Regular readers will be aware of my fondness for call centres*. I just love those companies that talk about their great customer service when in reality they care for me and my custom about as much as anal warts. Well I have another doozy of an experience for you dear reader and it nearly put the enteritis into gastro.
You see we decided this year to have Xmas dinner, the most sacred family meal of all, not at our place or our daughters’ but out! Yes the 10 of us would be eating our turkey and all the trimmings at a famous gastro pub overlooking the river. A delightful change we thought. No pondering what to do with the giblets, getting items defrosted, prepping all those vegetables, cursing because we’d run out of turkey stock, considering whether to have a cheeky one at 10.30am and risking the resulting tut tutting etc (actually I absolutely love the whole experience of preparing Xmas dinner but don’t tell anyone). Anyway we thought it’d be just a hoot for us all to forget about all the work and stress involved and treat ourselves to dinner prepared by others at some fine establishment where we can just sit there, be served delicious food and fine wines, pull crackers and laugh and tell tales and crappy jokes to the grandkids and the rest of our lovely family and go home 4 hours later, stuffed but very happy. What could possibly go wrong….?
We knew the pub well having been there before several times before, albeit mostly during the summer, when it is very popular with young families. But we’d also had an evening meal there with our daughter and son-in-law just a few weeks ago to check it out and all went fine. So we made the booking for 10 of us and paid around £600 up front (very kindly via my daughter’s credit card) to secure the booking. We went for the 2nd sitting figuring we could eat relaxed in the knowledge there’d be no pressure to get us to finish and vacate the tables.
So after a lovely Xmas morning we turned up at the pub at 3.00pm all spruced up and full of festive bonhomie. We were set to eat at 3.15pm – just time for a cheeky one perhaps before we were shown to our seats? Ha. The place was heaving; not just busy but so frigging packed it was difficult to push our way through the doorway and across the threshold. Uh oh. That feeling of serene anticipation was suddenly replaced by a furrowed brow and an uneasy feeling that, even on this Holy day, I might have to demonstrate to some poor excuse for a service industry representative my deep, graphic knowledge of the Anglo Saxon language. But hey, chill pp… let’s not pass judgement I thought because, as Noddy Holder put it so succinctly, IT’S XMAS! Goodwill towards men and gastro pub staff (I don’t think he ever said the second bit though).
We pushed our way towards the area which was the take-off point from the end of the bar into the full restaurant. Now it’s a big place but there was no sign of an empty table for 10 people. There were lots of waiters and waitresses hustling backwards and forwards with arms full of plates and crazed looks on their faces. Carol managed to collar a speeding waiter to enquire when we might expect to be seated. He disappeared out back and re-surfaced 20 minutes later to announce that ‘your waitress knows that you’re here’. Well so did we, and before we could say more he’d frigged off never to be seen again.
After another half an hour or so my daughter E found the guy with a slip of paper in his hand with lots of names and timings on it. Apparently he was the manager. After some beautifully controlled yet rather firm talk from my daughter he announced that our table was about to be vacated and would be cleared and re-set as swiftly as possible and meantime he offered a complimentary bottle of champers at the table as an apology. Well not a bad result we thought. Son-in-law E somehow managed to get a round of drinks and a bottle of wine in and things didn’t seem tooooo bad.
Long story short we got seated nearly an hour later. The waitress for our table was terribly apologetic and sweet saying there had been some background problems (you don’t say) and she proceeded to get us all served with starter pretty quickly. Well all except mine which turned up half an hour later, cold. The amuse bouche amused us by not making an appearance at all. Bloody French lip teaser.
I grew a small beard waiting for the main course. More words from my daughters who were launching a pincer movement on the managerial staff. The young waitress asked if we’d like some bread just to fill the gap until the entrees were ready. Sure. Now you might accuse me of spending too long over in Italy but I was sort of expecting a basket with a selection of rolls or sliced up french stick/ciabatta. Wouldn’t you? Well she re-appeared with a loaf of sliced brown bread and huge slab of butter. It wasn’t really what you’d call an experience gastronomique exceptionnel. Sigh. More words. Main course arrived more than 3 hours into the affair. Two meals weren’t too bad but 8 of the 10 entrees were pretty much inedible. We thought the roast potatoes were cooked beets – they were so burnt they were black. Turkey and carbon (no gravy) for Xmas dinner. Carol and I had venison, apparently. Well it must have been the toughest frigging deer since Bullwinkle. Roasted belt strap would have been a better description.
Well things continued downhill with the desserts. The individual cheese boards looked like they’d been stood out since 10am. The hard cheeses certainly lived up to their billing whilst the brie hadn’t just run, it’d overtaken Mo Farrah and was heading back to Brieland.
I was proud of my girls; they cornered the management staff and whatever language they used they came back to announce that the meal had been fully-refunded and 90% of the drinks bill too. Wow. Credit card fully re-loaded we headed home to our place where we made a supper that was scoffed down and with a bit of reflection and some shoulder shrugging had a laugh about the whole situation.
Now that’s almost the end of the story. I would have had no hesitation naming the pub/restaurant in the posting because their service (young waitress apart) was so crap and the food so atrocious that they deserve to be named and shamed. But today we received an e-mail from the management team explaining that they’d had a number of kitchen staff issues (walk outs) earlier in the day from which they couldn’t recover (even so, it’s a reason not an excuse for such a rubbish experience in my view). Anyway the e-mail continued by inviting us all back for a complimentary meal to make up for it. Blimey it’s a fair offer. Could it be as bad again? Unlikely. Will the staff gob all over the food before serving it? Probably. Should we give it another go? Possibly.
I’ll let you know whether our bouches get amused.
*for some earlier rants on crap service check out these grumpy postings:
– 6 Feb 2011 ‘spare me from call centres’
– 12 Nov 2009 ‘customer service’
– 5 Feb 2008 ‘lost week-end’