Service is a matter for heart and head. I have boycotted a Thai restaurant which served excellent food because they let me down badly with a family celebration even though my head tells me I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face. I was speaking to a friend lately who has done exactly the same with a good, if traditional, local Italian. While the head is consistent, the heart plays tricks on you.
I recently visited two eating places offering steaks, burgers and ribs. Both are fairly newly opened and both have a good reputation .
The first has a reputation as a party place and has a speciality in smoking. They have a glass-fronted smoke room where you can watch the ribs and brisket being prepared prior to smoking. We booked the night before we wanted to go and had a fairly late booking time on a Friday night. When we arrived the place was buzzing with loud southern blues – definitely my sort of playlist but a bit loud for the evening of chat we had in mind. We chose a sharing plate of starters and this was accompanied by the house ‘gimmick’ of some popcorn. The starter components were delicious in a TGI Friday’s sort of way. The wings in particular were very good and the remainder was OK. For a main I decided to go for smoked brisket – a “house special”. Around 9pm the numbers in the area where we sat were dwindling and by the time we left we were the only people in there. The service started to waiver a little too. As a newly opened place you expect/fear/tolerate some teething trouble but we were a little alarmed when, after a good thirty minutes of waiting, our waitress came and asked us what we had ordered. When we reminded her, the response was also a little worrying ..”oh, that should be all right” and oddly less than five minutes later the food arrived. My brisket was only warm, under-seasoned and really quite dry with not a lot of smokiness. It was really rather flavourless and disappointing. I could just smother it in the barbecue sauce to add moisture and flavour but there is no excuse for the lack of quality in the star attraction. The accompanying pickles and slaw were average and there were some good chips. The others in the group were OK but not overjoyed with what they had to eat. Too much fried stuff after the starters wore us down. When we left we realised that, although our side of the restaurant was empty, the bar area was full and still lively. If I was guessing I would say that our food had been standing on the pass for a ten minutes and we had been forgotten.
The second restaurant we visited was an old suburban pub converted to an eating house. Once again we booked late and were told the only available time was 8:45pm on a Saturday night. We planned a family evening at the cinema followed by dinner. We turned up early and sat at the bar having a fabulous gin and tonic. There was a function room upstairs and so there were waves of visitors coming through the doors and either disappearing to tables or to the party. The bar staff were attentive and very friendly. We could tell there could be a problem as the maitre d’ was pulling his hair out and mumbling that a group had turned up almost two hours late. Some of the steak was sold out and the menu was getting smaller. We were shown to our table at bang on 8:45 and ordered some ribs, a steak and a burger. There were some great service touches. I was able to choose how spicy I wanted my spicy chilli rib marinade. When the burger came my daughter was warned to cut it in half to avoid scalding from the cheese “core”. The food arrived at 9:45 – an unacceptably long period of time for what we ordered no matter how polite and apologetic the serving staff were. The situation was made worse when we asked for a dessert menu and were told that the kitchen ordinarily closed at 10pm but they would see if they could serve a pudding. We ordered and waited another 30 minutes before giving up and paying the bill. We were offered a complementary whiskey (their gimmick) but it just didn’t seem right. The big difference here is that the food was fabulous. The ribs were superb and the chilli sauce exactly as I had requested with some bite but not burn. The chips were beautifully seasoned and the pickles and slaw were a nice texture and contrast to the rest of the dish. We loved what we ate.
I’m not going to name either restaurant because it is early days for both of them. Both restaurants gave us bad service. While the second apologised I don’t think the first even realised it – I think our waitress kept it to herself. Suffice it to say my head tells me I don’t want to visit the first restaurant for some time or until I hear some decent reviews. The food was not what I expected and the service was amateurish. My heart tells me I wish we hadn’t had the experience at the second restaurant. I will go again and I will go again soon for the fabulous food. TripAdvisor suggests I was just unlucky and I am prepared to accept that.