Friday, July 25, 2014

The Furor over Mama Roberto's...

Why are we so eager to believe and share the most destructive of stories on-line?  I am talking about all the negative publicity surrounding an incident at Mama Roberto’s Restaurant in Mentor.

I’m not even close to absolving the cashier for her treatment of the customer.  The customer is always right, even when he or she is wrong, and heaping such a tirade on a customer is inexcusable.  But I am going to put forth a few observations, highlighting what I have seen and heard on Facebook and on TV, and what I have experienced as a customer of Mama Roberto’s.

First and foremost, there is absolutely no way to not see the sign that says how coupons are to be presented, with no exceptions.  It is the first thing you see when you walk in the outer door.  The sign is large and obvious and pretty much in your face.  The last time I visited the restaurant, I immediately stopped and read it, because it was not there previously.  I didn’t have a Groupon, so it did not apply to me, but if I had one, I knew exactly what to do with it when I walked through the interior door.  And if I didn’t know by then, there was an equally obvious sign immediately inside the interior door prominently displayed on the cashier’s counter.

Second, Mrs. Basiger graciously stated that “the meal was terrific as was the service, and the waitress was nice.”  So I fail to understand all the horrific comments I’ve been seeing on Facebook about the awful food and horrible service.  As a matter of fact, Cleveland Hot List 2014 named Mama Roberto’s one of the top 20 best Italian restaurants in Cleveland…by public vote.
Third, the cashier did not say anything about Mrs. Basiger’s disability, physical condition, or oxygen tank until after Mrs. Basiger used it as an excuse for not reading the signs and not reading her Groupon (which stated that it should be given to the staff prior to ordering).  I quote here, "Tracy said she was so embarrassed, she just handed the woman the extra money for the check and apologized, saying that perhaps, between negotiating the tables with an oxygen tank and feeling weak, combined with being seated instantly when they arrived, they'd missed the signs."  Rather than just pay, admit the faux pas, apologize and leave, she tried to justify herself using her illness in what some might see as an attempt to garner pity or simply to mollify a cashier who was obviously already out of control.  That was like pouring gasoline on a fire, exacerbating the situation.

It is evident to me that neither party handled the situation appropriately or intelligently.

I believe the cashier's reaction to the Groupon thing was way beyond normal, but I believe that it had nothing to do with Mrs. Basiger's illness.  I think the cashier would have had the same melt-down no matter who walked up and handed a Groupon to her at the end of the meal.  Irrational behavior does not discriminate. 

"I don't draw attention to myself," said Mrs. Basiger in her TV interview.  "It's hard enough to go out with an oxygen machine and everybody's looking at you."  If this is true, why in the world did this woman grant a TV interview?  If she didn't want attention, she would have said "no comment" and refused to allow the cameras into her home.  This just added more fuel to the fire already raging on social media.

There are those out there who want to put Mama Roberto's out of business.  The vile and nasty comments on-line have already forced the restaurant to take down their Facebook page.  This has not stopped the absolute torrent of hate on many restaurant review sites and by phone.  Rick Rhein has spent years building a wonderful business, helping the community and paying taxes into the local economy.  One admittedly bad incident by a single person, and the propagation of the on-line hate, threaten to ruin a perfectly wonderful establishment and a family's years of dedication and hard work.

Here is what I can tell you with certainty from my own personal experience with Mama Roberto's.  I've been a customer for several years.  I have never had a bad meal or lousy service.  The waitresses are top notch, always quick with orders, drinks and refills.  I used to take my mother there for lunch on Saturdays.  She was elderly and forgetful, but she was always treated with deference and kindness.  Everyone on the staff went out of their way to talk to her and make her feel at home.  She loved the Italian Wedding Soup, and ordered it every time we were there.  When she became ill and was placed in rehab, she couldn't keep any food down, and she lost about 20 pounds.  Desperate to get her to eat and retain some form of nourishment, I would stop at Mama's and pick up wedding soup to go.  It turned out to be the only thing my mother could keep on her stomach for weeks.  Without that soup, she never would have survived her rehab stay.

When Mom passed away last October, we were scrambling to get arrangements made so the out-of-town relatives could get back to their homes and jobs.  There was another funeral scheduled at the church, so they could hold Mom’s funeral service, but the church hall was unavailable for a gathering and meal afterward.  My brother and I ran down the street to Mama Roberto’s and asked if they could make their event room available on short notice and cater the meal.  Rick and Renee were unbelievably accommodating.  They had everything ready, the room was beautifully decorated, the food was hot and delicious.  The servers were quiet and efficient.  The Rhein’s went out of their way to take the burden off of me and my siblings at a very difficult time.  These are good people who work hard and don’t deserve the character assassination to which they are being subjected.
This is a free country.  Everyone needs to make up their own mind as to whether they will become or remain customers of Mama Roberto’s.  To those who wish to boycott the place, that is your choice.  Just remember that what goes around comes around, so be prepared when someone does something similar to you someday.  To those who wish to support the restaurant, knowing one incident does not make the owner or employees undeserving of having a customer base and a successful business, congratulations for not attempting to be judge, jury and executioner.

Seems like a good time to try to look at the situation from all angles.  Also seems like a good time to stop defaming, especially if you were not there to see the incident, or have never had the pleasure of eating there.  And it’s always good to remember that things are not always as they seem, or as they are presented in the media.