When deciding to visit a casual dining restaurant, the first choice one makes is whether to choose a restaurant from a chain or to choose an independent restaurant. This decision is an important one. Chain restaurants tend to offer consistent dining experiences, so that a person can anticipate the level of quality and service he or she will receive at the restaurant. However, as restaurant chains grow, they often lose touch with their roots: "the more the priorities of the management seem to shift from taking care of its patrons to serving the needs of owners and stockholders" (Marvin, N.p.). Therefore, rather than choosing to evaluate a chain restaurant for this analysis, I chose to evaluate an independent casual dining restaurant: Hoggs N. Chicks in Missouri City, Texas. I chose this restaurant because I had heard good reviews about it from friends and had previously enjoyed my experiences with other restaurants owned and run by the same chef.
Hoggs N. Chicks is a casual dining restaurant whose website says it serves fine food. It is run by chef Frederic Perrier, a classically trained French chef from Lyons, France (Hogs N. Chicks, N.p.). Perrier moved to New York City, where he worked as an Executive Chef at La Cite and as the personal chef for the French Ambassador for the United Nations. Once Perrier moved to Houston, he quickly became a well-established member of the Houston-area food scene. He opened Grille 5115, Cafe Perrier, and Perrier Seafood, and then moved into the fine dining scene with the only true French restaurant in the Houston area, Aura, and an Italian restaurant Coco Pazzo. He gained a significant following and began offering more casual fare for his fans from the Aura restaurant location during off-times. This casual fare expanded from occasional service to a full-restaurant concept. That restaurant is Hoggs N. Chicks, and is open in Missouri City, the same city as Aura's original location, which now houses his restaurant Coco Pazzo, since Aura has relocated to Sugar Land. I had previously visited many of Chef Perrier's former establishments and was particularly impressed by Aura, which features not only fine cuisine, but also provides a combination of fine dining service in an atmosphere that is more formal than casual, but less formal than traditional fine-dining restaurants. Their logo is a neon looking pink/red pig and yellow chicken joined by a "N." They have a website, which is functional but not highly interactive, and a social media presence on Facebook.
Because this assignment included a phone call, I placed a phone call to Hoggs N. Chicks. It is a counter-service restaurant, which does not take reservations, and their menu, including specials, is available online. Therefore, the phone call was not necessary in any way. However, it did provide insight into the customer service one could expect at the establishment. The phone was answered within four rings by a woman who sounded young, upbeat, and chipper. In response to a question about vegetarian options, she explained that the restaurant offered several vegetarian options, but not vegan options. She then offered to cover the options, but also explained that they were available in an online menu as well. She was polite, knowledgeable, and efficient without seeming rushed, which seemed to set a good tone for the ensuing visit.
Visiting the restaurant, the first thing I noticed is the location. It is located on the outskirts of Missouri City, which is a suburban community in Southwest Houston. The physical address is 8817 Hwy 6 Ste. 900, Missouri City, Texas, 77459. It is across from a large, affluent suburban community names Sienna Plantation, and close to some locations in Houston. However, it is a considerable distance from Sugar Land, which is another suburban Houston fine dining location; the drive from the Sugar Land area to the restaurant was approximately 25 minutes. The location seemed well suited to offer a good fine dining choice to residents of the far reaches of Fort Bend County, but, prior to assessing the food, it was impossible to determine whether diners would travel from farther locations in order to eat at the restaurant. Because Houston does not have a well-established public transportation system, it would be impossible for customers to get to the location unless they were within walking distance or had access to a car.
The restaurant's outside setting is unassuming. It is located in a strip-mall and is not a stand-alone location. It occupies a corner of the strip mall. The strip mall is brown and the storefronts are primarily windows, so I could see into the restaurant prior to entering it. From the outside, the decor appeared to have a country theme and the restaurant seemed clean and up-to-date. The signs in the front of the store had the same neon pig and chicken theme that is featured on their website and social media sites. Had I passed the restaurant without any prior knowledge, I would assume that it served traditional American fare and would not anticipate any of the more upscale menu items I had seen on the online menu.
The restaurant offers counter service; patrons head in, through the dining area, to a counter that is manned by two different cashier-servers working at different cash registers. There is no lobby or waiting area, and there is no person designated as a greeter. However, when I entered with my companions, the woman behind the counter said, "Welcome to Hoggs N. Chicks." There were probably 5 or 6 groups in line ahead of ours, but the line moved quickly. I could see that the cashiers answered customer questions while people were ordering, but that they had answers and did not have to ask the kitchen staff for answers to questions about the food. As a result, the counter service seemed friendly and efficient, without seeming as if the staff was rushing people. Furthermore, the counter staff seemed capable and willing to make recommendations, asking customers about personal preferences in order to make personal recommendations. Taken together, the service was well-above what one would expect from a counter service establishment. I believe that this is important. According to Costello, "the customer is a bundle of feelings influenced by the treatment received from the service personnel" (Costello, p.10). This treatment impacts menu item selection. Given that some of the items were more expensive than one might expect, having counter service people who can explain products made it seem more likely that customers would take a chance and order more expensive dishes.
The dining room was clean and up-to-date. The floor was a brownish-red stained concrete. The tables were dark wood and a mixture of booths around the periphery and table-and-chair combinations in the middle of the restaurant. Red and white were predominant colors for decorating. The menu was available on a chalk board, and there were smaller chalkboards describing specials. The best way to describe the decor in the dining room would be to call it roadhouse decor. The restaurant sells T-shirts promoting its brand, and they were hung up and featured as decorations. In addition, there were pig and chicken themed decorations throughout the dining room.
The tabletops were almost bare. Each tabletop had salt and pepper shakers as well as traditional red plastic ketchup bottles on the table. However, they did not have any tablecloths, silverware, dishware, or glassware on the table. Silverware was available in a condiment-kiosk, which is also where I got my napkins and straws. The cashier provided me with a molded plastic cup and beverages were self-service, near the same condiment kiosk. The silverware was basic silverware, but it was sturdy, clean, and in good condition. For example, none of the forks appeared to have bent tines or other flaws. The napkins were thick and absorbent. The condiment bar had a variety of different spices and sauces available on it. Food was served in a combination of dishes and baskets. The dishes used were cafeteria style dishes that one might see in any large food service establishment, however, they were ceramic, rather than melamine, with made them feel somewhat more upscale. The baskets were traditional black food service baskets lined with red and white paper that reflected the rest of the decor in the building. There was nothing special about the dishes or baskets and the food was plated in a neat and appetizing manner, but not in a fancy manner. In general, the tabletops and the dishes and silverware available gave the impression of a clean, well-tended counter service restaurant.
The beverages at the restaurant were unremarkable. They offered traditional sodas, which were self-serve for customers, though the counter staff that brought food to the tables and checked on customers offered to refill drinks for customers. They offered Coca-Cola products, which was important to me as I have a personal preference for Coca-Cola. They also offered both a sweet tea and an unsweetened tea. They served bottled beer, which customers could…