Friday, 9 January 2009

Eating Out - Happy Tale or Horror Story

I read recently this article by Jordan Baker in the SMH on the horrors of eating out and pointing out probably that many people would not dine out so much and would be less likely to put up with such things in the financial crunch.

Complaints were about in-built tipping, restaurants that didn't allow booking, booking deposits, service charges and charges for group bookings.

Today, I read an article in defence by chef Neil Perry. He doesn't defend all practices but certainly defends the practice of no bookings restaurants, saying that it's necessary to keep costs down and while you may have to wait longer, if you know the restaurant and are willing to wait, the experience is worth it.

(Of course there are crummy restaurants with no bookings policies, probably, but then if you know them well enough you probably wouldn't bother waiting around for them.)

Anyhow, it led me to think about what are some of my gripes about restaurant dining.

I'm by no means a "fashionable diner" but hey, I know what I like. So I can have my gripes too!

1. Mandatory tips (as mentioned by Jordan Baker) as well as other "surprise charges". This really craps me up. This isn't America which has a tipping culture. If some place really wants a tip they should work over and above the call of duty to make sure they get it. And even then, they should accept it if the person is a tightwad and doesn't pay up. Too bad. I think this is still no reason to give them dirty or retributory service - trying to serve up dog poo or needling the customer just because they haven't given you a tip even if your service was superlative is wrong. What you need to do is learn from your error in judgment and if that customer comes in again you will not waste your rime in being lavish. Basic ordinary service and that's it.

I dislike the idea of a "mandatory tip" or surprise charges like they didn't tell you before, but this costs you an extra ... and they have already supplied it or you have been charged it just for turning up or booking.

Call it a fee, be upfront, or build it into the food costs and then let's decide whether we will sit down at your restaurant.

By the way, I don't think that you have to pay double time and a half on public holidays etc to employees, so why do restaurants so often insist on charging ridiculous surcharges on their weekend and public holiday menus?

2. Still on the last topic, restaurants who sneak items on you and forget to tell you they're charging you or mislead you or even lie to you.
Some places tell you there is no cakeage fee, and when you turn up with a nice big cake, you find out there is a $4 per head cakeage fee. Oh great. I know some people say cakeage is a fair cost because they want to encourage you to eat THEIR desserts, but still they ought to tell you straight off.
Those restaurants that have a special boutique menu that has pretty much the same food but more expensive than the ordinary menu, that they try to give to groups and parties, and they don't ask if you'd like to see the ordinary menu.
I've been in Chinese restaurants where the waiter will, without asking, pour you tea and put rice out without you asking and then charge you for it.
That's just as bad as those restaurants where they try to charge you for TAP WATER. Oh gosh.

I feel like taking a water bottle and excusing myself to the ladies and filling my bottle up there. can they charge you for THAT tap water?

3. Waiters who try to argue with you. You order the salmon, they bring out the lamb. you say, "sorry, that's not my dish" and instead of taking it back they try to convince you that you actually ordered the lamb, or tell you that the lamb's just as good, have that instead. SOme of them get realy mad at you and start yelling at you!
I would be fine with it if they simply said "Sorry, our mistake, well look if you like the lamb you can have this lamb instead right now, but we can do the salmon for you, unfortunately that will mean waiting another 20 minutes, which would you prefer?"

I can't stand the way some of them have to convince you that they were right and you're wrong!

4. Dirty cutlery and crockery
Particulary symptomatic of high turnover Asian joints. Wipe well before eating, high chance there is someone else's food stuck to it.

5. Slow service
You can be waving your hand in the air for ages and nobody, but nobody, sees you. They look like waiters from a zombie move, weaving in and out looking like they are vaguely checking for knives and forks strewn on tables, but can't see you waving your hand saying "Excuse me! I'd like some more rice/water/drink/to order dessert/to order another side salad!"

6. When they never have what's on the bloomin' menu
Haven't you ever been into a restaurant and got mouth-watering after a few dishes and decided what you'd like to order? You call the waitress over and say, "I'd like the [whatever dish]" She says "I'm sorry, we're all out of that today". So you scanand you pick the next best looking dish, and she says perkily, "Sorry, al out of that one too!" After aboiut four attempts it seems the only things left on the menu are the two least tasty and most expensive items, plus the drinks that don't go with them. But you've wasted so much time with the waitress you eat there anyway. She tells you it's "just today".

The next time you go back, your favourite dish isn't there.

Nor the next time.

I've been to Chat Thai, a lovely little place in Sydney, plenty of times, but I've NEVER been able to get a coconut juice. NEVER. I ask every dinner time, and I've been there about 5 or 6 times for dinner. Each time they say "Just today!" And coconut juice goes so well with many Thai dishes. It's so yum!

7. When the specials are good, they get rid of them.

There are plenty of cheap places in Sydney to eat, or at least places which run cheap specials, especally for lunch. Why oh why is it when a special becomes popular they automatically get rid of it or hike up the price amazingly?

For instance, there was a $6 meal deal over at SuperBowl, a dollar or so extra for some of the other dishes but still cheap. You got to choose any one of their flavoured teas plus one of the meals on their board.

Then they found out their duck meal was popular, I think it was about $7 for the duck meal deal, so they scrapped it. You had to pay full price now if you wanted duck.

What, did they think people liked the duck so much that they would pay full price for it? People just started eating the lesser deals, and those who particularly liked the duck were less enthusiastic about the deal altogether!

Then they realised that people always ordered the pearl tea drinks, so they took them off the menu too. You could only get one of the other plainer flavoured teas.

And after a while they decided that was enough, and they decided that there would be no flavoured tea whatsoever. You had to drink what Mr Coffee calls "brown water" - the ordinary Chinese tea that usually comes free with any meal anyhow.

People LIKE the specials - they keep coming back if they are good and you get high turnover. You can put them up a dollar or so gradually to cover costs but if the moment someone likes them you make them pay full price for them - well, it's not attractive ay more, it's not special. And they LIKED it because it was special, usually. Not just because it "was".

Anyhow, those are my restaurant gripes. I don't mind so much no booking restaurants (One of my fave restaurants, Spice I am, is no booking) although I must say being able to get a booking is often convenient and it is a factor often in choosing a restaurant, depending on the occasion.

1 comment:

Friendless said...

There are quite a few restaurants we'll never go back to - Amphora at St Lucia, I'm looking at you, for one. 45 minutes for a meal to arrive is inexcusable. If a restaurant is slow because it's understaffed I won't go back - I paid for that service and didn't get it. And then there was the Turkish restaurant where the service was so slow we left before they'd even come to take an order. They looked kinda surprised... I don't know why. If we find a good restaurant we go there over and over. Sadly there are very few of them.