My daughter and I visited Frankie and Benny’s at the Capitol Centre in Preston, as part of a series of visits to the best and worst restaurants in the city*, according to TripAdvisor. Maintaining a steady presence around the bottom of the list, reviews warn of bad service and lukewarm, poor quality, pre-made food.Advertisement
We had booked a table for two at 7.30 on a Monday night, but when we arrived there were only eight tables occupied so booking wasn’t necessary. There was a lively, upbeat atmosphere in the large open room which is decorated like a fifties American diner and mix of modern music was playing quite loudly but suited the theme of the restaurant.
We hovered around the front till for a few minutes waiting to be noticed by the staff at the waiting station at the back of the restaurant. A young friendly waiter spotted us and led us to a booth, quickly bringing the main menu and a “two courses for £9.99” menu. We were asked if we’d like to order drinks, but just requested a jug of tap water. Friendly Waiter sped off, and we had a look at the menu.
The menus were extensive and varied, but we decided on the loaded bacon potato skins and spaghetti carbonara from the “two courses for £9.99,” menu and a plain hotdog with ketchup and mustard off the main menu for £7.49.
This was when our evening took a nosedive. We waited for our order to be taken, and for the water to arrive. All of the staff were at the waiting station at the back of the restaurant, having a good old chin-wag. I tried staring fixedly at them the like a dog watching a sandwich, but nobody looked up. I tried asserting my will over them, Dracula-style, without success.Then after fifteen minutes I tried slumping in my seat looking defeated, which was no help to anyone but I was out of ideas at that point.
Eventually a staff member barrelled past me on her way to the bar, and I managed to flag her down with a desperate, “Excuse me!” I told her that we were ready to order and still waiting for the water, and she apologised, took our order and returned with a jug of water with ice and lemon to pour our water.
We had asked to have the potato skins at the same time as our main meals, and the food was on our table within about five minutes. The hot dog in it’s basket looked okay, but was drowned in ketchup and missing the mustard. The fries were cleverly hidden underneath the hotdog, so it wasn’t immediately obvious that they resembled the ancient McDonald’s Happy Meal fries that reside under every rear car seat in the UK.
Easily the most unappealing item on the table was the “loaded” potato skins with cheese, chives and bacon. It was a halved, reheated, burnt baked potato with a tiny bit of cheese and a nugget of fatty bacon on each half. No chives or seasoning, and it looked like the bacon had been helpfully pre-chewed.
Trying to muster some enthusiasm for the bland spaghetti carbonara was an undertaking on a level with trying to get excited about a dry cream cracker or a can of chickpeas. It was food, there were calories, eating it would make me less hungry, but that’s it for the positives.
I had to ask a waiter for mustard for the hotdog, which involved another ten minutes of intense staring. Although it came with mustard on the menu, he explained that they stopped adding it because people kept complaining that their “hotdog with mustard and ketchup” had mustard on it. By the time I had wiped off the excess ketchup and added the mustard my hotdog was cold but actually quite good, served on a soft, fresh bun.
Read more: How a meat eaters paradise lurks just outside Preston
Whilst he was there I also pointed out that the potato skins were burnt and he apologised and quickly replaced them with different burnt potato skins. We couldn’t eat those either as they managed to be both chewy and dusty, and if they were loaded with anything it was sarcasm.
We left about eighty percent of our meals as apart from the hotdog it was all quite unpleasant. A waiter asked if the food was alright, and we gave an unenthusiastic yes because we had already sent a starter back and had the same quality of food returned to us. We asked for the bill and the waiter suggested that he wrap our food so we might take it home, but we declined as I didn’t want it knowing where I lived.
There followed a ten minute back and forth as I asked to use a voucher for 30% off a main course. It turned out that if one person at the table chooses from the £9.99 menu, the voucher doesn’t work even when the rest of the table orders from the main menu.
Eventually the voucher was accepted and the bill was paid. One starter and two main courses came to just over £15 with the voucher, which is incredibly cheap. However, most of the food was uneaten, so it ended up costing £15 for a hotdog.
Comparing the TripAdvisor reviews for the Preston Capitol Centre branch with other Frankie and Benny’s, they are all rated similarly. This would indicate that the problems start at the top with poor staff training, production-line, school-canteen food and a lack of management.
The waiting staff were doing a reasonable job considering what they have to work with. They made an effort to be upbeat despite having to deal with many complaints about the food, which must be quite demotivating.
Read more: Mowgli street food planning Preston restaurant
The TripAdvisor reviews are accurate. Cost-cutting and poor staff training is evident and the prices are high for the quality of food served, even when a voucher is used. It’s a good choice if you want atmosphere, but not if you’re hungry.
*Restaurants with less than 20 reviews, cafes and takeaways are not included in this series.