Friday, 8 October 2010

Whatever happened to service with a smile?

OK, I admit it, in a lot of ways I am a proper snob.  If I go out for a coffee and cake I expect the cake to be made with the finest ingredients and my cappuccino to be topped with frothy milk, not squirty cream.  If I go to a pub I like sophisticated décor and a selection of premium beers, not a hole stinking of stale booze and urine whose idea of premium lager is Carlsberg Export.

I accept that other people aren’t as picky as me, and actually like Nescafe and McEwen’s. However, I pride myself in keeping my snobbery to myself when faced with such standards.What I can’t stand though, are people whose snobbery seeps out of every pore of their small-minded bodies.  People who think they are above others and aren’t afraid to show it.

On Sunday evening I was faced with such people.  I was in Brighton for a couple of days, and Him Indoors and I fancied some posh nosh.  Both dressed in jeans and Him Indoors sporting his prized C&A hoodie from Berlin (yes, they still have C&A’s in Germany), our waiter looked us up and down as we approached.
“Do you have a reservation?” he sneered, his lip curling.

Suppressing an eye roll he checked his list and, with a sigh, showed us to a vacant table outside.  Less than impressed, I scanned the over-priced menu and opted for a simple plaice and chips.  After what seemed an age, the waiter returned.  I ordered my local blonde beer, mackerel pate and main before Him Indoors placed his order of oysters, seafood gnocchi and Pinot.  As he reeled off his choices, something changed in the waiter.  He realised that the street rat in front of him actually knew about seafood and, even more shockingly, wine.  He almost smiled with relief before disappearing into the restaurant.

Raising my eyebrows at Him Indoors, I went to find the loo.  Approaching the bar, I asked who appeared to be the manager where I could find the ladies.  He answered my enquiry wearily without even turning around to look at me.  Unimpressed with his apparent disdain for his paying customers I headed up the stairs to the restroom taking in the three floors of empty tables.

I returned to our spot outside and told Him Indoors of my less than satisfactory experience.  He gawked at me, amazed by the further lack of hospitality and intrigued by the empty tables.  He explained that the couple sat next to us had been told they had the last table.  Not the last table outside, but the last table free.  In the entire place.To me, these are all signs of a seriously snobby and sub-standard eatery.  What business in their right mind would make their paying customers feel unwelcome? 

Fine, the service improved once it became clear we knew what we were talking about, but should customer knowledge really matter?  And why would you pretend you are full to capacity when you blatantly aren’t?  Are we supposed to feel grateful to be allowed to eat there? 

The following night we ate at another seafood restaurant in the same square.  We were greeted as soon as we appeared and shown to our table as soon as possible.  The specials were reeled off courteously and our questions answered.  The waitress complimented me on my little portable handbag hook; the waiter chatted to us about his experience of moving out of London to Brighton.  At one point our table was tended to by three members of staff, pouring our wine (favoured by a local celebrity, allegedly), serving our food and lighting a candle as daylight faded.  The service was slow, but it was warm and welcoming.  And the food was better.

So if I go back to Brighton, which I surely will, I will be missing out our first choice and go straight to the second.  I shall also be sure to avoid the surf-wear shop where we received dirty looks (clearly not beach-bummed enough) but head back to the over-priced smellies store where we were served with a smile and product knowledge- even after admitting we would not be taking advantage of their free gift only redeemable by spending over £40.

The moral of this story?  Keep your snooty looks and disdain to yourself.  That way, you might gain a few new customers rather than scaring them away.  Because, my dears, I would rather take my well earned money to someone who wants it more than their pretences. As long as they serve their latte in a tall glass and pronounce “espresso” correctly, that is. Read more by Shelly.