Lunch at most restaurants is supposed to be a quick and efficient meal where the service is timely and the experience is short-lived yet pleasant. Yet my recent meal at the Vietnamese restaurant Pho 99 (located on the corner of Walnut and Jeffrey in Irvine) on a Friday afternoon was anything but.
In case you didn’t know, pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that can be cooked with chicken, beef or vegetables. Pho 99 specializes in these soups, of course, but also offers a variety of other dishes and Asian beverages.
Having heard about the appetizing lunch specials at Pho 99 from some of my friends, I decided to give the place a try. As my brother, friend and I pulled into the crowded parking lot, we could see that we were not the only ones who had heard about Pho 99, as there were a number of people waiting outside.
The nice fountain just inside the door seemed to promise a friendly environment. After a relatively short wait of 10 minutes, we were led to an open table.
The menu is simple; you order one variation (such as pork or chicken) of a base dish (such as noodles or rice). My brother ordered a meat combination stir-fry noodle dish ($8) and my friend opted for a dish called vermicelli bun, which consists of cold noodles with hot meat ($7). I went with a combination dish with beef, rice, salad and an egg roll ($7).
For drinks, two of us ordered the house water while my friend ordered a coke. Within five minutes of getting our drinks, my hearty friend had already finished his small glass of coke, but was told he could not receive refills on the $2 soda. This seemingly small inconvenience was only the first in what would become an unexpectedly long and arduous meal.
My friend’s vermicelli dish and my beef and rice dish were brought out shortly after we ordered; however, my brother’s stir-fry was nowhere in sight. After 10 minutes of waiting we decided to ask a passing waiter where our third dish was. After several conversations with different employees my brother’s correct order was finally brought out, more than half an hour after he ordered it.
Although we had trouble with the stir-fry order, my friend and I were enjoying our dishes. My dish had a particularly good flavor, although the portions were not as generous as one would hope for a $7 lunch special. My friend and I had finished our meals by the time my brother’s stir-fry was finally brought out.
Although his order had been corrected and the food had been tasty, we weren’t satisfied by the service and let the waitress know after she brought out his dish. She acknowledged that the wait for his order was unacceptable and offered us free drinks. We told her that we had already ordered our drinks and that what we really wanted was the late meal to be complementary. Although unsatisfied by the free drinks offer, we decided to go ahead and order another soda and two Thai teas (which were very good).
I didn’t think it would be an inconvenience for the manager to take my friend’s stir fry dish off the bill. I myself work in an extremely busy restaurant and am fully aware of the great lengths restaurant managers take to ensure that customers are satisfied and leave with a good impression of the establishment. Yet when the manager refused to remove the dish from the bill, saying it would be ‘against his policy,’ I was shocked. He said that we accepted his offer of free drinks and that that should be consolation enough. It was as if he was incapable of understanding that we didn’t even want the free drinks, that all we wanted was for the dish that caused a 30-minute delay in our afternoon to be deducted from the bill After arguing with him about the situation for several minutes, and feeling like we were being taken advantage of, we decided to just pay the bill and leave.
The three of us vowed to never go to Pho 99 again after the way we were treated by the manager. Though the food was good, this proved to be an example of how a bad experience can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth.