After a few drinks health score doesn’t matter

By Audrey Milam and Esther Shim

 

Jerrod leaves Magnolia’s at 2:20 a.m. Thursday night, ready to sober up on a heaping pile of hot food at a 24-hour restaurant. Few full service restaurants are still open downtown, but Jerrod has his sights set on Waffle House. The Washington Street Waffle House received an 87 on its last health inspection, not terrible but not great. “I don’t care,” Jerrod says, “Waffle House is AMAZING.”

“The Grill is disgusting. Steak ‘n Shake is way too far to drive on a couple [of drinks]. That’s just my prerogative,” Jerrod said, explaining his rationale.

After a night of fun and drinks, Jerrod said that he isn’t looking to drive anywhere, especially when Waffle House is only a short walk away. Plus, he enjoys the All-Star Breakfast deal that the joint serves.

Jerrod’s loyalty to his first choice restaurant is typical of downtown visitors. When it comes to picking a dive, cleanliness isn’t a factor. People just don’t care.

In a survey of 50 late-night drinkers, only two people changed their minds about their chosen eatery after learning the health score. Both decided not to go to Waffle House.

Most of the survey subjects commented on the quality and taste of the meals served or the quality of the service provided. Cleanliness didn’t play a large role in altering a subject’s choice of venue.

Multiple people declared that Waffle House had the best breakfast, the most convenient location, and the most food for a few bucks. In terms of pricing, some, such as UGA student Lewis Payne, disagreed.

“I prefer Steak ‘n Shake. Waffle House in Athens is disappointing. They all have bad service and cold food. I’ve never had a good experience at any of the three around campus.”

There are in fact nine Waffle Houses around Athens.

Steak ‘n Shake, a chain restaurant specializing in Steakburgers and milkshakes, was noted the second-most popular restaurant during the survey. The venue boasts half-priced shakes during happy hours from midnight to four in the morning, a prime time for drunken crowds to rush into the diner.

However, half-priced shakes and hot Steakburgers don’t mean that the restaurant is performing at high standards. The Steak ‘n Shake on West Broad Street actually failed a health inspection.

Unexpectedly, no one decided against Steak ‘n Shake, even after learning that it received a score of 71. The Clarke County Department of Public Health cited the restaurant for two critical violations: failure to properly wash hands, and failure to cool food properly.

Employees were seen handling clean dishes right after washing dirty dishes, something you might easily do in your home and never give a second thought. But it’s cross-contamination in the dish room enough to alarm health inspectors.

A representative for the West Broad Street Steak ‘n Shake declined to comment on the branch’s performance.

Steak ‘n Shake’s failure didn’t seem to sway its fans, though.

“I can’t believe Steak ‘n Shake is so dirty. I guess I’d still go, though. I love their fries,” said UGA student Sarah Greene.

The restaurant offers several flavored seasonings for customers to add to their fries. Greene said she constantly craves this dish and often orders “a ton of fries and a shake after a night out with the girls.”

After learning about some of Steak ‘n Shake’s health code violations, Greene shrugged and said, “they must be busy or something.”

Ricoh Black, another UGA student, agreed, “I’d still go to Steak ‘n Shake to get my Steakburger, parmesan fries and my mint Oreo shake. Can’t pass up such a good deal. Why would anyone want to pay 10 bucks for a burger when they can pay four bucks for one?” he said, referring to the higher prices at The Grill.

The long-time Athens diner, The Grill scored the best out of the round-the-clock downtown eateries. It’s score of 93 is exceptional, but not enough to change its perception as a grungy hole-in-the-wall.

“I was never a big fan of The Grill. It’s grody,” said UGA student Matt Thomas. He said the cleanliness was funny because “it’s always gross” when he goes. “I haven’t heard any good things, like ever.”

According Yelp, The Grill scored three and half stars out of five, and four stars on Urbanspoon.

Mike Bradshaw, owner of The Grill since 2009, laughed at the survey’s findings. “I worked my butt off for that [health inspection] score!” he said.

When it comes to dining after a night out and a few drinks, does the health score truly make a difference? In this college town, it’s not about the cleanliness of a diner, but about convenience, large servings, and money left in pockets.

 

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Transmetropolitan’s new look uses top restaurant design features

Double takes come with each new dining experience as customers gawk at Transmetropolitan’s new look.  Wow, what, and whoa have been used to describe the new makeover as customers stall at the front of the restaurant.

The Clayton Street pizzeria reopened on March 22, 2012 with a sleek new design, and the community continues to learn about the new renovations.

Transmetropolitan’s renovations exemplify a nationwide trend of quick, transformative restaurant makeovers.

Nationwide Trends

The New York Times reports that “fast-track reboots” are due to the poor economy.  “This is the era of high-velocity restaurant makeovers where noteworthy establishments are born, or reborn, in the time is takes to make a batch of crostini.”

Restaurants experience quick and drastic makeovers for two reasons:

  • The restaurant needs to earn more money.
  • No one wants to see vacant and empty spaces from failed restaurants.

Restaurant makeovers give people hope because they speak to the “American love of second chances and magic-wand makeovers.”

Transmetropolitan’s New Look

Transmetropolitan’s makeover began March 10 and was scheduled to end March 18.  The restaurant capitalized on spring break to make significant changes to the downstairs dining area, kitchen, and cashier stand.

The Athens Banner-Herald noted, “When the students are away, the contractors shall play.”  And that they did.  Co-owner Brian Colantuno said, “You won’t be able to help but notice [the renovations].”

The extreme renovations exceeded the original timetable, and the restaurant reopened on March 22.  Colantuno attributed the renovations to Transmet’s upcoming 12 year anniversary.

The design accentuates width rather than length.  Many downtown businesses struggle with this challenge because businesses spaces are long in length and short in width.

“We wanted to make it feel as though it’s wider,” co-owner Wesley Russo said.  “We had everything running longways, which was kind of exacerbating the front-to-back feeling of the building.”

The managerial staff declined to comment about whether the 2012 failing health inspection score influenced the renovations.

The restaurant scored 69 percent on its Sept. 21, 2012 health department inspection.  The health score increased to 89 percent on Oct. 1, whereas post-renovation Transmet received 95 percent on its March 22 inspection.

[SLIDESHOW: Transmet’s New Look: Behind The Scenes]

Interior Design Elements for Successful Restaurants

The top 12 best new restaurant designs, according to Architectural Digest, include design elements such as exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting, and clean lines.  Transmetropolitan’s renovations utilize seven and a half of the 14 highlighted features.

The restaurant earns partial credit for mismatching art because the pieces are different, but they are all black and white and in matching mattes.  Interior designer Caroline Jones said this creates a more cohesive feel than mismatching art intends to create.

Exposed beams, wood elements, and suspended light installations make Transmet more modern.  Colantuno thinks the contemporary touches will create a more open feel.

Exposed beams maintain the casual ambience and contribute to the clean lines of the design.

Local artisan Mark Poucher crafted the new wood elements and helped with the overall design.  He is known for his woodwork featured in Hotel Indigo.

Interior design professor Tad Gloeckler values natural design elements and commends Transmet on its use of woodwork.  “Individual components are precisely engineered for simple functions, structural clarity, and/or striking appearance.”

Orbs are the most popular suspended light installations, and the new design features orbs above each table and around the kitchen.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Top 14 Features of Best Restaurant Designs]

Mixed Community Reactions

Reactions to the renovations have been mixed.

“People kind of walk in, and they look around, and they go, ‘Wow—it’s totally different,’” Russo said.  “But I think people enjoy [it].”

Lauren Scott, a second-year student at the University of Georgia, is one critic of the design.

“Noooo!” she exclaimed after entering the restaurant for the first time since the renovations.

“I’m not a fan.  I think the old design was more rustic and homey, and to me, it fit the personality of Transmet better.”

Russo noted that the new design elements change the atmosphere but for the better.

Channing Jones, a third-year student at the university, agreed that “the vibe of the place has totally transformed,” but she isn’t sure if it is for better or worse.

“The renovations are shifting Transmet from a seemingly classic, back alley pizza diner to a more upscale, chic establishment,” third-year student Davis Mastin said.  “There are both pros and cons to this, depending on which direction the restaurant is looking to move towards.”

[VIDEO: Athens Community Discusses New]

New Design, New Success

Social media and aggregation websites, such as Yelp, are not as useful in restaurant marketing as suspected.  Online marketing, according to a new study by the NPD Group, influences only 6-8 percent of restaurant choices.

New restaurants are the winners in online marketing because they are fresh and exciting.  If a restaurant can market itself as new, it reaps immense online yields.

The study revealed that “diners visited a new restaurant after viewing an online marketing campaign at twice the rate of diners overall.”

If Transmet can market the restaurant as new, there may be substantial financial rewards.