I recently dined at Washington, D.C.’s vegan and veg-friendly restaurants to assess the state of the plant-based food industry in the nation’s capital. Based on the interest in those reviews, which I published in The Best Vegan Food in D.C., I decided to don my food critic hat again to critique South Florida’s plant-based restaurants.
My goal is to help restaurateurs to improve their performance and to spotlight the best in the pack for diners. Aspiring entrepreneurs may also learn from cautionary tales. When the food is wicked good, I’ll cheer it but when the plant-based chicken tastes like wood, I won’t pull any punches. If management looks at me like I’m trespassing when I enter and acts like they’re doing me a favor by allowing me to give them money (a fascinating phenomenon mastered by the manager at 4th Generation Organic Market), I won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade.
I decided to begin traversing South Florida with a stop at Parlour Vegan Bakery in Boca Raton. They have another location in Plantation, Florida. If you’ve had the flu, lost 10 pounds, and want to gain it back in a day, Parlour is your destination. Needless to say, I’ll be breaking from my usual eating routine for this review.
Parlour’s website and social media are a model for every other plant-based restaurant. Their Insta is a kaleidoscope of food art. It’s obvious they invested money and time. The owners understand we live in a visual world that requires brevity and activity. The “Who We Are” section is vague but perhaps intentionally so. If there’s an inspiring story, customers would like to hear it. The holiday menu is still on the website as of January 13 (it ended December 24). Their web manager should keep a calendar checklist of web tasks to ensure it’s updated. On the plus side, I tried placing a holiday order and I received a notification stating the option is no longer available.
Greeting, Staff Knowledge, and Attentiveness
If there’s one criticism I’ve always had of Parlour, it’s that the people who work there aren’t trained to go above and beyond. They’ll say hello (but not “Welcome to Parlour!” in my experience) and they’ll say goodbye but don’t expect anything else. I sat and ate for 15 minutes and the three people working there–standing a few feet from me–never asked me if I liked my food. They didn’t make any recommendations when I ordered or try to upsell (“Would you like a drink with that?) to increase profits.
Employees’ product knowledge matches the lackluster customer service. I’ve asked about the ingredients in certain items and they usually don’t know and have to ask someone else. I haven’t seen the owners since they were building the bakery so it doesn’t appear they invest much time training or overseeing their team. Turnover has been high, which may be the result of low pay, the nature of the business, or other factors.
When Parlour opened, I brought and referred friends to help it thrive and frequently promoted it on social media. I once told an employee my friend wanted to try a doughnut (I think it was $3) and asked her if she could get something else if she didn’t like it. “No,” the employee told me. She knew how much business I had brought them. Their cost was probably $1. Any successful restaurant owner will tell you that you don’t risk losing a customer over a dollar, especially not one promoting your business. Penny wise, pound foolish.
I hopped on Yelp and Google to read customers’ reviews of Parlour. While the majority are solid, there’s a steaming anti-Parlour contingent that shares similar experiences: slow-moving lines (yep), poor customer service (been there), and a lack of any knowledge of ingredients (correct). Several reviews also remind customers that Parlour isn’t organic or non-GMO. Unfortunately, management hasn’t responded to the reviews, which leaves customers wondering if they care.
Restaurant Ambiance, Decor, and Cleanliness
Parlour is cool. The decor is hip. It’s about as spotless as a restaurant gets. The three employees behind the counter were fervently cleaning when they weren’t working–a sign that at least management has emphasized the importance of appearance and cleanliness with them. The one downside is that Parlour has no formal seating so it’s primarily a to-go place. When they opened, the owners told me the city wouldn’t allow them to have tables and chairs due to the limited parking in the outside lot. They have one long bench customers use to sit on if they choose.
Speed of Service
I ordered the Italian sub, which is only served Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. It took 17 minutes, which is slow considering I was the only customer there at the time. Perhaps the woman who makes the subs was working on a catering order or preparing other food for the front display. I’ve been told they only have one person who can make sandwiches and she’s only there a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays. With three people working up front, I’d advise training one of them how to make the sub. A Rubik’s Cube, it’s not.
Food and Presentation
Whatever you eat at Parlour, it’s likely you’ll say it’s the best (fill in the blank) you’ve ever had. I devoured the Italian sub ($12), which contains salami, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, artichoke, provolone, and pesto on a crispy roll. All vegan, of course. The sandwich is filling and satisfying. It tastes even better than it looks. The pesto, salami, and cheese dominate–and you’ll be glad they do. It’s a marriage for the ages. Wrapped in chic Parlour-branded paper, each bite comes with a crunch at no extra cost. I tried not to engulf it in one fell swoop but largely failed. Death, taxes, and the Italian sub are all guaranteed.
If you’re used to buying your doughnuts at Walmart, you’re going to be in for some sticker shock. Happier greeting at Walmart; better food at Parlour.
If You Visit
Order the Italian sub, the chocolate brownie (best ever), a black bean empanada, a pizza roll, the blueberry doughnut (omg), and a cinnamon roll (oh wow). You’ll have no regrets.
Go to Parlour. The food is insanely good. The mediocre customer engagement, slow lines, and lack of seating are massively offset by a 100% vegan menu that will have people who eat plant-based–and those who don’t!–dreaming for more.