I met my friend for lunch yesterday. We only get to meet a couple of times a year and we usually go to the same pub every time where the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and the food is pretty good. For a change though I suggested we try somewhere new – there have been quite a few bars and eateries spring up in Leicester over the last year or so and I’ve been to this particular place once or twice for a drink and enjoyed it.
So in we waltzed, heading straight for the bar, deep in almost twelve month’s worth of long overdue conversation. We paid for our drinks and realising that there were no seats free in the comfy sofa area, we sat down at one of several empty tables set for lunch. I noticed that there weren’t any menus on the table so I went to look for some,
‘Can I help you?’ asked a member of staff, who must have noticed that I was wandering around looking a bit vague (nothing new there).
‘Yes please,’ I replied, ‘could we have a couple of menus?’
‘Have you booked a table?’ he asked, to which I replied that we hadn’t as I hadn’t realised we needed to.
‘Well if you haven’t booked then you need to sit and wait for a free table over there with everybody else.’ The waiter waved his arm in the direction of the comfy sofas where my friend and I had previously ascertained that there was no room to sit. Now it made sense why.
‘Oh, ok,’ I said, ‘I thought we could just go and sit at a free table – sorry.’
‘No you can’t. And that’s why we have a large sign as you come in saying please wait to be seated.’ The waiter pointed to what was indeed a large sign that we’d obviously missed on the way in.
At this point he started to get on my nerves. There were two issues here that I took umbrage with. Firstly, I didn’t like his inference that my friend and I were trying to ‘jump the queue’ by dishonest means. I don’t know about you but when I’m salivating over the prospect of a lunchtime gin and tonic, I’m not looking all around me for signs instructing me to wait to be seated, I’m like a horse with blinkers on in its stalls just before a race, looking straight ahead at that welcome expanse of polished wood which I’m going gallop up to and lean upon while I wait for my tall glass of liquid heaven to be poured.
Second, I am by nature quite a sarcastic person. A good proportion of my family and in-laws are sarky and my close friends also share this trait and that’s partly why we all get along so well. As a result of this, I generally tend to recognise when someone is giving me or others the sarcastic treatment, however politely it might be wrapped up. I sometimes do it myself to people – it’s not big and it’s not clever and that’s why I don’t work in a customer facing role – I wouldn’t last a day.
So I was well aware of what this waiter was doing and although he was trying to give the impression that we’d walked into a Michelin starred restaurant where the food was so fancy it merited a three month waiting list, there were actually quite a few tables with nobody sat at them.
‘No problem,’ I replied in my best cheery voice, ‘we’ll just grab our coats and get out of your way.’ Terribly British of me but I’m afraid I’ve yet to nail how to successfully deal with poor service in hospitality. And I also had no idea what we were going to do next, I just wanted to get out and stop feeling like a naughty child who’d pushed to the front of the queue for sweets and made the other children cry.
At which point, the waiter decided that he was, after all, going to find us a table, which involved a discussion with his colleague and resulted in my friend and I being seated at a teeny tiny table, right next to the one we’d originally sat down at. So now we really had pushed in, the waiter had made us feel guilty for doing so and we were eating food that wasn’t even that great after all the fuss we’d encountered to get to this point. And I’m not just saying that to exact some kind of passive-aggressive revenge (I think this post covers that aspect sufficiently), the food really was lukewarm and the chips were pale and flabby. So there.
In spite of this, I still really like the place – it’s got a lovely atmosphere and I can’t fault the rest of the staff for their friendliness and helpful manner. I’ve not been put off going back there but I’d think twice about eating (even though I’m now more than familiar with the correct procedure to follow should I wish to order food).
Unfortunately though, the supercilious waiter doesn’t get off so lightly – I won’t forget him and his patronising manner in a hurry. I understand that some customers can be awkward, ungrateful and enjoy making life difficult, thus forcing staff to react negatively but not all are like that. Perhaps the waiter did genuinely think he was doing us a favour by getting us a table but the grudging way he went about it took the shine off of our lunch. Part of me wishes I’d been more assertive and walked out when we had the chance but he wasn’t overtly rude, it was more subtle, and I was hungry, so I went for the easy option as we Brits so often do; politely putting up with it and then moaning about it to all and sundry after the event.
And much as I wish I’d told him where he could stick his giant, invisible-to-some sign, I’m ashamed to say that it also feels rather good to get things off my chest here!