Thursday, February 18, 2010

Al Fresco's: The very last attempt - and they failed

Al Fresco's is a popular expat restaurant chain in Saigon. They have two branches in district 1 and a branch in district 7. We went a few times to the latter when we arrived in Vietnam. The food is Pizza, Burger, Mexican. The prices are high, the service was always bad. One year ago we went there and they screwed up again: They brought us something what we did not order, what we did order was suddenly not available anymore and even the bill was wrong. We complained, we got many excuses and left.

One year later: we found a 250.000 VND voucher today in our coupon bowl and decided to redeem it before its outdated. I ordered a Chicken Burger with avocado and bacon, my wife ordered a quesadilla. And again, something was wrong: No avocado on my burger, no avocado sauce with the quesadillas.
They did not tell us in advance, they did not tell us when the delivered the food. Only after I complained they said "we were running out of avocados, sorry". "But I will be charged the full price? Forget it, I answered." We told the manager, that this was the very last time and left. She offered us the dinner for free, but we gave her the 250.000 VND voucher and left.

Al Fresco's and Jaspas are popular for no reason. The food is average, the service is under average. They may speak english, but the staff has no skills in service.

This is the reason why I prefer local vietnamese restaurants. You get great food for less money. And the service is a least as good as what you pay for.

The most expat places are totally overpriced. I guess they survive because many expats don't dare to go to local places or just want to be with other expats. As this is not my lifestyle, I am safe. I avoid this places as much as I can. You should do as well.


Tim said...

Jaspa's is very overpriced I must admit. But to tar all western restaurants with the same brush based on a bad experience at Al Fresco's is most unfair. If I were to list my 10 favourite restaurants in HCMC (based on food & service) only 1 local restaurant would make the list.

djgj said...

Avocados always disappear towards end of Tet, the fragile fruit having diminished stocks you have to be a little understanding though they should have warned you.

Al Fresco is kid friendly with reasonable food, we've eaten there many times without much going wrong - the prices aren't cheap but then its not an every day eating place unlike vn restaurants which as you know can be cheaper than eating at home (though average prices have more than doubled over the past couple of years)

Last week we went to A-F I sat in a seat where the previous occupant had been sick and the staff hadn't warned me (whether they knew or not someone had cleaned it up but not well). Not a pleasant experience...

Thomas Wanhoff said...

I have a understanding of food shortage, but I have no understanding in not telling me in advance neither telling me when they served. Why prices are higher there? Because of the food? No. Because of the staffs salary? No. It's just because expats don't care about prices or just want to be at an expat place where they might feel more safe. Not my place anymore.

@Tim: You may have to discover more local restaurants.

Tim said...

Thomas, over the last 7 years I've probably been to virtually every local restaurant in D1, and loads more in D3, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan etc. I like a lot of local dishes but have never found anything to even remotely compare with French, Italian, Thai or Indian food. VNese food simply isn't in the same league. Which I think is down to VNese diners placing the experience (ie the pleasure of enjoying the company of family or workmates) over the quality of the food. I'd rather eat good food alone than mediocre food with others, but you'd never hear a VNese person say the same - they hate dining alone.

As for the service, it's as variable in local restaurants as it is in expat ones. Like you, if I get bad service I tend not to go back, and it's why I must have eaten at Le Jardin well over 100 times in the last 5 years!

A. Rizzi said...

word. I agree with both.
What I have noticed is:
Jaspas is probably the Chili's of Viet Nam. A lot of food done decent, nothing done great.
Locals DO HATE eating alone- in fact they're almost deathly afraid of the idea.
Avocados in Nam do not compare to the California variety, don't get your hopes up when you see guacamole on the menu.
Tim- of course Vietnamese food is in a different league. Completely different flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques than the other cuisines you've mentioned. I love it all, though.

Tommy said...

I spent 3 weeks in Hanoi on business a few years ago. I had similar experience at the Al Fresco at Hai Ba Trung Street in Hanoi. I ordered a cheese burger with French Fries and iced tea. The picture on the menu has lettuce, tomato and onion in the cheese burger. It was delivered without the onion. I inquired about it politely, and was told "Out of onion" with an indifference attitude. I can tell by the body language that they expect you to have it without onion. There were other Expat customers around, so I did not want to appear arguing over onions. But you got the point Thomas. Good customer service seems to be still very hard to find in VN today in 2010. What bothers me is they are charging international price without the international standard customer service courtesy. I experience similar issues with the other restaurants (foreign or local) in VN that they either use a substitute food item or skip it on their own without giving the customer a chance to change the order. In VN, there seems to be tendencies of "Yes to death, before taking your money, then they will give you a substitute if they can not meet your original order". There is a total lack of understanding of Consumer Sovereignty in VN regardless of local price or foreign price. I would say the best bet is to have a sign made in Vietnamese to be carried with you, so that you can show the warning sign to a waiter or waitress that if there is any thing different from the order, please discuss it before executing the order. This is happening in business in VN also. If they (vendors) are not capable of delivering a large quantity at a given time, they still say "Yes to death", then they will sub-contract out for a given quantity without telling you. Their attitude is as long as you get your goods delivered, you don't need to know what happens. Here is a specific example of vendors keeping me in the dark when there is a change of game plan in execution of a delivery. I happened to discover this issue when a distributor customer complained to me that the carton boxes were damaged and a number of labels on the plastic bottles were damaged. I had to offered some free cartons to compensate and settle the issue. We contracted out exclusive delivery from a local trucking company so we don't have to deal with owning trucks and maintenance and other overhead costs. One of the delivery route to the Mekong Delta (Kien Giang)had a problem due a bridge being closed for repair. The alternate route had a smaller wooden bridge that the truck could not go through. The trucker went on his own to deal with the local small carriers in motorized tri-cycle with the wagon in the front, to deliver the goods over the wooden bridge to its destination. Apparently some of them did not have sufficient canvas cover for their tri-cycles when it was raining.