Monday 28 May 2007

Common sense and empathy.

There are a couple of restaurants in Bangor called "Jeffers by the Marina" and "Jeffers at the Boathouse". The one by the Marina is a little cafe-bistro type place with extremely good food and the Boathouse one is a posher affair with — so we've heard; we've not been there — even better food. So I booked a table at the Boathouse for Vic's birthday dinner last night. I booked it about three weeks ago, and we'd been rather looking forward to it.

We turned up last night, and the place was shut.

So I called Jeffers at the Boathouse, and Jeffers at the Marina answered. Hmm. My first thought was that I'd screwed up the phone numbers and called the wrong branch when I'd made the booking. It was a difficult conversation because whoever'd answered the phone couldn't speak English comprehensibly, but I was able to glean that, yes, our table was booked at the wrong restaurant. How thick am I?

So we headed off to the Marina (it's only just up the road) and, just as we were approaching, the manager called me back to apologise. It turns out that I hadn't screwed up the phone numbers. When Jeffers at the Boathouse is shut, they forward all their calls to Jeffers by the Marina. So you ring up, ask to book a table, and they oblige by booking a table, without your having any way of knowing that your call to one restaurant has been answered in a different one.

This is not the best-thought-out system I have ever come across.

So we cancelled. When someone's incompetence has caused us to traipse round a car park in the pissing rain trying to figure out how to get into a thoroughly closed building, we feel disinclined to give them money.

We went to the Villa Toscana instead, the only place likely to be open and still accepting customers by this time. It used to be a very good restaurant — we had our wedding reception there, in fact. In the last couple of years, the place has been under new management and gone downhill a bit, but we reckoned it was worth a try. As it turned out, the food was extremely good. The service, however, was bad. Luckily, it was so bad it was actually funny, and we were able to have a laugh about it.

Two women — one of whom appeared to be the manager — were stomping around making it abundantly clear to everyone that they had better things to be doing with their time than serving bloody customers in some bloody restaurant. After waiting in vain for nearly half an hour for one of them to offer us actual food, I had to approach the manager — who was stacking menus, a terribly important job when you've got three tables you've yet to take orders from — and ask her if someone would take our order. She responded testily with "Yes, what is it?" Staff in McDonald's are politer than this.

When another couple entered the restaurant after us, the women turned to look at them; one clicked her teeth and said to her colleague "Are we not shut yet?" Nice greeting. One of them later took that couple's drinks order with her back to them. Really. Time between my ordering an orange juice and receiving it: fifty minutes. When Vic asked for a cappuccino: "We've turned the coffee machines off." Pause. "I could make you some instant." We left.

So that's three restaurants in one evening whose service has been so appalling we'll never go to any of them again. Welcome to Britain.

We're going to try this again next week. Maybe The Narrows in Portaferry. I just hope this new style of restaurant management hasn't infected them as well.

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