Not much of a holiday.
Carrabba’s Italian Grill – Marlton, NJ
Price: $146 (For 7, Tip Not Included)
Meal: Mother’s Day Dinner / Weekend / 4pm
Menu: Carrabba’s Website
There are a lot of options for a Mother’s Day dinner, and restaurants understandably are going to be busier than usual. That said, good management should identify deficiencies, rally the troops, and put forward their best face given the known onslaught of patrons. My family decided on Carrabba’s to celebrate Mother’s Day, hoping the established Italian chain could come through with a large group of 7 (5 adults and 2 children).
The Carrabba’s in Marlton is a relatively new store and looks terrific. Aside from my reservations about continued sprawl on the Route73 corridor, it certainly is a pretty building complete with a nice little utility lake. Located between the Outback Steakhouse (which I believe is owned by the same management company) and an elementary school, you really get a feel for how developers are trying to squeeze every ounce of green space out of the area.
Inside, you’ll find a pretty standard interior, though it’s harder to appreciate with the mass of bodies on Mother’s Day. There’s a front, smallish bar, a larger-than-usual table-service area around the bar, and a mid-sized dining room towards the rear. If you want to get close to action, you can sit at the counter in front of the brick oven and cooking stations. We’ve done that before in the Cherry Hill store and enjoyed watching our food get made.
On this occasion, we avoided the super-long wait for the dining room and sat near the bar. We were greeted promptly and drink orders taken, but we did notice what we worried was a lack of enough wait staff given the enormous demand on Mother’s Day. We began with a small order of calamari and mozzarella sticks and hoped for the best. We quickly got a loaf of bread, not nearly enough for the table, and devoured it quickly. Carrabba’s has delicious homemade bread and it’s one of my personal favorites. Asking the waitress for another loaf was met without objection. In about 20 minutes, the appetizers came out, with mixed results. The calamari was heavily salted, detracting from what should have been a tasty light breading. The mozzarella sticks were better, but were also strangely salted. I liked the marina sauce that came with both.
For our main entrees, we tried the pollo santa maria, kids chicken fingers, kids spaghetti, adult spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken parm, shrimp ‘n scallops, and breaded tilapia. So far, everything was a little busy, but it was about to get uncomfortable. Part of the problem with having kids present is that they can be some of the most demanding customers. My niece was especially hungry and started to get grumpy. After about a half hour of waiting for our entrees, we flagged down the waitress and tried to get her to put a push on the kids’ meals we ordered. Nothing ultimately came of our request. In fact, we would wait nearly an hour for our meals to come out. When we asked the waitress what the hold up was, she responded that “there was a problem with the tilapia”, as if it protested from being cooked. I’m guessing they either forgot it, burned it, dropped it on the floor, or maybe even ran out (although it was a special) temporarily. My feeling is that if they had 6 entrees done, they should have just brought them out and apologized for the 7th.
After suffering through my niece moaning (and her four kid-sized, caffeine-laden cokes), everything finally came. Half of the table immediately complained the entrees were cold, and upon complaint the waitress comp’d one of the dinners. A good faith move on her part that saved her a respectable tip. My tilapia was steaming hot, but again on the salty side and a little too much breading. My mother loved her chicken entree, and my sister equally praised the shrimp and scallops. My youngest niece, age 9, ended up giving her chicken fingers the highest score at the table. Her sister (age 11) was not so flattering; she said her pasta was the worst she’s ever had, citing the sauce. The adult spaghetti with meat sauce came without a whole lot of meat sauce, and it had to be requested separately to pour on top. Prices were fairly competitive, with the appetizers a little on the high side. In all, the experience was rather disappointing.
Dessert was declined for time concerns, but from the look of other orders it was a shame we missed them. As I did with my weekend group (which doesn’t contain any of the same members of my family), I polled the entire table for their scores. They were: 1.0, 1.5, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 4.0. Towards the end of the meal, we noticed the wait staff arguing with some of the staff at the bar. Clearly the entire team was a little disorganized, which reflected poorly on management. On Mother’s Day, you gotta have everyone working – even two waiters to a table. It’s worth the extra money to make sure you don’t sour even one family’s experience. Unfortunately, that’s what happened for us. You’ll be sure we won’t soon consider Carrabba’s for a future family event. I was surprised management didn’t stop by our table to talk with us or review why we were comp’d a meal. That’s pretty standard stuff elsewhere.
– Phenom bread
– Seafood stuffs were good
– Pasta dishes were cold
– Extreme wait times, even for Mother’s Day
– Some infighting between Carrabba’s staff
Combined Group Score: 2.2 Chews
Subjective rating: Folded under pressure.
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