Nearly every week, if not twice or thrice in a week, Zubuchon management and I receive customer feedback from folks (mostly marketmanila readers, a biased bunch perhaps) who have recently eaten at Zubuchon. Most of the feedback is positive, though there is an occasional one that outlines a negative experience. The ratio of good to bad is about 15:1, but again, that may be a biased count based on the blog readership. It is amazing that so many folks take the time to write us these emails, and we are truly grateful for all of the feedback. We respond to all of these private emails, whether positive or negative. Particular attention is given to emails that specifically outline service shortfalls or less than satisfactory food, and take swift corrective action, if appropriate. We use the constructive criticism to try and improve the experience for customers the next time around. If you’ve noticed, the blog also seems to get lots of feedback in the comments section of posts when readers have gotten a chance to try Zubuchon, and most of the feedback has likewise been good…
Some examples of constructive criticism have included slower than usual service particularly for folks in a rush, and often headed to the airport or pier… and our response has been to try and make dining crew more sensitive to folks coming in with luggage to ensure that they are aware how soon they have to get to the airport/pier if that is their next destination. In another example, customers objected to the idea of our service water being, literally, tap water; so despite the cost, we switched to all filtered, bottled water for our service water and other internal uses. I should note that after a survey we took of neighboring and similarly priced restaurants, some 50% of restaurants do indeed use just plain tap water. Some 4 and 5 star hotels use once filtered tap water… so to be safe if tap water makes you queasy, always order bottled water wherever you dine to be sure. In another instance, repeated service shortfalls like repeated failure to bring water, napkins, the bill, change, etc. has also been raised, and we repeatedly remind service crew to be more attentive, and have built service standards into their performance reviews. We have added POS ordering stations and in-kitchen/in-bar printers to speed up orders and make them more accurate in our larger branch. In the case of food, we have replaced lechons that some found way too salty (a Cebu trademark, but also occasional mistake of crew), while we have added salt to the follow up orders of folks who claim our lechons lacked salt… I guess pleasing everyone is out of the question, but we do try. In the restaurants, our all natural organic langka (jackfruit) salad was finally pulled off the menu after many customers accustomed to creamy white unripe langka salads at home and at other restaurants, balked at the strange pinkish tint of our dish, often thinking it was spoiled. Even our explanation that we harvested these organically grown jackfruit ourselves, from our own trees, and DID NOT TREAT THEM to a CHEMICAL BATH as they would do in most markets to stop them from discoloring, was NOT enough to make believers of our guests. Oddly, we re-formulated the langka recipe and re-launched it as a ginataang langka, pink tinge and all, and now it is a huge favorite. Go figure. In another case, folks were not pleased with a dish they ordered, either expecting something else, or done in a style they preferred. In all such cases, we always offer to replace the dish if they are still in the restaurant, but if the complaint comes after they leave, and more oddly, after they actually ATE the entire serving, it is harder to make it right. Finally, we always have folks who compare our price, at PHP490 a kilo for lechon as being VERY EXPENSIVE relative to PHP390 of the vendors on the street, but they ignore the fact that we pay VAT, have a relatively nice space with airconditioning, pay above legal wages and benefits, serve them on real plates, and wash utensils with dishwashing liquid and running water. Lechon sells in groceries in Manila at PHP700-750 a kilo, so I can assure you that lechon priced at PHP490, bones and all, is the BEST DEAL/VALUE when dining in house at Zubuchon.
On the positive side, I have received dozens of kudos for staff, both as a team and on an individual basis. The waiters who were able to explain most of the menu in detail (and many of whom have tasted nearly all if not all of the dishes on the menu). The one who chased after a lady who left her handbag with everything in it (this happened several times in all locations) or a suitcase, a cell phone, etc. The one who went out of his way to make a sleeping child more comfortable while the parents enjoyed dinner. The ones who took it upon themselves to escort clients to their cars with umbrellas when there was rain. Or the ones who just delivered service that was noticeably above and beyond the expectation for a restaurant whose average bill is roughly PHP250-300 ($6-7) per person. Honestly, at that amount, you don’t usually expect much service, do you? I have dined at many a restaurant in Manila at PHP750+ per person that doesn’t deliver much service at all… It’s difficult to keep up with heightened expectations, but we are nearly a year old, and we are still trying our best to do so.
But the email that really stopped me in my tracks is the following one that I received from a reader last Friday. C T had sent me an email several weeks ago before a planned trip to Cebu and Bohol and I had responded with some places they might want to have a meal at, or sights to see. This was his email verbatim (names removed):
We write to send a note of thanks. We had two spectacularly amazing meals in Cebu this week. We went to the (Zubuchon) One Mango branch for lunch on Monday as planned, then we went back on Tuesday before leaving for Bohol. They were great. Every dish was very well-judged. The flavors were vivid and elemental, but remained subtle and bright. The balance between fat and acid, sweetness and heat was spot-on. And together, each dish built-up to a profoundly memorable meal. On Monday, we ordered the small zubuchon, the sisig, the eggplant salad, the seaweed platter, garlic rice, the leche flan and the kamias shake. On Tuesday, we had the head of the lechon, sisig, dinuguan, poached shrimp, the eggplant salad, garlic rice and the kamias shakes again.
The sisig was sublime. Easily the new standard for us. The lechon was excellent. I have not been a big skin fan, but the zubuchon skin is quite reminiscent of chicharon. Really quite amazing. I love the clean, sweet flavor of the meat. I knew I was eating superior lechon, but I also realized I was partial to the buttery texture of the younger, suckling pig. I experienced a brief moment of existential angst about my ambivalence last Monday. But then we had the head on Tuesday. We had the brains, cheeks, eyeballs, ears – every bit of gooey goodness that we could extract from crevices we didn’t even know existed. The cheeks were especially luscious. I now understand why Bourdain christened it the best pig ever. The eggplant salad and the kamias shake were amazing foils to the rich meats. The acids didn’t just cut through the fat, they rounded off the flavor spectrum, cleansed the palate and left us wanting another bite. And another.
We were stuffed. And happy. Thank you, sir. And we must add that the staff made our meals very pleasant. They were attentive, polite and knowledgeable about the food. They kindly accommodated our request to eat the head, and even asked how we wanted it chopped. They were great.
Sadly, (another restaurant I had recommended they eat at) was closed for renovation. We ended up going to (another restaurant) for our grilled fish fix. The tuna kinilaw and adobong kangkong were good and the grilled tuna collar reminded us of how difficult it was to get decent grilled seafood in Manila. But the grilled squid was disappointingly dry and rubbery. But no matter. Our memories of Cebu are now anchored on Zubuchon and they are overwhelmingly joyful. Thank you.
J, J and C T
Many, many thanks C T for that amazing email! It’s feedback like this that really buoys spirits and even momentarily allows the collective 85+ personnel of Zubuchon to pat their own backs for a second or two, before returning to their jobs and trying to do it better than they did before. And no, I have never had the opportunity to meet C T, nor are we related, nor did I ask him to write about his visit to Zubuchon. I have received a couple of equally amazing emails pointing out areas we could improve, so we do indeed relish and appreciate receiving both positive and negative customer feedback.
So what’s the favor I have to ask of marketmanila.com readers who have dined at Zubuchon? If you are so inclined, we would really appreciate it if you could rate your visit to the restaurant(s) on TripAdvisor or other such independent review systems. I am not sure who set up our initial account at TripAdvisor, but it wasn’t us, and I have just “claimed it” as the owner so that we can fix things like the wrong address, etc. which will be updated after a few days I am told. At any rate, we would greatly appreciate it if you posted a summary of your visit, so that future diners can get an accurate feel for what to expect… please be honest, good or bad, best to have it all there so it is a realistic and comprehensive compendium of real customer feedback. Many thanks for your help!