Every Cornellian is familiar with at least one of the Collegetown restaurants owned and operated by Kevin Sullivan: Jack’s, Luna’s, Pronto, Ithaca Ghost Kitchen and Loco. While all of these Collegetown restaurants are unique, most share two key similarities: consistently decent food and consistently substandard customer service.
While I have never visited Loco, I have ordered from every other restaurant owned by Kevin Sullivan. My typical experience often involves abnormally long wait times and order mix-ups. Each time I have ordered takeout from Luna’s or Jack’s, I arrive when the ordering app says my food is ready only to find an additional wait at the restaurant. I have waited anywhere between five and twenty minutes for food that was supposedly ready.
This past September I went to Pronto for the first (and last) time. The online ordering app was not taking orders at the time, so I walked to the restaurant to order in person. I was disappointed to find out that face-to-face ordering did not exist, and all orders had to be submitted through iPads available at the location. I had a large order and by the time I had entered all the information, there was a long line of people behind me waiting for a turn at the iPad. In the meantime, the Pronto staffers were standing in front of me waiting to make the pizzas that I was having trouble entering into the iPads.
My worst experience, and the one that led me to write this article, was at Luna’s in Collegetown. Earlier this semester, I placed an order for delivery and was expecting the driver to come with my dinner in less than an hour. One hour quickly turned into two, even though the restaurant’s app was constantly messaging me that the food was “on the way.” When I called Luna’s, an employee informed me that my order had gone missing and was nowhere to be found. The employee said I could start the process over again, but at that point I was not willing to wait another two hours. The most unforgettable part of this experience was the employee’s cold attitude and lack of apology, making me feel like the mistake was my fault. I understand the restaurant business is unpredictable, but customer service should not be.
Before writing this piece I decided to dine in at Luna’s and see if my last meal was an anomaly. I went for one of my favorite meals: tacos on Taco Tuesday. The restaurant was nearly empty, and I was quick to order. Despite this, it took over 45 minutes for my small order of tacos to arrive. The tacos were tasty, but nothing special. The braised short rib taco was cooked to perfection, but the grilled chicken was too dry to eat more than a bite. When I was ready to go I had to track down an employee to get my check — I was thrilled to see that I was charged for items I did not order. Luna’s had added an extra drink charge, and failed to apply the discount for tacos on Tuesday.
I shared my poor customer service experiences with some friends before the start of a class. An ILR freshman, who wishes to remain unnamed, told me about her experience at Luna’s in Collegetown:
“We made a reservation for 9 p.m, for a larger party. When we arrived, [Luna’s] said they presumed we would be ordering drinks and since we were underage college students, they turned us away. We made it clear that we were just there for food, but we were still turned away.”
This freshman said the restaurant was empty at the time, and her horrible first experience made her never want to return.
I wanted to talk to the restaurant owner, Kevin Sullivan, directly to ask about the company’s customer service policies. I was able to reach Kevin Sullivan by phone, and learned about the behind the scenes policies and values. Kevin’s restaurant group does some incredible things for the community: grocery home delivery, buying local ingredients, Thanksgiving meal donations, volunteering and much more. Nevertheless, Kevin’s restaurants fail to deliver on their purpose of having quality customer service. When Kevin listed customer service as a company priority, I was taken aback and asked him to explain what that entailed. He responded, “No matter what happens, we try to make sure every customer walks away with a smile.” I found this statement to be ironic considering I have never once left any of his establishments with a smile.
This article is not meant to criticize everything about Kevin Sullivan’s restaurants. I want to be clear that the food at each restaurant is decent and sometimes even great. But customer service does matter, and a successful business plan has to consider not just the food customers will buy, but how to make sure every customer has a positive experience. After my interview with Kevin, it was clear that he thought his restaurants had quality customer service. Clearly, however, there is a disconnect between what should be and what is happening. When talking to friends and Ithaca community members about this article, they seemed to agree with the ideas of this article: “decent food, substandard service.” Very few people have gone through official complaints because, although they might have had a negative interaction with the app or employees, the food turned out okay.
I hope that Kevin Sullivan reads this article and realizes that food is not everything; interactions matter, and restaurants should care about more than getting food out of the kitchen to turn a profit.
Olivia Smith is a current senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected].