Friday, July 30, 2010

It's just like....It's just like....a cafeteria! (restaurant review)

If you read my last post, then you know that I took the family out to Cici's Pizza last night.

This was a very big deal.

You see, I have this pet peeve.  It's silly, really--but a peeve nonetheless.  I HATE when there are commercials on MY television for restaurants that are not accessible to me.  It was years before my area had a Chili's but I knew all about their burgers and baby back ribs.  I see ads for Sonic all the time and we still don't have one.  And....for about two years, we've been seeing ads for Cici's.  The very first time I saw a commercial, I hopped on my computer to find the nearest one....only to discover it was someplace very far away. 

I was so disappointed.  Who wouldn't want to go to an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet???

So when a family member mentioned on Facebook that they were eating at Cici's, I got excited.  Somehow this grand opening slipped past my fat girl radar but now that I knew it was here....of course I NEEDED to go!

I'm not sure when they opened, but it must have been fairly recent because the place was insanely packed.  The line literally went out the door and into the parking lot.  The cashier had to stop ringing up customers every few minutes to alleviate congestion in the buffet line.  This kind of waiting is not fun when you have four kids with you--one of which is a toddler and another with autism.  But I have to say, my little guys pulled through the line extremely well.  An employee (manager?  I'm not entirely sure) sought out large parties and reserved them seating.  To know that our party of seven was going to actually have a seat in the crowded restaurant was incredibly reassuring.

The restaurant is set up like a school cafeteria.  You pay, get a tray and then continue in line picking up whatever pizza, pasta and salad you desire.  Then you exit the line, get your drink and go eat your meal.  Sounds relatively simple right?

Not so much.

The same employee that reserved our seat also informed us that when we wanted to return to the buffet we should "just find a spot and hop right in".  This led to a "free-for-all" atmosphere that was extremely uncomfortable for all of us.  We felt like asses for cutting in line and pushing our way in to get more food.  My oldest, Nathan, only took one trip to the buffet for just that reason.  He attempted to make a second trip but he couldn't strategically negotiate a decent place to get in line and he gave up.  I noticed many people loading up three and four plates piled high with pizza just so they wouldn't have to go back up. Even this seems highly unfair to the customers who just got there and were making their first trip through the line.  The whole experience seemed rather cold, impersonal and a little hostile at times.

The atmosphere is exactly like a school cafeteria.  It's brightly colored (bright yellow walls with red trim) and brightly lit, extremely crowded and LOUD.  I couldn't even have a conversation with my family.  Jeff tried to talk to me several times and I couldn't hear him.  I was even having trouble hearing Alex and he was sitting right across from me!!!  That leads me to another pet peeve:  I hate when a restaurant is SO loud that you can't talk to anyone.

Price-wise, Cici's is a steal.  Unlimited food for $4.99.  Kids 10 and under cost $2.69.  Kids under 3 eat free.  Beverages cost $1.69 for adults and $.99 for kids. (Beverages were Coca-Cola products which I hate but luckily they had Dr. Pepper)  Our dinner was 40 bucks which is crazy cheap for seven people!

The food was okay.  As the old saying goes "even bad pizza is good pizza".  It wasn't the worst pizza I've ever eaten but it certainly wasn't the best.  Recently I've made the decision to make the transition into a vegetarian diet (Jeff and Alex are taking on the challenge with me as well).  Alex checked the website prior to leaving to make sure that there were meatless options available.  The website shows spinach alfredo, alfredo, cheese pizza, and veggie pizza options.  When we hit the buffet line...NONE of these options were available.  Not even a plain cheese pizza (which an employee miraculously turned up when Mathias started crying in the line about just wanting a plain cheese pizza).  Because of the extremely uncomfortable nature of the line experience, I did grab some meaty pizza slices.  Hey, I'm still in transition and I was hungry!  But I did feel bad about it afterward.  There isn't much variety in the salad bar.  It's very basic.  And the only "pasta"  on the buffet was macaroni covered in red sauce.  That just isn't pasta to me.  I mean, I guess technically it is....but it's kinda lame don't ya think? :)

Apparently, one thing they are famous for is their "macaroni and cheese pizza".  It sounded yummy.  All it turned out to be was a cheese pizza topped with plain macaroni.  Not at all what we were expecting.

All in all, I wasn't happy with my first visit.  I think I will try it one more time after all the hoopla surrounding the grand opening subsides.  Just to see if dining there could actually be a pleasurable experience. 

Atmosphere:  2/5 tacos   It was bright, loud and uncomfortable.  I really didn't enjoy the cafeteria style at all.  I haven't been in high school in 17 years and really have no desire to return there.
Service:  3/5 tacos   It was very nice that they reserve seating for large parties and the bussing staff did come frequently to clear the plates.  It was really too crowded and busy for service to be anything friendlier.
Food:  2/5 tacos    I didn't like the lack of variety.  I didn't like that I couldn't get items that were featured on the menu on my first trip through the buffet.  The pizza was good but not great. 
Price:  4/5 tacos   You can't get much of a better deal than this.  Except maybe at the dollar menu.  This definitely the place to go if you want to eat a whole bunch for a little bit of cash.

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