Shitty Service – I’ve Had Enough

I’ve had enough of this. A new cafe opens with a great fit-out, well regarded design, and a fancy coffee machine. To the ThreeThousand or Broadsheet crowd it’s a winner, an instant success. None of it matters though, cause the service is shit. I’m not talking about first-day blues. I’m talking about blatant lack of care for some simple customer service on any day. It seems to be happening more and more. I’m no longer going to smile and hope they figure it out next time I return. I’m going to call it out. I’m going to do it the minute I get home while I’m still pissed off that I was screwed around.

The hospitality industry shouldn’t be about how cool the place looks; it’s about taking care of your patrons. “The menu here exists only on a single piece of perspex…” Making sure they don’t sit around trying to get your attention, offering them another coffee when their’s is empty and ensuring that they get their meals quickly. It seems so simple, yet this is what separates the great restaurateurs from the impostors.

The first on my list, is the recently opened Manchester Press. It has a great fitout. The place looks amazing with some great pieces of massive artwork and a great interior theme. I especially love the fire extinguishers above the kitchen. Yet they seem to have missed the point.

Manchester PressThe menu here exists only on a single piece of perspex presented to you upon request. It consists of nothing more than five or six different bagels. It seems the thinking goes that during the lunch rush they are easy to pump out. Nothing more than a bagel, some cream cheese and a few good ingredients. Rarely seen in Melbourne, they should be a crowd pleaser. The reality is very different. Too few choices, prepared with little inspiration.

Extricating service from the staff was painful. I had to awkwardly look around the cafe trying to get the attention of a waiter. My coffee arrived in good speed but not so the salmon, capers and cream cheese and pastrami bagels. It was then the waiting really started. When the meal finally arrived, we ate, but had pay cash, no EFTPOS available. We returned to our car to a nice $60 parking ticket. The outing was a $87 lunch for two bagels and a coffee. The time on the stopwatch, 50 minutes. I know because I parked just around the corner and that’s how much was on the meter.

The question is: how long does it take to make two bagels at 2.30pm in the afternoon in a half-full cafe?

Second on my list is an operator who should be better – Cafe Vue at the Tullamarine International Airport Terminal. So rarely have I experienced such disinterested service. My meal was  62° eggs on toast with a side of bacon and 2 lattes. The food was alright, though the eggs lacked the creamy texture I expected and it arrived promptly. I had to interrupt the waitress twice to order and my second coffee order was ignored as she rushed off. But this waitress was not the problem, seemingly she was the only person on the floor willing to actually work.

The other wait staff managed to avoid actually providing service even though I had tried to make eye contact with them a number of times.

And this was all before I tried to pay. Apparently you can’t pay at the table, instead you are forced to stand in line at the mismanaged counter, watch while people skip the line and generally witness a lack of interest and emotion to the people in front of you. All the while hearing the annoyed barista yelling “Coffee service!” every few moments.

For me, it’s a case of failed expectations. An otherwise amazing operator being reduced to the same poor quality as the rest of the airport lounge. What a depressing feeling after leaving, wishing you had eaten at McDonalds because of it’s friendly staff and efficient service.

Which brings me finally to my third case of slightly poor service at a busy time but redeemed by great hospitality. Salford Lads Club is the culprit but it’s hard for me to be mad. We arrived at the worst time possible – 11.30am on a Saturday morning. Our coffee order was taken quickly and our waitress took our order warning us that it was a busy time and that our meals could take a little longer than normal. About the time you would normally expect to eat I was informed that the steak sandwiches were out and that I would have to change my order. It’s annoying and probably should have been told at the time of ordering, but not the end of the world. When our meals did arrive, perhaps 15 minutes later than normal and during my second coffee, the manager who delivered the food apologised profusely and offered it for free.

And free it was. The entire meal. I was a little taken back, the delay warranted nothing but an apology, perhaps knock the coffee off the bill. So I put the $20 I had in my hand in the tip jar and scampered out.

I’ve had enough and it’s time to call it out.

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11 Responses to “Shitty Service – I’ve Had Enough”

  1. Hannah commented:

    Urgh – couldn’t agree more!

    Recently dropped into 1000pound bend for lunch with my Dad on a weekday. We ordered two veg baguettes (pre-made so first we checked they still had veg) and then proceeded to wait, 20 mins .

    I started to get nervous when I saw a couple of people who were clearly mates with the waiters come in about 10 minutes after us and promptly ordered and started eating veg baguettes. After another 10mins I went to inquire about ours only to be told they didn’t have any veg ones left. We’re vegetarian so that left our choices at toasted cheese/tom sandwich and a minestrone soup. We ordered one of each – and proceeded to wait, another 15 minutes (!!) for what turned out to be hideously mediocre food.

    I have never seen my Dad complain in a restaurant in all my 25 years, but he certainly let them have it. The too cool to care waiters clearly thought he was just another uptight “suit”.

    When did the hospitality industry lose out on the hospitality part for cool?

    Ok – sorry, rant over.

  2. I told you so commented:

    hi Michael. I’m in the industry, own a cafe and am loathe to speak out against other busineses as I’m the first to admit sometimes my staff and I dont get it right.
    However I think this is the thin edge of the wedge. What you are experiencing and what a growing number of people are becoming familiar with is this ‘indifference’ to the fundamentals of customer service. Too many cashed-up opportunists are rolling out Cookie-cutter-esque ersatz versions of successful businesses to cynically cash-in on the zeitgeist. Trouble is, many have overlooked the most obvious ingredient integral to the appeal of said places, their attention to the detail of looking after their patrons. Hopefully, they’ll be seen for what they are and will die off however many punters will continue to patronize them unawares that they are not getting the real deal from these pretenders.

  3. Dan Sims commented:

    Great post …

    Got to agree with you here sir, especially when it comes to cafes.

    Seems to always be an issue with so many new venues that they spend the money on the fit out, but when it comes to staff and or training, the money runs out. The frustrating thing is, the effort it takes to give good service is negligible. Smile damn it!

    Got to say my biggest gripe is with these super cool cafes where it takes 20 minutes to get a seat and then another 20 to get a coffee (even for take away). I’ve started asking for mine without a ‘fern design’ hoping it will take less time … (ahem)

    Also worth noting, the VdM at the airport is a license arrangement and not their normal staff. Still, head office do audit and I know they are aware of the staffing issues there.

    Hate bad service …

  4. hannahbabble commented:

    I believe it’s the same story at the St Kilda Rd Cafe Vue – my housemate works right near it and has been consistently frustrated/baffled by the (lack of) service there.
    What do you recommend in terms of alerting a business to their terrible service (other than writing a blog post about it, obviously). I have felt compelled to write to a place I really like, but has had such consistently atrocious service I’ve just had to stop going there. I can only assume that they have no idea how bad it is since they’ve obviously put a lot of time and care into the other aspects of the business, and it kind of makes me sad to see them failing like that…

  5. Michael commented:

    Thanks for the comments guys. Firstly, @I told you so, I think it’s important that if you are aware that your staff don’t get it right you are proactive. As I’m sure you realise, a simple apology from the boss-man and perhaps a free coffee will always go a long way to smoothing over a poor experience. A little humility is all that’s necessary.

    In fact I suppose it’s something that’s true of all these issues. If the person in charge takes some pride in the service, they can fix all of the problems – including letting the offending staff know that what is happening is unacceptable. If they are too busy, in the kitchen or otherwise unavailable the service will never improve.

    @hannahbabble This is a really interesting question. Writing an incendiary blog post may not be the best way of making friends with the offending cafes, so I’d cross that off the list. But if those running the business do care, a quiet word or perhaps a note might be a nice way to help.

    I recommended to a friend of mine who handles the cash register on weekends in a busy Melbourne cafe this solution. She often receives comments, either positive or negative about the cafe. Her problem is, that she’s too busy to address the issues well isn’t the manager and otherwise can’t really do anything about them. My suggestion is to hand out a pre-paid self-addressed post card to the customer and ask them to please let them know either positive or negative and pop it in a post box. This is non-confrontational, can be anonymous and the caring manager or owner can address the specific problems and trends.

  6. I told you so commented:

    Hi Michael-me again. Sorry to sound like a broken down record but another fact to consider is this false asumption that all the staff are going to ‘get’ what you do. Sound weird? Think about it. The elephant in the room that everyone ignores when it comes to staff is this ridiculous notion that the they are going to have any ownership over their jobs beyond the notion of how hip it is or what its going to lead to. If its a hot place, its never going to be anything other than a stepping stone or an entre into the world of marketing, despite the chutzpah/credentials/track record of the operators.
    These people are not doing this for the reasons that restaurant consultants are deluding themselves and their clients are imagining. In fact, food service, unless you are an owner, is moving further and further down the new social order.
    Today its about the concept not the ‘how I made it so’ but more about ‘here it is’
    This is especially attractive to a demographic who realise they dont have to ‘do the time’ in which to get the ‘cred’.

  7. Michelle Matthews commented:

    I’m a big fan of Manchester Press in large part due to the service. As a local resident they see my face enough to know I’m a good chance to become a regular. And I’ve seen them make a huge effort to ask people how they found out about the place and ask and remember their names and mine. I would like to see a few extra items on the menu though or even a half bagel for snack time.

    In general it’s the places where the staff avoid split second eye contact and a knowing nod that reserve a special place in my memory.

  8. Jess commented:

    Great post.

    I agree with you on these points. Service is fucking important. It’s hospitality after all, isn’t it?

    Perhaps I am just venting from being a waitress and can identify when people really don’t give a shit. They work for money, but are not trained, they are completely complacent.

    This brings forth the other issue of not having enough FOH professionals in Melbourne, anymore.

  9. sarah commented:

    Do you have any idea what it is like to have to serve so many people at once?……the problem with people like you is, that you can’t take the time to look around the place you are in and see that YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE THERE!!!!!

    Perhaps your waiter that rushed off at the airport had another guest’s request to fullfill or perhaps someone loves the bagels at Manchester Press and is happy with the selection and at least Salford Lads Club warned you the order was going to take some time and gave you free food!

    There are people starving around the world and you are picking restaurant service to pieces…….I know you pay for it but chill out no-one is perfect and in hospitality, as you should know, everyday is different. Some days everything is smoth and some days it’s a disaster! more often than not it’s the later.

    sometimes people are happy and some, well, you just can’t please them…….it’s all in the perspective of the diner.

  10. John commented:

    mate. stay at home. make your own bagels and then you wouldn’t have to put up with the “shitty service’. They’re people as well as Baristas and if you don’t understand that the world doesnt run smoothly all the time, then don’t air your depressed, nonsensical laundry for everyone to hear. Get a girlfriend.

  11. Mr Helpfull commented:

    Jeez Michael, the last two comments were touchy-feely weren’t they! Why are hospo staff so sensitive when their work is critiqued? I suspect that many believe their own BS and think that they can get away with stuff just coz they work in a hip cafe. Its simple: I place an order, they cook/serve it to me as quickly as possbile and as it is intended and described. Anything in between is just white noise as far as I’m concerned.
    Its a competitive world out there and some staff should remember that the customer is and will always be king, if you cant reconcile that, then get another job.