I only go to the mall to get free panties. Almost every month, I receive a Vicky's coupon for a free panty (I'm on a nickname basis with Victoria.) Her secret is that once she lures ladies into the store by giving them free cotton or lace underwear, they tend to buy bras -- I'm guilty of this. While I'm at the mall, I also tend to visit my Aunt (Auntie Anne, that is). She makes some irresistible pretzels.
Inside Hanley's Grille & Tap in Des Peres' West County Center
This month, however, I headed to West County Center with no coupon in hand. More surprisingly, I wasn't headed to a large national chain. I was off to join Dinner Club at Hanley's Grille & Tap
), which has only two locations, in Fairview Heights and in West County Center.
The Reservation Phone Call
As soon as I called Hanley's Grille & Tap for a reservation, I knew our group was going to be in good hands. The reservationist asked whether or not we would want split checks and whether there would be kids in our party. Taking care of these details in advance made our dining experience seamless. They also took my name and number so that they could confirm my reservation (which they did the morning of our visit).You Can Change That
There have been many cases where Dinner Club members have been the only patrons of a restaurant on the night of our visit. On one such occasion, at the long-gone Caribbean Sun in University City (now Queen of Sheba
), the owner turned off the house reggae and replaced it with one of our member's CDs, Matisyahu (an Orthodox Jewish reggae singer). Never before or after has Dinner Club been given musical control. At Hanley's, we came close: Our server showed us how to change the volume of the music in our private room. Even though the volume didn't need to be changed -- it was at the sweet spot where you could still hear it but easily talk over it -- we adjusted it just because we could!The Watchful Eye
The manager assigned two servers to our table of ten, but a large team of runners helped to deliver the food, ensuring that everyone received their meal simultaneously. As the delivery team descended on our table, I observed the manager closely orchestrating the event. She had everyone lined up outside of our room and gave the cue to move in. A few minutes into our meal, perfectly timed to guarantee that we had actually tasted the food, the manager visited our table to make sure that we were happy. This hands-on management approach ensured high quality service.Was it Too Perfect?
One of our members pulled me aside during our meal and asked if I thought that Hanley's was almost too
clean. He wasn't referring to the lack of spots on the wine glass; he was talking about the neat, swanky feel of the place and the staff's precision. Although Hanley's is not a chain, it has a formulaic feel to it -- perhaps, that is necessary to survive something like a mall Christmas rush.
I'd bring my family to Hanely's, but it strikes me as the quintessential office outing restaurant, a place where you can expect consistently great food and service and feel a little naughty ordering a Hanley's Ale and running off to pick up free panties during your lunch "hour."Stefani Pollack is the author of the food blogs Cupcake Project and Food Interviews. She is also a member of the St. Louis Dinner Club. She blogs about her large-group dining experiences twice a month.
For more on Hanley's Grille & Tap, read my review from this week's paper. - Ian