Worst dining experience ever – Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse, Billings, MT

The Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse's 'Wrangler' Chicken Fried Steak, over-cooked to 'golden black'

The Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse’s ‘Wrangler’ Chicken Fried Steak, over-cooked to ‘golden black’

“The worst dining experience I’ve ever had.”

That was the unanimous opinion of our party of eight after dining at the Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse, the Holiday Inn Grand Montana’s in-house restaurant in Billings, MT.

This restaurant deserves a “no stars” rating.   Our party had incompetent service, fouled up food orders and a painfully slow kitchen for an evening meal when the restaurant was less than one-quarter full.

Our group of eight adults can be described as the ‘dream demographic’ that tourist destinations fight to attract. We are an older group; some of us are retired, and we have plenty of time to travel and are looking for great restaurants to spend our money.

We rode our motorcycles from Edmonton, Alberta and were among the 5,800 motorcyclists that descended upon Billings, MT for the 2015 BMW national rally July 23-25.

We arrived in Billings on Wednesday, July 22nd in sweltering 95 degree heat. After a long, hot day, nobody wanted to ride to a restaurant, so on the recommendation of a server in the Holiday Inn’s casino/lounge, we stayed in and went to the hotel’s Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse.

At 6:00 PM, my friend and I walked into the restaurant and asked for a table for six. The restaurant was virtually empty with only two other patrons sitting at separate tables.

A young server who I’ll call “K” seated us promptly. The other four members of our group were enjoying cold beers in the lounge in the adjacent room. By 6:20 they still hadn’t joined us in the restaurant, so I flagged K’s attention and ordered two appetizers, Onion Rings and Chicken Quesedillas. “Our friends aren’t here yet, but let’s order the appetizers now and they will be ready to serve when our friends arrived”, I explained to K.

At around 6:35 PM, our four friends join us at our table and another couple from Edmonton shows up and we invite them to join us. K extends our table, no problem, our group is now 8 strong.

All seated, we get our menus and before ordering, we ask K specifically, “Would you mind giving us separate bills? Each of the two couples need a separate bill, and the four men at this end of the table each need a separate bill. Is that OK?”

K says ‘no problem.’

Time is ticking away and there is no sign of the two appetizers I ordered at 6:20. I ask K to check on the appetizers; he returns and says they’ll be out shortly.

(Now remember, there is only our table of 8 and two other patrons in the restaurant.)

We all place our orders, and some people have ordered beers. Bernie, sitting next to me orders the chicken wing appetizer, and most of our table orders The Wrangler, the restaurant’s Chicken Fried Steak, which was recommended by the server in the casino/lounge.

It takes some time for K to check to see what beers the restaurant has; some of the brands the fellows have been drinking in the lounge next door have been re-ordered in the restaurant, but the server says they are out of stock. So he is now running between the restaurant and lounge to find what brands of beer are in stock.

At about 6:50, some thirty minutes after ordering the Onion Rings and Chicken Quesedilla appetizers, K brings them out. He doesn’t offer or bring ketchup, so I ask him for some. He brings a bottle of Heinz Ketchup. I flip open the lid, and it dispenses one squirt. It’s EMPTY!

K keeps disappearing, so we have to wait to flag him down. “This ketchup bottle’s empty. Can I get another one?”, I ask. “For sure”, he says. He brings a second bottle of Heinz Ketchup. It doesn’t dispense one squirt. It’s EMPTY! Our server has now delivered two empty ketchup bottles to us. Common sense would suggest any person should be able to feel that a bottle is empty.

(Side note: I grew up in Calgary, working in two restaurants owned by our family. The standard operating procedure for servers when starting the day shift is to fill all condiment dispensers such as ketchup, mustard, soya sauce, salt, pepper and sugar. A competently run restaurant shouldn’t have empty condiment bottles in the dining room at the restaurant’s busiest time.)

K has disappeared again, so in frustration, Robyn gets up and finds a full bottle of ketchup and brings it to the table.

So, we have our appetizers, but there are no plates. Debbie asks one of the two women servers in the room, “Can we get some side plates, please?”

“Side plates? You want side plates?”, the server says. The tone of her response borders on surly. It’s obvious our request is bothersome. She brings a stack of plates and bangs them unceremoniously in the centre of the table and leaves without handing them out. There are six plates – two plates short – for the eight of us. Two of our party choose to eat their appetizers off the linen table cloth instead of trying to get plates.

But wait, it gets worse . . .

There are still problems with K finding out what beers are available. It seems the restaurant side has run out of certain selections, so he’s running to the adjacent lounge to find out what they have in stock and running back to our table to report back. It’s painfully time consuming.

K then delivers salad to all those who ordered the Wrangler. Salad?? There was no indication on the menu The Wrangler is served with salad, and K, had he been trained properly, should have informed us that salad came with the entrée and asked us for our choice in salad dressing.

K places the bare salads in front of us and before he leaves, one of us asks, “Doesn’t this salad come with any dressing?”

“Oh, yes, of course”, K says. “What would you like?” He then has to take the salad dressing orders for each of us, disappear into the kitchen yet again, and return with the dressings.

Finally, our entrees arrive. We have been waiting a long time. While most of us have ordered The Wrangler Chicken Fried Steak, K is having trouble remembering who ordered their dishes with what selection of potatoes. Three orders have arrived with the wrong potatoes, and the Chicken Fried Steak has been clearly over-cooked and well beyond the classic ‘golden brown’, and much closer to what I call ‘golden black.’

One of the female servers is helping K deliver our entrees to our table, and she apologizes, saying, “We’re sorry this took so long. It’s just that we’re soooo busy tonight.”

The eight of us look at each other in stunned disbelief. The restaurant is less than one-quarter full.

Here’s another kick in the head. We’ve now finished our main courses, and K finally delivers Bernie’s Chicken Wing appetizer!

This train is crashing, and it won’t stop . . .

Throughout the meal, the two female servers are giving our table a wide berth. They seem to know they’re involved in a dining disaster, and they make themselves scarce in the mostly empty restaurant. When they are in the dining room, they avoid eye contact with us.

After the unsatisfactory meal, K brings the bill. He has neglected to ask us if we want coffee or dessert, standard operating procedure for any restaurant. He brings us one bill.

“You will remember we asked for separate bills earlier this evening?”, I remind K. “Oh, yes, of course”, he replies and scurries over to the cash register and consults with another employee. It’s painful to watch. K is now in a state of controlled panic. He begins a long, slow process of returning to our table, bill in hand, and asking one of our table, “You had the Chicken Fried Steak, right, sir? And how many beers?”, then returning to the cash register to consult at length with an employee.

The pain of watching this poor, un-trained server struggling is too much for Robyn, the former chief administrative officer of a major Alberta municipality with almost two thousand employees. He confirms his part of the bill, puts cash on the table and walks out. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with K returning to the table to ask what each of us had ordered, how many beers and returning to consult with the cashier, most of us pay in cash and leave. K eventually informs us, “Sorry, we can’t break the bill more than six ways.” Now, we don’t know if that means the onsite employees don’t know how to break the bill down or if the Holiday Inn’s payment system is incapable of splitting the bill once it has been entered. (As it turns out, Casey, the manager I talked to the next day said their system can break the bill down for up to 20 guests.)

I hang around, hoping to talk to the restaurant manager or shift supervisor, but neither of the two women servers can be found; they’ve disappeared again, and honestly, neither of them looked like they were in charge.

Our party of eight all agreed. This was simply THE WORST DINING EXPERIENCE any of us had ever had in our lives.

We talked about the possibility of asking for the Holiday Inn’s general manager for a meeting with all eight of us to inform him or her of our extreme dissatisfaction with the restaurant, but didn’t do that.

I did however manage to ask to meet with a manager in the food services department, Casey, and recounted the miserable details of our experience. To his credit, he offered to appease us. “Would you give us another chance?”, he asked. I thought of it for a nano second and responded, “No. Our group is comprised of hard core ‘foodys.’ They would never agree to waste their time or money in that restaurant after our experience last night.”

Let’s recap the problems we encountered with the Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana, in Billings, MT:

  • Poor service and training: our server lacked training. He didn’t know the menu and he lacked the aptitude or common sense needed for the food services industry, and the onsite staff could not figure out how to split the bill for our party of eight
  • Poor food:       The Wrangler (Chicken Fried Steak) was overcooked and even if it wasn’t, it would have been mediocre at best
  • Understaffed kitchen: Food coming out of the kitchen was painfully slow. The restaurant was not busy, one-quarter full at most, and appetizers took almost thirty minutes. The entrees were very slow in coming out. One appetizer was delivered after entrees had been finished.       Mistakes were made on main courses

Bottom line

Save your money, save your time and save yourself grief. The Yellowstone Valley Steakhouse at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana in Billings, MT should be avoided at all costs until management makes major changes to the staffing and operation of this business unit. My recommendation: walk down the street one block to the Cracker Barrel Restaurant. The food and service there was exceptional.



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