One of the nicest experiences in life is going out for a nice meal with the person you love. It’s so upsetting when the restaurant ruins it for you – especially after waiting so long to be able to dine out.
One of the points of principal I have for this website is that I always try to write positively about things, reserving most of my criticism for myself. I'm not saying I always live up to those principles, because I don’t, just that it's important to me to aspire towards them. I have very little interest in spending two hours writing something designed to put someone or something down; I'd much rather spend my time and energy promoting things I love rather than talking about things I don't.
However, I have to bend that principle today because, two days later, I'm still so disappointed with a restaurant in my home-town for the abysmal experience my partner and I had on Saturday night. I'm quite an easy-going person when it comes to things not being good enough, if I feel people are trying their best. This place, though, it was so bad that, for the first time in my life, I refused to leave a tip afterwards. To me, that is a big deal, especially when my partner works in hospitality herself. In my view, this restaurant didn't even meet the bare minimum required.
Between the twins and the shifts we work, the opportunities for us to go out on a Saturday night as a couple are limited at the best of times; with this pandemic, even more so. This was the first time we'd actually been out anywhere together in nine months and, wanting it to be special, we decided to go to an expensive restaurant, both because we rarely treat ourselves and because we were celebrating our engagement. It was a place I'd been wanting to go to since it opened a few years ago, and had never been able to justify it until now, so I was really looking forward to it. My partner had been bouncing all day. She'd wore a beaming smile from the moment she woke up, through her shift at work and all through getting ready to go out. Saturday night really was a big deal to us.
The first sign something was off was, when we got there, nobody asked if we wanted a drink for fifteen, twenty minutes, during which the table next to us had seen their drinks order taken, their drinks brought out and their food order taken. When our beverage requests were finally acknowledged, it took another ten-to-fifteen minutes before they were brought over. Half-past six we got there, just-gone seven we got our drinks. Never mind, we thought, it’s quite busy and it’s an easy mistake to make. We’ll let that one slide.
I went outside for a vape, and when I returned, my partner had received her starter, which she said was lovely. I was looking forward to mine, too; I only ever eat garlic and tomato pizza when I go out, and I’d heard such good things. I did think it was odd that they hadn’t brought our starters out together, but my partner’s garlic mushrooms did have some oil in, so maybe they were worried about spilling it and burning themselves. A few minutes passed, and still no starter. Ten minutes passed, and my partner speculated that perhaps they thought it was to be brought out as a side dish to the mains, rather than a starter. A couple of minutes later, as my partner was approaching the end of her appetiser, I was presented with a lukewarm pizza. Thank you, I said. Could I have some pepper, please? My request for pepper went unheard, as the waitress was already halfway across the restaurant, uninterested in whether any seasonings were required. Maybe she was embarrassed that the pizza had clearly been left in the serving station for ten minutes or something, but I ate my tepid pizza without pepper, rather than waste any more time trying to get their attention. Maybe she took my thank you as a sign I didn’t want anything, I thought. We’ll let that one slide.
As we waited for our main course, my partner went outside for a cigarette, and I took the opportunity to check my phone for news on Christian Eriksen, the Danish footballer who had collapsed on the pitch shortly before we left the house. Thankfully, he was okay, which was more than could be said for the gentleman who stole my attention from my phone, furious with the staff for failing to bring out a birthday cake that he had left in their kitchen. ‘You’ve got your priorities all wrong,’ he shouted at the waitress. ‘You’re pumping out takeaway after takeaway and neglecting all of the customers in here.’ It was a bit rude, I thought, but he has a point. I don’t know why he’s shouting at the waitress, though. The lad in the casual polo shirt taking all the orders seems to be in charge. I looked around, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Pretty poor of him to leave the waitress to take the grief for what appeared to be his organisation fails, I thought. Maybe he isn’t in charge though, and it’s none of my business, so we’ll let that one slide.
Our second drinks were brought over a couple of minutes later, mercifully quicker than the first. As they put them down, they walked away, leaving our empty glasses – grouped at the side for their convenience – on the table. This surprised me, because taking empties away is one of the most basic, common-sense things waiting staff are to do. I realised my first empty glass – I had requested both an apple juice and a diet Coke for our first round, and had drained that pretty quickly – had been sat on the table for three visits from the waiting staff now. By this point, I was getting pretty wound-up by it all, and I think the table next to us heard me quietly ranting to my partner. They must have done, because they had some drinks brought out shortly afterwards, and their empties were left on the table, too. At least we all had a laugh about it, but developing in-jokes with people you haven’t spoken to about the poor quality of service is never a good sign. As I turned back to our table and went to pick up my drink, I knocked it over, spilling diet Coke over the table, floor and my partner’s beautiful dress.
Mortified, I held my head in my hands, apologising profusely. I couldn’t believe something like that had happened. The sharp intake of breath from the tables around us was audible, the silence only relieved by my partner’s laughter at the situation. Don’t worry, she said, it’s like a t-shirt dress, it’ll dry quickly enough. The waitress appeared with a haste that startled us, given the sloth-like service so far, and left some blue paper towels on the table before vanishing, presumably to get a mop. We cleaned up the spill on the table, and my partner dabbed at her dress. After several minutes, it was clear nobody was coming with a mop, so my partner cleaned up the floor around her with some paper towels. This, I could not let slide. I was now furious.
Now, I know it was me that knocked the drink over, but it was an accident. These things happen. When you’re out for a nice meal, when you’re paying inflated prices, you don’t expect to spend the evening cleaning a fucking floor. That my partner did this, that the waiting-on staff didn’t bring a mop out and sort it out, like any waiting-on staff in any other restaurant in the world would’ve done, left me absolutely irate. Accidents happen, and when they do, the staff should do what they can to sort it out. They shouldn’t be leaving customers to mop up a fucking floor with blue paper towels while they go off to the kitchen and pump out fucking takeaway orders. The birthday cake bloke’s fury earlier made a lot more sense to me now, and his belligerence had become understandable. I wasn’t going to take that approach, though. I had been looking forward to sampling this pizza for three or four years. Surely, after all this, it had to be worth it. We sat there a further ten minutes, table stacked high with soggy paper towels, and waited for our mains.
As my pizza was placed before me, I was surprised at how small it looked for a twelve-incher. I went to request some black pepper, but again, the waitress had vanished, leaving the soggy paper towels and empty glass on the table. She must have gone to get my partner’s steak, I thought. I’ll just ask when she brings it out. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. They brought out a pizza for the table next to us, but still no steak for my partner. Four minutes passed, then six, then ten. Finally, the steak was brought out, and the chef turned to leave. Could we have some black pepper, please? This time, the request was heard, maybe because the chef seemed to be the only one who had a clue what he was doing. A different waitress brought some pepper over, and asked if we’d like the soggy paper towels removed from the table. As I stared in open-mouthed amazement, unable to respond, she commented herself that it was a stupid question and started picking them up. Could I have a diet Coke please, I asked. I’m still waiting for that to get here now.
By the time I finally got to eat the pizza I’d waited so long for, it, too, was cold. I’m sure it would’ve been nice, had I done what the gentleman next to us had done and started eating immediately, but I was out for a nice meal with my partner. I didn’t want to be finished by the time she started eating and, given he was much slower at eating pizza than I would’ve been and he was two-thirds finished by the time his wife’s meal was brought out, there’s no doubt my pizza would be gone had I started straight away, rather than politely waiting so we could eat together. Furthermore, and this might seem a very minor thing, they had served my pizza sliced. This was so, so disappointing to me, because when I’m in a restaurant, I like a pizza unsliced so I can eat at my own pace, in my own way. Whenever I’ve gone to Giannis or Villa Bianca, my pizza has been unsliced, or in restaurants further afield. Indeed, they often bring a pizza cutter out in some restaurants, to give the customer the choice. Not here, though. A small thing, maybe, but in the wider context of the evening, yet another issue that spoiled my experience.
As we ate, another table near us called the waitress over. Unlike me, they could not keep their disappointment to themselves. ‘We’ve been here an hour, and we still haven’t received our starters,’ they said. ‘We’re watching you send out pizza after pizza for takeaways, and we’re sat here hungry, and nobody is talking to us.’ The response of the waitress was to shout at the customer for being frustrated, which was the final straw for me. I told my partner they would not be receiving a tip, and that she understood and did not question my decision underlined how poor it had been, given that she works in hospitality herself. We’d been looking forward to the nice desserts we’d seen on the menu online the night before, but as we finished our mains, we asked for the bill and left, choosing instead to go to the Agricultural Hotel for pudding, where we enjoyed some sensational honeycomb cheesecake. Let’s face it, had we stayed in the first place, my ice cream would probably have melted by the time it reached the table. I wanted to enjoy at least one part of the dining portion of the evening, and the only way to do that was go elsewhere.
It may seem daft to some, why this has all upset me so much. To me, eating out is a big deal. I don’t do it very often, and when I do, it’s a special occasion to me. I wanted it to be special for my partner, too. Going to a restaurant which has the impression of classiness was meant to be special, but it was terrible. From waiting so long for drinks, to being served both our meals ten minutes apart from each other, from not being offered pepper to spending a lot of money on cold food, from not receiving drinks to having to clean the fucking floor, while the waitress yelled at a customer for being hungry after waiting an hour while the bloke who seemed to be in charge went missing at any sign of customer frustration, it was the worst meal out of my life, and it’s not even close. My partner is willing to give them a second chance, at a quieter time, but I’m not. I can understand waiting for food when it’s busy. I can understand restaurants trying to maximise income through takeaway business, given the last year. I can even understand mistakes being made.
What I can’t accept is being made to feel like an afterthought for the entire evening. I can’t accept the rudeness and ignorance of the staff. I can’t accept nobody offering to help when there was a spill. I can’t accept cold food, served ten minutes apart, and I can’t accept waiting-on staff yelling at people for highlighting that they are hungry after waiting an hour. I’d taken my partner there to give her a special night, and to try some food I’d been waiting years to try. I left there feeling like I’d failed my partner, and wishing I’d gone to Giannis, Villa Bianca, the Cross Keys or the Agricultural Hotel, and it’s a mistake I will not make in the future. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the patience and good-humour of my partner, and the vastly-improved service in the Agricultural Hotel afterwards, the night would’ve been a washout. Once there, we were able to laugh about it, and it is a funny story we’ll be able to tell for years to come, but I’m still gutted. Going out for a meal is a big deal to people, even more so to those that can’t do it very often for financial or work commitments, and especially after fifteen months of barely having the opportunity to do so. When you are treated so poorly, it leaves a lasting impression.
I have chosen not to name the restaurant here, though I’m sure some will be able to guess where I’m on about, especially if they’ve had similar experiences. It may well be that it was a one-off, a bad night for them. If so, they don’t deserve to be slaughtered on a website, especially in the current climate. If it isn’t a one-off, word will spread soon enough without my naming them. My only advice, if they happen to read this and know it’s them I’m on about, is that people are patient and understanding if you treat them decently. Stop over-booking the restaurant, or limit the takeaway business during peak hours, and make sure each customer is treated like they matter. If you don’t, it won’t be the pandemic that leads to your closure; it’ll be people not coming back, because there are better, cheaper, classier and nicer restaurants in town, where they are welcomed, where they are treated with respect, where tables get their food at the same time and especially where they don’t have to clean the fucking floor.
As we got home, my partner turned to me and said, "Why did you get a nine-incher? I thought you wanted a twelve?" I knew that my pizza was too small, that they'd made the wrong one. It was the final insult to a disaster of a meal out.
I hope your week is better than my meal. Thank you for your ongoing support.
Song of the Chapter:
'Hunger Strike' by Temple of the Dog
Quote of the Chapter:
“You have to think about your vision and values, follow the 10 golden rules of service, have a clear and detailed customer journey, have regular briefings with staff, and make sure you manage the performance.
"It’s not about whether you serve from the right or the left. It’s just about how you make people feel."
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