Saturday afternoon/night/Sunday morning saw myself, Ben, and Adam Nedeff heading over to newly-relocated Travis Schario’s new apartment near downtown for one of our much-infamous game nights, where we met up with fellow game night mainstays Matt Martin and Scott Robinson. After playing a handful of games (one of which was a semi-new original idea from me called “Where Do You Think You’re Going?”), we decided to head over to a food establishment for some chow. After hemming and hawwing about where to go (we’re three blocks away from downtown Los Angeles, and we can’t decide on a restaurant – go figure), we come across a listing for a restaurant at Hollywood & Highland called uWink.
The premise is quite simple: founded by former Atari creator Nolan Bushnell, it purports itself to be a truly interactive restaurant. Customers use touch screens at their tables to order food, call for refills on their drinks, pay for their order, etc. And as they wait for their orders to arrive or as they eat, they can partake in various games on the touch screens.
After a shortish ride on the Metro Red Line, we arrive at H&H and make our way over to uWink, where we discover that there would be roughly a 20-25 minute wait for a table. No biggie, we figure, we’ll just hang out until they call us. Little did we know that this would soon become a trend.
We’re seated at a corner table, and paruse through the menu. I quickly notice that the fares – hardly of the gourmet variety; most of it was burgers and pasta with a few “chef’s specialties” thrown in – are hideously overpriced. I ended up ordering a bacon cheeseburger that should have cost me only $10, but ended up costing over $12 because I wanted American cheese instead of cheddar, and there was no such special order available, leaving me to go the “build your own” route, where all the extras I tacked on cost more.
No later than ninety seconds after our orders were placed, a waiter comes by with two plates, asking, “Who’s got the chicken sandwich?” We have to inform him that nobody ordered a chicken sandwich on our table. Red flag #2.
After about 10 minutes, the orders start coming in. Adam’s burger comes inexplicably with mashed potatoes, which somehow appeared on the order despite him never requesting them (and I should know – both he and I ordered off the same screen). Matt ordered Penne Marinara with meatballs but no cheese; his plate arrives as spaghetti, with ample parmesan sprinkled on top. Ben ordered a burger with no onions; sure enough, there were onions aplenty. And Scott? His order – the ever-so-complicated spaghetti marinara – didn’t even arrive. (Still being made? I might believe that, if a waitress hadn’t asked him if he ordered anything when our stuff came by. It finally arrived some 20 minutes later, with no explanation given for the delay.)
Clearly, Matt and Ben were not satisfied with their orders, and sent them back, expecting new orders to be made. Minutes later, Matt’s spaghetti-that’s-supposed-to-be-penne returns, with the waiter explaining that they “scraped off most of the cheese”, chuckling as if to suggest that he’s kidding. Clearly he wasn’t: Ben’s burger returns, with some onions still clearly present on the burger. Right about this point is where our attitude towards this place went from “flawed, but passable” to “epic fail”.
(It also should be mentioned that while they didn’t exactly mess up my order, they did overcook the burger, and it went through me like a bullet; I had to make not one, not two, but three separate digestive deposits in the ensuing two hours. That thing wanted out.)
At this point, we should mention the games. In a word, feh. It was pretty much the same stuff as those touchscreen apparati you’d find at a bar. Of course, this gets messed up pretty harshly too, because the touchscreens themselves are quite spotty on their performance. At one point Ben tried to play a game of Pictionary with us, and all of his drawings ended up looking like they’d been drawn by an epileptic during a sneezing fit.
So now the time comes to pay for our orders. Adam, Travis and Scott all pay promptly via debit card (there’s a card-swipey thing at the table); Ben and Matt choose to pay by cash and are instructed by the screen to wait for a server to come by with the check. I start to pay but hesitate before submitting my card number, because a storm appears to be brewing over the service, and rightfully so. We’d been at the restaurant for over an hour and a half at this point, and we’d managed to get little more than tepid responses from the serving staff about any major issues. In fact, before he paid, Travis vocally entertained the idea of just skipping the bill altogether. It didn’t help that we overheard the patrons at the next table over complaining about their service right about the same time.
Ben flags down yet another server (who apparently have no table assignments or anything of the sort, as every time a server came by, it was always a different person) and asks to see a manager. Apparently, the woman at the counter attempts to resolve the situation on her own, but when the litany of fail gets recounted to her, the manager in earnest swoops in. Ben retells the debacle to the manager, who walks away in an attempt to buy some time in order to figure out how to fix the problem in a way that still involves us paying them something. He finally agrees to discount us half of our checks – but only those of us who haven’t paid. Translation: Travis, Adam, and Scott already paid, so they can go screw.
This gets Travis riled up, and while I wasn’t privy to the conversation, he later reported that he “acted like a dick” to the manager, who at this point could do little more than stare at the floor like a scolded child and begrudgingly void their checks, replacing them with discounted checks. And Matt, who paid with cash, had to wait another 10 minutes to get 64 cents change.
This would be a good time to point out the fact that those of us who paid with credit cards were asked how much of a tip we wanted to leave. Adam thought the notion of asking for a tip was audacious on its face, when the very premise of the place nearly eradicated the purpose of servers in the first place. Even if the service was spectacular, asking for 15% when they’re not doing anything but waiting for us to punch in an order seems rather galling. But as you can surmise, they did not get anywhere near that amount. Travis, Scott, Matt and Adam gave them a big fat nada; I, in order to make sure the point was driven home that service was atrocious, tipped one percent, which given the discount on my order, amounted to seven cents. (Ben was slightly more generous, rounding his bill from $8.55 to $9.)
We ambled back to the Red Line station, and I was forced to delay our boarding the train by another 20 minutes because of my second urgent trip to the facilities (which I had to go all the way back to the uWink to use, since the station had no restrooms, and the only other one in between was a unisex that had about nine women waiting in line to use). All told, we returned to Travis’ pad at 12:30, more than four hours after we had left, all of us feeling embittered and empty from the experience.
Wink Martindale ought to sue for misappropriation of his name. Hell, my eyes ought to sue for misappropriate of an action associated with them, this was such a collossal disaster. It reached a point during the tail end of game night that “uWink” became synonymous with failure and humiliation, such as when Travis finished in the negatives during a game of Simpsons Jeopardy! and the scores were edited to read “11000, 7600, 4400, uWink”.
It’s 6:30 in the morning. I need to get some sleep. (Yes, I’m going to bed when you guys are waking up. That’s what happens when you work an 8pm-4am shift long enough.)