I have a cardinal rule: Never visit a restaurant during the first week it is open.
Mostly, I believe, it’s not fair to make a judgment about a restaurant that’s just opened. There are too many kinks to work out. And more than once I’ve had a bad experience during a restaurant’s opening days, only to return later to have a dandy meal that kept me coming back.
Plus, the place is often super-crowded during its early days until the newness wears off.
But last week I broke my cardinal rule and visited Red Robin in Champaign during its second day of operation. Which only served to reinforce my point: Don’t go to restaurants right after they’ve opened.
I’d been to other Red Robins — Indianapolis and Peoria — and knew what to expect regarding food and atmosphere. My experiences there were good, and Red Robin is a good fit for Champaign.
(And let me say this, lest anyone start to engage in “chain bashing.” There is a reason that chains exist — because people like to eat there. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be able to survive as a chain. Do I prefer to eat at places that originate in C-U? Yes, my favorite restaurants here are not chains. [I’m looking at you, Farren’s and Black Dog.] But chain restaurants — some of them locally owned — also employ plenty of people in our area, so the chain bashing isn’t condoned here.)
But I digress. The experience my girls and I had at Red Robin last week wasn’t surprising. Even though I tried to avoid the usual pitfalls — I had hoped, by arriving before 5 p.m., that we could avoid the dinner crush and accompanying problems — it didn’t work out. No surprise there.
–The restaurant was about three-quarters full when we arrived about 4:55 p.m. Still, the food required a full 30 minutes to arrive after we ordered. This will not come as breaking news to anyone with kids — and to Red Robin itself — but that’s too long. I suspect that will improve.
—The menu is more varied than I remembered, and there’s even a page that offers tips on how to eat healthy at Red Robin.
–A table-top “kiosk” lets you order, play games, call your server and pay your bill, among other things. About 30 seconds after she grabbed it, my 4-year-old had inadvertently called the server with it. Sorry about that.
–My kids devoured their mac ‘n cheese and chicken strips. Mine? After waiting 30 minutes, my order wasn’t correct. (Apparently I’m the only person in America who doesn’t order cheese on his burger. Who knew?)
–Bring a jacket. Red Robin is one of many places that prefers to keep its climate on the arctic side, so be ready.
–Red Robin supports one of my favorite charities, Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
So, another lesson learned the hard way. Through the benefits of experience, I suspect Red Robin will be just fine — in time.