Apr 1, 2019
When most people consider Japanese customer service, the mental image is often dazzling in its consideration and politeness especially when compared to the behavior of those in similar staff positions in other countries. Perhaps it is the disconnect between that ideal and what could be minor slights in the West that makes them feel almost on par with a slap in the face.
My husband and I had been wanting to try out this new Mexican restaurant in a department store in Sendai. Being that I get homesick for Texas and my husband also enjoys Mexican food, the cuisine, if good, would definitely be a big seller for us. This could even become a normal thing, we hoped as we finally visited last month.
The food was in fact very good and we enjoyed the meal overall, but the female staff members always seem especially cold toward us, in a way I would expect from someone who thought I had stolen their boyfriend. The male staff seemed to be mostly the owner and chefs, who all worked well and even smiled at our rambunctious five-year-old as she slowly made her way through her meal.
But the waitresses were a little cold. The food was so good that this did not deter me from trying again, which is saying something. Usually, when I am treated curtly or like an unwanted house-guest in a store, I do not return. Occasionally, this personal ban is lifted after a few months, but many times these shops close within a year. This result is not because my meager and irregular purchases were keeping them afloat but because I was likely not the only one subjected to substandard service.
The second time I approached the Mexican place, it was around 6PM and with my daughter. A waitress stepped out from the restaurant which was now separated from the larger shopping area by a massive curtain to give an appearance more akin to a cocktail bar. I approached, made eye contact, and inquired in regular-volume Japanese as to whether or not take-out was an option here.
Her expression did not change as she re-positioned the sign for the restaurant and walked away as if I had never been there or spoken. I blinked, grabbed my daughter's hand, and decided to hurry away, spending our dinner money elsewhere.
In most cases, that would be the end of the story and I would be quietly ruing the restaurant itself and that waitress in particular until it eventually went under, but I really miss Mexican food. It turns out this restaurant also offers a taco buffet during lunch time on week days. I had to try it at least once, so a few weeks later I convinced my husband to give them one more shot.
We went in, just as two, while my daughter was at school. Again, the waitress was a little cold, most notably when we, like many others in the establishment, asked for the buffet. I don't think she explained what to do, but luckily we didn't need much instruction. The two rotund Asian-American men sitting next to us didn't seem bothered by the service, either because it wasn't noticeable to them or because she wasn't that way with them.
The tortillas and fillings went fast, the kitchen only bringing out sets of 12 tortillas at a time, all of which disappeared within ten minutes at the latest. The same Hispanic man who had been working behind the bar on our last visit was there and was so friendly and kind that I would want to go back just to make sure it stays open if only to keep him gainfully employed, but the waitress was still cold enough that once we paid, we were given the silent treatment that lasted through our departure. Not a thanks or come again. Not even acknowledgement of our gratitude for the food. Nothing.
I am not entirely sure if this is their way of attempting to lure only the trendiest of clientelle, but they aren't likely to get those people into a place with a midweek taco buffet anyway. This isn' t Tokyo or Osaka. Sendai doesn't have the booming celebrity population to sustain a business like this on their own. Sometimes, us chubby folk who make money with our brains show up and shouldn't be treated worse for it. Our money is just as valuable. Our social media posts and reviews can attract customers, too.
I like the idea of the restaurant and it taps into a great market as there isn't another Mexican option in downtown Sendai for a mid-day meal. Casa Del Sol, a tiny bar with a decent Mexican menu but slightly up-scale prices close to the station only opens at 5PM and fills up with smokers pretty quickly around dinner time. This place could be a great option for those of use who want a taco at 2PM on a Tuesday, but only if they find some waitstaff who want return customers, even if they are chubby gringos like me.
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.