Duke’s: When All Else Fails

Duke’s Riverside (or The Riverside G-Man, as roughly 99% of us locals still call it) has always been an integral part of living here. It’s not particularly trendy and it’s not particularly cheap. But it does have a deck, it is easy to get to, and most of the food is pretty good awesome. In fact, it’s an all-around excellent place to spend a lazy summer afternoon eating & drinking. I don’t know of anybody who actually hates going there; it’s the one place that most people can agree on most of the time. So with the first really nice weekend upon us, my party of three ventured out to the deck this afternoon for dinner, drinks, and what wound up being the worst experience I’ve ever had there.

We arrived around 6:30 on Saturday. The greeter working the counter by the door didn’t utter so much as a “hi”, so I asked if the deck was self-seat today.


…All right.  Can I get a table for three?

“There’s a two-hour wait.”  (looking at me expectantly)

…No problem.  (thinking this would prompt her to put my name on The List)


…So can I get my name on the list?

“We’re out of pagers.”

Well this is getting off to a pleasant start.  Still, I expect they’ve been slammed all day, and having spent nearly a decade working customer service, I’m sure she’s been hammered with utterly stupid comments all day long (“Well if there’s a line our dinner’s free, right?  Hurr hurr hurr!”).  It’s going to take more than a disinterested, disconnected name-taker to ruin our afternoon.  I said it was no problem, I’ll wait; the deck bar is open, right?


Dave.  Party of 3.  I watched her write my name down on the first spot of a blank seating list.

“Check back in 20 minutes.”

No prob.  Sure enough, both the inside and deck were totally packed.  I mean, completely filled wall to wall.  I’ve never seen this many people there before, ever.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you added up all the people who have ever been there while I was there and brought them all there at the same time, it still wouldn’t be as many people as were there Saturday.  And who can blame them?  It was perfect deck / outdoor dining weather!

I made my way to the bar and opened a tab with a Yuengling draft.  As I texted the rest of my party to let them know where to find me, I noticed that the back corner of the deck was roped off.  I didn’t do an exact count, but as I recall, that’s about ten tables out of service.  You’d think that with a two-hour wait, having those extra ten tables in service would be a pretty big asset.  Not only would the wait be cut down but the service area would have cycled that much faster, making less of a line to begin with.  It was right about now that I began to wonder if we should’ve gone to Dockside instead of Riverside.

Enter my party.  Quarter of 7.  Since there’s barely room for one at the bar and no seating available whatsoever, we ordered a round of drinks, pulled out a few plastic garden chairs that were stacked in the corner, and settled in for the long wait.

At 7:00, I went back to see the seater.

“Um … we still don’t have any tables available.”

Ok.  You asked me to check back in 20 minutes.  Maybe this was for a pager?

“Well we already called your name for a pager.  I think.  Wait.  What’s your name?”

Dave, party of 3.  At this point I notice that my name, and the name of the person immediately after me, had been crossed out with some highlighter or crayon or something similar.  I don’t know if this means they called my name or if some other Dave Party of Three came up and got seated.  Or maybe some renegade 3-year-old started doodling on the seating list.

“Where are you sitting now?”

In the back corner of the deck bar, by the handicapped ramp.

“We still don’t have any pagers.  If you want to go back and wait I’ll bring one out to you.”

Okay – thanks.  By the way, why is the back corner of the deck closed off?

“I have no idea.  Find bartender Shawn and ask him.”

I went back and waited.  We ordered a second round.  With each passing moment, the roped-off deck became more and more conspicuous.  Must be a dozen tables over there.  Why was it closed on such an insanely busy day?  Around 7:30, our pager materialized.

That deck, man.  Who the hell decided it would be a good idea to cut capacity by over a dozen (the number seemed to grow with each passing glance) tables?

By 8:15 and the completion of our third round, we decided to get up and walk over to Dockside.  I’m sure they know how to manage their BUZZ BUZZ BEEP BEEP — table’s ready!  Just knowing that I was now 90 minutes closer to a sampler platter was enough for all to be forgiven.  After all, they promised a two-hour wait and delivered an hour-and-a-half; good deal, right?

We were seated.  Our waitress, who was polite but obviously frazzled after a long day, informed us that the kitchen was running slow by about 40 minutes and — no hurry — if we wanted to place our food order with our drink order, that might — no hurry — be a good idea.  No hurry.  Fortunately, having the Duke’s / G-Man menus memorized is a requirement of living in or around Harrisburg, so we were able to immediately order.

Once we got the ball rolling, drink service was quick.  And to her credit, our waitress checked up on us every five minutes or so.  As is often the case at Duke’s, time began to fly and I’m not sure how long it took our food to arrive, but it didn’t seem unusually long.  And it was good.

When it came time to leave — around 10 — our waitress informed us that the computers were down.  This is when the night turned from “off to a poor start but okay in the end” to “are you freaking kidding me”:

“I am so sorry, but our computers are down right now.  We’re on the phone with the support place trying to get them back up.  Would you guys mind waiting a little bit for your tab?”

I hate to be a pain, but we really need to get moving.

“I know, and I’m so sorry.  This is so embarrassing for us, on a Saturday night and all.  Believe me we’re really yelling at the computer place.”

Could you at least give us an estimate?  I know each of our appetizers were $9, and we had one pitcher of Miller Lite.

“Yeah, let me see what I can do.  Again, I apologize, I am so sorry about this.”

She disappeared for a few minutes and I began to wonder at what point in our evolution we became so enslaved to computers that adding $9 + $9 + $9 + the cost of a pitcher and multiplying the result by 1.06 became a major thing.  Seriously — just give me the menu and I’ll figure it out.  She returned with a hand-written bill, explained each line, and arrived at a figure we all agreed on.  We decided to assume that their credit card processing was also down, and paid cash instead.

The computers came back up as we were pooling money on the table.  Apologizing profusely, our waitress came over with a revised bill — $10 more than the handwritten one.  We re-organized our funds, laid out an extra $10, and left.

Three things:

  1. Might be time to refresh your pager inventory.
  2. I know that this was the first “great weather” weekend of the year and all, so you were probably getting some of your winter kinks worked out.  But knowing in advance that the weather was awesome for both Friday and Saturday, why was the back corner of the deck closed off?
  3. Seriously, equip your POS stations with solar-powered calculators.  I’m pretty sure you can get a 5-pack for around $.99 at Wal-Mart these days.

4 thoughts on “Duke’s: When All Else Fails”

  1. I like to think of Duke’s as “Friendly’s on the River.” That place does nothing for me. I don’t dislike it, but it’d rarely be on my list of places to go.

  2. I totally agree w/ Anon. I wouldn’t say that we were regulars at Duke’s when we lived there, but we visited there more times than many other establishments in HBG. The last 3 times we went before we moved were utterly dismal, and I vowed never to set foot in there again. VERY RUDE staff, horrible service, lukewarm food and like your problem, Dave, absolutely no point to the way they did the seating/sat people. And this was over 2 yrs. ago now…

    I know in HBG name changes occur about as often as people change underwear (okay, judging by some of the people I know in HBG, maybe MORE times than some change their underwear 😉 ) and in many cases it means very little, but I noticed a definite difference in the food and service when it changed from G-man to Duke’s.

  3. I hate to tell you this, but the ownership of Duke’s/G-man has not changed, unfortunately. It’s been in the control of the Carter family ever since they opened. (Does anyone remember when they tried to call it “Carter’s Riverside” for about 6 months?) The problem, as I see it, is now Donnie C. owns all three restaurants down there and he just can’t keep all the plates spinning on the little sticks. If there was quality management at each place, they could easily be ‘destination’ restaurants instead of the lowest-common-denominator joints they are now. It’s too bad, because I agree that almost all of Duke’s food is really outstanding for having such a huge menu. We have been getting takeout instead lately and just enjoying it at home.

  4. Duke’s is one of the banes of my heavy drinking life. I cringe, shudder, and just about everything else when people want to go there. Same for “Dockside Willie’s”. The service is slower than erosion, the food is Mechanicsburg Chic, and it is like they don’t care. I find this to be the trend on the West Shore anymore.

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