I regularly write reviews on TripAdvisor. As I use the site regularly I feel the right thing to do is put reviews back. Generally I think I am a generous reviewer. I prefer to see the good in things and I take the price into account when coming up with a rating – the key is to look at what the package being offered is and to mark on how well that package is being delivered. For example, a roadside food wagon can be a five star review if they deliver a fantastic bacon sandwich with a friendly smile. A Michelin-starred restaurant has earned it’s award for being consistently five stars but it has to be measured fairly against those high standards.
A couple of reviews I wrote lately reminded me of just how important management is and how food is just a part of the package. The first was a visit to Turtle Bay in Leamington Spa. It is a branch of a growing chain of Caribbean restaurants. First impressions are of a cross between a Nando’s and an old-style TGI Fridays. The place is “dressed” to be a Caribbean beach bar. I’m immediately expecting average food. The welcome was fantastic – friendly and attentive. I was carrying presents for some people I was with and they offered to take them away and bring them out when I was ready – a nice touch. Although I was the first to arrive and waiting for the others the staff kept and eye on me and kept me entertained.
The first impressions of the drinks menu were disappointing – there were no non-alcoholic beers or cocktails. What I liked was the immediate offer of tap water and a recommendation of a cooler which was the nearest thing to a cocktail.
When it came to food I was pleased to accept the waitress’s recommendation of a chilli squid starter and I liked the feedback on spiciness when we ordered some curries.
I’m pleased to say that the food was fine and interesting, and it was presented in a way which made it seem less mass-produced than it probably is. It wasn’t fine dining but it matched the deal on offer – carefully selected dishes to back up the Caribbean theme. It was also reasonably priced. I gave the whole thing a high rating though because of our waitress. I left thinking it would be great to try another one and go with my family.
Contrast this with my experience at The Boathouse in Hull. In some ways they are comparable. Although not part of a chain, the Boathouse is styled as a coastal bar featuring micro-brewery beer. First impressions were that it could do with a touch more lighting. We were greeted by friendly staff and seated but from then on it just went downhill. Despite no more than 15 covers in the place at any one time it took 15 minutes to get drinks ordered and another fifteen to order food. The menu was interesting featuring homemade wood-fired pizzas and burgers. I ordered a brisket sandwich called the Jonboy. Mention of brisket had me thinking of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and the busy kitchens they feature. After just under an hour of hardly any food emerging from the kitchen the waitress came over and told us they had some electrical problems in the kitchen and the pizza oven was not working correctly. There was no message about how long our non-pizza lunches would take.
When it arrived finally it received more attention than it otherwise would. The brisket was very average and cooked easily have been bought in sliced beef. It was slathered in too much barbecue sauce. The side salad was just embarrassing – shredded iceberg, tomato wedges and sliced red onion with some balsamic vinegar zigzagged across is just not good enough for something which isn’t a garnish. How it took so long to produce so little is a mystery (because it was never explained). In hindsight the management should have decided to not do pizzas that day and focus on doing what they could do well. As we were leaving a large reserved table of young men was forming and I suspect it was going to get ugly.
I left thinking I wish we had not stepped through the door and I had no evidence that this could just be an off-day. The many other restaurants we walked past subsequently all looked more enticing and I never want to visit again. It wasn’t expensive but it wasn’t worth the asking price.
The message is that I think I accept that mistakes happen and try to let the restaurants work their way round them. Ultimately I just want an enjoyable experience with my companions and in neither case was I expecting gourmet food to be the focal point. As ever training, communication and genuine thoughtfulness make all the difference.