London Restaurant Service
The other day I was in a well-known brasserie chain restaurant and underwent what I see to be the standard (and now accepted) typical London experience.
1. Faced with a pretty empty restaurant with plenty of free tables the waitress is eager to place me and my dining partner directly next to another couple with their child.
I won’t stand for this. Am I picky? I mean, you don’t go and sit next to someone on the bus if the bus is empty, do you?
(Actually, I do but that’s because I know a load of people will get on at the next stop and the madman always sits next to me. At least if I’m next to someone who isn’t mad I know I’ll be ok.
Oddly enough, this caused me to come up with a new saying.
“There is always at least one madman on a bus, and if there’s no one else on the bus, then it’s you!”
Alas, I frequently am finding myself to be the madman more and more often.)
Where was I? Oh yes, the restaurant.
“I’m sorry,” I said, ” My friend uses extremely bad language and I wouldn’t want to offend that lovely child. Could we sit somewhere else please?”
So she grudgingly seats us somewhere else where we can actually talk freely about whatever obscene topic we want.
2. We then wait an inordinate amount of time to be given a menu, at which point I’m asked what I want to drink.
Now, I’m not James Bond but I like to decide what I’m eating before selecting my drink.
“Could I just have some water?” I ask, and yes, you guessed it,
“Still or sparkling?” came the response.
Look, I want bloody tap water! Don’t look at me like that! There should be a jug of it on the table anyway! Oh, pardon me, I must have meant “complimentary filtered water”. And the trouble is, I feel so mean asking for any more when it’s run out. Some places are even worse! They’ll bring you the stingiest tiny glass of water they can, without ice. It’s bloody boiling outside, I’m ordering a meal with wine for Heaven’s sake, and you can’t even bring me a pint of tap water!
Anyway, having waited ages for the menu you are then given about 3.15 seconds to decide what you want to eat, but woe betide you if you say you’re not ready! You might not see them again for another hour.
3. So there you are with your microwaved burger and cold portion of chips.
“Would you like to try the wine, sir?”
No, I wouldn’t, it’s a screw top. You only need to try it if it has a cork. You aren’t testing it to see if you like it or not. You’re testing to see if it’s reacted with the cork. You can’t order a bottle of 1865 Chateau Lafite and then claim that actually you don’t really fancy the taste. But fair enough, some customers like the whole ceremony even though it’s a load of cobblers.
4. So you’ve barely taken a bite of your food when the inevitable question comes.
“Is everything ok with your food?”
Now, over the years I’ve come to bat this away like a small gnat. I’ve built up a resistance to it. However, on this particular occasion I was asked if everything is ok no less than 5 times by different waiters to the point when I started to get suspicious. Maybe they’ve done something to the food? Why shouldn’t it be ok? Are you checking to see if I’ve noticed how small the portion is or if I even care that it’s cold?
No, the point is, as we all know, they don’t actually care. (Try telling them it isn’t ok and see the unobliging look as they are forced to change it.)
They are told to ask if it’s ok because some numty has put the stupid idea into the heads of these restaurant managers that bothering your customers with fake displays of concern about the quality of the food somehow constitutes “good service”. It doesn’t. It’s bloody annoying, especially when you are trying to console someone over a death in the family, or you are trying to break to them the awkward and rather sensitive news that you are actually sleeping with their wife but you still like them as a friend. And I’ve lost count of the amount of times a brilliant joke has been ruined as I’m nearing the punchline!
Frank Skinner had a good idea of an “anecdote light” on each table. If you don’t want to be disturbed you simply switch the light on which indicates that you are telling an anecdote.
Look, a good waiter should be like a good referee, or a good film editor. If everything is going well then you don’t notice them. If I have a problem with my food you may rest assured that I’ll call him over, but he’s got to be generally attentive. It’s no use being one of those waiters who deliberately tries not to look at you whenever they walk past. Nor is it any good being a bloody comedian and constantly butting in with hilarious one-liners.
Even if the food isn’t ok most people are too English and up-tight to say anything (apart from my friend, William) and they’re relying on this.
Usually there IS something wrong with my meal but they come along and catch you out with the question before you’ve worked up the courage to say anything. I’m getting all keyed up, ready to complain when up they pop! “Everything ok, sir?”
Give me a chance!
So I panic and say yes, and by the time I have decided what’s really wrong it feels churlish to call them back, having just said it was ok.. They’ll think I’m deliberately changing my mind just to be difficult.
So, next time you’re eating out why not try what I do and announce your preference to the waiter before sitting down.
“Please can I request that nobody asks me if everything is ok? I will let you know if it isn’t.”
Funnily enough, last time the waitress just couldn’t resist. Even though she asked it jokingly, she had to do it, and most probably because her manager made her.
So as a result of this I am becoming more and more neurotic and waitresses think I’m weird, but I still maintain it isn’t my fault. I’m the normal one! They are causing my neurosis by being downright illogical and annoying! I mean, they don’t do it in Italy or France but you’ll see it in those restaurants here.
Sooner or later I shall have to make peace with it. I cannot fight against the tide, but whilst I still have strength in my bones I will continue with my eccentric ways until the men in white coats finally drag me away for my next dose of pills.