El Uh-Oh

A few months ago, I was catching up with a few friends on the roofdeck of El Centro on 14th Street. The margaritas were flowing, and we were happily munching on chips and guacamole to quell our post-work hunger pains. After making our dinner selections, I motioned the bartender over to our corner. I offered up the standard rigmarole: “I have a peanut allergy; do you have any peanuts in house?” After a few noncommittal, but generally negative replies, I asked again, “do you use peanut oil at all?” This time, the bartender was more convincing with his replies of “nope – not at all!” I asked him to note the allergy on the ticket, all the same, but I was satisfied that I had gotten his attention, and that I had made my needs known.

I hadn’t gotten his attention.

My first bite of a gooey, crispy pork empanada sent my whole body into full alert. I don’t know how common it is to feel an immediate sense of dread, but for me…I knew. A minute later and I was acutely aware of the scratchy sensation in my throat. Resignation set in, and I walked home…

I’ll spare you all the gory details, but after recovering from a resoundingly uncomfortable, sleepless night, I decided to call the restaurant to complain about the situation. No dice. A manager couldn’t be reached, and I never received a call back. I called another time, and was given the same response. I then found their website, and described in detail what had happened on their comments page, hoping to receive an apology by email. Again, utter silence.

This, then, is the problem. I had done everything right in this situation, and I had spoken out about my needs as a customer. Unfortunately, some breakdown in the system allowed this to happen. Perhaps the kitchen staff wasn’t careful enough, or perhaps the bartender forgot to mention the allergy. Maybe it was a weird fluke. But the silence that I faced leads me to believe in a different story—a story that can only begin with poor management. The bartender acted cavalier and falsely knowledgeable, yes, but more importantly, the other restaurant staff showed an alarming display of flippancy and apathy when asked to take responsibility for the error.

So what do I do now? The obvious first step is not to frequent this restaurant any longer. I also avoid one of its sister restaurants, Masa 14. I wish this wasn’t the case; both these restaurants are quite popular, and I’ve had to turn down more than one invitation to join a group there.

This experience was undeniably the worst that I’ve had during my time in DC and I needed an outlet for the frustration I felt. Hence, Persnickety. If you’ve read my About Me page, you’ll understand how I came to start this blog. My El Centro debacle truly was the catalyst for taking action. When I make a fuss, I want to be heard, and I want to know that others are heard as well.

In that vein, I’d love to hear from you! What would you have done in my situation? How far do you go to make a fuss?

El Centro                                                                                                                            1819 14th Street NW  Washington, DC 20009