Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Is it becoming too hard to eat at restaurants?

A few years ago I started noticing new restaurants, cafes and bars popping up that had no signage. This apparently denoted ‘cool’. The premise was, if you needed to know its name and therefore its address, then you were decidedly out of the loop and deemed ‘uncool’. Hence the numerous cluster of people wandering the streets and lanes at night on the hunt for the latest place that they’d heard about, the increasingly loud grumblings of their stomachs, indicating that they had not yet stumbled upon their chosen destination. Urban legend has it that there is a group still wondering the streets of Melbourne looking for a particular hot spot.
Some places simply became known by their address whilst others appropriated esoteric and in-on-the-joke names that bore little if any indication to what the business actually was. Hence ‘Saliva-City’ might not be the haunt for swingers as imagined but in fact a new Macaron bar, go figure?
Then this notion of two or three dining ‘window’s emerged. No longer able to book a table for the whole evening, one must submit to the 6pm to 8pm, the 8pm to 10pm or the 10pm to midnight time slots allocated.
“But I would like a long leisurely dinner” you say
“We only have the 6pm to 8pm sir and you must vacate your table within this time frame” came the mantra from the host
“But I’m here for the 10 course Dego with matching wines?” says you, exasperated
“That’s OK sir we bring out each course every 18 minutes” cheerily says the host
“But what if we haven’t finished the course by then?”
“Doggie bags are available” he says dryly.
You get the picture.
In recent times the proprietors of these venues have also ratcheted up a notch the discomfort many diners were now experiencing. No longer was it enough not to have signage, an address or a phone number but all of a sudden we were being herded into communal seating bringing with it the discomfort that might for instance, have one sitting next to one’s Proctologist. Adding insult to injury we were also precluded from making a booking, overnight it seemed nobody was taking reservations?
We are now made to wait, sometimes for hours, in the corridors or outside in the elements for a table. This is of course if you don’t want to eat at 5.30pm and scramble for a table through the melee of Zimmer frames with the rest of the geriatrics.
And some places actively discriminate. No Bloggers, no photographs, no children, no lactose intolerances, no other food allergies and no breastfeeding mothers-whats next, no Low-talkers?
Oh and forget about using your credit or debit card. Cash ONLY! screams an unwavering rigidness from a comprehensive list of do's and don'ts at some particular venues.
Now the latest trend is to only take reservations online. Simple enough you say despite not everyone having access to the web. Wrong.
Now you must create an account, divest yourself of some personal information and finally you must prove you are not a Spambot by entering a code. Once you press ‘send’ you sit and wait.
There is a scene in the movie LA story which foresaw the future of making what is a relatively simple restaurant booking. In it Steve martins character is ‘interviewed’ by the Maitre’d and the Chef de cuisine. He is interrogated as to his profession and income and then firmly informed what he is able to order before being dismissed with a wave of their hands. Is this the future?
Is it just me or are restaurants making it more and more difficult for their customers?


GourmetGirlfriend said...

call me ol' skool....but I love dinners out to be long and lingering.
especially as I only go once in a blue moon when I can get away from my bazillion children.
i like to be able to hear my dining partner too without having to shout.
and being an ol' bag I like to be able to find my eating place.
so uncool i know......
but i'm all for geriatric being the new black.

David L. Moore said...

I see it everywhere Steve.

I say let the trendy numpties waste their time on pretentious endeavours.

Me, I queue for nothing. Life's too short.

If a business doesn't want to be found I am happy to not find them.

Not much is so unique these days that there's no competition hovering around to scoop up discgruntled customers.


Anonymous said...

I just want to eat when I want. That. Is. All.

Grandy said...

I worked at "old" Mures last century, when it was in the little cottage in a tiny lane in Salamanca somewhere. The bookings were taken for from 6-8, 6.30-8.30, 7-9, 7.30-9.30 and 8 or 8.30 till close. This was the only way we could fit enough people in. Not a new thing. That would have been about 35 + 40 years ago.

sir grumpy said...

I just read a piece from the UK about a restaurant in London.
Couple were six minutes late for lunch cut-off and refused service, they say, for their slight tardiness.
Wife, heavily pregnant, apologised and said her waddle held her up. They got no sympathy, they said, it was just NO. They had to waddle elsewhere.

Jo said...

i wouldnt queue to get a table, did that once and waited hours, nearly left and went to Hungry Jacks. I certainly wouldnt put personal info on web site to get a table.
I dont mind being asked to leave before a certain time, if i turn up without a booking and want a quick meal, but would take offence to it if i booked in advance.
Good Customer Service is sadly lacking in restaurants and other shops/services etc. these days.

Rita said...

Again, another great post Steve. I think Hobart is a bit different though. Be it on your own head if you subject your potential diners (ie bill payers) to these sets of dining-out criteria. Ask any restaurant or cafe owner round Hobart at the moment how their winter trade has been, and you'll find the similar thread - all have been deathly quiet, with a few notable exceptions. Those who have experienced past winters' trading here in Hobart are seriously worried, and praying they can hang out till the pre-Xmas and summer season starts in earnest again.

Anonymous said...

You raise a few good point however in order for restaurants to deliver their intended promise some strategies need to be in place to achieve this

steve said...

Hi Ruth0nice to hear from you and I'm old skool too. To be honest I don't mind communal seating and God knows I understand the need to turn tables esp in this climate but somewhere in the mix the essence of dining goes AWOL

G'day David, good to hear from you-I take your point and I'd bet that many people feel similarly to yourself

Hi Anon and hello-thats fair enough but if everybody ALSO wants to eat at the same time, whats a restaurant to do? This is why many have a no-bookings policy

Hi Grandy and thanks for commenting-Yes it has been around for a long time but I'd say that it still takes some people time to get used to

Hi Sir G, cheers for reading-That sounds unfortunate. I'm going to sound like a contrarian here but I'll put the case forward for the restaurant and hope I'm not sounding like an apologist for that particular establishments mishandling of the situation.
Without banging on about it, many businesses are firm about their opening and closing times but people expect hospitality businesses to be extremely flexible.
At one extreme many people take advantage of this by saying they'll be there at 2pm but arrive at 3pm and still expect their table. The other side is your example where six minutes late seems like a massive overraection from the restaurant. A vexed issue.

G'day Jo, thanks for reading-Personally I don't mind queueing, as long as the wait isn't too onerous. The other point is that many places still have two sittings per servive even if you do book simply because they are 'in-demand' places. You'll find less desirable establishments will genertally have just one sitting. Whist these place are hot, they maximise their turnover potential and really who can blame them?
I am in full agreement about the quality of service these days, accross the board and not just in hospitality.

Hi Rita, good to hear from you-A good point you raise and it brings me to what Leo Schofield wrote about this weekend on the notion that a place is so popular that it can 'enforce' policy on its diners. This might seem initially arrogant and gambling with consumer sentiment but at its heart is the issue of supply and demand. If the currency of one place is higher than another then surely its logical to expect that the more popular place will try and capitalize on this advantage, be it with stringent seating arrangements, deposits or cancellation fees.

Hi Anon and thanks for your comment-The post was poking fun at some of the cicumstances that punters are experiencing at some restaurants and cafes these days. I fully appreciate how difficult the balancing act between providing a servive/product and the realities of delivering said promise are so I'm not having a go at anyone, just making some wry observations.

David L. Moore said...

The post and comments remind me of a few things.

Over the years I've thought the restaurant game particularly tough. As an outsider it seemed to me that restaurants had to constantly re-invent themselves. Of course this is bollocks. Many great restaurants have been doing essentially the same great things for a very long time.

But it WAS the general impression I had. In reality I suspect this was the restaurant game's equivalent turnover or (read going out of) business that happens in every industry.

When I visited Germany a few years back I found "old" restaurants the order of the day. One place we went to, the Hundskugal (or Dog's bollocks - http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187309-d964177-Reviews-Hundskugel-Munich_Bavaria.html) has been around for hundreds of years.

I doubt it has ever been trendy :-)

Which brings me to communal dining.

In Germany it is the expected thing at most dinig establishments to be plonked on a communal table with bench seating and eat with strangers.

We embraced this when there. It was great fun, we met nice people and we left. Doing this at "home" I can see the dangers :-)

Anonymous said...

The restaurant game IS very tough David and more so in Tasmania where many people seem not to appreciate quality

richard said...

which places in tassie offer communal dining? there couldn't be that many?

steve said...

Hi David-thanks for commenting. Its intriguing isn't it this fact that many places strive for change only to see some restaurants reach decades of operation?!
As to communal dining-I'm a fan.

Hi anon, cheers for reading-I reckon you're right. IMO Tasmnaia has unique challenges, the most obvious is its small populace.

G'day Richard and welcome-The post wasn't really about Tassie-I hope my posts appeal a wider audience of readers! However there are a few communal dining places that I know of and as I remarked earlier, I personally enjoy eating this way.

Nola said...

Sometimes I find it hard to eat at restaurants if the stools are too high. After a few wines I am want to slip off the onto the floor.

Jo said...

haha, you're funny Nola. Im enjoying a few wines at home from Home Hill Winery (Ranelagh) at the moment, not quite at the sliding off the stool stage yet.

keep up the good work steve, love reading your blog

steve said...

Hi Nola, nice to hear from you. I concur, lifes difficult for us Hobbits some times innit?!

Hi Jo-thanks for reading!

sir grumpy said...

I remember when the Cradle Mountain Lodge had communal dining.
Me and the wife got plunked on a table of eight and even the food was served up on big platters.
Therefore the roast had to carved up for eight, etc.
It was a bloody nightmare. Couln't remember names, the greedy took too much right quick etc.
I heard they changed this because people didn't like it. Complained like buggery in fact.
Better to mingle at the bar. Or at least dish up everyone's choice individually from the kitchen.
Bottom line, communal dining....leave me out, and it seems many others who changed the restaurant policy thought this.
(Oh those awkward silences and endless, what's your nanme, what do you do, arrgh).