A recent dining experience of mine might be of interest to some of you. My girlfriend and I go to a particular restaurant at least once a week. As people have a habit of doing, we had discovered a place that impressed us, and we’d fallen into a pattern of regular patronage. We knew what we were going to get; there were never any surprises just good food and informed, friendly service.
The food is a blend of traditional Japanese artistry and local ingredients. Always very fresh, always presented superbly, and good value. The ambiance is modern, airy, chic. We bring the tone of the place down by coming-in dressed in tracksuits after playing sport in the evening.
I’d never had any disappointments eating there, so when a group of my friends prevailed on me for a suggestion for where we could go for a good night out, I broke my usual golden rule and extolled it’s virtues. I should have known better.
Relatively few restaurants are consistent
If a hospitality consultant gives a restaurant recommendation, it is taken as gospel and creates very high expectations. I’ve found that very few restaurants are consistent enough in their performance for me to feel totally confident in their delivery. I might go there myself, but I don’t usually recommend them to others.
This particular night everything conspired against me. Sadly, I was there as the host, cringing in excruciating embarrassment as a performance worthy of Basil Fawlty unfolded around me.
We arrived at about 8.00pm, and were seated and offered a drink. I noticed that there were less front of house staff than normal and that the tables were filling-up fast. The staff were starting to move rapidly and gesticulate in that urgent manner that denotes a foodservice system that is beginning to unravel at the seams.
It all started well, and went downhill from there . . .
We ordered several large platters of sushi and sashimi. My guests commenced a lively conversation which was punctuated by the waiter returning at regular intervals to take orders for more drinks. My friends were not being bashful with the alcohol, and I’d foolishly suggested that Tadcaster Porter (a fairly potent stout) went particularly well with sushi. They accepted this recommendation with gusto and bounced into it.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the restaurant owner and the waiters going into little huddles and conversing in an animated manner. What was happening? I was beginning to become concerned we had been there nearly 45 minutes, we’d had about six large glasses of stout each, and no food in sight. I called the waiter.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mr Eldred. We have twice the number of customers we usually get on a Thursday night, and every table has ordered sushi. There will be a delay.” I confirmed this myself by checking-out the sushi chef — this `sensitive artiste’ was resisting all efforts to increase his productivity and was hiding behind a decidedly hostile expression and a malevolent looking cleaver.
“I thought you said this was a good restaurant, Eldred. I’m starving! Where’s the food?” It began good naturedly and slowly rose to a venomous crescendo. An hour had passed; still no sushi. I wanted to run away. It was time for action. I did the only thing that seemed sensible at the time: I ordered sake for myself and drank it. Then I ordered another.
The waiter finally approached the table after an hour and twenty minutes and deposited three small plates of sushi, each containing four pieces, on our table. You could feel the wave of disappointment. “That’s not what we ordered. Where’s the sashimi? This won’t feed six people,” said one guest. “Eldred, this is ridiculous, what kind of restaurant have you brought us to? I thought you were supposed to be the expert.”
Six stouts and two sakes can have different effects on different people. I was half pissed and furious. Out of the hundred or so times I had visited the place, why had they chosen to screw up on the occasion I had brought guests? Why me Lord? . . . I called the waiter.
He wasn’t having a good night either, and was obviously fed-up with dealing with irate customers. His response to my assertion that we were not happy brought the full, shrill, bitchy, hands-on-hips routine: “What are you complaining about? We’ve given you something to eat! I wrote the right order on the docket, it’s not my fault.”
`Bring me the owner’s head on a plate!’, I seethed inside, smiling through clenched teeth. I stood-up and went to confront the great man himself. He was having a bad night too. Stifling the intense urge to commit a violent crime of passion, I approached him and told him of my disappointment. “What can I do?” he replied with a shrug more reminiscent of Tel Aviv than Tokyo.
The calm after the storm
Eventually we ordered something they could supply and we all got fed after two hours waiting. The crowd died down, the sushi chef became less menacing and the owner regained his composure. He was most apologetic. He even sent us a complimentary bottle of wine. Nice one — more alcohol — that’s just what I felt we needed. My friends were already primed to the point where they were drooling and talking shorthand.
Despite the owner’s attempt at conciliation, they were so unimpressed with the place they elected to leave a ten cent tip after a deliberately loud debate.
I still get rubbished about that night, and I’ve had reservations about going there ever since. I know that I’m being unreasonable; one in a hundred isn’t a bad screw-up ratio, but now I’ve got this subconscious mental association linking the restaurant with pain and social humiliation.