Spending a few days away recently unfortunately reacquainted me with the lamentable standard of service prevailing in restaurants in Britain. Now, I would have thought the job of a waiter wasn’t too difficult – you simply have to keep track of events on a handful of tables, and politely nudge them on to the next stage in the proceedings once it is obvious they are ready to order or have finished each course. But this is obviously far beyond the typical staff encountered nowadays, resulting in extended longeurs even when the place isn’t remotely busy.
Worst of all is actually managing to extract a bill from them. You’ve finished your dessert and coffee, and sit there for twenty minutes or more looking at your watch, drumming your fingers on the table and staring into space. No response whatsoever. So eventually you have to accost a member of the staff – invariably not the one who actually served you – and ask if you can have the bill now. They look at you as if you have just asked to molest their three-year-old daughter, stomp off and eventually produce it ten minutes later. Once you have gone through the rigmarole of presenting a credit card and getting it back it can all too easily be a full hour since the last drop of food or drink passed your lips, in which time you could have missed a train, a date or an interview. This has happened even in very busy restaurants where you might have thought freeing up a table would be a priority.
It may be regarded as down-market, but the typical pub practice of paying for your food at the time of ordering has much to be said for it if your time is limited.