Valentine's Day date 'from hell' ends in tears for Wollongong couple

Christopher James at Criniti's in Manly on Valentine's Day. Photo: Supplied

Christopher James at Criniti's in Manly on Valentine's Day. Photo: Supplied

Christopher James will forever remember February 14, 2016, as the "Valentine's Day from hell".

Celebrating his first Valentine's Day with his girlfriend of 10 months, Mr James  ventured from Wollongong to Manly to enjoy a romantic dinner. 

"Hungry Jack's and Yogurtland. That was where my Valentine's Day ended up," he said.

Mr James, 25, had booked to take his girlfriend to Criniti's Manly, one of six in the Italian restaurant chain in NSW.

The chicken dish which Christopher James sent back at Criniti's Manly. Photo: Supplied

The chicken dish which Christopher James sent back at Criniti's Manly. Photo: Supplied

Upon arrival, Mr James said he was told there was no booking under his name, but after producing a booking confirmation text message he was given a table.

"I was placed on a table under a leaking air conditioner vent," he said.

"The manager came over and apologised, but he just wiped it down and it continued to leak after that."

That was not the end of his woes.

The air conditioning vent, which two customers complained about at Criniti's Manly. Photo: Supplied

The air conditioning vent, which two customers complained about at Criniti's Manly. Photo: Supplied

"We ordered an entree of octopus and calamari [in] which I found pieces of the calamari backbone throughout the dish, which had a plastic-like texture. I sent it back and I didn't ask for another one," he said.

"The mains came out a short time after. I had chicken spiedino. I saw the chicken was actually raw. So I called [the waiter] back over...he took both mains back and he said the chef will cook some new ones but I said, 'I just want the bill, I've had enough of this place'."

He said his girlfriend was crying when she left the restaurant before the two went to Hungry Jack's and Yogurtland.

"I had to pay the bill and take it up with head office the next day:" Christopher James.

"I had to pay the bill and take it up with head office the next day:" Christopher James.

Mr James was offered a discount of $62.90 for the meal, from the total bill of $133.19.

But, he said, being required to pay $70 for an "inedible meal" was not good enough.

"I argued that I was made to pay for 50 per cent of raw chicken. That was a health risk, and the calamari...but the manager said 50 per cent was the best he could offer and I had to pay the bill and take it up with head office the next day," he said.

"I spoke with the customer service manager and he said the head of operations stated a 50 per cent discount was adequate and we would not be coming to a resolution."

Criniti's customer service manager Albert, who declined to give his surname, said all customer complaints were taken very seriously and that a full refund was offered on Monday when Mr James called.

Christopher James said he found pieces of the calamari backbone throughout the dish, "which had a plastic-like texture."

Christopher James said he found pieces of the calamari backbone throughout the dish, "which had a plastic-like texture."

"I spoke to him yesterday and we offered him a full refund. He was incredibly confrontational with me from the get go. In the end I said we would give him a full refund for his meal."

Albert said standard practice was that any full refunds must be issued through head office, and that the manager at the Manly restaurant gave as large a discount as he could give at the time.

"I get thousands of emails [from customers]. I got 300 yesterday alone and only 10 were complaints. That shows the high quality service," he said.

He added that the Manly restaurant manager informed him the air-conditioning vent was not leaking but merely had "some condensation" and that "in his professional opinion" the chicken was safe to eat but he was happy to take it back and remake the dish.

Of the calamari, Albert said "all our seafood is prepared fresh, though sometimes there can be a small piece of bone, but we do warn customers to be careful.

"The manager took [the chicken] off the bill and on top of that the drinks. The entree and [a serving of] ribs were completely eaten, so he was charged for that. I offered the full refund when I spoke to him on Monday."

Criniti's confirmed that a full refund had been issued on Tuesday.

Criniti's at Darling Harbour won Australia's favourite Italian restaurant at the 2014 I Love FOOD Awards, presented by Foxtel's LifeStyle FOOD Channel.

Business Day, Sydney Morning Herald

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