arranged for a pre-wedding celebration at Aussie Rules Foodhouse + Bar. Hey – it beat sitting around the hotel eating turkey sandwiches for dinner! Also, we were quite proud of our ‘multi-culturalism’ that night, celebrating American Thanksgiving in an Aussie bar in Canada. We were also glad to get out of the hotel/downtown core for a night. I was personally so excited to find out it was a piano bar with a dueling piano show! (I’m a little bit of a music nerd)
We arrived at 7pm because we wanted to enjoy some dinner before the show, which started at 8pm. The first “red flag” should have been that we sat there for 30 minutes before anyone even acknowledged our presence. Around 7:30pm, a waitress finally came to our table to tell us that she wasn’t our server.
She explained that another waiter (she used his name) was supposed to be looking after us. I think my “why are you telling us this, then?” look prompted her into further action. She remarked that she would “pick up his slack” (her exact words – I wrote them down!) and bring us some water and menus.
“He is supposed to look after you. I assumed he’d at least get you water,” she said. Yeah, she totally threw him under the bus! Twice!
It was nice that she came over to help out and apologize for the delay, but I bristled a little when she bad-mouthed her colleague (who, by the way, looked very busy serving a group of 30 at the time).
Another 20 minutes went by before she returned for our drink orders, but with only 3 menus (for a group of about 8). In her mind, she was being helpful “in case we wanted food.”
I was still in my ‘give her the benefit of the doubt’ frame of mind over the whole thing, but I was starting to lose faith… (the server she tried to throw under the bus was now clear across the other side of the restaurant, so I have no idea what happened there, either).
For space and time consideration, I’ll highlight the next couple of hours – keep in mind all conversations were being shouted because of the noise of the dueling pianos (WHICH IS WHY WE ARRIVED AN HOUR BEFORE THE SHOW!) But I digress:
8:15pm – we shout our dinner and drink orders over the sound of the piano performers
8:30pm – waitress returns with drinks, needs to write our orders down again “just so she gets them right”
8:45pm – waitress returns again to write our orders down, this time with our drinks attached so she “gets the bills sorted out” correctly
9pm – half the table gives up waiting for her to come back for another round of drink orders, so they go directly up to the bar
9:30pm – everyone’s food arrives, except mine
9:45pm – waiter (the one from under the bus) comes over to apologize to me, and says my dinner will be right out
10:05pm – everyone is now done eating, the 10 – 15 other guests are starting to arrive, and my food is still MIA
10:15pm – My food finally arrives, looking like this:
Needless to say, it was sub-par. Not only was the food cold, but it was not what I ordered. At that point, however, I wasn’t about to let them take it back to the kitchen so I could wait another 3 hours for something worse.
In the meantime, this was the conversation at the bar:
Us: “Do you have any drink specials?”
Bartender: “It’s Calgary, nothing’s special.”
Us: “Can you recommend a good local beer or wine?”
Bartender: silence (as in, totally ignored the question)
My brother’s AWESOME friend: “Ok, can you tell us where we can find some good service, then?”
… I thought that was hilarious… by that point, all faith was lost and all ‘benefit of the doubt’ pleasantries were out the window.
As for the piano players – they were AMAZING! The entertainment was top-notch, and (surprisingly) I would go back there to see them again!
I would not, however, NOT suggest eating or drinking there. Not under any circumstances!
So, Aussie Rules, Oi! Oi! Oi! indeed – for your piano entertainment.
The cash tip I was going to leave the waitstaff went directly to the piano players. I never do that. I understand the waitstaff have to pay the kitchen staff no matter what, so if you don’t leave a tip, it actually comes out of their pocket. For that reason, I always leave enough to at least cover the tip-outs, but this was the worst non-service I have EVER had. A 3-hour wait for a meal is unacceptable.
The only tips I have to leave the waitstaff are these:
- don’t bad-mouth each other, the customers don’t care to hear it
- don’t make us wait for 3 hours for the wrong order
- don’t be rude and/or sarcastic when asked for real advice
- try not to let empty glasses sit around for too long – I only had 2 drinks in 5 hours. I would have had 5, given the chance. That increases your sales = your boss is happy. It also increases your potential tips. It also makes fed-up (yet still hungry) customers a little ‘fuzzy on the details’ so they don’t go home and remember every single little thing they disliked about their experience at your restaurant, under your watch.
I hate to say it, but I’ve encountered service like this before in Calgary. More than once. Perhaps I’m going to the wrong parts of town? Perhaps I don’t understand Calgary culture? Perhaps I’m spoiled by Victoria’s ‘tourist’ mentality where customer service is a priority?
If any of you out there are well-versed in the Calgary food scene, I’d love to hear some suggestions for my next trip. I know you people eat, I also know you are courteous and friendly… sooner or later, those two things have got to come together for me!