Dallas We Have a Problem: Pre-Theater Dining at One Arts Plaza

Monday night, the Winspear Opera house hosted a sold-out concert featuring Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian folk and country singer, and Bon Iver. Yesterday, one concert attendee, Dallas Observer critic Scott Reitz, wrote a post about the ridiculously expensive “petite sandwiches” served at the concession stand. He posted a picture of what looked to be space food canapes—little Pacman-shaped bread circles with a slice of roasted beef. A little later, I received an email from a reader who’d tried to dine at The Commissary on Monday night. The place was jammed. The reader said the food was good but the service was a disaster.

In the comments section of Reitz’s post, the ubiquitous Jon Alexis (jonfromtjs) made some remarks that rocked my opinion of One Arts Plaza. I admire Lucy Billingsley and her vision of creating a space where Arts District patrons can dine before and after a show. However, Jon pointed out the problems on Monday night. Snippets: “Commissary delicious but slammed, understaffed, and stressed;” “Screen Door, chef working bar, poor lady so frazzled she’s knocking glasses over;” “Jorge’s, one bartender for 20 people at the bar.” Both Tei-An and Fedora were closed.

Jon brings up a great point. “Can the restaurants not look at the schedule and see when a concert is sold out MONTHS prior that they should staff up?” I thought Screen Door offered pre-event dinners but perhaps they only run for larger events. The patio area is a perfect place to hang before and after events. I would think the already struggling restaurants would at least stick a buffet table outside and serve some drinks. Or call in the food trucks. This is a perfect scenario for One Arts on what would otherwise be a slow Monday night. I’m sure the Kathleen Edwards concert drew a crowd that would have returned to any of the places at One Arts Plaza if they’d been impressed. Now, all they remember are plastic packets of Pacman canapés made by Wolfgang Puck Catering. But don’t get me started on that again. (Wolfgang Puck? Why not a local caterer.)

37 comments on “Dallas We Have a Problem: Pre-Theater Dining at One Arts Plaza

  1. That’s a very heavy mist, possible even a fog. Food trucks are a great solution, as is staffing up the restaurants based on the performance schedule. Does this demonstrate Dallas’ growing pains? Immaturity as a world-class city? We have one of the finest performing arts centers in the world – can we not do better?

  2. As an attendee of the Monday show, I have a couple of observations. As much as the Winspear is a beautiful venue, it is just not suitable for a more vibrant music show (not slamming Rock of Ages fans but sitting for two plus hours in stadium seats does not create a great atmosphere).
    Concert goers enjoy imbibing at shows. The lines for drinks before and during were ridiculous (two overworked bartenders at the main downstairs bar). Don’t even get me started on the sandwiches. Throw the crazy parking situation (we ended up parking in the wrong garage for the event at $20 and took over an hour to walk back to our car after the show as the main parking entrance was locked).
    It sounds like the whole community at the Arts District needs to come together. I think the Winspear folks underestimated the thirst of concert goers versus Opera goers.
    I, for one, will not be back to listen to live music outside of attending an Opera at the Winspear. Been there, done that. From now on, I’ll hit the Granada, Palladium or the rockin’ Kessler for my live music fixes. Plenty of great grub within walking distance of those venues as well.

  3. Tei-An is open for dinner six nights a week and five days for lunch. On top of that, the odds of having a meal there (lunch or dinner) when Sakurai isn’t in the kitchen are in the “shark attack” or “lightening strike” range. Why not make the guy work one extra night? And, while we’re exhibiting entitlement issues, let’s have Jon Alexis keep TJ’s Seafood Market open two or three hours past his usual 6 or 6:30 closing time, as it would be a lot more convenient for me.

  4. Restaurant staffing is not as easy as “just staff up for that night”. Many restaurants that are close to arts venues suffer from “feast or famine”; they are either slammed (for just a short 2 hour period) or not busy at all. With that situation, it is very hard to hire and retain server staff, since on many nights they go home with empty pockets. Many restaurants just tend to suffer the slam, since it would be very difficult to spread the 8-10 servers that would be required for a “slam” shift over the rest of a light week, and have them be able to make a decent take-home. The best situation is an arts district that is busy 5 nights a week or, better yet, does not require an arts event to attract a crowd. Until then, suffer the slam!

  5. @ Scott–DFW

    email me via our website and i’ll stay as late as you need me to at TJ’s. I’m often there until 8:30.

    I just looked up on Tei An’s website and did not realize they are closed every Monday. We LOVE Tei An – this was not meant as a criticism of them.

    We’ve heard for years that One Arts Plaza has trouble bringing people down there without a viable downtown population or events downtown.

    So here was an event downtown. Tons of people there to spend money. People were walking out of the restaurants en masse without having gotten a drink…or spent a penny. People saying “next time i’ll just eat at home.”

    This isn’t about entitlement. We got our dinner. It is about CONCERN for wonderful restaurants like Tei An and Commissary and Screendoor and the viability of the best part of downtown.

  6. There are a lot of excusing and excuses as to why Monday night turned into a fiasco for concert goers. I would guess the main raison d’etre for the restaurants at One Arts Plaza is directly tied to servicing/serving and making money from the surrounding venues. Instead of making excuses, the restaurants should figure out a way to make it work during those pre- and post- concert hours. And food trucks seem to be an ideal fix (although offering competition); provide tables (and shade) for people to sit at after they’ve ordered their food truck dinner. Not related to the dining, but it’s obvious that in order to make the whole Arts District work, the parking situation has to be addressed. Who’s in charge of the whole Arts District complex, that these various problems can’t be addressed and help the District live up to its potential?

  7. I was also an attendee of Monday night’s concert and experienced the same situation.

    We arrived at One Arts at 6:45 for the 8pm performance and booked it immediately to The Commissary. We were told it would be at least a 30 minute wait, and the staff looked extremely weary. In fact, I was surprised we were even greeted at the door after seeing some of their faces.

    We hauled it across the courtyard to Screen Door, only to be told they were not seating anyone without a reservation.

    Frustrated and hungry, we were fortunate enough to grab a table in the Winspear lobby before it filled up and we shared one of the $6 mini sandwiches. Disappointed, I was.

    Thank you for bringing this issue to light. I sure hope solutions present themselves for our next visit to One Arts. The area deserves it.

  8. Nikki brings up an excellent solution: http://www.opentable.com. Screen Door and Jorge’s is there, as is Tei Ann and Fedora’s (for future reference). The Commissary does not appear to use Opentable.

    Another solution is to pick a restaurant that is not at One Arts, there are a few in Dallas.

  9. The Commissary doesn’t ever take reservations; I tried to make one for pre-concert dinner. (Aside from their clambake thing, of course.) Then I tried to make one at Tei An, only to discover they’d be closed. Next I tried Fedora’s and discovered they, too, were closed. I gave up on One Arts at that point and we dined at Samar, which was fantastic.

  10. Thank you Nancy for this article, and the One Arts restaurateurs need to take notice. I was there one Monday, and hungry. I know it’s not “cool” to care about what your patrons think, and that it’s “trendy” to keep them waiting. Once I waited over an hour for a burger (a BURGER!) at the Commissary, but had to leave to make a show. The burger never showed up, but I still had to pay, of course. Monday I was told by the flustered Jorge’s hostess that everyone at the bar had been wasting their time and would receive no service. This was after over 20 people had been sitting there patiently for over 20 minutes watching the nervous waiters avoid eye contact. I’d like to see how long these cool and trendy places can stay in business after pissing off everyone that’s ever been to a show the PAC. Changes are needed and now. Until then, I’ll be dining at Samar pre-show. They tend to serve you when you order.

  11. I can address this from two perspectives: I was at the concert on Monday, and I have season tickets to the Winspear’s Broadway series.

    Yes, Monday was the worst I’ve ever seen it. We ate at Commissary with a group of 6. Arrived on the early side, easy to get drinks and apps, but then our main order (once the place was slammed) took 40 minutes additional to arrive. I had to send my order back because it was cold (not cool, straight up cold). It was quickly remedied, which makes it all ok in my book. We saw friends there that had to walk out on their orders so that they could make the show in time. Agreed that maybe they should check the concert calendar and staff accordingly.

    All of that said, I’ve been to all of the restaurants at One Arts on many a Friday night (when our season tickets usually are) and everything is perfect (that includes some great meals/service at Commissary).

    Honestly, there’s really no other option for dining in my opinion. Valet for $8 at One Arts Plaza, eat, and then walk (or use their shuttle) over to the venue. You get a good (to great) meal beforehand, possibly some drinks afterwards (RIP Dali Wine Bar – I missed you the last few shows), and save yourself the exorbitant parking fees of $20-$25 for the garage beneath the Winspear.

    The only thing they need now is more shows. The younger crowd (well, younger than the norm) for Monday night’s show was there to spend money. If there was a venue in that complex that was perhaps better suited to this type of show, maybe there would be more opportunities to spend that money.

    As it stands, I’ll be dining at Tei-An in December before Les Miserable. And no sooner.

    But I’ll be dining at Cafe Izmir about five times between now and then so I can cross the street and see a show at the Granada.

    Location, location, location…

  12. Why doesn’t One Arts Plaza hire a caterer for these odd nights. Provide a buffet and pay for extra help. Treat these evenings as a party. I understand the staffing issues for restaurants, but again, buffet, a couple of wine choices and clean up staff. And someone to count the extra money. One Arts should have an event coordinator to make the place work as it is intended to do.

  13. @Nancy,
    It also could be that they don’t think a younger crowd would spend money/show up early??

    Maybe the assumption is that the old folks for Jersey Boys will want to sit down and drink some wine, but the younger folks for the Bon Iver concert (not the Kathleen Edwards concert that you referred to, although she was greatness) would be drinking and eating at home before attending??

  14. Parking at One Arts Plaza is brutal, not even on show nights. And the somm at the Commissary is exremely pompous. However, One Arts definitely has the potential to be an amazing piece of downtown Dallas revitalization with a few major tweaks. The food at Tei An is definitely some of the best and most imaginative in town.

  15. Agree witht he idea for a caterer to work there (but where? Winspear is already cramped by lack of pre function space). Even the Music Hall at Fair Park has a really good (yes, really) buffet you can eat before a show. But remeber, tesar said in the D article that he has disdain for the pre-theater crowd which, as someone already pointed out, he refers to as the mist. Of course he’s not going to deliver good service, he doesn’t like those patrons. A little concerned that no one from the PAC has weighed in here – this is important information for them to hear. They should be partnering with the 1AP restaurants.

  16. @Nancy- Rentals, set up/break down costs, plus no license to sell wine/beer, getting trained staff for a one night gig, no “reservation” system (prepare for 100 or 1000?), the food has to be pre-made and transported hot (or cold) to basically an empty shell. Payments in cash only? No? Then you’ll have to figure out a method to settle credit cards. All hurdles.

    Then there is the issue of the landlord creating yet another place to siphon off the existing (and rent paying) restaurants guests……hmmm, if I were a restaurant tenant that would not please me.

    I think there are other restaurants in the area with affordable valet, and possibly even with shuttle service (or within walking distance as the weather cools). Dakota’s comes to mind (haven’t been there in years), as well as Stephan Pyles restaurants.

    Hopefully all of the art venues reach out to their downtown neighbors, even beyond One Arts when expecting to be very busy. The area restaurants should also be following up with telephone calls to find out about shows, or lose out on that overflow business.

  17. Do these restauarnts have special pre-theatre offerings that can be made and served quickly. My recollection is that London and NYC theatre district restaurants do this.

  18. Amy S, why not rotate the restaurants to host the event? The space was designed to feed the arts district which means early and late service. There is a solution, somebody down there needs to find it.

  19. First restaurant to come up with a solution will get a ton of business. And frankly, if they don’t want to cater to the show crowd they shouldn’t be at 1AP.

    Would be nice to see the city kick in some help since they own a venue or two there.

    There’s a similar problem at the AAC/Victory Park.

  20. I have read through the comments and there are some valid points but from a restaurant/caterer stand point here you go. Once again buildings are built and never or very seldom ask a restauranteur or caterer for any input on what will work successfully. Case in point….RIP Dali..small space and kitchen…imagine cooking at your home and 50 of your neighbors show up and you have to feed them each a different menu item…what would be the results? Most likley not pretty on a very typical slow Monday night.

    Secondly…Winspear and Wyly both have very limited food and beverage space that once again works well for most groups but when 2,000 people show up…what are you supposed to do?

    You do your best to accomodate as many people as possible with the very best in service and product. WPC does a fairly good job most of the time. Has anyone been to the Majestic? Music Hall? Cowboys Stadium? There are lines people!

  21. Hopefully they’ll read this type of feedback and find a solution. But I don’t think it generates (yet) the kind of sales that would justify opening a new place to handle.

    But they’d better try to hold onto it or lose it. Back in the day (pre-1996) Dakota’s would run a pre-theater menu before 6:00, three courses for (16.95? $19.95?). They would fill up – and the theater wasn’t across the street, it was in Fair Park. I can’t imagine there aren’t some restaurants in the vicinity that wouldn’t love a full early turn of tables.

    Ahem, excuse me, I need to send a message to our marketing department.

  22. Bring in the food trucks for busy nights. Screen Door does pre-theater dinners.It’s nice to park once, eat, and go. If I owned Fedora, I would have been open Monday night.

  23. Amy S., Adelmo’s has a pre-curtain menu that’s designed for early diners, $23.95 for three courses.

  24. We ordered a pizza and had it delivered to the corner. It took a few minutes to convince them we were serious, but a Visa # and a callback to my cell were enough to make it happen!

  25. This is most likley a one time fluke….your article seems a bit dramatic. Its not a coincidence that all three of the open restaurants were slammed….even if a show is sold out there isnt always a gaurantee that all the people would go out to eat. And there is not, magically, a never ending pot of money to pay for a large staff “just in case”…and I think if there were food trucks or buffet lines availible, people who attend an opera will still want to “dine”.
    Once the season gets going it shouldnt be a poblem. It never has been before. After a summer of no shows, I imagine that it may be hard to get back into the groove of things being busy again.

  26. It’s not that hard

    1.Couple extra temp bars set up
    2.Food Runners
    3.Special pre-theater menu
    3.Sterling Hosts for staff, you’re welcome Roberta

    It would change everything.
    Make some money

  27. I was pondering OneArts before a Tuesday concert at the Meyerson, and decided against it. Dinner elsewhere, dessert at home.

  28. It’s ridiculous to have a restaurant in the Arts District and be closed during performance times. That said, it is also stupid to show up only about an hour before show time and expect to find easy dining options. I think the food trucks are a plus for the area, but the main restaurants do need to pay closer attention to the arts scheduling and expected crowds. Also, clever to bring a “picnic” and grab a table or some lawn space outside the Winspear. Hopefully, more dining options will pop up in the future.

  29. God, y’all are geniuses. Food trucks. That’s just what all the tuxedoed men and designer dressed women want to do before or after the opera…walk a few blocks in 95 degree heat (or maybe 40 degrees in the winter) to stand around in a parking lot and eat some steam tray tacos.

  30. Who shows up at One Arts at 6:45 when they know they have to be in their seats down the street at 8:00? Poor planning and frankly unrealistic expectations of your restaurant.

    Also, whoever said this was a fluke… It’s not. I went to Screen Door 8 or 9 months when there was a show at the Wyly. Service was painfully, painfully slow (1/2 hour wait for a glass of wine and a beer). I won’t be back to One Arts for pre-show drinks/dinner anytime soon.

  31. Since I’ve been to the Winspear a number of times for the opera, I knew that area would be a disaster zone for the Bon Iver concert. I shepherded my group just across the highway to Three Sheets where we immediately sat down, had 1/2 price pizzas, good service, plenty of drinks, and Mon night football. A quick 5 minute drive to the One Arts parking garage ($5 all night) and ride on the Art Cart, we made it in during Kathleen Edwards’ first song.

    It’s all about planning, folks.

    As one poster mentioned, don’t expect the One Arts restaurants to accommodate your every need just because you’re there 1 night out of 365. Until the crowds are consistent, they can’t throttle huge surges effectively without hemorraging.

  32. I’m late in posting this reply but I need to.
    Monday was obviously a challenge for Screen
    Door. We run on a reservation system. We
    can’t begin to handle a pure walk in crowd on
    show nights. We have 95 seats, OAP total
    seats contains about 450-475 seats. Depending
    on show set ups, the Wiley, Winspear and
    Meyerson have a combined 3500-4500 seats, not
    to mention the museums and church.

    To plan our staffing and readiness, we do
    check the Arts District calendar regularly.
    We go through our computerized Open Table
    reservation system looking for last year’s
    history on events if it exists.
    Even with two shows that were scheduled
    on our reservation count it looked like any
    other Monday with no shows scheduled, we
    planned our staffing accordingly.
    We’re here to make this work for our guests,
    One Arts Plaza, Arts District and Screen
    Door.

    DAVID

  33. Look, David, if there are 4,000 willing customers wanting to eat at OAP at exactly 6:30 (but have to be out of there no later than 7:45) or 10 pm (and want nothing more than to linger for an hour or two nursing a domestic beer), we don’t want to hear lame excuses about how you only have 450 seats at all OAP restaurants combined. If you want to make money, you’ll find a way to serve those 3,500 people that you don’t have seats for, otherwise F-U and your stinking so-called Arts District. Try squeezing in a few extra tables. Maybe throw some tablecloths over those stone beams in the water fountain. Or, hey, how about renting the surface lot a block away and bringing in 75 food trucks from Austin and Houston? It’s not enough for you to take and honor reservations for customers with the foresight to call in ahead to make sure they have somewhere to eat on the night of a big event. Think about all of those spontaneous, free-spirited types for whom planning is anathema. They deserve to eat, too. And, yes, David, it is YOUR problem if those people aren’t fed where they want and when they want. It’s a fatal design flaw in the whole OAP complex, for which Lucy Billingsly is also personally responsible. So quit trying to explain yourself with all these sensible-sounding “reasons.” Just FIX the PROBLEM. Got it?

  34. This reminds me of waiting for a Shake Shack burger at a Mets game. The whole 2+ innings I’m standing there, I’m thinking “Don’t they want to make money? Did they now know there was a game tonight, even though they are located INSIDE THE STADIUM?!??!”

    If I ran a restaurant in the Arts District, I would be sitting there with a gleam in my eye looking over at those architectural monstrosities trying to figure out how I could wring every stinkin’ dime from every possible arts patron that set foot in the area. Temp tables, temp employees, umbrellas, picnic tables, to-go boxes, whatever! Anything that would make me $$$$.