My attempts at trying the Cheesecake Factory go back to when I was in the U.S. a few months ago and couldn’t manage to find a table back then. I stood around, watching as servers shuffled around seemingly endless tables, carrying plates with enormous food portions. The cheesecake fridge looked great, but that was the extent of my experience at the time in early April.
Fast forward around 8 months, and the renowned American chain has recently opened up in Lebanon, in its continuing development in the Middle East, after opening up several branches in GCC countries.
Lebanon’s Cheesecake Factory is super busy. Wait times so far, even a week later, are still in the one hour range. They could rise even more. The hostesses were boasting yesterday, as they informed us we were lucky enough to only have to face a 20 minutes delay, that earlier that day some people had to wait three hours.
I have no idea why anyone would want to wait anyone for anything food related, and I’m really thankful I only had to wait 20 minutes to get my “Cheesecake Factory Experience, Lebanon style” because that was the maximum extent of my time – or anyone’s time – that such an experience deserves.
Me No Speak Arabic:
When your wait time is done and your buzzer vibrates for salvation, you get a very cheerful hostess – American style – take you to your seat. She gives you the menus, informs you in English that servers will be with you shortly and disappears.
So far so good. At that point, her English doesn’t feel out of place even though you’ve used only Arabic to communicate with all the employees, but no matter.
The server shows up. You ask them in Arabic about their recommendation, because the menu is barely readable with the super dim lighting in the place. They reply in English, sometimes borderline incomprehensible, but you try to maintain the conversation anyway. After taking your order, all forms of interactions with the server occur in English. That is you talk to them in Arabic and they reply in English.
When asked why they kept talking to me in English, their reply was that: this was the store’s policy. As I asked the manager about this, because it gets super annoying, and he said that the American head company has such a stipulation as a requirement to give customers the “American” experience.
Except we’re not American – sadly (unless the experience comes with a free passport) – and while many of us are bi or trilingual, there is absolutely no need to use any other language than my native tongue at a restaurant in my home country unless I wish to do so, and in most cases I do not, and I sure as hell did not want to feel like I was being rendered stupid by talking Lebanese to a server and being replied to in English, à la “get your language up to standards, sir.”
Perhaps this rule works best in GCC countries where most of the Factor’s customers are not native Arabic-speakers, but they desperately need to re-check this policy over here.
Overwhelmed Staff & Subpar Service:
Lebanon’s Cheesecake Factory boasts, according to the manager, more than 96 servers at an average of around 2 tables per server. You’d think with such a low ratio of tables to servers, you’d get excellent service.
It’s far from the case.
The huge number of servers leads to total chaos across the entire restaurant. You get to a point where you don’t know who you’re supposed to talk to in order to communicate a request or a complaint.
The level of the staff being overwhelmed is so high that there were serious shortcomings across the board. I’m not the only one who suffered from this, as several of my colleagues and friends also noted on their visits earlier in the week.
Perhaps it’s opening-week-jitters, but with the presence of staff from already-established Cheesecake Factory outlets to help in the launching phase, I don’t know how much of the service’s shortcomings can be attributed to nervousness.
Maybe it’s the language requirement?
Besides, the service is definitely not as “American” as you’d think it is. We got an aluminum foil piece in the item we ordered and no one reacted until, before paying the bill, we requested to see the manager to inform him about how horrible the experience was and about how we would most likely not visit again, not that they need our business anyway.
The Food Is Overpriced, But The Cakes Are Great:
I don’t know about the bloggers who were invited there for the opening, but if you go there as a normal civilian, you are looking at a bill that is above and beyond anything you’d pay at any other similar Lebanese restaurant, even if it’s American in origin.
In deciding what I wanted to order, I googled the best items of the Factory and found a bunch of results that agreed on a couple of chicken-based dishes, which I ended up ordering. While they food was good enough, it was definitely not worth the $24 price per dish that we paid.
The food is also extremely fatty. Even the “skinnilicious” menu is not that “light.” I’m still stuffed more than 15 hours later, and we were sharing.
The saving grace, however, is that the cheesecakes are great. Seriously. I really hope they offer a way for people just to buy pieces of the cakes without queuing. We ordered a couple different kinds and the “Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake” is God-send. Absolutely great.
Stay Away For Now:
My advice to you, dear reader, is to resist the urge and steer clear of that place until either the mania dies down, or the staff becomes better trained, or they become more accustomed to the Lebanese market and adapt accordingly.
Until then, I have to say I was severely disappointed and would not recommend this place to anyone who’d listen.
It’s nice for the country to bring business in, but I refuse to be taken for granted as a Lebanese customer who can’t wait to set foot in any given franchise, which is sad really because I honestly had high hopes.