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Our baffling experience at the Market Bistro

For reasons not worth elaborating upon, we found ourselves at the Market Bistro by Price Chopper on Rt. 9 in Latham for dinner recently.  We left satisfied, but baffled, confused, and slightly frustrated by the experience.

If you’re still unaware of the concept, this is basically a ‘fresh food’ food court within the upgraded Latham Price Chopper.  You can click on the link for a full list of ‘stalls’, but there’s burgers and dogs, BBQ, ice cream, salads, deli, seafood, etc.

To be clear, everything we ate was decent to good.  The prices are pretty reasonable* and the service is reasonably amiable.  But the whole experience is just so mystifying and slow that you sort of just shake your head.  If you haven’t seen it, you have a ring of these stalls around the perimeter with seating in the middle, like most food courts.  Let’s start with the ordering process.  Each stall seems to have a place to order and, seemingly, a keypad, so a place to pay.  They also have a little, changeable sign at each of them that says ‘please pay at another register’, ‘order here’, or ‘pay here’.  Apparently you cannot pay there, even if the little sign says, “pay here”.  Let’s say you correctly identify where to order at one of the stalls.  Despite plenty of employees (at some stalls, others had just one, like the burger place I ordered at), you have to stand around and someone will eventually notice you are there or will finish making someone else’s food and take your order.  You will get a receipt with bar codes of your order.

Now from order to food being ready isn’t all that long as things are seemingly made to order (so if you get fries or onion rings, they’re throwing them in the fryer on demand – obviously the long prep items like BBQ are not, let’s not be silly), so it’s not just food sitting around waiting to be ordered or given a quick nuke.  The kid making my burger got everything right on it and the burger was pretty perfectly cooked, at least as perfectly as the method allows (flat top with a lid to press down, not sure if that was heated, too).  The ingredients seemed pretty fresh, as they should, it’s in a freakin’ supermarket.  I particularly liked the thick cut pickles, I really like those on a burger, despite the added degree of difficulty in eating, I like how thick cut pickles increase the pickle quotient in the flavor of a burger.  Although I don’t recall ordering them, I got an enormous serving of french fries with my burger, maybe because he thought I wanted the combo?  I didn’t question it given my level of bafflement by this point.

So as you wait for your food, you have plenty of time to watch people walk around, some wandering through with their shopping cart with a bemused look on their face, some slightly slackmouthed, with questioning looks in their eyes as they try to figure out how to order or pay.  Time after time food was brought to a register that said “pay here”, only to have an employee, once they seemed to notice the customer, tell them that they had to try to pay over on the other side of the food court.  It was all friendly enough.  It’s all just SO CONFUSING.  Seriously, you can’t put up a few signs explaining the process and, I dunno, maybe not have signs that say “pay here” when you cannot, in fact, pay there?

Anyway, remember* how I said the prices were decent?  Check out this large order of onion rings we got to share:

060615-1Wow.  And that’s neither a small plate, nor small rings.

I had some with my burger and my wife had some with a strawberry smoothie…and we still brought some home.  They were pretty decent, really.  Perfectly crispy and a good onion/batter ratio.

So this finally comes out and I wander over to the other side to try to pay.  There are two guys waiting at a register, talking to the bewildered kid at the pizza place because everyone is being told to pay there.  He hasn’t got a clue.  A minute later a girl comes back with cups, apparently she just wandered off to get more cups (if you get a fountain drink (they have the fancy Coke machines where you pick your flavors) you get your cup when you pay).  Maybe she should have told someone since everyone was being told to pay there.  Still, she was nice enough and efficient when there.  Again, everyone was nice, it was all clean, the food was a good deal and tasty.  But it’s just a mystifying experience.  I guess people are honest enough that any losses from people that just don’t bother to wander to the other side, out of sight, to pay don’t outweigh paying for another cashier.

To wrap this up, don’t hesitate to go there, just don’t be in a hurry and don’t be afraid to ask an employee how you’re supposed to navigate the process, because you have NOTHING to go on otherwise.  I have no idea if anyone was in charge, but I would be flabbergasted if there was in fact someone actively managing this weird process and thinks everything is just dandy and tells everyone they’ve done a great job at the end of the night.  It’s actually slightly amazing that you can have decent food, decent prices, friendly staff, and yet you still sort of think it’s too much effort to eat there.  They’re like 90% of the way there – add some simple signage and correct the ones they have and they’ve really got something.

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