Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hidden Lake Winery never disappoint.

Banquet for 75 people: $1880

Honeymoon Suite: $200

Dead cockroach in the bathtub of Honeymoon Suite: PRICELESS

On the surface, the Hidden Lake Winery and Banquet Center in Aviston, Illinois would seem to have everything going for it. A quaint concept, nice secluded cabins, large banquet rooms and a connection to a California wine dynasty. Sadly, the devil is in the details. My husband and I first became aware of Hidden Lake Winery when we received some bottles of their wine as a wedding gift. We drank the wine with friends at a dinner party and all present declared the wine to be tasty so we decided to visit the winery. We had lunch at the winery and it wasn't bad, so we decided to look into having the annual Christmas party in their banquet room. I visited the winery and spoke with their party co-ordinator, and decided to have the party there and she seemed quite capable so naturally she quit a week later, as did the second co-ordinator I was working with, but the third one did manage to make it until the party day. As all my loyal readers know, I have severe back problems due to many car accidents and I am a wedding and party planner by trade. I arrived with the party decorations and such to find a huge SUV parked in front of the door and it was the owner's wife's SUV and she parked it smack in front of the door and left it running. She watched me make 5 trips from the handicapped parking space in 28 degree weather and a strong wind carrying heavy decorations before it finally dawned on her that she might want to MOVE HER FREAKING CAR SO THAT THE DISABLED PARTY PLANNER/CUSTOMER WHO SPENT TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS AT HER HUSBAND'S BUSINESS could bring in the decorations for the party without having to walk through the MUD AND ROCKS AND FREEZING RAIN of their absolutely shitty parking lot--which looks like it's been nuked repeatedly. Her attitude of "The customers can kiss my ass" was pretty much the attitude of the entire staff and it showed up in virtually every facet of the way the business is operated. The decorations that the staff had left on the tables were on mirrors that were covered with greasy, nasty fingerprints. When I asked if they could be cleaned, they gave me a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels. I was going to incorporate them into my decoration theme but I didn't have time to clean them all, so I removed them from the tables. We were contracted to have 10 tables but only 9 were set up for us and my bad--I didn't notice this until I had finished putting out the decorations so I had to cannibalize bits of decorations from other tables until I could get the table looking like the rest of them. The salt and pepper shakers were only half full on each and every table--even WAFFLE HOUSE fills their shakers every shift. There's no excuse for this kind of lack of attention to detail, and every time I asked the staff for something, their entire attitude was that I was annoying them, they did everything but ROLL THEIR EYES to convey their displeasure at being asked to do their jobs. When my husband arrived, I was in severe pain from running around on the hard floor and carrying in all the decorations from a half mile away, so he went to get me a glass of wine AND THEY CHARGED HIM $2 FOR A GLASS DEPOSIT!! How chickenshit is that? I could NOT believe it, but I drank the wine, we finished the decorations and he put out the place cards and we went to the $200 honeymoon suite to rest and get ready for the party. Again, the devil was in the details. The room was so cold we had to turn the heat on HIGH for nearly an hour to get it to 70 degrees. There was ONE towel in the room. There was a DEAD ROACH in the bathtub. There was a soap scum ring around the jacuzzi tub. There was a nearly empty roll of tissue on the spindle and the spare was on the floor underneath it. I guess changing it wasn't in the maid's job description or else they didn't want to waste the 11 squares of tissue left on it. The satellite TV didn't work because it couldn't get a signal--it kept going to blue and 'searching' for signal. There was no telephone in the room and the alarm clock was a $4 Wal-mart digital--I wanted to dock my Zune and most good hotels in the $100 per night price range have an MP3 player hookup. The towels were clean but of very poor quality--again a detail but an important one--big, thick cushy towels are the hallmark of quality hotels. There was no Internet access, so we had to use our iPhones to check email. The outside "parking lot" was nothing but mud and we couldn't see to open the door because the outside light was burned out. The "Continental Breakfast" consisted of a disposable bowl of Coco Puffs and another of Golden Grahams cereal. There were two mini-pies (the kind you buy in a convenience store) that were so bashed and smashed that I thought they had been beaten with a bat, a mushy apple--with the grocery store PLU sticker still attached--tacky, 2 GREEN bananas and a rotten orange. I'm guessing that the same chef who prepared the mediocre banquet food is also in charge of the Continental Breakfast. There was a freezer in the room fridge but NO ice cube trays although there was so much white frost on the freezer they wouldn't have fit. The coffeemaker was dirty--I mean COME ON--this is just ridiculous.It's a shame to have to write this kind of review because the cabin was beautifully rustic and the bed was as comfortable as any I've ever slept in, the grounds are lovely and the wine they bottle is very good. Unfortunately, Hidden Lake Winery never disappoint--and it shouldn't be that way. The employees are what is killing the place--they don't care and it shows in everything they do starting from their attitude toward guests to the job they do--they ignore the details and do their jobs just well enough to fool the owner into thinking he has good people. A good general manager, a good chef and an attitude adjustment would make all the difference here but it's not going to happen. As word spreads about how bad this place is, their revenue will drop and the help will get worse instead of better. I called some colleagues in the party planning business and asked them about Hidden Lake Winery and all of them said they would never do another event there because they were so unhappy with the place, so I have to add my vote to theirs too--I would never have another event there.

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