Thursday, 30 June 2022

Solitary confinement

I live on my own, and from time to time find myself eating alone in restaurants. Over the years, I’ve experienced quite a number of examples of absolutely diabolical service, glacially slow, forgetful and unobservant, some of which I’ve described on this blog. There seems be something about solo diners that restaurants struggle with. I’ve received a few discounbts and refunds and, if I had infinite reserves of time and patience I’m sure I could have obtained plenty more. Closing time comes, and they ask what I’m still doing there. “Oh, I’m just waiting for my main course to arrive.”

I accept that most of this isn’t deliberate. By definition, a single diner will probably want to get through his meal more quickly than a group engaged in conversation, and also may be more easily overlooked. But I can’t help feeling that there is a touch of resentment that they don’t fit the desired customer profile, and a middle-aged bloke isn’t going to look so good to potential customers as a foxy single business lady.

The process of going through the steps of ordering and being served with food in a restaurant should be straightforward and predictable. A server should be aware of the tables they’re allocated to, and regularly check how the occupants are getting on. When they’ve obviously finished one stage, they should be fairly promptly invited to move on to the next. The aim of service should be to speak to the customer before they’ve even started to think about where the waiter has got to.

If you’re on the ball, you should be able to get a single diner eating a two-course meal through the entire process in an hour, provided that the main course can be cooked in 15-20 minutes. An hour and a quarter isn’t too bad, but anything more suggests you’re not really paying attention. Yet recently, in a place that wasn’t anywhere near packed, it took me an hour and fifty minutes. Fortunately I had brought some reading matter along with me. It certainly isn’t a phenomenon confined to busy restaurants. While some customers may be happy with spending most of the afternoon or evening in a restaurant, others will have trains to catch, or meetings or shows to attend.

Obviously the primary responsibility has to lie with management, for failing to recruit and train staff properly and make sure they are keeping their eyes open. However, it can’t be denied that some staff come across as lackadaisical, disengaged and unobservant, and almost seem to resent actually being asked to do anything. If I was doing a job, however mundane, I’d make an effort to do it as well as I could, but evidently this isn’t a universal sentiment. In fact, it could be argued that it’s easier to do a job properly than to deliberately slack.

Even after you’ve actually eaten your food, there are still the multiple hurdles of getting and paying the bill to negotiate. This requires three separate interactions with the staff – asking for it, receiving it (after which they invariably walk away) and then actually proferring your preferred means of payment and having it processed. If you need change, there’s a fourth step to add on. At least now they will bring a card terminal to the table rather than vanishing into the back with it. On several occasions, I’ve felt that I’ve got through a meal in decent time only to have to wait a further half an hour before I’ve actually paid for it.

All these things also apply to parties of diners, but they do seem to be notably worse for solo customers. It’s all very well to say that you should attract the attention of a passing waiter, but having to do that always seems a touch ill-mannered and a last resort, and you need to have one to hail in the first place.

This problem is avoided in most pubs by operating a system of ordering at the bar and paying at the same time. This means you can leave more quickly once you have finished your meal, although it may make it more difficult to have problems rectified. Some casual dining restaurants such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Nando’s operate a similar system with the exception of bar service for drinks. It also doesn’t occur in buffet restaurants where you pay a single price upfront. If you want a reasonably quick meal it may make sense to choose one of these places.

And, while it may seem a bit ill-mannered and brutal, surely there’s a case for restaurants having service bells in the same way as pubs operating waiter service used to.

13 comments:

  1. I've solved this by eating between the pubs, on the move. Greggs sausage rolls, McD's double cheeseburgers, chicken kebabsand fish & chips. I got sick and tired of disappointment, now I know exactly what I'll get.

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    Replies
    1. It's not exactly fine dining, though, is it?

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  2. To speed up payment you could always utilise my wife's preferred method; Stand up put your coat on and look like you're about to leave. Works a treat.

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    Replies
    1. I tend to keep a check of the price and leave cash on the table

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    2. Which is what I did in the notorious Banbury Pizza Restaurant incident. But you have to have the right cash to hand in the first place, and it always comes across a bit as storming out in a huff.

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    3. I have considered leaving my card on the table with a note saying "send bill here". Not sure of the legality of that

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  3. Go to Spoons, order on the app, drink comes within 5 mins, meal comes within 15 mins, all paid for up front. Job's a good 'un.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, but the reason for going to a restaurant should be to get better food and a better experience than Spoons' bog-standard ping meals in a noisy works canteen.

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  4. I have never understood slow service, be it in a bar or a restaurant.
    Shirley, the aim should be to take the customer's cash as quickly and as often as possible.
    In a bar notice the new punter and thereafter when the glass is empty.
    In a restaurant serve the customer as quickly as is acceptable, take the dosh, and get the table re-occupied.
    Complicated, isn't it.
    Duh.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Stafford Mudgie1 July 2022 at 11:00

    You've made me realise that I don't think I've ever eaten alone alone in restaurant, neither when travelling alone nor before I got married aged 37. It's always been a pub meal or a takeaway for me.
    On the argument that "it’s easier to do a job properly than to deliberately slack" as a manager I couldn't understand the effort a few scrimshankers put into doing the very minimum and they always looked more miserable, and no doubt had a slower day, than the majority who keenly got on with what they were being paid to do.

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  6. How sadly atomised the world has become.

    Food is to be prepared and shared among the tribe, not shovelled alone.

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    Replies
    1. So I should take all my family into the restaurant kitchen and prepare a meal for all of us?

      Delete
  7. Thurston McCrew18 July 2022 at 14:54

    I'm rather surprised Cookie hasn't chipped in with a story or two.
    He is, after all, the Nobby No Mates of the beer blogosphere.

    ReplyDelete

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