Us Brits still have a sticky relationship with service. Many of us are still quite happy to grumble under our breath while being served cold, late meals by grumpy waiters. We relish on-line review sites where we can give the feedback we didn’t want to ‘spoil the atmosphere’ giving in the moment but at least it is feedback. I say this, as I’m guilty of this, hiding behind my blog. I grew up with a mother who wasn’t afraid to complain nicely or angrily and would sit nervously in restaurants, praying that everything went to plan so she didn’t get upset. As I grew older, started earning my own cash, I realised how right she was to do so. You take a family of four out for dinner, it’s not an every day event, it’s a household budgetary choice.
Mange Tout on Trafalgar Street is a popular restaurant from the looks of things. I ate there when it first opened and had a really positive experience, so didn’t hesitate to reccommend it for lunch on Bastille Day, it seemed apt. Things started off well, they seated us, parked our buggy and offered a high chair. But that was soon to be one of the few highlights of our visit. It was a hot day and although they had the door open, the restaurant was stuffy with no fans or air conditioning, so was surprised they didn’t offer an 8 1/2 month pregnant lady a drink or water. In fact, no one came to take our drink order for about 10 minutes and it wasn’t easy to flag someone down. It took a while for me to convince the waitress to ask the chef if they could do chicken and chips for my toddler, I had to point out they had both items seperately on the menu, so in the absense of a children’s menu couldn’t they rustle it up?
Trouble started when I realised we had been waiting for our food for nearly 30 minutes after ordering about the same time as a large group spotted that the waitress had got an order wrong and were complaining. The restaurant was about 75% full but it was this large party holding everything up, an explanation but not an excuse. A man, I assumed to be a sort of Maitre’D comes to our table with some cumin flavoured olives by way of apology for the lateness of the food – reprieve! I was relieved, as I liked this place and didn’t want to strike it off my eating out options list. However, when I asked for bread for my daughter he tells me that our food is being plated up. At this point it was probably nearer to 40 minutes we had waited for our meal and she is beside herself with hunger and boredom. He seemed relunctant to bring the bread but we insisted as we weren’t fully confident the food was truly on it’s way out of the kitchen door. Before we had time to consume a second olive, the food did turn up, which only had us wondering why he bothered with the olives and didn’t just offer us money off the bill or a coffee after lunch.
Our Bastille Day meal choice was steak frites, a beautiful cut of meat cooked perfectly but the chips were more like wedges, which isn’t really the traditional French style of the dish. The accompanying sauces are homemade but are charged extra on the menu, “as we make them ourselves, it’s written on the menu” the Maitre’D declared when we quizzed the bill on why we were charged 50p for mayonnaise. Charging for extras is extremely dated in my book and doesn’t really make sense, why would you complicate your menu in this way? Whilst settling the bill, we praised the food but lamented politely on the wait and asked why a French restaurant wouldn’t bring bread earlier to the table if the food was held up or given an explanation. It was quite clear the Maitre’D wasn’t going accept our feedback, his body language and retort, “but you’re in England. We don’t bring bread to the tables, we don’t do that.” sent this message. We won’t be going back to be patronised by that chap again, that’s for sure.
What eateries like Mange Tout don’t realise, is when things go wrong i.e. the kitchen is backed up, it’s not the end of the world. It was quite clear that as the wait got longer, we were being avoided, the staff averted their eyes to dodge contact. If only they were smart enough to realise that damage control: an update, an apology, a little bit of attention, can limit the negative experience. Why do they think people go out to eat? Because they can’t cook? Or because they are happy to pay for someone to cook and bring it to them. With more and more people using apps such as Foursquare, Facebook check-in, Top Table and Trip Advisor on their smart phones customers can write reviews there and then and criticise or praise the establishment that’s taking their hard earned cash.
As we walked out, I spotted the door was plastered with flyers begging people to ‘Vote for Us’ in the up-and-coming Brighton & Hove Foodie Awards. Mange Tout are nowhere to be seen on leaderboard so far, when you see who’s leading the polls, it is those restaurants, food pubs and cafes who boast the full package. Plus after our umpteenth positive eating experience at Terre à Terre this weekend, not exactly a direct comparison for budget I accept, it was proved to me that service costs nothing extra but could cost restaurants another customer (maybe more if they are a social media butterfly). No ‘over-the-top’ wallpapering of ‘Vote for Us’ posters at Terre à Terre, just a little flyer sitting in the tray that bought us our bill.
We’re Out and About with Maclaren buggies.
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